aːRd vs aːRʃd or Where the sh comes from

O Goireasan Akerbeltz
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We won't go into the discussion of whether this feature is Norse or Martian because unless you are hoping to become a historical linguist, it doesn't matter.

So what can we tell you about this strange [ʃ] that pops up in Gaelic?

  • It affects rt and rd groups in Gaelic.
  • Traditionally, not all dialects are affected, as you can see on the map, and Perthshire Gaelic even diphthongises the [a]. Due to the pervasiveness of Lewis Gaelic in the media, teaching, and so on, this feature has spread into other dialects. So, the presence or lack of [ʃ] is no longer a clear cue to geographical origin.

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  • If it occurs, it tends to occur only in stressed syllables so ainneart for example tends not to have this intrusive [ʃ].
  • Some speakers tend to insert [ʃ] only in rt groups, but not rd groups, but never the other way round. Thus, you'll hear speakers who pronounce ceart and àrd as [kʲaɹʃt̪] and [aːɹʃt̪] but never [kʲaɹt̪] and [aːɹʃt̪].

Beyond that, there doesn't appear to be a clear rule, but we'll research this further and see whether there actually is a rule.

For learners, it seems to be a good guideline to insert [ʃ] both in rt and rd groups in stressed syllables, that's to say first syllables. That won't sound wrong to a Gael's ears even if he does not pronounce the intrusive [ʃ]. Unless you're desperate to learn a particular dialect, which we don't recommend, you'll have to memorise your chosen dialect's rt and rd words. As far as we can see, the option to use [ʃ], or not, does not appear to be rule based.

To listen to some examples, check our Fuaimean na Gàidhlig section.

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