Scottish Gaelic Dialects

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Scottish Gaelic Dialects (1908)
by Rev. Charles M. Robertson
221506Scottish Gaelic Dialects1908Rev. Charles M. Robertson


Rev. Charles M. Robertson
The importance of a thorough and systematic investigation of our Gaelic dialects was urged by Professor Mackinnon in a paper read before the Gaelic Society of Inverness exactly twenty years ago. Before that time there were scattered remarks on dialectical peculiarities in grammars and dictionaries and other publications, and a recognition of two or, on the part of some authorities, of three main dialects. The Rev. John Forbes in his grammar tries to distinguish three dialects—a Northern, an Interior, and a Southern. Mr. James Munro, whose grammar contains not a few accurate observations of peculiarities and variations, distinguishes on occasion the mid Highlands from Ross and Sutherland, but, in general, classing the mid Highlands and the far north together, he recognises but the two divisions of North Highland and West Highland. Mr. Neil MacAlpine, from whose dictionary most of the peculiarities of Islay and mid Argyll dialect can be gathered, recognises in practice, if he does not formally state, the twofold division. The division into three dialects, in effect, is a division into Northern and Southern (or Western) Gaelic, with a further division of the former into two sub-dialects. The differences upon which the sub-division has been based are not on a par with the broad distinctions between Southern and Northern Gaelic. An equally good case could be made out for sub-dividing Southern Gaelic which has in Arran, Kintyre, and Islay Irish and Manx affinities not found further north. Nothing is gained by going beyond two divisions and stopping at three. The division into two main dialects is clear, familiar, and useful, while, as Professor Mackinnon holds in the paper referred to, ‘On the Dialects of Scottish Gaelic’: ‘The threefold divisions cannot, without considerable confusion, be maintained,’ and again, ‘It would perhaps be as easy to distinguish thirteen dialects as three.’ How many well-defined dialects underlie the two main divisions can only be determined by a systematic investigation of the spoken language in every district of Gaeldom. As a result of Professor Mackinnon’s endeavours to direct attention to the matter by that paper and in his lectures to his students, something has been done during those twenty years. First came a paper by the Rev. Adam Gunn, M.A., on the dialects of the Reay country, which is a model of what such papers ought to be. Then the dialect of Badenoch was dealt by Dr. MacBain. The Rev. John Kennedy, who was third in the field with a paper on Arran Gaelic, wrote of a dialect other than his native one, and was the first to do so. These papers and others on the dialects of Arran, Perthshire, Skye, the west of Ross-shire and Sutherland, appear in the Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness (vols. xv., xviii., xx. et seq. Professor Mackinnon’s paper is in vol. xii.). Mr. Gunn has a later and fuller paper on his dialect in the Celtic Monthly (vol. vi.). The Rev. Dr. Henderson also has been writing comprehensively and thoroughly on the dialects generally of late in the Zeitschrift für Celtische Philologie. All this work (which, it may be remarked, with the exception of the papers by Dr. MacBain and Mr. Kennedy, has been done by students trained by Professor Mackinnon) affords material for determining the characteristics and limits, to some extent at least, of the local dialects into which our Gaelic divides itself. The vowels claim attention first and show the most far-reaching peculiarities.

short vowels before long liquids

Of all the tests employed to distinguish different dialects of our Gaelic, none is more generally applicable, or gives more definite results, than the treatment of short vowels before long liquids. The long sounds of the liquids are important in this connection. In words like dall, cam, bonn, the vowel, though marked long by the authorities in some words of the kind, was not long originally and is not long now; it is the liquid that is long. The difference between long and short liquids is well shown by a comparison of their pronunciation in the above words and in the corresponding forms dallag, camas, bonnadh. The difference indeed needs but to be pointed out, to be recognised in pronunciation. A long liquid can also be distinguished generally, though not so unerringly, by position. It is found only after the vowel of an accented syllable, and must be supported, if a syllable follows, by another liquid or by one of certain consonants. Long l and long n are usually written double, as is also long r except when followed by a supporting liquid or consonant. N is not written double before g, and is long in bantrach, sometimes written accordingly banntrach. Long m was of old, but is not now, written mm. The supporting consonants that enable a liquid to preserve its long sound are—

for m: b, p, for n: d, t, s, g,
for l: d, t, s, for r: d, s.
The supporting liquids and consonants are important, as will appear further on, in connection with the addition of syllables to the words. When in the course of grammatical change or of word-formation a syllable is added to a word containing a long liquid, the long liquid becomes short unless supported by one of those liquids or consonants in the original word, or in the extended form, as Gall, Gallach, (ll shortened) but Gallda (ll long).

The simplest forms of words containing short vowels and long liquids are such as—

call, cam, bann, barr, poll, com, bonn, corr, null, cum, lunn, curr, fill, im, binn.

