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Pronunciation Guide for Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig)

By Ridseard Mìcheal Raw (Ridseard) from Scotland

Gàidhlig, pronounced "gah-lik", uses five vowels, twelve consonants and the letter "h", which is not treated as a letter in it´s own right.

A B C D E F G H I L M N O P R S T U

There are two types of vowel in Gàidhlig, and this is a fundamental part of the spelling system:

Broad vowels: A O U
Slender vowels: E I

There is a rule in Gàidhlig, which states: caol ri caol agus leathann ri leathann, and means "slender with slender and broad with broad". In other words, two vowels which surround a consonant or group of consonants must be of the same type.

To demonstrate this, I have marked in bold and underlined to show which consonants are influenced the slender vowels in the following section of Gàidhlig:

Aig toiseach an latha bhiodh na h-eòin a` seinn gu h-àrd

The "g" in "aig" has an inherent "y" sound, the "s" in "toiseach" is pronounced "sh" as opposed to "s", the "bh" in "bhiodh has in inherent "y" sound, as does the "n" in "eòin", again, like the "s" in "toiseach", the "s" in "seinn" is pronounced "sh", and finally, the "n" has an inherent "y" sound.

Now lets look at the broad vowels in the same way:

Aig toiseach an latha bhiodh na h-eòin a` seinn gu h-àrd

The "t" in "toiseach" is next to the broad vowel "o", and therefore is pronounced as a dental "t", as opposed to the "ch" sound in "church", again the "ch" of the same word is a hard "kh" sound as in "loch", or German "hoch", as opposed to German "ch" in "Ich", as it would be with a slender vowel. The "n" in "an", and the "l" in "latha" are both dental sounds, "th" here being silent. Again with "na", the "n" is dental and does not inherit a "y" sound. The same can be said for the "g" of "gu", apart from the fact it is not a dental sound. The "r" and "d" in "àrd" are also dental, but note that there are many "l" and "r" sounds in Gàidhlig.

Now lets look at the length of the vowels , you will notice that both "eòin" and "àrd" have an accent (called a "srac"), which means that those vowels "à" and "ò" should be pronounced as if they were three times the length of "a" and "o".

Stress in Gàidhlig falls on the first syllable.

The following consonants are known as "labials": b, f, m and p

This means that the article "an" becomes "am" to aid pronunciation.

For example: am baile (the town), am fear (the man), am mapa (the map), am pàipear (the paper)

BROAD

Here is how the broad vowels affect the pronunciation of the consonants:

B = "b" as in "bat" at the start of the word, and becomes like "p" in the middle or end of a word

Bh = "v" as in "vote", but may be softened to a "w" sound or be silent in the middle, for example "abhainn", which can be pronounced as "aveen" or "aween" according to dialect

C = "k" as in "kettle" at the start of a word, and like "kh+k" (pre-aspirated) in the middle or end of a word

Ch = "kh" as in "loch"

D = a dental "d" and in the middle of end of a word is becomes like a dental "t" sound

Dh = "gh" or "g" as in Greek "ghamma" or Spanish "agua" , it is a softer sound than "g"

F = "f" as in "fish"

Fh is silent, other than in "fhèin" (self), "fhathast" (yet) and "fhuair" (got) , where it is pronounced as "h" in "house"

G = "g" as in "goat" at the start of a word, and "k" as in "kettle" in the middle or end of a word

Gh = "gh" or "g" as in Greek "ghamma" or Spanish "agua", it is a softer sound than "g", it has the same pronunciation as Gàidhlig "dh"

L = a dental "l"

M = "m" as in "mouse"

Mh = "v" as in "vote", and can be quite nasal in sound in some dialects

N = a dental "n"

P = "p" as in "pine", and in the middle or end of a word it is preceded by a puff of air, which is known as pre-aspiration, a bit like in Hindi, but just before the consonant instead of afterwards

Ph = "f" as in "fish"

R = a dental "r", less rolled than the slender "r"

S = "s" as in "snake", it is never pronounced like a "z"

Sh = "h" as in "horse", this is a very confusing one for English speakers at first, sometimes it is silen

T = a dental "t", and like "p", it undergoes pre-aspiration in the middle or end of a word

Th = "h" as in horse, and sometimes silent

SLENDER

Here is how the slender vowels affect the pronunciation of the consonants:

Bh, Fh, Mh, Ph, Sh and Th are pronounced the same as they do when broad

Here is where they differ:

B = "b" + "y" as in "Bute", the "b" becomes more of a "p" later on in a word

C = "k" + "y" as in "cute", and later on in a word it incurs pre-aspiration

Ch = "ch" as in the German "Ich", or similar to the English name "Hugh"

D = "j" as in "judge", and like "ch" in "church" later on in a word

Dh = "y" as in "yoghurt", for example "mu dheidhinn" is pronounced like "mu yeiyinn"

F = "f" + "y" as in "fjord"

G = "g" + "y", it is never pronounced like a "j", and later on in a word it becomes more like a "k"

Gh = "y" as in "yoghurt"

M = "m" + "y" as in "mute"

N = "n" + "y" as in "newt"

P = "p" + "y" as in "pure", and is pre-aspirated in the middle or at the end of a word

R = rolled "r"

S = "sh" as in "ship", like "Sean" or "Seumas"

T = "ch" as in "church", and again later on in a word it is pre-aspirated

VOWELS

Now lets look at the vowels in a little more detail:

We have already seen that a "srac" makes the vowel three times as long in pronunciation, and it can occur on any of the five vowels, thus: à, è, ì, ò, ù

The following two vowel combinations are also pronounced long: "ao", which is like French "eu" or German "öh", and "eu" which can either be pronounced "ee-a", or like "è"

CONCLUSION

From all the above we can see that the sentence "aig toiseach an latha bhiodh na h-èoin a" seinn gu h-àrd" would be spelt like this in the following languages:

English: ek tawshakh un laa vig nuh hyaw-een uh shayn goo hahrd

French: ec tauchac"h eune laa vig neu c"hyauine eu chaïn gou c"hard

German: ek toschach ön laa wig nö chioh-in ö schein gu hahrd

It means "at the start of the day the birds would sing loudly"

There are just three more things to add now about pronunciation:

In most dialects, the combination "rt" and quite often "rd" is pronounced as if it were spelt "rsht" or "rshd"

In combinations like "cn", "gn" and "mn", the "n" is pronounced like a nasalised "r"

The combination "chd" found at the end of words is pronounced "khk"