This article is a work in progress but will eventually teach the interested learner how to pronounce almost all Gaelic words according to the set of rules. It is particularly useful for travellers to the Highlands who may not need to speak the language but would love to know how to pronounce the place-names. It may also be used in conjunction with the other pages in this Wikibook to ensure correct pronunciation of Gaelic words. Please note that these are only approximate pronunciations, to aid simplicity.
Vowels in Gaelic can be both long and short.
- a represents the sound in English cat.
- e represents the sound in English net.
- i represents the sound in English pit.
- o represents the sound in English dot.
Pretty simple, huh? Don't worry, it gets worse...
- u represents the sound in English boot.
A grave accent over a vowel means that it's pronounced according to its long value rather than its short one. So, these are the long versions of the vowels;
- à represents the sound in English father.
- è represents the sound in English fair, although without any trace of an R on the end of the sound.
- ì represents the sound in English machine.
- ò represents the sound in English hawk.
- ù represents a sound pretty close to English brewer, but as a single sound (NOT broo-urr). Or try saying the vowel sound in pure without the Y that is often sounded before it.
Broad and Slender
Gaelic has two categories of vowels. A, O and U are classified as broad, whereas E and I are classified as slender. There is a rule in Gaelic spelling that says "caol ri caol agus leathann ri leathann" - "broad with broad and slender with slender" - which basically says that, if you have a broad vowel before a group of consonants, you have to stick a broad vowel after it as well; and the same applies to slender vowels as well.
You might be thinking, why bother? Well, the answer is that, as we will see later on, consonants sound different depending on whether they come before broad or slender vowels. Just giving you the heads-up in advance.
Let's learn the basic rules first.
- p represents the sound in English pat.
- c represents the sound in English cat.
- t represents the sound in English tin.
- ng represents the sound in English sing, never as in finger.
- s represents the sound in English sit.
Nothing new there then! Now for some slightly more tricky ones.
- l or ll is not quite the same as in English - it's more like the 'hollow' l in full, with the tongue touching the upper teeth.
- nn is a bit like l above - hollow, without the vocal chords vibrating.
This is Just the Beginning!
And next, a group of consonants that all share the same, important rule.
- b represents the sound in English bat - at the beginning of a word only; in other places it's pronounced like P.
- g - as in English good - at the beginning of a word only; in other places it's pronounced like C.
- d - as in English dog - at the beginning of a word only; in other places it's pronounced like T. Also, to pronounce it properly, the tongue should touch the upper teeth. Try it!
- n is a tricky one to get right. At the beginning of a word, it is like the English in need. Elsewhere, it's pronounced like nn above.
- r is another peculiar one. At the beginning of a word, it is like the English in reed. Elsewhere, it's rolled, like the R in Spanish.
Broadening your Outlook
So far, we have only dealt with broad consonants - how consonants are pronounced when they come before a, o or u. When they go before e or i, they're said differently! Fortunately, there is one relatively simple rule; stick a Y in. Let's see some examples;
- p becomes like in English pew.
And some more; but don't forget the rule mentioned earlier.
- b becomes like in English beautiful, with a Y sound after the B. (But only at the beginning of a word!)