Table of Contents
Alphabet - An Aibítir
Irish uses the Latin alphabet. The basic alphabet consists of 18 letters:
a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, l, m, n, o, p, r, s, t, u
Variations of a, e, i, o and u written with an acute accent (Irish: Síneadh fada or just fada for short) also exist in Irish. They denote both a longer pronunciation and a different vowel quality:
Á á, É é, Í í, Ó ó, Ú ú
There are, however, some instances where letters outside the normal 18 letter alphabet are used. An example of this would be the Irish word for "zoo" which is "zú" even though the Irish alphabet lacks a letter Z. "Sú" means juice so it would not be possible to translate "zoo" with the letter S.
In addition to these letters others are used in words borrowed from other languages. The letters are usually called by their English names, except that the letter a is called "ah". The names of the vowels with accents take the formula "name of vowel" + "fada, thus the name "Ciarán would be spelt out load as "C, I, A, R, A-fada, N".
When books were first printed in Irish Type, the fonts used were based on the handwritten scripts of the time (16th Century) as they were for all other languages. A feature of the Irish manuscripts was the use of special marks to indicate sounds that were not well represented with Roman letters. The most common mark was used to indicate the softening of a consonant by putting a dot above the consonant. (This is similar to the umlaut in German, which represents a vowel vocalised forward of its usual location in the mouth.) This is known in Irish as a seimhiú (softening); grammarians call it lenition. It was also known as "buailte" - struck. There were very few books published in Irish until the Irish Language Revival started in the late 19th/early 20th Century. Up until the 1960s, most books were printed using fonts modelled on uncial handwriting. Eventually these were replaced by the Latin fonts for reasons of practicality with the dot above the letter replaced by a 'h' after the letter, but the Gaelic script is still used decoratively. With the ease of use of true type fonts on PCs the old fonts, known as "seanchló" (Old Type) or Cló Gaelach (Gaelic Type) have undergone a renaissance.
The Old Spelling and Punctum Delens: A Note - An Seanlitriú agus an Ponc Séimhithe: Tabhair faoi Deara!
Until the end of the nineteen forties, Irish was printed in a special typeface called Gaelic type, essentially a printed representation of medieval manuscript letters. A salient feature of this type was the punctum delens, a dot over a consonant letter, such as ċ or ġ. In contemporary Irish, the punctum delens isn't used any more. The punctum delens was used in order to indicate a modification of pronunciation called séimhiú or lenition (in older textbooks, it was mistakenly called aspiration, which is in proper linguistic usage something entirely different). It could appear over the letters b, c, d, f, g, m, p, s, and t. Nowadays, lenition is indicated by adding a h after the lenited consonant.
The Gaelic typeface and punctum delens are strongly linked with the older spelling, which was less phonetic than the spelling we use today, and more about being historically correct. Thus, it was cluttered with mute letters. Modern spelling can be used with the Gaelic typeface and punctum delens, but this is extremely rare - mostly you can count on all books in Gaelic type being in the old spelling. In fact, there seems to be just one book around printed in Gaelic type with punctum delens, but using a modern spelling - Niall Ó Dónaill's Na Glúnta Rosannacha.