Examples with the liquid supported by another liquid are—

annlan, dorn, burn, urlar,

or by another consonant—

lombair, umpa, impidh, Gallda, allt, fallsa, drannd, sunnd, binndich, sannt, connsaich, long, bard, ordag.

The broad vowels may be preceded by slender vowels—e before a and o, i before u—representing a y sound in pronunciation, and may be followed by i, if required, before rd and rn, as—

bealltuinn, dream, teanndadh, cearr, ceard, cearn, eorna, ciurr; cairdean, uird, cuirn, feaird, smeoirn, ciuirteach.

E in the few cases in which it occurs before long liquids is written ei, as steill, creim, beinn. Other types of words with short vowels before long liquids such as caill, druim, cainnt, fionn, etc., are not affected by the changes to be noticed.

The changes to which the vowels are liable in the positions in question are two in number. In other words a short vowel followed by a long liquid may be dealt with in one or other of three ways in Scottish Gaelic; it may be left unchanged, it may be lengthened, or it may be diphthongised. In this as in other cases the area of the fewest changes is the extreme south, and that in which the greatest number of changes is found is the far north mainland.

vowels unaltered

The vowels are unchanged before l, n, and m, in Argyllshire south of Lorne, in Arran, and in east Perthshire. All, except a and o before l and n, remain unchanged before the same three liquids as far north as Loch Linnhe and the Inverness county march. With the additional exception of a and o before m, they are unchanged as far north as the Ross-shire border; in other words u, e, and i are unchanged before l, n, and m in the whole of Gaeldom with the exception of the mainland of Ross-shire and Sutherlandshire.

The vowels sometimes remain unaltered before r with another liquid. In Strathspey and east Perthshire for example, they are short in words with rn—carn, dorn, burn, cuirn, etc., with the exception of ‘eòrna.’

vowels lengthened

The broad vowels (a, o, u,) have been lengthened before long r in Gaelic generally both south and north. In such words as barr, ard, cam, ceard, corr, ord, dorn, curr, durd, burn, ciurr, the vowels were short in the old language but are now sounded long, from Arran in the south to Sutherland in the north, and are often marked long in writing, bàrr, càrn, ceàrd, ciùrr, etc. Partial exceptions are Strathspey and east Perthshire, where, as already noted, the vowels are not usually lengthened before rn, and Badenoch and Rannoch, where a and o before rn and rd are dealt with otherwise.

The greatest development of lengthening is found in the mainland of Ross-shire and in Sutherlandshire. In those two districts u has been made long before all the long liquids. Moll, ‘chaff,’ for example, takes u there (as it does in east Perthshire also) in place of o and makes the vowel long ‘mùll.’ In like manner, null, cum, lunn are pronounced respectively, ‘nùll,’ ‘cùm,’ ‘lùnn,’ and so with sunnd, cunnt, unnsa, ung, etc. The slender vowels also have undergone the like change there. Fill is pronounced ‘fìll,’ im, ‘ìm,’ cinn, ‘cìnn,’ and so on. Im (butter) is of course often written ‘ìm’ by the authorities, but is never pronounced so except in the far north, just as am (time), cam, crom, etc., are often written ‘àm,’ ‘càm,’ ‘cròm,’ respectively. In the case of e the lengthening is accompanied by a change of the vowel to i; beinn, seinn, teinn, respectively, are ‘bìnn,’ ‘sìnn,’ ‘tìnn’; steill (peg) is ‘stìll,’ and creim (nibble) ‘crìm.’ In some cases the vowel remains short; teinntean is sometimes tinntean but not tìnntean. In other cases the vowel is undecided, sometimes short and sometimes long, but in the great majority of cases the lengthening of the vowel is firmly established.

vowels diphthongised

Diphthongisation before long liquids is confined to a and o and consists in the introduction of a u sound like that of u in the English words ‘foul,’ ‘hound,’ or of w in the English ‘howl,’ ‘town,’ between the vowel and the liquid. The sound of the whole diphthong in words like poll, bonn, com, is that of ou or ow in those English words. In words like ball, bann, cam, the diphthong has an a sound instead of the o sound before the u and so resembles au in German ‘haus.’ Such diphthongisation does not exist in the extreme south or in east Perthshire. It is found before l and n in Lorne and west Perthshire. It extends to m when we cross into Inverness-shire and the part of Argyllshire beyond Loch Linnhe, and prevails before the three liquids throughout the rest of Gaeldom northwards.

