Irish Language Pronunciation Explained


In this month’s Bitesize Live Q&A Ben and Niall welcomed you to submit your questions on how to pronounce words and sounds in the Irish Language. Topics covered included dialects, broad and slender consonants, and how and why the form of surnames in Irish can change.

The boys also answered questions on adding ‘t’ to the start of words, what dialect the film ‘An Cailín Ciúin’ (The Quiet Girl) is in, whether tourists should assume that most Irish people understand the Irish language and, phew, whether there is any point in learning and remembering when to use ‘séimhiú’!

Here’s a taste of the discussion..

Michael asked for tips on learning pronunciation and being clear with accent and dialect

Niall recommended reading and listening at the same time. It can be helpful to make a note of sounds which are difficult or very different to English, and practise them. Gaeilge gach lá is our motto here at Bitesize, and practising a little every day makes it easier to retain and build on what you’ve learnt before. Regarding dialect, it’s best to choose one dialect for your own speaking. Ben reminded learners to keep an eye out for the words and terms that are preferred in your chosen dialect.

Clare asked how her maiden name might have changed from Bhaoilligh to Boyle somewhere down the line, and wondered How is Bhaoilligh pronounced?

Niall explains that the typical spelling for a maiden name would be Ní Bhaoill /nyee wee-ill/. Sometimes a form ending in -(e)ach is used to refer to someone, so that would be an Baoilleach, which Bhaoilligh is a form of.

Joel asked how the word ‘déisi’ is pronounced

As Ben explains, the term Déise or Déisi derived from the word ‘déis’, which meant ‘vassal’, or ‘subject-people’ in Old Irish. It is pronounced day-shuh. The Déisi Muman were a prominent enough power to form their own regional kingdom in Munster from the early Middle Ages. County Waterford is based on the historic Gaelic territory of the Déise . The modern-day Irish-speaking area in the south-west of the county is known as Gaeltacht na nDéise.

As Renata points out, we pronounce “s” as broad or slender depending on the vowels that surround it. She asks if there is ever an “s” with a broad vowel before it and a slender vowel after it?

Niall says that the closest example that springs to mind is the word “ospidéal” (hospital). Generally speaking, the ‘caol le caol, leathan le leathan’ rule governing the placement of slender (‘i’, ‘e’) and broad (‘a’, ‘o’, ‘u’) vowels is consistently applied. The most common exceptions are when we have compound words, e.g. “osréalach” (surreal). The prefix “os-” finishes with a broad s and we don’t change that if the following noun starts with a slender consonant.

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

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1 thought on “Irish Language Pronunciation Explained”

  1. …i’ll be there but my problem is i keep putting the ukulele down or the bite size irish down and therefore not advancing ….. yet thanks for the lessons and encouragement, at 75 need all the encouragement possible.