diving into dialects


Emma & Ben answered questions about the three major dialects of Irish – Connacht, Munster and Ulster. They spoke about pronunciation, the main differences between the dialects, and some of the things that they have in common. They also walked us through through the free-to-download Bitesize Irish Dialects cheat-sheet.

Deborah asked: In addition to differences in pronunciation of common words, greeting forms etc among dialects are there any other commonly-used words or expressions that beginners would find useful?

As Ben explained, there are loads! A good place to find them is the Wikipedia entry on Ulster dialect of Irish. This lists terms preferred in or unique to the Ulster dialect, but helpfully gives examples of what terms are used to mean the same thing in the other dialects. Ben also recommends the Twitter/X account AnGhaelainn – Gaelainn Chorca Dhuibhne if you’d like to get to grips with the Irish spoken in Gaeltacht Corca Chuibhne, the region West Kerry where Irish is spoken.

Ben gives the examples:

Doiligh (Ulster) meaning ‘difficult’ vs deacair (Munster & Connacht).

Tuige? (Ulster) meaning ‘why?’ vs canathaobh? (Munster) or cén fáth? (Connacht, Munster).

Amharc (Ulster) or breathnaigh (Connacht) or féach (Munster) meaning ‘look’.

Rud inteacht (Ulster) meaning ‘something’ vs rud éigin (Connacht, Munster).

Tig liom (Ulster) meaning ‘I can’ is preferred over is féidir liom (Munster) or tá mé in ann (Connacht).

Ben also tells us that in West Kerry a question asking how old somebody is may be asked using a unique form of the word for age. The usual noun for age is ‘aois’, which feminine. In Kerry the masculine form ‘aos‘ is preferred. So, for example, in West Kerry people ask ‘cén t-aos é?‘  (how old is he?) while elsewhere in the country people say the standard form ‘cén aois é?

Lila asked: What can I do to practice and interact with people in Irish?

Emma explained that Bitesize Explore/Grow memberships offer opportunities to practice with others – through both video calls and forum posts.

She also encouraged Lila to look up events in her area or online on the website called A common event is something called a ‘ciorcal cómhrá‘ which is Irish for conversation circle. It is also worth joining Facebook groups for Irish language learners and enthusiasts.

Ste asked: How is the ‘f’ sound pronounced in the Munster dialect with verbs in the future and conditional tenses?

Ben tells us that the ‘f’ sound in verbs in future and conditional tenses is pronounced as ‘h’ in the Munster dialect except in three cases:

  1. The conditional tense second-person singular. In this case it may be pronounced as either ‘f’ or ‘h’ depending on the individual person. Example: d’ólfá (the verb ‘ól’ – to drink).
  2. The passive mood of the conditional tense. In this case it is pronounced as ‘f’. Example: d’íosfaí (the verb ‘ith’ – to eat)
  3. The passive mood of the future tense. In this case it is also pronounced as ‘f‘. Example: brisfear (the verb ‘bris’ – to break).

Deborah says that she Sometimes hears a vowel sound in the middle of a word that is not indicated in the spelling of that word. She ask if Is this common among the dialects, or generally more common in one than the others?

Ben explains that this phenomenon is known as an epenthetic vowel. You hear it in words such as ‘dorcha’, ‘fearg’, ‘seirbhís’, ‘dearfa’, ‘tolg’ and ‘banbh’. It is common among the dialects, though the presence or extent of the ‘extra’ vowel sound in a given word may vary depending on the dialect.

Ben points out that this feature of pronunciation appears to have made its way from Irish into Hiberno-English. For example, many Irish people pronounce the word ‘film (‘movie’) as “fill-um”.

Terra is interested in the Ulster dialect (specifically Donegal), and asks for some recommendations of resources to help her to refine her pronunciation.

The BBC Ulster series ‘Now You’re Talking’ is great for beginners (and being a 1980s production features some terrific hairstyles!).

The team also recommends Céim Ar Aghaidh, a site dedicated to supporting learners and teachers of Ulster Irish. Listen to the videos and read the accompanying scripts. The sites, and are also great for finding out how individual words and phonemes sound in specific dialects.

Listen to the programs ‘Barrscéalta‘ and ‘Bladhaire‘ on the RTE Raidió na Gaeltachta player, or watch Daithí Ó Sé interview the Donegal music groups Altan and Clann Mhic Ruairí on the very enjoyable Comhluadar Ceoil show on TG4.

You can also pick up a copy of the book ‘An Teanga Bheo, Uladh edition‘ for a more detailed analysis of the dialect.

P.S. What did you learn from this Q&A? Leave a comment below!

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