Irish Orthography
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Irish Orthography

Irish orthography has evolved over many centuries, since Old Irish was first written down in the Latin alphabet in about the 8th century AD. Prior to that, Primitive Irish was written in Ogham. Irish orthography is mainly based on etymological considerations, although a spelling reform in the mid-20th century simplified the relationship between spelling and pronunciation somewhat.

There are three dialects of spoken Irish: Ulster (now predominantly in County Donegal), Connacht (Counties Mayo and Galway), and Munster (Counties Kerry, Cork, and Waterford). Some spelling conventions are common to all three dialects, while others vary from dialect to dialect. In addition, individual words may have in a given dialect pronunciations that are not reflected by their spelling (the pronunciation in this article reflects Connacht Irish pronunciation; other accents may differ, but are occasionally included).

Alphabet

A sample of traditional Gaelic type.
Uncial alphabet carved on the National Archives of Ireland building in Dublin, with each type of diacritic (síneadh fada and ponc séimhithe) as well as the Tironian et.

The alphabet now used for writing the Irish language consists of the following letters of the Latin script, whether written in Roman hand or Gaelic hand:

a á b c d e é f g h i í l m n o ó p r s t u ú;

The acute accent over the vowels is ignored for purposes of alphabetization. Modern loanwords also make use of j k q v w x y z. Of these, v is the most common. It occurs in a small number of words of native origin in the language such as vácarnach, vác and vrác, all of which are onomatopoeic. It also occurs in a number of alternative colloquial forms such as víog instead of bíog and vís instead of bís as cited in Niall Ó Dónaill's Foclóir Gaeilge-Béarla (Irish-English Dictionary). It is also the only non-traditional letter used to write foreign names and words adapted to the Irish language (for example, Switzerland, or Helvetia, is Gaelicised as An Eilvéis; Azerbaijan, in contrast, is written An Asarbaiseáin rather than *An Azarbaijáin). The letters j, q, w, x, y and z are used primarily in scientific terminology or direct, unaltered borrowings from English and other languages, although the phoneme /z/ does exist naturally in at least one dialect, that of West Muskerry, County Cork, as the eclipsis of s. k is the only letter not to be listed by Ó Dónaill. h, when not prefixed to an initial vowel as an aspirate in certain grammatical functions (or when not used as an indicator of lenition when Roman type is used), occurs primarily in loanwords as an initial consonant. The letters' names are spelt out thus:

á bé cé dé é eif gé héis í eil eim ein ó pé ear eas té ú
along with jé cá cú vé wae eacs yé zae.[1]

Tree names were once popularly used to name the letters. Tradition taught that they all derived from the names of Ogham letters, though it is now known that only some of the earliest Ogham letters were named after trees.

ailm (pine), beith (birch), coll (hazel), dair (oak), edad/eadhadh (poplar), fern/fearn (alder), gath/gort (ivy), uath (hawthorn), idad/iodhadh (yew), luis (rowan), muin (vine), nin/nion (ash), onn (gorse), peith (dwarf alder), ruis (elder), sail (willow), tinne/teithne (holly), úr (heather)

Irish scripts and typefaces

Prior to the middle of the 20th century, Irish was usually written using Gaelic script. This typeface, together with Roman type equivalents and letter name pronunciations along with the additional lenited letters, is shown below.

Use of Gaelic type is today almost entirely restricted to decorative and/or self-consciously traditional contexts. The dot above the lenited letter is usually replaced by a following h in the standard Roman alphabet [for example, ? in Gaelic type becomes ch in Roman type]. The only other use of h in Irish is for vowel-initial words after certain proclitics (e.g. go hÉirinn, "to Ireland") and for words of foreign derivation such as hata "hat".

Although the Gaelic script remained common until the mid-20th century, efforts to introduce Roman characters began much earlier. Theobald Stapleton's 1639 catechism was printed in a Roman type alphabet, and also introduced simplified spellings such as suí for suidhe and uafás for uathbhás, though these did not become standard for another 300 years.

Uncial alphabet.png

Consonants

The consonant letters generally correspond to the consonant phonemes as shown in this table. See Irish phonology for an explanation of the symbols used and Irish initial mutations for an explanation of eclipsis. In most cases, consonants are "broad" (velarised) when the nearest vowel letter is one of a, o, u and "slender" (palatalised) when the nearest vowel letter is one of e, i.

