Gaelic spelling only uses 13 consonant symbols (b, c, d, f, g, h, l, m, n, p, r, s, t) to represent almost 30 different Gaelic consonant sounds. In Gaelic, the consonants are divided into two groups, the 'broad' consonants and the 'narrow (slender)' consonants.
Broad and slender pairs
For every broad consonant, there's a corresponding narrow consonant; so, we may speak of a broad and slender s, d, and so on. Listen to the difference between:
|Broad s||Slender s|
|Broad d||Slender d|
|[bad]||bad||clump (n.)||[badʲ]||baid||clump (genitive)|
Note that broad d and broad t are dental sounds in Gaelic (i.e. the tongue touches the teeth).
How does the spelling show broad and slender?
A consonant is broad if it's preceded or followed by any of the broad vowels a o u, short or long, and a consonant is slender if it's preceded or followed by any of the slender vowels i e, short or long. Therefore, a consonant preceding or following a o u indicates that a consonant is broad. Similarly, a consonant preceding or following i e indicates that a consonant is slender. Since a consonant can not be both broad and slender, vowels on both sides of a consonant must be in accord as to their broad or slender colouring. This is sometimes stated as a rule:
caol ri caol is leathann ri leathann slender with slender and broad with broad
Consider the following examples:
The Pronunciation of Gaelic Consonants
In some cases, the pronunciation of the broad consonants is similar to their English counterparts, but there are many differences. In Gaelic, the pronunciation of l n r is radically different and their pronunciation is treated in a special section, although some of the sound files are located on this page.
The only accurate guide to the pronunciation of these sounds is the IPA representation. Ideally, you should use these guides in conjunction with the help of a native speaker. But, even without such help, the IPA gives a very good guide to pronunciation. Don't shun it - it's a tool especially designed by professionals as a pronunciation guide, and a complete IPA chart offers an accurate representation of the sounds of the world's languages. See also our Rough Guide to the IPA.
Broad b is like the p in spit or sport. This is a devoiced and unaspirated bilabial stop. Devoiced means that your vocal chords are not vibrating. You can check this by putting your hand on your throat - if you feel vibration, it's voiced, if there is no vibration, it's devoiced. The hardcore IPA transcription is [b̊] or [p].
Slender b is pronounced similarly to broad b, but is accompanied by a /j/ sound like the <y> in <yes> if followed by a back vowel. The hardcore IPA symbol for this is [b̊j].
Broad d is close to <t> as in <start> or <stuck>. This is a devoiced and unaspirated dental stop. Dental means that the tip of your tongue touches your teeth. Devoiced means that your vocal chords are not vibrating. You can check this by putting your hand on your throat - if you feel vibration, it is voiced, if there is no vibration, it's devoiced. The full IPA symbol is [d̪̊] or [t̪].
Slender d is somewhat similar to <j> in <judge>, but devoiced.
This is both devoiced and dental. Note: use the blade of the tongue rather than the tip and with less lip rounding. In full IPA, we'd write [d̊ʲ] or [tʲ].
|[dʲigʲ]||dig||come (future dependent)|
Broad g is like the <k> or <c> in <skunk> or <scorn>. This is a devoiced and unaspirated stop. Devoiced means that your vocal chords are not vibrating. You can check this by putting your hand on your throat - if you feel vibration, it's voiced, if there is no vibration, it's devoiced, so the pure IPA symbol would be [g̊] or [k].
Slender g is somewhat similar to the <g> in <argue>.
This sound is very much like [g] only much more forward in your mouth, at your palate. It is a devoiced and unaspirated, palatalised stop. In full IPA, [g̊ʲ] or [kʲ].
Broad p is like the
in <pad> at the beginning of a word. In full IPA, we'd write [pʰ].
Elsewhere, non-initially, <p> as in <pad> is preceded by <h> and pre-aspirated in a stressed syllable. In full IPA this would be [ʰp].
Slender p is pronounced like broad <p>, but is accompanied by a /j/ sound like the <y> in <yes> after a back vowel. [pʰj] in full IPA.
Like <p> in <pea> preceded by <h>, in all other positions, in a stressed syllable.
Broad t is somewhat like <t> in <tap> at the beginning of a word, but dental. Dental means that the tip of your tongue touches your teeth. This sound is also aspirated, so in pure IPA we'd write [t̪ʰ].
Like <t> in <tap> preceded by <h> otherwise but dental. This sound is also pre-aspirated, [ʰt̪] in full IPA.
At the beginning of words, slender t is somewhat similar to <c> in <chew>, but unvoiced. This sound is palatalised and aspirated. Note: use the blade of the tongue rather than the tip. Pure IPA writes this as [tʲʰ].
Similar to <j> in <judge> preceded by <h>, but in all other positions it's unvoiced. This sound is palatalised and pre-aspirated. Note: use the blade of the tongue rather than the tip. [ʰtʲ] in full IPA.
Broad c is the same as <c> in <can> at the beginning of a word. In full IPA, [kʰ].
Like <c> in <cat> but in all other positions preceded by [x], [xk] in pure IPA.
Slender c is similar to the <c> in <cue> at the beginning of a word.
This sound is very much like [k] only much more forward in your mouth (at your palate). It's a voiceless and aspirated, palatalised stop. In full IPA, this would be [kʲʰ].
Similar to the <c> in <cue>, but pre-aspirated in all other positions. It's a voiceless and pre-aspirated, palatalised stop.
Broad m is exactly like <m> in <mat>.
Slender m is pronounced just like broad <m> but accompanied by a /j/ sound like the <y> in <yes>, as in English <mule>, if a back vowel follows.
Broad f is like <f> in <fat>.
Slender <f> is pronounced like broad <f>, but is accompanied by a /j/ sound like the <y> in <yes>, similar to English <few>, if followed by a back vowel.
Broad s is a bit like s in sat, but dental. In pure IPA, [s̪].
Slender s is a bit similar to <sh> in <shoe> but without the lip rounding i.e. spread lips.
|Fuaimean na Gàidhlig|
| ᚛ Vowels - Consonants - Fricatives - Slenderisation - Pre-aspiration - Lenition - Helping vowel - Diphthongs ᚜ |
᚛ Hiatus - l n r - rt & rd - Vowels before rr ll nn - Unstressed vowels ᚜