When the vowel is preceded by e, the pronunciation varies somewhat. The regular diphthong, preceded by a y sound of course, prevails in Badenoch and Strathspey, as meall, ‘myaull,’ ceann, ‘cyaunn.’ Geall, seall, steall have there as usual eo for ea, gyoull, etc. In Skye ea is retained in the words ‘gyaull’ etc., while meall (lump) and meall (deceive) have short ao in place of a in the diphthong. In Rannoch, Skye, and west Ross-shire before nn a diphthong consisting of the Gaelic sounds of e and u is heard, as beann, ‘beunn,’ ceann, ‘ceunn,’ etc. In Rannoch and Ross meall likewise is ‘meull.’ In Sutherland meall (‘myull’ with u nasal) seems to follow leann, ‘lyunn,’ and seann, ‘shunn,’ as those words are pronounced there and in Ross and Strathspey. Other Sutherland pronunciations are gyaull, shaull, cyaunn, glyaunn, greunn (for greann). Diphthongisation is heard in that county once before a short liquid, with o for a also, in the word dealt (dew) ‘djoult.’

In Glenlyon, Rannoch, and Badenoch diphthongisation is heard occasionally before rd and even rt with or without an intervening small vowel, as in ard, ‘aurd,’ ord, ‘ourd,’ ort, ‘ourt,’ goirt, ‘gou’rt,’ cairdean, ‘cau’rdean.’ In Rannoch it occurs also in words like carn, ‘caurn,’ dorn, ‘dourn’; in words like bearn, cearn, in which the a sound is changed to o, ‘byourn,’ ‘cyourn’; in words like ceard, feaird, feart, and the name of the county town Peairt, ‘Pyau’rt.’

Both those vowel changes depend vitally upon the length of the liquids. The liability of the long liquids to shortening when unsupported has been referred to already. Such shortening, whenever it takes place, undoes the change, if any, undergone by the vowel. The lengthened vowel of àrd continues long in àrdan, and that of còrr in còrlach or còrrlach, but that of bàrr is shortened in barrach, and that of tòrr in torran. So in the north mill is ‘mìll,’ and milltear, ‘mìlltear,’ but millidh is not ‘mìllidh,’ and while seinn is ‘sìnn,’ seinnidh is not ‘sìnnidh,’ but ‘sinnidh.’ Again, beann is ‘byaunn’ or ‘beunn,’ and beanntan, ‘byaunntan’ or ‘beunntan,’ but though cam is ‘caum,’ caman is not ‘cauman,’ nor camas ‘caumas,’ and though Gall is ‘Gaull’ and Gallda ‘Gaullda, Galllach is not ‘Gaullach.’

A long liquid is thus found mostly in monosyllables. If the word comes, through grammatical inflection or word-formation, to have more than one syllable, the long liquid becomes short except when it is followed either in the original word or in the extended form, by a supporting liquid or consonant, and, when the liquid becomes short, the preceding vowel, if it has been either lengthened or diphthongised, reverts to its original short undiphthongised form.

This u after a and o, besides being of less frequent occurrence near the southern borders of its area than it is farther north, seems also to be less distinct and pronounced, or less fully developed. It is, however, of old standing. The Dean of Lismore has it before l and n as dawle for dall, Cown for Conn, just as in west Perth and Lorne at the present day.

The treatment of those vowels in like positions in Manx and in Irish is to some extent analogous. In Munster a and o are lengthened before long r and diphthongised before other long liquids. Even u is stated to be diphthongised into au sometimes, but all the examples given, with one doubtful exception, are borrowed words, and therefore liable to eccentricity. I is lengthened in sinn, ‘we,’ linn, ‘with us’; in other cases before long nasals it has the diphthongal sound of the English pronoun I (‘Ai’), and before long l it has the diphthongal sound of the same pronoun as pronounced by an Irishman (‘Oi’). The addition of a syllable has in like circumstances the same effect or non-effect as in Scottish Gaelic. Southern Irish thus resembles northern Gaelic and northern Irish resembles southern Gaelic.

Manx Gaelic corresponds, as regards this diphthongisation, not to the dialects of Irish and of Scottish Gaelic that are nearer to it, but to those that are more remote from it. It has, besides, apparently a further development. ‘Thus,’ says Professor Rhŷs, ‘“tromm,” now written “trome,” heavy, is pronounced in a way which sometimes strikes one as being “troum,” and sometimes “trobm” or “trubm,” with a sort of precarious b; and similarly with other words, such as “kione,” head, which becomes “kioun” or “kiodn,” and “lhong,” a ship, which becomes “logng” or “lugng.”’ The change has been extended in Manx, it appears, to words in which the nasal consonant was short but was preceded by a long vowel, and is not found, apparently, before l or r.

In old Cornish, by a development similar to that found in Manx words like ‘camm,’ crooked, and ‘gwyn,’ white—our fionn—became respectively ‘cabm’ and ‘gwydn.’