Letter(s) Phoneme(s) Examples
b broad /b?/ bain /b?an?/ "take" (imper.), scuab /s?ku?b?/ "broom"
slender /b?/ béal /b?e:l/ "mouth", cnáib /kna:b?/ "hemp"
bh broad /w/~/v?/ bhain /wan?/ "took", ábhar /'a:w/ "material", Bhairbre /'wab?/ "Barbara" (genitive), tábhachtach /'ta:w?xtx/ "important", dubhaigh /'dwi:/ "blacken" (imper.), scríobh /?cr?i:w/ "wrote", taobh /ti:w/ "side", dubh /dw/ "black", gabh /?aw/ "get" (imper.)
slender /v?/ bhéal /v?e:l/ "mouth" (lenited), cuibhreann /'k?v?n/ "common table", aibhneacha /'av?nx?/ "rivers", sibh /v?/ "you" (pl.)
See vowel chart for abh, obh
bhf
(eclipsis of f-)
broad /w/~/v?/ bhfuinneog /'w?n?o:?/ "window" (eclipsed)
slender /v?/ bhfíon /v?i:n/ "wine" (eclipsed)
bp
(eclipsis of p-)
broad /b?/ bpoll /b?o:l/ "hole" (eclipsed)
slender /b?/ bpríosún /'bi:s?u:n/ "prison" (eclipsed)
c broad /k/ cáis /ka:?/ "cheese", mac /m?ak/ "son"
slender /c/ ceist /ct?/ "question", mic /mc/ "sons"
ch broad
(always broad before t)
/x/ cháis /xa:?/ "cheese" (lenited), taoiseach /'ti:x/ "chieftain" (also the term for the Prime Minister of Ireland), boichte /bxt/ "poorer"
slender /ç/;
/h/ between vowels
cheist /çt?/ "question" (lenited), deich /dç/ "ten"
oíche /'i:h?/ "night"
d broad /d/ dorn /do:n/ "fist", nead /n?ad/ "nest"
slender /d?/; /d?/ in northern dialects dearg /d?a?/ "red", cuid /k?d?/ "part"
dh broad /?/ word-initially;
silent after a long vowel
dhorn /?o:n/ "fist" (lenited)
ádh /a:/ "luck"
slender /?/ dhearg /'?a?/ "red" (lenited), fáidh /f?a:?/ "prophet"
See vowel chart for adh, aidh, eadh, eidh, idh, oidh, odh. See Special pronunciations in verb forms for -dh at the end of verbs.
dt
(eclipsis of t-)
broad /d/ dtaisce /'da?c?/ "treasure" (eclipsed)
slender /d?/; /d?/ in northern dialects dtír /d?i:/ "country" (eclipsed)
f broad /f?/ fós /f?o:s?/ "still", graf /af?/ "graph"
slender /f?/ fíon /f?i:n/ "wine", stuif /s?tf?/ "stuff"
often /h/ in féin /h/ féin /he:n?/ "-self"
See Special pronunciations in verb forms for -f- in future and conditional tenses
fh silent fhuinneog /'?n?o:?/ "window" (lenited), fhíon /i:n/ "wine" (lenited)
g broad /?/ gasúr /'?as?u:/ "boy", bog /b/ "soft"
slender /?/ geata /'?at/ "gate", carraig /'ka?/ "rock"
gc
(eclipsis of c-)
broad /?/ gcáis /?a:?/ "cheese" (eclipsed)
slender /?/ gceist /t?/ "question" (eclipsed)
gh broad /?/ word-initially;
silent after a long vowel
ghasúr /'?as?u:/ "boy" (lenited)
Eoghan /'o:?n/ (male name)
slender /?/ gheata /'?at/ "gate" (lenited), dóigh /do:?/ "way, manner"
See vowel chart for agh, aigh, eigh, igh, ogh, oigh. See Special pronunciations in verb forms for -(a)igh at the end of verbs.
h /h/ hata /'hat/ "hat", na héisc /n? he:?c/ "the fish" (plural)
l broad /l/; also frequently /l/ luí /li:/ "lying (down)"
slender /l?/ leisciúil /'lcu:l?/ "lazy"
ll broad /l/ poll /po:l/ "hole"
slender /l/; also frequently /l?/ coill /k?il/ "woods"
m broad /m?/ mór /m?o:/ "big", am /a:m?/ "time"
slender /m?/ milis /'ml/ "sweet", im /i:m?/ "butter"
mb
(eclipsis of b-)
broad /m?/ mbaineann /'m?ann/ "takes" (eclipsed)
slender /m?/ mbéal /m?e:l/ "mouth" (eclipsed)
mh broad /w/~/v?/ mhór /wo:/ "big" (lenited), lámha /'la:w?/ "hands", léamh /l?e:w/ "reading"
slender /v?/ mhilis /'vl/ "sweet" (lenited), uimhir /'?v?/ "number", nimh /nv?/ "poison"
See vowel chart for amh, omh
n broad /n?/; also frequently /n/ naoi /ni:/ "nine"
slender /n?/ neart /n?at/ "strength", tinneas /'tns?/ "illness"
nc broad /?k/ ancaire /'a?k?/ "anchor"
slender /?c/ rinc /?c/ "dance"
nd
(eclipsis of d-)
broad /n?/; also frequently /n/ ndorn /n?o:n?/ "fist" (eclipsed)
slender /n?/ ndearg /'n?a?/ "red" (eclipsed)
ng broad /?/ word-initially (eclipsis of g-)
// word-internally and finally
ngasúr /'?as?u:/ "boy" (eclipsed)
long /lu:/ "ship", teanga /'t?a/ "tongue"
slender /?/ word-initially (eclipsis of g-)
// word-internally and finally
ngeata /'?at/ "gate" (eclipsed)
cuing /k/ "yoke", ingear /'/ "vertical"
/n?/ in final unstressed -ing scilling /'?ciln?/ "shilling"
nn broad /n/ ceann /ca:n/ "head"
slender /n/; also frequently /n?/
p broad /p?/ poll /p?o:l/ "hole", stop /s?tp?/ "stop"
slender /p?/ príosún /'pi:s?u:n/ "prison", truip /tp?/ "trip"
ph broad /f?/ pholl /f?o:l/ "hole" (lenited)
slender /f?/ phríosún /'fi:s?u:n/ "prison" (lenited)
r broad
(always broad word-initially, except in Munster when in lenited forms; always broad in rd, rl, rn, rr, rs, rt, rth, sr, always rolled or tapped)
// /i:/ "king", cuairt /kut?/ "visit", oirthear /'h/ "east", airde /a:d/ "height", coirnéal /'ko:n?e:l/ "corner", carr /ka:/ "car, cart", duirling /'du:ln?/ "stony beach", sreang /sa/ "string"
slender // tirim /'tm?/ "dry"
rh (uncommon representation of Munster lenition of slender word-initial r) slender // rhí /i:/ "king" (lenited, Munster)
s broad
(always broad word-initially before f, m, p, r)
/s?/ Sasana /'s?asn/ "England", tús /tu:s?/ "beginning", sféar /s?f?e:/ "sphere", speal /s?p?al/ "scythe", sméar /s?m?e:/ "blackberry", sreang /sa/ "string"
slender /?/; /?/ in northern dialects sean /?an/ "old", cáis /ka:?/ "cheese"
sh broad /h/ Shasana /'hasn/ "England" (lenited)
slender /h/
/ç/ before /a:, o:, u:/, usually from lenition
shean /han/ "old" (lenited)
Sheáin /ça:n?/ "John" (genitive), sheol /ço:l/ "sailed", shiúil /çu:l?/ "walked", shiopa /'ç?p/ "shop" (lenited)
t broad /t/ taisce /'ta?c?/ "treasure", ceart /cat/ "correct"
slender /t?/ tír /t?i:/ "country", beirt /b?t?/ "two (people)"
See Special pronunciations in verb forms for -t- in verbal adjectives
th broad /h/ thaisce /'ha?c?/ "treasure" (lenited), athair /'ah/ "father"
slender /h/
/ç/ before /a:-, o:-, u:-/, usually from lenition
theanga /'ha/ "tongue" (lenited)
theann /ça:n/ "tight" (lenited), theocht /ço:xt/ "heat" (lenited), thiúilip /'çu:lp?/ "tulip" (lenited), thiocfadh /'ç?k?x/ "would come", thiubh /ç?w/ "thick" (lenited)
Silent at the end of a syllable bláth /b?la:/ "blossom", cith /c?/ "shower", cothrom /'k?m?/ "equal"
See Special pronunciations in verb forms for -th- in verbal adjectives
ts
(special lenition of s- after an 'the')
broad /t/ an tsolais /?n 'tl?/ "of the light"
slender /t?/; /t?/ in northern dialects an tSín /?n? t?i:n?/ "China"
v (loan consonant) broad /w/~/v?/ vóta /'wo:t/ "vote"
slender /v?/ veidhlín /'vil?i:n?/ "violin"
z (loan consonant) broad /z?/ /z?u:/ "zoo"
slender /?/; /?/ in northern dialects Zen /n?/ "Zen"
zs (uncommon representation of Cape Clear eclipsis of s) broad /z?/ zsolas /zls?/ "light" (eclipsed)
slender /?/ zsean /?an/ "old" (eclipsed)

