You have studied all the phonics and have been working hard on learning words and grammar but you feel like your pronunciation could be improved. Well here are three tips that are simple but can make a lot of difference.
1. Is you emPHAsis on the wrong syllABLE?
Emphasis can seem like a little thing but it can make a lot of difference to how a word sounds. In Scottish Gaelic the emphasis is almost always on the first syllable.
Here are some examples:
agam ---> AGam
madainn -----> MADainn
As with any rule there are a few exceptions. Words that have an accent in another syllable will have the emphasis on the accented syllable i.e. buntàta. Words that are barrowed from other languages may have different emphasis as well. The last main exception are words that used to be two words such as airson, which used to be air son.
2. Voiced and unvoiced letters
There are some sounds that use the same mouth shape but make two different sounds depending on whether or not you use your voice. These are called voiced/unvoiced letter pairs. There are three of them in Scottish Gaelic:
In Scottish Gaelic if the voiced letter is the first letter in the word it will make its proper voiced sound. However if it is in the middle or the end of the word it will most likely change to the unvoiced version. Here are some examples:
agad sounds like akat
leabaidh sounds like leapaidh
madainn sounds like matainn
A lot of the unvoiced D's in the middle and ends of words in old spelling have been changed to T's in new spelling. Such as èisd/èist, an-dràsda/ an-dràsta. So depending on when and where the Gaelic you are reading was written there will bi more or less of these voiced/unvoiced letters.
3. Those crazy double letters
There are three letter that double in Gaelic, L, N,R. You may recognize this gang of letters as they hang out together a lot. When one of these letters doubles it makes a change to the vowel next to it. These sound changes are really important because they often make the difference between one word and another. Here are some examples:
sin sounds like shin
sinn sound like sheen
an sounds like an (ie English an apple)
ann sounds like awn
tòl sounds like toll (English)
toll sounds like tawl
The first four examples there are things you will likely use in daily conversation and getting them right can go a long way toward making your Gaelic sound good.
I've been thinking and thinking about ways to help you learn Gaelic. I have been wondering how I can use my creative skills to make learning fun.
Here is one of the ways I have thought of:
Coloring sheets. Here is one I made about breakfast words. Have fun coloring it in and please share pictures of your finished work on our Facebook page
here are some fun things to look at and think about
There is a lot of crossover in the sets of Gaelic vocabulary for body parts and landscapes/place names
There are a few different ways of looking at definite articles in Gaelic (nominative)
all the choices
How learning one word can help you learn lots of other words
To English (and other language) speakers Gaelic can sometimes feel really difficult. Here are some of the reasons why.
There are some very basic things that can throw beginners for a loop, most notably the verbs: They don't conjugate, they don't even seem to want to have anything to do with the subject of the sentence and there they are at the very beginning of the sentence! However most people adjust to this in a short amount of time. The fact that they tell you what kind of sentence it is going to be becomes a really great thing.
But then comes a sentence like '' Tha geansaidh gorm air mo mhac.'' and somebody is wanting you to tell them what that would be in English (or Spanish or French) and even though you could draw a picture, your brain gets all tangled up going from one language to another.
Here is why: They subject and the object are switching places.
Tha (verb) geansaidh gorm (subjec) air (preposition) mo mhac ( object) vs
My son (subject) has (verb) a blue sweater(jumper) (object) on(preposition)
As you can see the sweater is the subject in Gaelic but the object in English. Whereas my son is the subject in English but the object in Gaelic.
This also happens every time you talk about people having stuff in Gaelic.
Tha taigh agam = tha (verb) taigh (subject) agam (object)
I have a house = I (subject) have (verb) a house ( object)
So not only are the parts of the sentence in a different order, just due to language differences, but the nouns are being used differently as different parts of speech.
One way around this is to 'see' the whole sentence as an image. You imagine your son in a blue sweater and that image is the meaning for both sentences. In this way you learn the whole sentence as a unit. This works really well for visual thinkers but doesn't work for everyone.
Another way is to keep in mind a kind of weird intermediary of what the Gaelic would be literally in English. So, Is a sweater blue on my son. This is can be especially helpful when you are going from your primary language to Gaelic. It isn't something that you want to be doing mid conversation though as that extra step does slow things down.
A good thing to do is just get lots of practice with these types of sentences because the more your brain sees the patterns that Gaelic is using to convey that information the less strange it seems and more easily it will take you smoothly between the two ways of saying it.
Keep practicing, keep asking questions and have as much fun as possible!
Reading big numbers can be very daunting especially in a language you are learning. However if you break it down it can be very manageable. Check out our youtube video for some pointers on how to read big numbers in Gaelic.
The trick is to remember those place value lessons you had in elementary/primary school.
So you've mastered lenition and you are keeping an eye out for broad and slender vowels and you are feeling pretty good when along comes slenderisation!
"What" you exclaim, "I thought I knew about all the ways words change in Gaelic"!
Slenderisation is a change that happens to the end of words (mostly nouns) in Gaelic. It happens in a few places, in the vocative case of male names, in some plurals, in many nouns in the genitive case, and historically in feminine nouns in the dative case*.
"But what is it"?!