The strength of the tendency to diphthongise in such words as have been considered above is such as to influence the pronunciation of English in certain cases. The Irishman calls bold, ‘bould,’ cold, ‘could,’ hold, ‘hould,’ and so on. Here, as so often happens, extremes meet. The Caithness man also says ‘bould,’ ‘could’ ‘hould,’ and he owes the tendency to do so to Gaelic influence. The same sounds may be heard occasionally in Sutherland also, but they have been acquired, probably, by those who use them, in the neighbouring county.

long narrow vowels

The long vowels è (eu, etc.), and ì (io), in certain cases in which they are retained in the south, are diphthongised in the north. The resulting diphthongs are alike from both vowels, as beul ‘bial,’ deug ‘diaog,’ dìon ‘dian,’ fìor ‘fiaor.’

eu, èa, èi, è.

‘The crucial distinction,’ says Dr. MacBain in his Gaelic Dictionary (p. xviii.) in reference to the two main dialects ‘consists in the different way in which the dialects deal with é derived from compensatory lengthening; in the south it is eu, in the north ia (e.g., feur against fiar, breug against briag, etc.).’ He has pointed out elsewhere as another characteristic of the words in which this change is found, that their original stems ended in o or a. There are exceptions drawn in perhaps by the influence of analogy. Compensatory lengthening of a vowel takes place when the first of two or more following consonants, of which one must be a liquid, is lost. Ceud hundred, for example, has lost the n seen in Welsh cant, Cornish cans, Breton kant, Latin centum, English hund-red, and to compensate for this loss the vowel, which was short originally, extended itself into the blank thus left, and so became long in the Gaelic form of the word. The process is not unknown in the modern language. Words like annrath, innleachd, innseadh show loss of nn or assimilation of the nasal to the following consonant, and consequent compensatory lengthening of the preceding vowel in the spoken forms ‘àrath,’ ‘ìlleachd,’ ‘ìseadh.’ Compare also sòise, ‘a bolide’ (MacAlpine), for soillse. In some instances it is an original ei, which appears normally in Old Irish and in Gaelic as èi in some instances and as ia in others, that has diverged in the two Scottish dialects and is heard as è in the south and as ia in the north, as in mèith, reub, sgreuch.

The vowel that changes to ia in the north is usually written eu, but it occurs also as èa, èi, and è. In southern pronunciation, it generally has the sound that is called open e and that resembles, except that it is long, that of e in English ‘let,’ ‘set.’ The close sound, é, like that of e in English ‘whey,’ or that of a in English ‘fate,’ occurs occasionally in words that have ia in the north, but in general is confined to those words in which diphthongisation is not found, as beum, ceum, treun, beud, beus, etc. In contact with nasals, diphthongisation is found as a rule only in those instances in which the vowel is nasalised in the south, e.g. in eun, meur, but not in beum, treun. Of the words that have ia in the north, the following are found with é in the south—

Ceudna ‘céunna,’ ‘féirseag’ (for feursann), geur, reustladh (for reusladh), sleuchd, in Arran.

Deug, feun, geug, leubh, in Arran and Islay.

Feudail, gleus, reul, in Arran, Islay, and Perth.

Peur (a pear), in Arran, Islay, and Glenlyon, eud in Arran and East Perth, Seumas, in Arran and Glenlyon.

Sgeun (‘sgéan’) and déabh, in Islay, geuban, in Islay and Perth.

Céud (first) and céud (hundred), in Mid-Argyll.

Créadhach (crè), in Perth.

In Strathspey and in Sutherlandshire there are fewer instances of é than in Arran. The only words showing the change to ia, that are not known to have è, in place of é, in some district or other, are ceud, ceudna, deug, feudail, feun, geuban, peurtag, reul, reusail, and reusan, and of that small number three are borrowed words, while the diphthongisation of at least two others, feudail and reul, is local and exceptional. The association of the change to ia with the open sound è is thus very close. The tendency, apparently, when the vowel happens to be left undiphthongised in the north, is to sound it é, and further the vowel is apt in such cases to be é also in Arran and Islay, but è in Perth, Strathspey and Sutherland. Beurla, e.g. is béurla in Arran, Islay, North Argyll, part of Skye, North Inverness and West Ross, but bèurla in Perth and Sutherland, and geug is géug in Arran, Islay, part of Skye, and Lewis, but gèug in Perth, Strathspey and Sutherland.

The vowels that are subject to diphthongisation are arranged in the following groups to show the occurrence of the change in the southern dialect, in Arran, Islay and Perthshire, and in the northern dialect in the following districts in order, North Argyll (Appin and Sunart), Skye (Sleat), North Inverness-shire (the Aird, south and east of Beauly), West Ross-shire, and Lewis. The pronunciation given in MacAlpine’s Dictionary is, in general, that of his native island and is that given here under the name Islay. The absence of a word from the list for any particular district does not in all cases imply non-diphthongisation of the vowel in that district; it may mean that there is some other alteration on the word or that the attempt to ascertain its pronunciation has not been attended with success. Smeuraich, for example, is smeòraich in Sutherland and in Lewis. Feusgan ‘mussel,’ fè ‘a calm,’ and muir-tèachd ‘jelly-fish,’ (II. iii. sub), are not in Dr. Henderson’s list for the Aird and were unfamiliar as Aird words to an aged farmer from the district. Cè (cream) is unknown in several districts, uachdar or bàrr being used instead, and smeur (bramble) is unfamiliar in Lewis. Geug (branch) no doubt owes its non-diphthongisation in parts of the northern Hebrides to its disuse during a treeless period and a subsequent adoption of it from literature. In West Ross-shire ‘giag’ was not disused, but was degraded during the treeless period, and now means, in part at least of the district, a stalk of heather, while a branch of a tree is called meur (‘miar’).