Vowels

Sequences of vowels are common in Irish spelling due to the "caol le caol agus leathan le leathan" ("slender with slender and broad with broad") rule. This rule states that the vowels on either side of any consonant must be both slender (e or i) or both broad (a, o or u), to unambiguously determine the consonant's own broad vs. slender pronunciation. An apparent exception is the combination ae, which is followed by a broad consonant despite the e.

In spite of the complex chart below, pronunciation of vowels in Irish is mostly predictable from a few simple rules.

  • Fada vowels (á, é, í, ó, ú) are always pronounced.
  • Vowels on either side of a fada (except for other fada vowels) most often do not spell any phoneme (there are several exceptions). Their presence is almost always necessary to simply satisfy the "caol le caol agus leathan le leathan" rule. These letters are not entirely silent, however. The fada vowel and the adjacent consonant require the tongue body to be in different positions, and these letters capture the transient sound produced while it is moving from one position to the other.
  • Between a consonant and a broad vowel, e and i are usually non-phonemic in the same way. This applies to:
  • The short vowels io, oi and ui have multiple pronunciations that depend on adjacent consonants.

The following series of charts indicates how written vowels are generally pronounced. Each dialect has certain divergences from this general scheme, and may also pronounce some words in a way that does not agree with standard orthography.

Simple vowels

Unstressed vowels are generally reduced to schwa (/?/).