Slenderisation is when the vowel before the last consonant in a word is changed to a slender vowel. If a word ends in a vowel or is already slender nothing changes. However, if the vowel before the last consonant is broad it will change.
Here are some examples from each of the categories.
vocative: Seumas ---> a Sheumais (James)
Plural: bodach ---> bodaich (old man)
Genitive: balach ---> balaich (boy)
feminine dative: gainmheach ----> air a' ghainmhich (sand)
As you can see many times you can just stick an i, especially if your word ends in -ach(bodach-->bodaich). If, like gainmheach it ends in -each you just change it to -ich. Likewise if your word ends in -adh it will change to -aidh and eadh will change to idh. However some times it is a bit more complicated.
Here are a few more examples:
cnoc ---> cnuic (plural) (hill)
bòrd ----> bùird (genitive and plural)(table)
ceòl -----> ciùil (genitive)(music)
here you can see that o or ò will change to ui/ùi also noting that the e in ceòl changes to i.
a can change in a lot of ways:
cat ---->cait (genitive and plural)(cat)
ràc ---> ràic (genitive)(rake)
cas ---->cois(dative) (foot)
bas---> bòise(genitive) (palm of hand)
mac ---> mic(genitive and plural) (son)
falt ---->fuilt (genitive) (hair)
However a/à---ai/ài is the most common.
Niall ----> a Nèill (vocative) (Nial)
grian ---> grèin(dative) (sun)
Mìcheal---> a Mhìcheil (vocative) (Michael)
each----> eich (genitive and plural) (horse)
fear----fir(genitive and plural) (man)
eun---> eòin (genitive and plural) (bird)
leug----> lèig(genitive) (gemstone)
feur--->feòir (genitive and plural) (grass)
sìol--->sìl(genitive and plural) (seed)
"Ok, but how do I know what to use?"
So if you are looking for a genitive or a plural you can find them easily enough in a dictionary. If you are trying to figure out the vocative of a masculine name you will have to look at the list above and find which one matches your word best.
The slenderisation of feminine nouns in the dative case seems to be something that a lot of people no longer do. But it does appear in some phrases and in older writen Gaelic. If you want to figure it out, again you'd have to look at the list and find the best match.
There is a nice list of these changes in the Appendices (pg.193/194) of Scottish Gaelic in Three Months by Roibeard O Maolalaigh and Iain MacAonghuis published by Dorling Kindersley (1998 for the version I have) which I consulted in writing this blog post.
Later editions of this book were published with the title of Scottish Gaelic in Twelve Weeks.
We have been talking about some of the stronger characters in the Gaelic alphabet, this week we are going to look a weaker character; the letter F.
F only makes one sound regardless of whether it is broad or slender and that is the F sound we are used to in English.
When it is lenited is looses all its sound, it just gives up and makes no sound at all.
And, it will lenite at the drop of a had. Really f will lenite when no other letter will.
Any word that has a lenited F in the front of it should be treated as if it begins with the letter that follows the lenited F.
For feminine nouns that begin with F the definite article would like to be a' +lenition but when F lenites and the sound goes away that doesn't work anymore because you end up with two vowel sounds together, so the article changes to an + lenition.
We have been talking about some of the strong characters in the Gaelic alphabet and S is another one of these. Though not as strong a lenition resister S will resist lenition is some cases and she is often grouped with T and D. She also will not lenite when she is hanging out with G,P,T (sg,sp,st). When she does lenite she makes a H sound. When combined with the definite article an t- her sound will be overridden by T and he will be broad or slender in relation to the vowel on the other side of the S. When broad she makes the normal S sound and when slender she makes the SH sound.
There is also a tendency in Gaelic to do pairs of words with opposite meanings where the words sound the same but one starts with S and the other with D.
for example: saor=free/inexpensive daor=expensive
As we mentioned last week D is the best friend of T. D is quite a complex character. He hangs out with T when broad but ventures off on his own to make a "J" sound when slender. Like T he is resistant to lenition but when he does he has a different best friend, G. In fact dh and gh make the same sounds both when broad and slender. When broad they make a sound that English it is as if a 'g' were made in the very back of the throat. When slender they act like an English 'y', like the 'y' in yellow at the beginning of a word, like the 'y' in monkey at the end. "idh' as a word ending is more common than 'igh' and is used for borrow words that end in the 'ee' sound and as the ending of independent (positive statement) verbs in the future tense.
Whether you have just begun to learn Gaelic or have been learning for a while, you will have noticed that the Gaelic alphabet works quite differently to the English (or almost any other) alphabet.
I like to think of the letters as people with their own personalities. Once you get to know them you can predict how they are going to behave in different situations.
So with that in mind let me introduce you to a few interesting people:
The letter T has a strong personality, you might even say stubborn. It wants its voice heard so it will resist lenition where possible. When it does lenite it makes an 'H' sound.
It likes to hang out with its best friend D. They are good friends and make sounds that are closer to each other than the English sounds.
When it gets around the slender vowels it makes a 'ch' sound.
Caroline has been involved with Gaelic for more than 18 years. She has degrees in Celtic Studies and Gaelic Medium Teaching.