Southern Dialect:—

I. Ceud (hundred), ceud (first), Di-ceudaoin, ceutach, ceutadh (sense, impression), ceudna, deug, brèagh.

North Argyll et seq.:—

II. i. Beul, breug, deuchainn, deur, dreuchd, eudach (jealousy), eulaidh (stalk game, etc.), eun, feuch, feur, feusag, freumh, geuban (‘ciaban’ in Skye and onwards), geur, greusaich, leugach (clammy, etc., leug, leugaire), leus (torch, etc.), meud or meudachd, cia meud, meur, neul, reub, seud (hero), seun, breac-sheunain, sgeul, sgreuch, crè (clay), dèan, èasgaidh, gèadh, lèad, mèanan, sè (six), sglèata, tèaruinn.

North Argyll et seq. except Lewis:—

II. ii. Beuc, ceus (ham, coarse part of fleece), geug, reusail (ill-use), smeur (bramble), smeuraich (grope), speuc, sèap.

North Argyll et seq. except North Inverness:—

II. iii. Feusgan, fè (calm), lèana or lèanag, rèap (a slattern, rèapach, adj., rèapail, verb), muir-tèachd.

Skye et seq.:—

III. Loch-bhlèin or dubh-chlèin (flank, loin), sgeun (fright), smeur or smiùr (to smear), mèith, sèamarlan.

North Inverness et seq.:—

IV. Feursann (warble), speuclan (spectacles), teuchdaidh (viscid, etc., ‘tiachaidh,’ North Inverness).

North Inverness, etc.:—

V. i. Feunaidh (peat-cart, from feun), peurtag (partridge), cè (cream).

V. ii. Peuras (a pear), seum or seumaich (enjoin, etc.), Seumas (James), leubh (read), clach-nèaraidh (grindstone), trèasg (shrivel).

V. iii. Sleuchd, nèarachd.


VI. i. Beurla, eud, m’fheudail, càl-feurain (cives), gleus, (trim, etc.), spleuc (stare), teuchdadh (parching), lèabag, piata, trèan-ri-trèan.

VI. ii. Earlais (arles), reusan (reason).

Group I. contains words that are diphthongised in the South; all have ia (or iao) in Perthshire, all but the last in Islay, and all but the three last in Arran. MacAlpine gives ‘a chéud’ or ‘a chiad.’ The diphthong is ia in all the instances in Arran, and in Glenlyon in Perthshire; in East Perthshire and in the North generally in those words, with the exception of brèagh, it is iao, i.e. the second constituent of the diphthong is not a, but the Gaelic ao sound. Ceudna varies; ‘ciaodna,’ North Argyll; ‘cianda,’ North Inverness, West Ross, Sutherland; ‘ciaont,’ Lewis; ‘ciaodainn,’ East Perth, Strathspey; ‘céunna,’ Arran; ‘ciaonna,’ Skye. MacAlpine gives ‘cianna,’ and apparently ‘ceudna.’

In addition, dreuchd, omitted by MacAlpine, has ia in Arran and èarlais and reusan, Group VI. ii., have ia the former in Arran and Islay, and the latter throughout Argyll and in West Perth (‘riaosan,’ in North Argyll). Nèaraidh (V. ii.) has ia in Perthshire.

Groups I. and II. i. have the diphthong in North Argyll, Skye, North Inverness, West Ross and Lewis; Group II. ii. in North Argyll, et seq., except Lewis, and Group II. iii. in North Argyll, et seq., except North Inverness. Group III. falls to be added to the number in Skye and onwards, and Group IV. in North Inverness and onwards. The words in V. i. ii. and iii. all have ia in North Inverness, and those in V. ii. in West Ross also. Trèasg in North Argyll, and sleuchd in Skye have ia. Nèarachd is ‘niarachd’ in North Argyll, ‘miarachd’ in Skye, and ‘meurachd’ according to MacAlpine (sub nèarachd) in Argyll.

The words of VI. i. have ia as follows:—

Eud (and eudmhor, ‘iadar’), càl-feurain, spleuc, and lèabag in North Argyll.

Spleuc, teuchdadh, lèabag, and trèan-ri-trèan (‘trianaidhtrian’) in Skye.