Letter(s) Phoneme Examples
a stressed /a/ fan /f?an/ "stay" (imper.)
/a:/ before rl, rn, rd
before syllable-final ll, nn, rr
before word-final m
tarlú /'ta:lu:/ "happening", carnán /'ka:na:n/ "(small) heap", garda /'?a:d/ "policeman"
mall /m?a:l/ "slow, late", ann /a:n/ "there", barr /b?a:/ "tip, point"
am /a:m?/ "time"
unstressed /?/ ólann /'o:ln/ "drink" (present), mála /'m?a:l/ "bag"
e stressed /?/ te /t/ "hot"
unstressed /?/ míle /'m?i:l/ "thousand"
i stressed /?/ pic /pc/ "pitch", ifreann /'?f?n/ "hell"
/i:/ before syllable-final ll, nn
before word-final m
cill /ci:l?/ "church", cinnte /'ci:n?t/ "sure"
im /i:m?/ "butter"
unstressed /?/ faoistin /'f?i:?tn?/ "confession"
/?/ finally aici /'?c?/ "at her"
o stressed /?/ post /ps?t/ "post"
/?/ before n, m Donncha /'dnx?/ (man's name), cromóg /'km?o:?/ "hooked nose"
/o:/ before rl, rn, rd
before syllable-final ll, rr
bord /b?o:d/ "table", orlach /'o:lx/ "inch"
poll /p?o:l/ "hole", corr /ko:/ "odd"
/u:/ before syllable-final nn
before word-final m, ng
fonn /f?u:n/ "desire, inclination"
trom /t?u:m?/ "heavy", long /lu:/ "ship"
unstressed /?/ mo /m/ "my", cothrom /'k?m?/ "equal"
u stressed /?/ dubh /dw/ "black"
/?/ in English loanwords, corresponds to /?/ bus /bs?/, club /klb?/
/u:/ before rl, rn, rd burla /'b?u:l/ "bundle", murnán /'m?u:na:n/ "ankle", urlár /'u:la:/ "floor"
unstressed /?/ agus /'as?/ "and"
/?/ finally urthu /'h?/ "on them"

Vowels with an acute accent

Vowels with an acute accent (known in Irish as a fada or síneadh fada) are always pronounced long. In digraphs and trigraphs containing a vowel with an acute accent, only the vowel with the accent mark is usually pronounced, but there are several exceptions.

Letter(s) Phoneme Examples
á /a:/ bán /b?a:n/ "white"
ái dáil /da:l?/ "assembly", gabháil /'?awa:l?/ "taking"
/i:/ maígh /m?i:j/ "claim" (imper.), gutaí /'ti:/ "vowels"
aío naíonán /'ni:na:n/ "infant", beannaíonn /'b?ani:n/ "blesses"
aoú /i:.u:/ naoú /'ni:u:/ "ninth"
é /e:/ /?e:/ "he"
éa déanamh /'d?e:nw/ "doing", buidéal /'bd?e:l/ "bottle"
/a:/ Seán /?a:n/ "John", caisleán /'ka?l?a:n/ "castle"
eái meáin /m?a:n?/ "middles", caisleáin /'ka?l?a:n?/ "castles"
éi /e:/ scéimh /?ce:v?/ "beauty", páipéir /'p?a:p?e:/ "papers"
í /i:/ gnímh /?n?i:v?/ "act, deed" (gen.), cailín /'kal?i:n?/ 'girl'
ío síol /?i:l/ "seed"
/i:.a:/ bián /'b?i:a:n/ "size"
iái liáin /'l?i:a:n?/ "trowel" (gen.)
/i:.o:/ sióg /'?i:o:?/ "fairy", pióg /'p?i:o:?/ "pie"
iói grióir /'i:o:/ "weakling"
/u:/ siúl /?u:l/ "walk", bailiú /'b?al?u:/ "gathering"
iúi ciúin /cu:n?/ "quiet", inniúil /'?n?u:l?/ "able, fit"
ó /o:/ póg /p?o:?/ "kiss", armónach /'am?o:nx/ "harmonic"
ói móin /m?o:n?/ "sod, turf", bádóir /'b?a:do:r?/ "boatman"
/i:/ croíleacán /'ki:lka:n/ "core"
oío croíonna /'ki:n/ "hearts"
ú /u:/ tús /tu:s?/ "beginning"
úi súil /su:l?/ "eye", cosúil /'k?s?u:l?/ "like, resembling"
/u:.a:/ ruán /'u:a:n/ "buckwheat", duán /'du:a:n/ "kidney, fishhook"
uái fuáil /'f?u:a:l?/ "sewing, stitching"
/i:/ buígh /b?i:j/ "turn yellow" (imper.)
uío buíon /b?i:n/ "band, troop"
/u:.o:/ cruóg /'ku:o:?/ "urgent need"
uói luóige /'lu:o:/ "pollock" (gen.)

Fada vowels will occasionally also appear in succession, where adjacent vowels are not pronounced: séú /'?e:u:/ "sixth", ríúil /'i:u:l?/ "royal, kingly, majestic", báíocht /⁠'b?a:i:xt/ "sympathy", etc.

Di- and trigraphs

A vowel or digraph followed by i is usually pronounced as that vowel. The i is not pronounced in that case, and just indicates that the following consonants are slender. However, it may be pronounced in the digraphs ei, oi, ui.

