Graiméar na Gaedhilge/Part I Chapter II

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15. The word "aspiration" comes from the Latin verb "aspirare," to breathe; hence, when we say in Irish that a consonant is aspirated, we mean that the breath is not completely stopped in the formation of the consonant, but rather that the consonant sound is continuous.

Take, for example, the consonant b. To form this consonant sound the lips are pressed closely together for an instant, and the breath is forced out on separating the lips. Now, if we wish to get the sound of b aspirated (or bh), we must breathe the whole time whilst trying to form the sound of b; i.e. we must not close the lips entirely, and the resulting sound is like the English consonant v. Hence we say that the sound of bh (in some positions) is v.

The Irish letter c corresponds very much to the English k, and the breathed sound of k corresponds to the sound of ch (when broad). To sound the English k, we press the centre of the tongue against the palate, and cut off the breath completely for an instant. In pronouncing ch (when broad), all we have to do is to try to pronounce the letter k without pressing the tongue against the palate. The word loch, a lake, is pronounced somewhat like luk; but the tongue is not to touch the palate to form the k. The sound of ch aspirated when slender (especially when initial) is very well represented by the sound of "h" in "humane."

The Irish g (g) has always the hard sound of g in the English word "go." In pronouncing this word we press the back of the tongue against the back of the palate. Now, to pronounce gh (and also dh) when broad, we must breathe in forming the sound of g, i.e. we must keep the tongue almost flat in the mouth.

The various sounds of the aspirated consonants are not given, as they are dealt with very fully in the second part of the "O'Growney Series." It may be well to remark, however, that the sound of ph is like the sound of the Irish f, not the English f. The Irish f is sounded without the aid of the teeth.

16. Aspiration is usually marked by placing a dot over the consonant aspirated thus—, ċ, . However, it is sometimes marked by an h after the consonant to be aspirated. This is the method usually adopted when Irish is written or printed in English characters.

17. In writing Irish only nine of the consonants, viz., b, c, d, f, g, m, p, s, and t, are aspirated; but in the spoken language all the consonants are aspirated.

The Aspiration of l, n, r.

18. The aspiration of the three letters l, n, r, is not marked by any sign in writing, as is the aspiration of the other consonants ( or bh); but yet they are aspirated in the spoken language. An example will best illustrate this point. The student has already learned that the word leabhar, a book, is pronounced lyou-ar. Mo, my, aspirates an ordinary consonant, as mo bhó, my cow; but it also aspirates l, n, r, for mo leabhar, my book, is pronounced mŭ low-ar (i.e. the sound of y after l disappears).

a leabhar, his book, is pronounced ă low-ar.
a leabhar, her book, " ă lyou-ar.
a leabhar, their book, " ă lyow-ar.
a neart, his strength, " ă narth.
a neart, her strength, " ă nyarth.
&c., &c.

19. When l broad begins a word it has a much thicker sound than in English. In sounding the English l the point of the tongue touches the palate just above the teeth; but to get the thick sound of the Irish l we must press the tongue firmly against the upper teeth (or we may protrude it between the teeth). Now, when such an l is aspirated it loses this thick sound, and is pronounced just as the English l.

20. It is not easy to show by an example the aspirated sound of r; however, it is aspirated in the spoken language, and a slightly softer sound is produced.

Rules for Aspirations.

21. We give here only the principal rules. Others will be given as occasion will require.

(a). The possessive adjectives mo, my; do, thy; and a, his, aspirate the first consonant of the following word, as mo bhó, my cow; do mháthair, thy mother; a chapall, his horse.

(b) The article aspirates a noun in the nominative and accusative feminine singular, and also in the genitive masculine singular unless the noun begins with d, t, or s; an bhean, the woman; tá an fheoil guirt, the meat is salt; mac an fhir, (the) son of the man.

(c) In compound words the initial consonant of the second word is aspirated, except when the second word begins with d or t, and the first ends in one of the letters d, n, t, l, s. These five letters will be easily remembered, as they are the consonants of the word "dentals"; sean-mháthair, a grandmother; cáth-bhárr, a helmet; leith-phinginn, a halfpenny; but sean-duine, an old person; sean-teach, an old house.

(d) The interjection a, the sign of the vocative case, causes aspiration in nouns of both genders and both numbers: a fhir, O man; a mhná, O women; a Sheumais, O James.

(e) An adjective is aspirated when it agrees with a feminine noun in the nominative or accusative singular, or with a masculine noun in the genitive singular, and in the dative and vocative singular of both genders; also in the nominative plural when the noun ends in a slender consonant: as bó bhán, a white cow; mac an fhir mhóir, (the) son of the big man; ó'n mnaoi mhaith, from the good woman; trí capaill mhóra, three big horses.

(f) When a noun is immediately followed by an indefinite[1] noun in the genitive case, singular or plural, the initial of the noun in the genitive is usually subject to precisely the same rules as if it were the initial of an adjective: e.g. ubh chirce, a hen-egg (lit. an egg of a hen); uibhe circe, of a hen-egg; cloch mhine, a stone of meal; min choirce, oaten meal. The letters d and t are not aspirated after {{tt|d, n, t, l, s; and f is often excepted, as the change in sound is so great.

(g) The initial of a verb is aspirated—(1) in the imperfect, the simple past, and the conditional, active voice; (2) after the particles , not; , if; mar, as; and sul, before; (3) after the simple relative particle, expressed or understood: bhí sé, he was; do sheas sí, she stood; ní fhuilim, I am not; ní bhéidh sé, he will not be; an té bhuaileas or an té a bhuaileas, he (or the person) who strikes; do bhuailfinn, I would strike.

(h) The initial of the word following ba or budh (the past tense and conditional of the verb is) is usually aspirated.[2]

ba mhaith liom, I liked or I would like.
b' fhearr leis, he preferred or would prefer.

(i) The simple prepositions (except ag, ar, le, gan, i, and go) aspirate the initials of the nouns immediately following them: fá chloich, under a stone; thug sé an leabhar do Sheumas, he gave the book to James.

  1. i.e. One not preceded by the definite article, possessive adj., &c. See par. 585.
  2. Except in N. Connaught and Ulster, where this rule applies only to b, p, m, and sometimes f.