Beurla (‘biaorla’ or ‘biaolla,’ so Lochbroom also), eud (‘iad’ in Barra also), m’fheudail, gleus, and teuchdadh, in Lewis.

‘Piata,’ a puny child, North Inverness and West Ross, has been explained by Dr. Henderson as a by-form of ‘peata,’ English ‘pet’; in Lewis ‘piatan’ used affectionately of one craving for a drink.

Eud in the North generally means zeal, while jealousy is ‘iadach’ (in Glenlyon ‘eudach’).

Diphthongisation of the vowel è thus appears to be most prevalent in the central Highlands, and somewhat less so in North Argyll and Lewis. It has extended strongly into Rannoch, which breaks away from the rest of Perthshire in this respect, and is sharply distinguished from Glenlyon and the parish of Blair-Atholl, bounding it respectively on the south and east, and is in full force in Badenoch and Strathdearn, its eastern limits. On the other hand, Strathspey which means in local usage the part of the valley of the Spey below Rothiemurchus, and lies in an angle between Badenoch on the south-west, and Strathdearn on the north-west, differs from both districts, and agrees closely with the South. Far north Sutherlandshire also, with the exception perhaps of the Assynt quarter of the county, claims to stand with Strathspey and the south in this matter. The words in which ia has been found in Strathspey are:—

Ceud, ceud, ceudna, Di-ceudaoin, deug, sgreuch, brèagh, sè, ceutach, seun.

With the exception of the two last, those words are diphthongised in Sutherlandshire—Creich, Kildonan, and Strathy—and, with the following list, they exhaust the known instances of that vowel change in the south-east and in the north of that county:—

Deuchainn, feuch, feusgan, cia meud, reul, crè.

Beul, neul, sgeul, ‘cial.’

Ceutach and feusgan have the diphthong in Creich, deuchainn and feucn in Creich and Kildonan, reul (‘rialt’ or more frequently ‘rialtag’) in Kildonan, and crè (‘criaodhach’) in Kildonan and Strathy. Ceutach and ceutadh apparently are diphthongised by some speakers and not by others (‘cèutach’ and ‘cèutu’) in the Strathy district.

The southern è of beul, neul, and sgeul is changed in Sutherland, not into ia, but into à, so that the words would be written respectively, beàl, neàl, and sgeàl, and are pronounced byàl, nyàl, sgyàl. Cial, brim of a vessel, is also changed to ceàl in Sutherland. Though this resembles in the result the change in Arran of brèagh, cè (cream), crè, gèadh, and sè, respectively into breàgh (brè or bryà, Macalpine), ceà, creà, geàdh, seà (br’à, cyà, cr’à, gyà, shà), it is no doubt to be compared rather with the transference in Gaelic generally, of the pronunciation from e to a in such words as geal, ‘gyal,’ seal, ‘shal,’ etc.

A substitution of other sounds for è sometimes occurs. Lèabag is leóbag (‘lyóbag’) in N. Inverness, W. Ross, Lewis, and Sutherland, feusag is feòsag (‘fyòsag’) in Sutherland, and rèapach is reòpach in N. Inverness. Teuchdaidh viscid, in N. Inverness tiachaidh, is teaochaidh in Creich, and beurla is beaorla in Strathspey, and in parts of Skye and of Lewis. The name for the landrail—trèan-ri-trèan—is traon in Lewis and, according to MacAlpine, in Skye; in Irish it is traona.

It is not an unknown thing that a word should come to have two pronunciations accompanied by some differentiation in meaning or usage. In N. Argyll, Skye, N. Inverness, W. Ross, and Lewis, seud, when it means jewel, is ‘séud,’ but when it means hero it is ‘siad.’ The word is everywhere in those districts familiar in the latter sense. As ‘séud,’ jewel, it is not at all so frequently used, and may have been adopted from literature. Meud is undiphthongised throughout Sutherland, except in the phrase ‘co miad’ (how much). The phrase is ‘ce mìod’ in Skye and Lewis, while the word otherwise is both ‘mìod’ and ‘miad’ in Lewis, and ‘miadachd’ in Skye, and also in N. Argyll. MacAlpine gives ‘mèud’ and ‘mìod.’ The undiphthongised form of deug is kept in Perth, Strathspey, W. Ross, and Lewis in ‘da uair dhéug,’ often preceded by the article and compressed ‘an da’r ’éug’ (the twelve o’clock); in Sutherland ‘an da’r ’iaog.’ In Irish ‘dareug’ means twelve persons.

Similar diphthongisation is found in Munster in such words as ceud, deug, eun, feuch, feur, and also in words in which it is unknown among us, as breun, eug, treun, and even eudochas, eudtrom (light), eugcóir (injustice), eugmhais (want), and others. To Scottish Gaels the diphthongisation of eucoir and eugmhais, not to speak of eudochas or aotrom (for eutrom), seems a sheer impossibility, and yet it is found with us in the word èasgaidh, i.e. eu-sgìth, of exactly similar formation.


