GC's Gaelic for Beginners

Lesson 5 - Now we're talking!

I finally want to start with Beag air Bheag in this lesson. But first, a bit more pronunciation and spelling info for you.

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1. Check out the information about vowels on the Articulatory Phonetics page. Keep an eye out for the difference between front and back vowels, which is what we need here. Now I can introduce you to the all important spelling rule: leathann ri leathann agus caol ri caol, in English "broad with broad and slender with slender". Now, what does this mean? The front vowels spelled with e and i are termed as slender, all others as broad. Now, in Gaelic all consonants come in two variants: a broad and a slender one. But, if you have two different t's, how do you make that clear in spelling? Easy as pie, surround the slender one with slender vowels, and the broad one with broad vowels, on both sides. This is one of the reasons Gaelic words look so long and you always have tons of letters. If I'm not making sense to you, or for more detailed information check out Broad vs Slender @ akerbeltz.

In the last lesson, we have looked at plosive consonants at the beginning of words. I gave you the broad variants only (sneaky me). Let me now give you the full list (I will have to split this into more than one post because the number of images is limited):

broad - slender
[pʰ] - [pʰ]. Here, both are identical. An aspirated p, just like in English.
[b̊] - [b̊]. A p without aspiration, just like in French.

[t̪ʰ] - [tʲ]. The slender t is different from the broad t. The broad one is with aspiration, just like in English. The slender one is like ch in church, just try to put the tip of your tongue to the back of the upper front teeth and you've got it.
[d̪̊] - [d̊ʲ]. Broad d is like a t without aspiration, with the tip of your tongue against the back of the teeth. Slender d is like j in jeans, but it is voiceless. When trying out the sound, put your fingers on your throat and it shouldn't vibrate.

broad - slender
[kʰ] - [kʲʰ]. Both are aspirated. The broad k is like c in English can, slender k like in English keep.
[g̊] - [g̊ʲ]. Like the latter sounds, only without aspiration.

2. Go to BBC Beag air Bheag and do the first lesson. Take your time about it and go through it more than once. You can alternately just listen to the sounds, or learn the grammar bits and vocabulary they give you, or do all at once. Another little orthography note: Usually, the letter h does not represent a sound in itself, but it changes the consonant in front of it. We will see later why that is when we get to lenition, so don't worry about why for the moment. You will encounter two pronunciation exceptions already in the first lesson, so let me point them out for you:

- the th in thu is silent, but it is usually pronounced as [h].

- the fh in fhèin is pronounced [h], but it usually is silent.

And you can listen for how the words flow together: "Ciamar a tha thu" is pronounced as if it was all one word with no glottal stops before the vowels. So, you do not get "Ciamar [ʔ]a tha [ʔ]thu". Also, it sounds like a statement, not like a question: the pitch is not raised towards the end.

3. Now I wish to introduce you to the plosives (stops) in the middle and at the end of words. The unaspirated ones stay as they are, but the aspirated ones shift their aspiration to before the sounds themselves. This is commonly termed pre-aspiration. You can most clearly hear this in the phrase "Tapadh leat" [ˈt̪ʰaxpə ˈlɛʰt̪] where this occurs twice, before the p in tapadh and before the t in leat. Before p and k this can become very strong in some dialects. If you're a German speaker, you can try the strong version and go for [x] (the ch in loch) for the broad p and k, and for [ç] (the ch in ich) for the slender p and k. Before t it's easier, it's just a little h. If you're an English speaker, just go for an h in all cases. There are dialects that do just that and it's perfectly good Gaelic :)

4. Go through the lesson again and read everything out loud. Even if you feel silly at first, just do it, and do it with every lesson from now on. You will not only practice the sounds, but it will also help you memorize the phrases and words! If you don't believe me this is useful, read The Sin of Silent Reading by William Harris.

5. A syntactical note: Tha is the present tense of a verb similar to "to be". Note how this is mostly used in the beginning of a sentence, and always the same for each person: tha mi, tha thu, tha sibh, ... One exception for this is when you have a question, where the question word comes first, as in Ciamar a tha thu. If you wish to look ahead and read some more with a bit of a grammatical touch, you can go to TAIC, Lesson 1.

6. Let's practice what we've learned and get talking. So, all of you tell me, Ciamar a tha sibh?
Last edited: 16 June 2022 07:26:24