Letter(s) Phoneme Examples
ae(i) /e:/ Gaelach /'?e:lx/ "Gaelic", Gaeilge /'?e:l/ "Irish (language)"
ai stressed /a/ baile /'b?al/ "home"
/a:/ before rl, rn, rd
before syllable-final ll, nn, rr
airne /a:n/ "sloe"
caillte /'ka:l?t/ "lost, ruined", crainn /ka:n?/ "trees"
/?/ in three words daibhir /'dv?/ "poor", raibh /v?/ "was" (dependent), saibhir /'svr?/ "rich"
unstressed /?/ eolais /'o:l?/ "knowledge" (genitive)
ao /i:/ (/e:/ in Munster and South Ulster) saol /s?i:l?/ "life"
/e:/ in aon and derivatives in all dialects aon /e:n?/ "any"
aoi /i:/ gaois /?i:?/ "shrewdness",
ea(i) stressed /a/ bean /b?an/ "woman", veain /v?an?/ "van"
/a:/ before rl, rn, rd
before syllable-final ll, nn, rr
bearna /'b?a:n/ "gap", feall /f?a:l/ "treachery", feanntach /'f?a:ntx/ "severe"
unstressed /?/ seisean /'?n/ "he" (emphatic)
ei /?/ ceist /ct?/ "question"
/?/ before m, mh, n creimeadh /'cm/ "corrosion, erosion", geimhreadh /'v?r/ "winter", seinm /'nm?/ "playing"
/e:/ before rl, rn, rd eirleach /'e:lx/ "destruction", ceirnín /'ce:n?i:n?/ "record album", ceird /ce:d?/ "trade, craft"
/?i/ before syllable-final ll feill- /fil?/ "exceedingly"
/i:/ before syllable-final nn and word-final m greim /i:m?/ "grip"
eo(i) /o:/ ceol /co:l/ "music", baileofar /'b?al?o:f?/ "one will gather", dreoilín /'do:l?i:n?/ "wren", baileoimid /'b?al?o:md?/ "we will gather"
/?/ in four words anseo /?n?'/ "here", deoch /dx/ "drink", eochair /'?x/ "key", seo /'/ "this"
ia(i) /i?/ Diarmaid /d?i?rm?d?/ "Dermot", bliain /b?l?i?n?/ "year"
io /?/ before coronals and th fios /fs?/ "knowledge", bior /b?/ "spit, spike", cion /c?n/ "affection", giota /'t/ "bit, piece", giodam /'dm?/ "restlessness", friotháil /'f?ha:l?/ "attention"
/?/ before noncoronals siopa /'p/ "shop", liom /lm?/ "with me", tiocfaidh /'tki:/ "will come", Siobhán /'wa:n/ "Joan", briogáid /'ba:d?/ "brigade", tiomáin /'tma:n?/ "drive" (imper.), ionga /'?/ "(finger)nail"
/i:/ before syllable-final nn fionn /f?i:n/ "light-haired"
iu /?/ fliuch /f?lx/ "wet"
oi stressed /?/ scoil /s?k?l?/ "school", troid /td?/ "fight" (imper.), toitín /'tt?i:n?/ "cigarette", oibre /'?b?/ "work" (gen.), thoir /h/ "in the east", cloiche /'klç?/ "stone" (gen.)
/?/ before s, cht, rs, rt, rth cois /k/ "foot" (dat.), cloisfidh /'kl?i:/ "will hear", boicht /bxt?/ "poor" (gen. sg. masc.), doirse /'d/ "doors", goirt /?t?/ "salty", oirthear /'h/ "east"
/?/ next to n, m, mh anois /?'n?/ "now", gloine /'?ln/ "glass", cnoic /knc/ "hills", roimh /v?/ "before", coimeád /'k?m?a:d/ "keep" (imper.), loinge /'l/ "ship" (gen.)
/?i/ before syllable-final ll coill /k?il?/ "forest, woods", coillte /'k?il?t/ "forests"
/i:/ before syllable-final nn and word-final m foinn /f?i:n?/ "wish" (gen.), droim /d?i:m?/ "back"
/o:/ before rl, rn, rd coirnéal /'ko:n?e:l/ "corner", oird /o:d?/ "sledgehammers"
unstressed /?/ éadroime /e:dr?m/ 'lightness'
ua(i) /u?/ fuar /f?u/ "cold", fuair /f?u/ "got"
ui stressed /?/ duine /'dn/ "person"
/?/ before cht, rs, rt tuirseach /'t?x/ "tired", cluichte /'klxt/ "harassment" (gen.)
/i:/ before syllable-final ll, nn
before word-final m
tuillteanach /'ti:l?tnx/ "deserving", puinn /p?i:n?/ "much"
suim /s?i:m?/ "interest"
/u:/ before rl, rn, rd duirling /'du:ln?/ "stony beach", tuirne /'tu:n/ "spinning wheel"
unstressed /?/ aguisín /'ai:n?/ "addition"

Followed by bh, dh, gh, mh

When followed by the lenited consonants bh, dh, gh or mh, a stressed vowel usually forms a diphthong.

For aidh, aigh, adh, eadh, idh and igh, see also Special pronunciations in verb forms.

Letter(s) Phoneme Examples
(e)abh(a(i)) stressed /?u/ leabhair /lu/ "books", Feabhra /'fu/ "February"
(e)amh(a(i)) Samhain /sun?/ "November", amhantar /'?unt/ "venture", ramhraigh /'ui:/ "fattened"
(e)obh(a(i)) lobhar /lu/ "leper"
(e)odh(a(i)) bodhar /bu/ "deaf"
(e)ogh(a(i)) rogha /u/ "choice"
(e)omh(a(i)) /o:/~/?u/ tomhail /to:l?/ "consume" (imper.), Domhnach /'do:nx/ "Sunday"
(i)umh(a(i)) stressed /u:/ Mumhan /'m?u:n/ "Munster" (gen.)
a(i)dh(a(i)) stressed /?i/ adhairt /?it?/ "pillow, aidhm /?im?/ "aim"
a(i)gh(a(i)) aighneas /?ins?/ "argument, discussion"
(e)adh(a(i)) meadhg /mi?/ "whey"
(e)agh(a(i)) aghaidh /?ij/ "face", saghsanna /'sisn/ "sorts, kinds"
eidh(i/ea) feidhm /fim?/ "function"
eigh(i/ea) leigheas /lis?/ "healing"
oidh(i/ea) oidhre /?ir/ "heir"
oigh(i/ea) loighic /lic/ "logic"
(e)adh unstressed /?/ briseadh /'b/ "breaking"
(e)agh margadh /'m?a/ "market"
(a)idh unstressed /i:/ tuillidh /'tl?i:/ "addition" (gen.), cleachtaidh /'cl?axti:/ "practice" (gen.)
(a)igh coiligh /'k?l?i:/ "rooster" (gen.), bacaigh /'b?aki:/ "beggar" (gen.)