Long i (ìo), which normally represents an original long e in Gaelic and the other Celtic tongues, as fìor (true), vêro‑, Latin, vêrus, is diphthongised generally, except in the South, in such words as—

Dìomhain, dìomhair, gnìomh, snìomh, crìon, dìon, fìon, lìon, sìon, mìos, nìos, dìol, sìol, fìor, sìor, sìorruidh, cìoch, crìoch, dìosg, grìosach, ìosal, sìos, etc.

In Arran, Kintyre, and Islay, ìo in these and other words has the sound simply of Gaelic ì (that is, the sound of e in English ‘me,’ ‘be’), with nasalisation when in contact with m or n. In North Argyll it is the same except that ia occurs in one or two instances (as dìomhain, snìomh), and that in some of the words with n, l, or r following—lìon, spìon, sìol, fìor—a slight ao sound may be noticed between the long ì and the liquid.

In East Perthshire, in Badenoch and Strathspey, and in Sutherlandshire, ìo is sounded ia nasal in the words in which it is flanked by m or n, and iao in other cases. In a few instances—sìoman, crìon (little), lìon (flax), lìon (fill), dìosg, grìosach, sìos, Strathspey retains the long ì, and shows again its tendency, though differing in this instance from East Perthshire, to conform to Southern Gaelic.

In West Ross-shire and in Skye the words in question, with scarcely an exception, have iao, and in contact with m or n, as ao cannot be nasalised, only i of the diphthong is nasal.

Sgìos, because it is for ‘sgìtheas,’ has ì generally, but in Sutherland it is sgiaos. Iobairt and iodhal also have iao in the same county, ‘iaobairt,’ ‘iaowalt.’ The latter is ‘iaodhal’ in Skye. The borrowed word tim, ‘time,’ in Sutherland has become, not tìm, as might be expected on the analogy of im, etc., but tiam, as though the word were tìom, and followed the analogy of sìoman, etc. Féin, self, which is ‘fhìn’ with the first personal pronouns in the Northern Dialect generally—‘Thu fhéin ’s mi fhìn,’ (never in the North ‘mi fhéin’)—is fhèin (è nasal) in the north of Sutherland except Strathy, and fhian in Strathy and the south-east of the county, with first personal pronouns, but with the other persons fhéin (é not nasal), as in the rest of the Highlands. Fhian might be a diphthongisation of fhìn, as though it were fhìon, like crìon, lìon, but is perhaps more likely to have come from the local fhèin on the analogy of eun, dèan.

(To be continued.)

(Continued from p. 113.)

The features already dealt with seemed to require to be grouped together as they have been and perhaps were so arranged to advantage. In what remains to be said concerning the vowels they will be taken in order with the usual and, in Gaelic, important division into broad and narrow. Translations of Gaelic words cited are not given as a rule except where they seem called for by risk of ambiguity or other cause. Generally the lack of English equivalents will present no great difficulty to one who knows Gaelic or to any one who makes use of Dr. MacBain’s Dictionary.

au and à for a

The points to be observed in regard to the change of a into the diphthong au before ll, nn, and m in words like dall, fann, cam, need be but briefly recapitulated. The vowel that becomes au is not long though marked long in some cases by the authorities; it is the following liquid that is long. The long liquid becomes short if through inflection or word-formation a vowel comes to stand immediately after it and au then becomes a again; as ann (in) and annta (in them), both with long nn, and so respectively ‘aunn’ and ‘aunnta’ in the north, but annam (in me), annad (in thee), etc., all with short nn and so have not au. In the words affected a always becomes au in northern Gaelic but never in southern. The dividing line between the two dialects has been described as running up Loch Linnhe to the opening of Loch Leven and then following the county march between Inverness on the one side and Argyll and Perth on the other. The change to au, however, found to north of this line before all three long liquids, is found to the south of it before the two ll and nn as far as the middle of Argyllshire and eastwards to the middle of Perthshire. Thus in Argyllshire there is the complete absence of the change to au in the southern half of the county; there is the occurrence of it before two of the liquids from the middle of the county to Loch Linnhe, and there is the full development before the three liquids in the part beyond Loch Linnhe. It is not at all unlikely that the change to au before long r prevailing in Glenlyon and Rannoch may extend also into the Black Mount district and that so a fourth though somewhat irregular stage may be found in the same county. It should be noted that in such words as Alba, calpa, balbh, balg, calma, farmad, etc., though the liquid is long au does not appear.

