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 may be divided into two groups, the 'broad' consonants and the 'narrow (slender)' consonants.
Broad and slender pairs
For every broad consonant, there is 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 d and 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 is preceded or followed by any of the broad vowel letters a o u (short or long); a consonant is slender if it is preceded or followed by any of the slender vowel letters i e (short or long). Preceding or following a o u therefore indicate that a consonant is broad. Similarly, preceding or following i e indicate that a consonant is slender. Since a consonant can not be both broad and slender, vowels on both sides of a consonant must agree according to colour (broad or slender). 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
The pronunciation of the broad consonants is in some cases similar to their English counterparts but there are many differences. The pronunciation of l n r is radically different in Gaelic and 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 the pronunciation. Don't shun it - it is a tool especially designed for this use by professionals - accurate representation of sounds in other 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 is voiced, if there is no vibration, it is 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> 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 is 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 is voiced, if there is no vibration, it is devoiced, so the pure IPA symbol would be [g̊] or [k].
Slender g is a little 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].
in <pad> at the beginning of a word. In full IPA, we'd write [pʰ].
Like <p> in <pad> preceded by <h> otherwise. 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> otherwise 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.
Slender t is somewhat similar to <c> in <chew> at the beginning of words 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> otherwise but 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> preceded by [x] otherwise. [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 is a voiceless and aspirated, palatalised stop. In full IPA, this would be [kʲʰ].
Similar to the <c> in <cue> otherwise but pre-aspirated. It is 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 ᚜