Epenthetic vowels

In the sequence of short vowel + /l, n, r/ + labial, palatal, or velar consonant (except for voiceless stops) within the same morpheme, an unwritten /?/ gets inserted between the /l, n, r/ and the following consonant:

  • gorm /'m?/ "blue"
  • dearg /'d?a?/ "red"
  • dorcha /'dx?/ "dark"
  • ainm /'anm?/ "name"
  • deilgneach /'dlnx/ "prickly, thorny"
  • leanbh /'l?anw/ "child"
  • airgead /'ad/ "silver, money"

But:

  • corp /kp?/ "body"
  • olc /?lk/ "bad"

There is additionally no epenthesis after long vowels and diphthongs:

  • téarma /t?e:m/ "term"
  • dualgas /'du?l?s?/ "duty"

The rules of epenthesis do not apply across morpheme boundaries (e.g. after prefixes and in compound words):

  • garmhac /'?awak/ "grandson" (from gar- ("close, near") + mac ("son"))
  • an-chiúin /'ançu:n?/ "very quiet" (from an- ("very") + ciúin ("quiet"))
  • carrbhealach /'ka:v?alx/ "carriageway, roadway" (from carr ("car") + bealach ("way, road"))

Special pronunciations in verb forms

In verb forms, some letters and letter combinations are pronounced differently from elsewhere.

In the imperfect, conditional, and imperative, -dh is pronounced /t?/ before a pronoun beginning with s-:

  • mholadh sé /'w?lt? ?e:/ "he used to praise"
  • bheannódh sibh /'v?ano:t? v?/ "you (pl.) would bless"
  • osclaíodh sí /'?s?kli:t? ?i:/ "let her open"

Otherwise it is pronounced /x/:

  • mholadh an buachaill /'w?lx ? 'b?u?x?l?/ "the boy used to praise"
  • bheannódh na cailíní /'v?ano:x n 'kal?i:n?i:/ "the girls would bless"
  • osclaíodh Siobhán /'?s?kli:x 'wa:n/ "let Siobhán open"

In the preterite impersonal, -dh is pronounced /w/:

  • moladh é /'mlw e:/ "he was praised"
  • beannaíodh na cailíní /'b?an?i:w n? 'kal?i:n?i:/ "the girls were blessed"

-(a)idh and -(a)igh are pronounced /?/ before a pronoun, otherwise /i:/:

  • molfaidh mé /'mlh? m?e:/ "I will praise"
  • molfaidh Seán /'mlhia:n/ "Seán will praise"
  • bheannaigh mé /'v?an m?e:/ "I blessed"
  • bheannaigh Seán /'v?ania:n/ "Seán blessed"

In the future and conditional, f (broad or slender) has the following effects:

  1. After vowels and sonorants (/l l? m? m? n n? /) it is pronounced /h/:
    • molfaidh /'mlhi:/ "will praise"
    • dhófadh /'?o:h?x/ "would burn"
    • déarfaidh /'d?e:hi:/ "will say"
  2. It makes a voiced obstruent (/b? b? v? d ?/) voiceless; and makes /w/ turn into /f?/:
    • scuabfadh /'s?ku?p?x/ "would sweep"
    • goidfidh /'t?i:/ "will steal"
    • leagfadh /'l?ak?x/ "would lay"
    • scríobhfaidh /'?ci:f?i:/ "will write"
    • shnámhfadh /'hna:fx/ "would swim"
  3. It is silent after a voiceless obstruent (/k c x ç p? p? s? ? t t?/)
    • brisfidh /'bi:/ "will break"
    • ghlacfadh /'?lak?x/ "would accept"
  4. But in the future and conditional impersonal f is often /f?, f?/
    • molfar /'mlf?/ "one will praise"
    • dhófaí /'?o:f?i:/ "one would burn"
    • scuabfar /'s?ku?b?f?/ "one will sweep"
    • brisfear /'bf?/ "one will break"

In the past participle th (also t after d) is silent but makes a voiced obstruent voiceless:

  • scuabtha /'s?ku?p/ "swept"
  • troidte /'tt/ "fought"
  • ruaigthe /'u?c?/ "chased"

Diacritics

Irish spelling makes use today of only one diacritic, and formerly used a second. The acute accent (Irish: síneadh fada "long sign") is used to indicate a long vowel, as in bád /b?a:d/ "boat". However, there are some circumstances under which a long vowel is not indicated by an acute accent, namely:

  • before rd, rl, rn, rr, for example ard /a:d/ "high", eirleach /'e:lx/ "destruction", dorn /do:n/ "fist"
  • in the groups ae, ao, eo, for example aerach /'e:x/ "gay", maol /m?i:l/ "bare", ceol /co:l/ "music"
  • in the groups omh(a) and umh(a), for example comharsa /'ko:s/ "neighbour", Mumhain /m?u:n?/ "Munster"
  • long /i:/ and /u:/ before /a:/ or /o:/, e.g. fiáin /'f?i:a:n?/ "wild", ruóg /'u:o:?/ "twine"
Road sign in the Donegal Gaeltacht: Note Comha?rle, oba?r, mao?n?ú, Ro?nn, O?dhreachta and O?leán with dotless lowercase i's.

