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Irish pronunciation chart

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A summary of contemporary Irish pronunciation

Assembled from:

[1] Teach Yourself Irish (1st editon, 1961, Dillon - o' Cro'ini'n)
[2] Teach Yourself Irish (2nd edition, 1990-something)
[3] The Celtic Languages (1993; ed. MJ Ball)
[4] Foclo'ir po'ca (an G'um series, 1996)
Two Irish dictionaries found in Edinburgh public library, both printed
in Irish script; authors and dates forgotten.


CAPITALS denote spellings
/slashes/ denote phonemic transcriptions
[brackets] denote phonetic transcriptions


All sources agree that there are five long and six short simple
vowels: /a: e: i: o: u:/ and /a e i o u @/. Most long vowels are
marked with an acute accent; thus, if you see a sequence of one or
more vowels with an acute accent, the accented vowel is the one which
is pronounced.

The actual realisations of the vowel sounds are as follows.


/a:/ Open, back, partly rounded between cardinals 5 and 13; next
slender consonants fronted to cardinal 4.

/e:/ Half-close, front, unrounded; cardinal 2.

/i:/ Close, front, unrounded; cardinal 1.

/o:/ Half-close, back, rounded; cardinal 7.

/u:/ Close, back, rounded; cardinal 8.


/a/ Short version of /a:/.

/e/ Half-open, front, unrounded; cardinal 3.

/i/ Short version of /i:/.

/o/ Variously given as cardinal 6 (half-open, back, rounded) or
cardinal 14 (same but unrounded).

/u/ Short version of /u:/.

/@/ Schwa.

Vowels next to nasal consonants (M, N, NN, MH) are nasalised. There
are also four diphthongs: /i@ u@ ai au/; the last two are /@a @u/
accoring to [3].


This is where it gets complicated. To quote [1]:

"When a consonant is between vowels, the following vowel predominates
and a slender vowel is inserted before a slender consonant, a broad
vowel before a broad consonant." The extra vowels are called _glides_.

But from [3]:

"In many cases the balance between vowel and glide has become upset so
that the former glide is now the principal vowel sound and there is a
contrast in sound between the initial consonant and the following

In other words, in many groups of unaccented vowels the vowel which is
actually pronounced varies from word to word. This summary should help
matters somewhat.

Written	Pronounced
-------	----------

ae(i)	/e/
ai	Usually /a/, sometimes /e/ or /i/; /@/ when unstressed
ao	/e:/ in Munster, /i:/ in Connacht and Ulster
aoi	/i:/

ea	Most usually /a/, occasionally /e/
eai	/a/
ei	/e/
eo(i)	/o:/

ia	/i@/
iai	/ie/ according to [1]
io	Commonly /i/; sometimes /o/
iu(i)	/u/

oi	/o/; sometimes /e/ or /i/, especially when initial

ua	/u@/; sometimes /o:/ according to [2]
uai	/ue/ according to [1]
ui	/u/ or /i/

Now for the really awkward bits...

All vowels are raised and fronted in slender environments and lowered
and backed in broad environments (paraphrased from [3]).

Short A and O before M NN LL NG at the end of a syllable (i.e. not
immediately followed by a vowel) are pronounced /au/. In general,
vowels in these environments are "lengthened or diphthongised" [3].

ADH and AGH are pronounced /ai/, except: /a/ or /u/ at the end of a
verbal noun, /ag/ or /ug/ or silent in the perfect passive, /ax/
(Munster) or /ux/ (the others) in the 3 singular imperfect.

ABH is /au/; OBH is given as /o:/ and /ou/. With MH in place of BH the
vowel is nasalised.

A schwa is inserted into consonant groups consisting of L N R followed
by a labial or velar consonant and preceded by a short stressed vowel.


The spelling reform of 1948 eliminated many silent consonants, but
some still survive. Note that all consonants can be broad (velarised)
or slender (palatised).

P B M F when broad are as in English; when slender they are followed
by a slight [j]-glide. F "is traditionally bilabial" [3] but more
commonly labiodental.

PH is the same as F. Slender BH is a "strongly fricative" [v] [3];
when broad it is like [w]. MH is the same as BH but with
nasalisation. FH is always silent.

T D are dental when broad and alveolar when slender [1]; slender T D
are sometimes affricates [tS] [dZ]. S is [s] when broad and [S]
("strongly palatised and acoustically more slender thah English /S/"
[3]) when slender.

TH is [h] according to all sources. DH is the same as GH (q.v.). SH is
usually [h], but [C] (CH in German "ich") when slender before a broad

C G when slender are similar to English and retracted when broad; [1]
says that "caol" is "like English _quail_ without rounding of the
lips". But [3] describes the broad sounds as velar and the slender
sounds as palatal. CH is [x] when broad and [C] when slender. GH and
DH are usually [G] when broad and [j] when slender; intervocally they
are vocalised.

L LL R RR N NN are complicated; N and L are the lenited forms of NN
LL. To paraphrase [3] on their pronunciations:

L is pronounced with the tip of the tongue against the teethridge
(i.e. alveolar), palatised when slender and velarised when
broad. Broad LL "is made by pressing the blade of the tongue against
the upper teeth and releasing the air laterally, producing a very dark
sound". Slender LL "is made by putting the blade of the tongue against
the teethridge so that the sound produced resembles the LL in English
_million_, although the mode of production is not the same". N and NN
correspond to L and LL but with nasal, rather than lateral, release.

In Connacht and most of Ulster there is no broad L or N; Munster has
only broad LL NN and slender L N, with slender NN pronounced like
English NG.

Broad R is a lingual flap, tending to retroflex before L and
N. Slender R is "a strongly palatised fricative sound made with the
tip of the tongue against the teethridge", resembling slender D or (in
northern dialects) [j]. [1] provides the useful information that
initial R is always broad and slender R is close to [z]. There seems
to be no distinction between R and RR.

Medial LT is a voiceless L. [1]

And finally: When initial S is lenited by the definite article, it
becomes /t/ and is written TS.