A Pronunciation Guide to Irish

Heroic & Dark Fantasy and Science Fiction Character created by Kevin L. O'Brien

Morgan le Fay, by Anthony Frederick Sandys

Heavy Metal Cover 1991, © by Luis Royo

Pronunciation Guides pointed out in The Name of Medb hErenn, Kevin L. O'Brien decided to make Primitive Irish an amalgam of the languages of the Heidhbernigh, the Tuatha Dé Danann, the Fir Bholg, and the Fomóraigh. Since Primitive Irish ultimately envolved into modern Gaeilge (Irish Gaelic), this allows him to use the modern Irish language and some Old Irish words without creating anachronistic difficulties. However, Gaeilge is not pronounced the same as English, so to help readers Mr. O'Brien provides pronunciation guides at the end of each story. Here we present a master guide Mr. O'Brien wrote for his own use.

Introduction

The pronunciation of Gaeilge has drifted over time, as with any language, but for the most part has remained unchanged since the close of the Iron Age. Nonetheless, there can be some disagreement over how words from ancient Irish should be pronounced. I have chosen to use modern pronunciation, but even here there can be a difference of opinion. As such, the pronunciations given below are my best guess based on my mediocre knowledge of modern Irish. Also, if there are differences due to regional dialect, I have chosen to go with the Connacht pronunciation, since being from that province, that is how Medb hErenn would pronounce those particular sounds.

Spelling, on the other hand, has changed a great deal over time, as the way that letter sounds are represented have changed. The spellings given below represent one possible version, but in many cases there can be two, three, even four possible versions for each word sound.

Word Stress

In Connacht, stress generally falls on the first syllable, with only a few exceptions. However, in other provinces, stress can fall on a syllable that contains a long vowel. This rule has generally been adopted by many people outside of Ireland. In any event, capitalization indicates which syllable should be stressed.

Vowels

Vowels come in four forms: long and short, and broad and slender. The broad vowels are a, o, and u, and the slender vowels are e and i. They determine whether a consonant they are paired with is itself broad or slender. Also, one of the rules of modern Irish spelling is that broad must go with broad and slender with slender, so a broad consonant must have a broad vowel on either side of it, and a slender consonant must have a slender vowel on either side of it. However, broad and slender vowels do not have different pronunciations from long and short.

Long vowels are marked with the sineadh fada (´) and are á, é, í, ó, and ú; there are also certain combinations of vowels that are pronounced long. They are always pronounced the same way, whatever their position in a word. Often, these vowels will be written with another short vowel before or after it. This generally does not affect the pronunciation of the long vowel, but is written to obey the broad with broad and slender with slender rule. The only exception to this rule is for personal names, especially those based on ancient Irish spelling.

á aw, as in law
ae ay, as in day
ao ee, as in eel
aoi ee, as in eel
é ay, as in day
eo oh, as in go
í ee, as in eel
ia EE-uh
iai EE-uh
ó oh, as in go
ú oo, as in too
ua OO-uh
uai OO-eh

Short vowels are pronounced as follows only when they are part of the stressed syllable of a word. In unstressed syllables, those that are combined with broad consonants are pronounced "uh", as in duh, whereas those combined with slender consonants are pronounced "ih", as in hit.

a ah, as in father
ai a, as in cat
e eh, as in bet
ea ah, as in father
a, as in cat
ei eh, as in bet
i ih, as in hit
io ih, as in hit
yuh
o o, as in pot
oi eh, as in bet
u u, as in book
ui wi, as in quick

Certain short vowel combinations have different sounds when they occur at the beginning of a word:

eo oh, as in go
i oo, as in too
oi ih, as in hit
ui ih, as in hit
eh, as in bet

Short vowels that precede certain combinations of consonants are pronounced long (see below). Finally, certain combinations of consonants have unwritten vowel sounds between them (see below).

Consonants

Consonants come in two forms, broad and slender. Broad consonants are those that are paired with the broad vowels a, o, and u; slender consonants are those that are paired with the slender vowels e and i.

Broad Pronunciation Slender Pronunciation
b b by
bh w
v before l and r, and at end of word
v
bhf v v
bp b by
c hard k, as in kangaroo ky
ch hard guttural ck, as in lock soft ch, as in chair
d d soft j, as in jelly
dh hard g, as in gate y, like eye
dt d soft j, as in jelly
f f fy
fh (silent) (silent)
g hard g, as in gate gy
gc g gy
gh hard guttural gh as in ghost y, like eye
h h h
l l ly
ll ll-l ll-y
m m my
mb m my
mh w
v before l and r, and at end of word
v
n n ny
nd n ny
nn wn, as in own ny
p p py
ph f fy
r r r
s s sh
sh h h
t t soft ch, as in chair
th h h

Note that the slender pronunciation of certain consonants includes a 'y' sound after the consonant sound. This is a glide, in which the consonant sound is followed immediately by the 'y' sound. Proper pronunciation is difficult for anyone not raised on Gaeilge, but essentially the two sounds are blended, with the consonant sound "gliding" into the 'y' sound.

Certain combinations of consonants cause short vowels that precede them to be pronounced long:

ll, nn, rr, rd, and m

Other combinations of consonants have unwritten vowel sounds between them:

Broad Pronunciation Slender Pronunciation
lb luhb lihb
lbh luhw lihv
lg luhg lihg
lm luhm lihm
nb nuhb nihb
nbh nuhw nihv
ng nuhg nihg
nm nuhm nihm
rb ruhb rihb
rbh ruhw rihv
rg ruhg rihg
rm ruhm rihm

Finally, there are certain combinations of vowels and consonants that produce specific sounds:

abh ow, as in cow
adh oy, as in toy
-adh ah, as in father
agh oy, as in toy
aidh ay, as in day
aigh eye, as in eye
aobh yuh
eabh ow, as in cow
eadh eh, as in bet
eagh ay, as in day
eibh eye, as in eye
edh ay, as in day
eidh eye, as in eye
idh ee, as in eel
igh ee, as in eel
iodh EE-o
obh ow, as in cow
odh ow, as in cow
ogh ow, as in cow
oidh ay, as in day
uadh OO-uh
uagh OO-uh
uaigh OO-ih

 

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