The overdot (Irish: ponc séimhithe "dot of lenition", buailte "struck", or simply séimhiú, "lenition") was formerly used, especially in Gaelic script, to indicate the lenited version of a consonant; currently a following letter h is used for this purpose. Thus the letters ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? are equivalent to bh ch dh fh gh mh ph sh th. In Old Irish orthography, the dot was used only for ? ?, while the following h was used for ch ph th; lenition of other letters was not indicated. Later the two systems spread to the entire set of lenitable consonants and competed with each other. Eventually the standard practice was to use the dot when writing in Gaelic script and the following h when writing in Roman letters.

As with most European languages such as French, Spanish or German, Irish diacritics must be preserved in uppercase forms. If diacritics are unavailable (for example, on a computer using ASCII), there is no generally accepted standard for replacing it (unlike some languages like German, where the umlaut is replaced by a following e and ß is replaced by ss), and so it is generally just omitted entirely.

Lower-case i has no tittle in Gaelic script, and road signs in the Republic of Ireland, which use a typeface based on Transport, also use a dotless lowercase i (as well as a Latin alpha glyph for a). However, as printed and electronic material like books, newspapers and web pages use Roman hand almost invariably, the tittle is generally shown but it is not a diacritic and has no significance. (In Irish, the graphemic distinction between dotted i and dotless ? does not arise, i.e. they are not different letters as they are in, for example, Turkish and Azeri).

According to Alexei Kondratiev,[] the dotless i was developed by monks in the manuscripts to denote the modification of the letter following it. In the word go deimhin for example, the first i would be dotless, softening the m, and the second dotted i would be a normal vowel. The dotting of every occurrence of i in Irish became a convention, as did the letter h, when the language became more usually typed than handwritten, and the limitations of the machine to accommodate a scribe's flicks and notations imposed standardization. This meant that "letters" that were more intended to modify other letters (h and dotless i) became equal letters. In this process formally notation letters became emboldened and distracting to non-initiates. Moves in signage to replace instances of h with dots, and possibly also replace dotless i with an under-dot, for example, would clarify spelling and make words less cluttered with notation letters and easier to read. Removing notation letters (h and dotless i) would also constitute a spelling reform without having to change the essential spellings. The dots or diacritics would take the place of distracting notational letters as was once common in manuscripts and handwriting prior to keyboards.

Punctuation

Íoc ? Taispeáin ("pay & display") sign in Dublin with the Tironian et for agus ("and").

In general, punctuation marks are used in Irish much as they are in English. One punctuation mark worth noting is the Tironian et ? which is generally used to abbreviate the word agus "and", much as the ampersand is generally used to abbreviate the word and in English.

The hyphen (Irish: fleiscín) is used in Irish after the letters t and n when these are attached to a vowel-initial word through the rules of the initial mutations, as in an t-arán "the bread", a n-iníon "their daughter". However, the hyphen is not used when the vowel is capitalised, as in an tAlbanach "the Scotsman", Ár nAthair "Our Father". No hyphen is used with the h that is attached to a vowel-initial word: a hiníon "her daughter".

The hyphen is also used in compound words under certain circumstances:

  • between two vowels, e.g. mí-ádh "misfortune"
  • between two similar consonants, e.g. droch-chaint "bad language", grod-díol "prompt payment"
  • in a three-part compound, e.g. buan-chomhchoiste "permanent joint committee"
  • after the prefixes do-, fo-, so- before a word beginning with bha, bhla, bhra, dha, gha, ghla, ghra, mha, for example: do-bhlasta "bad tasting", fo-ghlac "subsume", so-mharfacht "mortality"
  • in capitalised titles, e.g. An Príomh-Bhreitheamh "the Chief Justice"
  • after an- "very" and dea- "good", e.g. an-mhór "very big", dea-mhéin "goodwill"

The apostrophe (Irish: uaschama) is used to indicate an omitted vowel in the following cases:

  • the prepositions de "from" and do "to" both become d' before a vowel (or fh + vowel, since fh is silent), as in Thit sí d'each "She fell from a horse" and Tabhair d'fhear an tí é "Give it to the landlord"
  • the possessive pronouns mo "my" and do "your (singular)" become m' and d' before a vowel or fh + vowel, as in m'óige "my youth", d'fhiacail "your tooth"
  • the preverbal particle do becomes d' before a vowel or fh + vowel, as in d'ardaigh mé "I raised", d'fhanfadh sé "he would wait"
  • the copular particle ba becomes b' before a vowel or fh + vowel, as in B'ait liom é sin "I found that odd" and b'fhéidir "maybe". However, ba retains its vowel before the pronouns é, í, iad, as in Ba iad na ginearáil a choinnigh an chumhacht "It was the generals who kept the power"

Capitalisation

Bilingual sign in Ireland. The eclipsis of P to bP uses lowercase in an otherwise all-caps text

