An diofar eadar na mùthaidhean a rinneadh air "What's wrong with "imitated pronunciation" and how to read the IPA"

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(So what do you need to know?)
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Mùthadh on 00:28, 20 dhen Dùbhlachd 2011

I'm sure you've heard the saying "one picture is worth a thousand words" ...

fuaimreagangaidhlig.jpg fuaimreaganbeurla.jpg
The Gaelic Vowel Space The English vowel space

Never mind what all the symbols mean right now, just play "spot the difference" and bear in mind we're ignoring something called diphthongs for now.

Now, you might think, ok, but surely the consonants will be much more similar. In the words of Dirty Harry, are you feeling lucky?

Faidhle:consainghaidhlig.jpg Faidhle:consainbheurla.jpg
Gaelic consonants English consonants

See what I'm driving at? Even without (at this stage) understanding what all the symbols mean, it is obvious that Gaelic and English have vastly different sound inventories. In actual fact, you have chosen to learn a language with one of the most complex system of sonorants (L N and R) anywhere in the world. Daunting? Perhaps, but be proud of it. And it IS learnable, trust me.

But back to Imitated Pronunciation. Sometimes it works, say if you wanted to represent the sounds of Basque with Spanish syllables/letters. That is possible because there is a large number of sounds common to both languages. But you simply can't do that with English and Gaelic, the two are just too different. English doesn't have clear vowels, Gaelic does. English doesn't have a long/short vowel distinction, Gaelic does. English has one L, N and R, Gaelic has three each. English has two dental fricatives, neither of which is much help in Gaelic. English has a [w] which isn't any help because Gaelic doesn't ... it's a loooong list.

So using English sounds/syllables to create a system of Imitated Pronunciation is not going to work - <lap-ee> and <cheen> are as far removed from the Gaelic words leabaidh and tighinn as <sing> and <oftalmolodschist> are from <thing> and <opthalmologist>.

So why the IPA? Haven't I enough to worry about?

Well, actually the IPA is there to help you make your life easier. And you don't have to learn all of it anyway, just the bits you need for Gaelic. It's as reliable tool as you will find in writing down the sounds of any language because it was developed by linguists to do just that. True, it's not 100% perfect, but what is?

So what do you need to know?

Well, as a general principle in the IPA (the International Phonetic Alphabet) the key principle is that one symbol stands for one sound. This sound can then be described in more detail by using a set of squiggles (or diacritics rather) which can sit over, under or behind a symbol. These are always smaller than a full symbol. That's it really for the general principle, let's look at the symbols and squiggles you will need for Gaelic (by the way, you don't have to learn the names of the symbols, the IPA is just a tool, not a purpose in itself):

Symbol Name Meaning & Usage English Example Gaelic Example
ː vowel length placed after a vowel symbol it shows that this vowel is long [griːn] green [kaːr] càr
̃ tilde placed over a vowel to show it is nasal in quality [ʃɛ̃v] sèimh
ˠ velarisation placed behind a consonant, it shows that this consonant is velarised, i.e. your velum is lowered. [ãũn̪ˠ] ann
̪ dental sign placed under a consonant it shows that this sound is made with your tongue touching your teeth. [ãũn̪ˠ] ann
' apostrophe placed before a syllable it shows that this syllables carries primary stress [pər'mɪt] permit [ə'max] a-mach
ʰ superscript h placed either before or after a consonant it shows that slight aspiration either precedes or follows a consonant. After word initial stops like p, t, k etc ʰ is generally not written because these sounds are automatically aspirated both in Gaelic and in English when they appear at the beginning of a word. So you will only see them at the beginning of a word in the two examples on the right. [pʰər'mɪt] permit [kʰuʰpə] cupa
ʲ superscript j placed after a consonant it shows that this consonant is palatalised, i.e. your tongue is touching your palate during articulation [d̊ʲiən] dèan
. fullstop placed between two vowels it shows that these vowels do not form a diphthong and belong to the same syllable, but rather that they are two separate vowels belonging to two different syllables [siː.iːgl] sea-eagle [fi.əx] fitheach
̊ hollow circle placed over or under a consonant this shows that the consonant is devoiced, i.e. has no voicing anymore. See Guide to Voicing [g̊ə] gu
i high front vowel as in English [siː] sea [b̊iː] bidh

e mid high front vowel

as in English peɪd paid le le ɛ

mid low front vowel


as in English bɛt bet kɛʰtʲ cait a

low front vowel


as in English gaɪ guy aɾan aran ɔ

mid low back vowel


as in English (but short) θɔː thaw ʃɔ seo o

mid high back vowel


the so called “close o” (occurs in Scots, but only as a long vowel) soː so (Scots) fo fo ɤ

mid high back unrounded vowel


see Fuaimreagan - gɤdʲ goid u

back high vowel


as in English (but short) ʃuː shoe b̊us bus ɯ

back high unrounded vowel


see Fuaimreagan - kɯːɫ̪ caol

That should do. We haven't put detailed descriptions on the production of the vowels and the consonants because those are going in a different section. This is just to help you understand how the IPA works.




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