Capitalisation rules are similar to English. However, a prefix letter remains in lowercase when the base initial is capitalised (an tSín "China"). For text written in all caps, the prefix letter is often kept in lowercase, or small caps (STAIR NA HÉIREANN "THE HISTORY OF IRELAND").[2] An initial capital is used for:[3]

  • The first word of a sentence
  • Personal names and placenames, though not the words an, na, de[4] (Micheál Ó Murchú "Michael Murphy"; Máire Mhac an tSaoi "Mary McEntee" de Búrca "Burke"; Sliabh na mBan "Slievenamon")
  • Adjectives from personal names and placenames; though not for adjectives used in extended senses (bia Iodálach "Italian food", but cló iodálach "italic type")
  • Names of months, feast-days, and languages (Meán Fómhair "September"; Oíche Nollag "Christmas Eve"; Fraincis "French")
  • Names of days of the week (an Luan "Monday"), as well as (Dé Luain "on Monday")
  • Definite titles[5]
  • Names of God; though not pronouns referring to God[6]

Abbreviations

Irish has a number of abbreviations, most of which, like lch. for leathanach ("p."/"page") and m.sh. for mar shampla ("e.g."/"for example" "exempli gratia") are straightforward. Two that may require explanation are .i. (which begins and ends with a full stop) for eadhon ("i.e."/"that is") and ?rl. or srl. for agus araile ("etc."/"and so forth" "et cetera").

Spelling reform

The literary Classical Irish which survived till the 17th century was already archaic and its spelling reflected that; Theobald Stapleton's 1639 catechism was a first attempt at simplification.[7] The classical spelling represented a dialect continuum including distinctions lost in all surviving dialects by the Gaelic revival of the late 19th century. The issue of simplifying spelling, linked to the use of Roman or Gaelic type, was controversial in the early decades of the 20th century.[8] The Irish Texts Society's 1904 Irish-English bilingual dictionary by Patrick S. Dinneen used traditional spellings.[8] After the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922, all Acts of the Oireachtas were translated into Irish, initially using Dinneen's spellings, with a list of simplifications accruing over the years.[8] When Éamon de Valera became President of the Executive Council after the 1932 election, policy reverted to older spellings, which were used in the enrolled text of the 1937 Constitution.[8] In 1941, de Valera decided to publish a "popular edition" of the Constitution with simplified spelling and established a committee of experts, which failed to agree on recommendations.[8][9] Instead, the Oireachtas' own translation service prepared a booklet, Litriú na Gaeilge: Lámhleabhar an Chaighdeáin Oifigiúil, published in 1945.[9] The following are some old spellings criticised by T. F. O'Rahilly and their simplifications:[8]

old spelling new spelling
beirbhiughadh beiriú
imthighthe imithe
faghbháil fáil
urradhas urrús
filidheacht filíocht

The booklet was expanded in 1947, and republished as An Caighdeán Oifigiúil ("the official standard") in 1958, combined with the standard grammar of 1953.[10] It attracted initial criticism as unhistorical and artificial; some spellings fail to represent the pronunciation of some dialects, while others preserve letters not pronounced in any dialect.[10] Its status was reinforced by use in the civil service and as a guide for Tomás de Bhaldraithe's 1959 English-Irish dictionary and Niall Ó Dónaill's 1977 Irish-English dictionary.[10] A review of the written standard, including spelling, was announced in 2010, with a view to improving "simplicity, internal consistency, and logic".[11] The result was the 2017 updated Caighdeán Oifigiúil.[12]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ "Graiméar Gaeilge na mBráithre Críostaí". An Gúm. 22 September 1999 – via Google Books.
  2. ^ Graiméar Gaeilge na mBráithre Críostaí, §3.2
  3. ^ Graiméar Gaeilge na mBráithre Críostaí, §3.1
  4. ^ Graiméar Gaeilge na mBráithre Críostaí, §§ 3.1, 7.6, 10.2-10.3
  5. ^ Graiméar Gaeilge na mBráithre Críostaí, §§ 3.1, 3.4
  6. ^ Graiméar Gaeilge na mBráithre Críostaí, §3.5
  7. ^ Crowley, Tony (2005). "Encoding Ireland: Dictionaries and Politics in Irish History". Éire-Ireland. 40 (3): 119-139. doi:10.1353/eir.2005.0017. ISSN 1550-5162.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Ó Cearúil, Micheál; Ó Murchú, Máirtín (1999). "Script and Spelling". Bunreacht na hÉireann: a study of the Irish text (PDF). Dublin: Stationery Office. pp. 27-41. ISBN 0-7076-6400-4. Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 July 2011.
  9. ^ a b Dáil debates Vol.99 No.17 p.3 7 March 1946
  10. ^ a b c Ó Laoire, Muiris (1997). "The Standardization of Irish Spelling: an Overview". Journal of the Spelling Society. 22 (2): 19-23. Archived from the original on 22 July 2011.
  11. ^ Central Translation Unit. "The Scope of the Process". Review of Caighdeán Oifigiúil na Gaeilge. Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs. Archived from the original on 5 October 2013. Retrieved 2012.
  12. ^ "Rannóg an Aistriúcháin > An Caighdeán Oifigiúil". In September 2014, members of the public and other interested parties were asked to make submissions regarding An Caighdeán Oifigiúil. An Advisory Committee was also established, which worked tirelessly for a year and a half to identify issues and to make recommendations. The result of this work is the new edition of An Caighdeán Oifigiúil, published by the Houses of the Oireachtas Service in 2017.

References


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