A strange-looking instance of this diphthongisation is in the word adhlac (burial). The terminal variations of the word in different dialects, viz., adhlacadh, adhlaic, adhlaiceadh, may be disregarded here. It is pronounced ‘àllac’ in the south and ‘aullac’ in the north with à and au nasalised, and, if written according to the analogy of words similarly pronounced, as annlan, connlach, innleachd, it would be annlac. In Manx it is anlaky and oanluckey and in old Irish adnacul and adnocul. What has happened in Scottish Gaelic in this instance is that spelling and pronunciation have followed different courses. Our spelling retains a trace of d and none of n while the reverse is the case with our pronunciation; it retains trace of n but none of d. The modern Irish, from which our spelling has been taken, is adhlacadh.

Before long r, a, though here also it was short originally, is now a long vowel, à, in Scottish Gaelic generally. This is the rule before long rr or rd as in bàrr, àrd. In other cases there is irregularity. A may be lengthened in certain words or in certain districts and not in others. Carn (a cairn) is càrn in Arran, Sutherland, etc., but carn in parts of the central Highlands. The long liquid here also becomes short if made to stand immediately before a vowel, and the lengthened vowel—à—then becomes short again—a.

In Glenlyon, Rannoch, and Badenoch a tends to become au before r whenever that liquid, whether it be long or short, is followed by l, n, d, t, or s, as in ardan, bard, MacPharlain, carn, and also in Artair, mart, Cars. Au is heard also for ai (the function of i, itself silent, being only to indicate the slender quality of the following consonant group) in such words as airde (higher, etc.), cairt (bark), fairsing (wide), fairslich (baffle). Before rr, as barr, etc., a is long in those districts.

e, è for a, à

Another pronunciation of the vowel both long and short is heard in Arran and in Kintyre. In a number of words in these districts a gets the sound of open e. That is the sound of e in English ‘bell,’ ‘less,’ ‘get,’ but lengthened when the Gaelic vowel is long, and nasalised in contact with m, mh or n. The difference between the usual sound and that of Arran and Kintyre is like that between the ordinary Scottish and the high English pronunciations of the vowel in such words as ‘man,’ ‘cat,’ ‘gas,’ as when the familiar line is rendered:—

‘E men’s e men for a’ thet.’

The peculiarity is well exemplified in the popular Arran rime:—

Na bris do chas
A’ ruith do chearc
Di-Dòmhnaich.’ in which ‘chas’ as pronounced locally gives a perfect rhyme to ‘—less.’ A similar pronunciation of the vowel in the preposition a (out of) with its derivatives asam (out of me), asad, as, asainn, etc., is given by MacAlpine, viz., e, easam (e’sam), easad (e’sad), etc., and is widespread in Scottish Gaelic. So cnatan (a cold) is cneatan (cne’tan) in some districts and farasda (easy) in Ross and Sutherland is fearasda (fe’rasda). A similar change to e (ea) prevails in Waterford in Ireland when a is the initial letter or the second letter with t as the first in words accented on the first syllalble. The character of the flanking consonants is not affected either in Ireland or in Scotland by the change from a to e. Though the vowel is changed from broad to slender the consonants on either side of it, though they be mutable, are still sounded as if the vowel remained broad. As no clear and simple rule can be given governing the change to e in Arran and Kintyre, it may be well to have a somewhat full list of examples. These are arranged in groups to show those that have e in both districts, and those that have e only in one district, and a few that keep a in both districts are added.

Arran and Kintyre e:—

Màl, bàn, dàn, dàna, làn, slàn, cnàmh (chew), làmh, nàmhaid, ràmh (oar), sàmhach, snàmh, tàmh, gnàth, nàdur, màg (paw), màgairt (creeping), màs, snàth, snàthat; anail, anainn (eaves), anam, anart, canach, fan, fanaid, glan, tana, cnap, anbhfhann (for anfhann, weak), marcaich, math (good), a (out of), asam, etc., and MacThàmhais (MacTavish or Thomson).

Arran e, Kintyre a:—

Càl, clàbar, blàr, clàr, fàradh (ladder), làr, làrach, bràth, cràbhach, cràdh, gràdh, gràs, tràth, bàth (drown), bàs, bàta, càch, càs, dà (two), dà (to him), dàth (singe), fàg, fàs (grow), fàs (waste), fàth, gàbhadh, gàg, Pàpa, sàbhail, sàs, sàsaich, sàth (thrust), spàg, thà; aran, arbhar, barail, car, caraid, carbad, darach, fada, gar (warm), garbh, garg, marag, marbh, pac, padhadh, sgarbh, tarbh, tarann (nail), thar (over), tharam, tharad, etc., agam, agad, againn, agaibh (but not aca), and the island name Arainn.

Arran a, Kintyre e:—

Àmhghair, smàl, amhaich, amhairc, amharus, damh, damhsa (dance), amadan, annamh (rare), Samhradh, Samhuinn.

Arran and Kintyre a:—

Àbhaist, àlainn, Sàbaid, abaich, abhainn, athais, labhair (speak), latha (day), rabhadh, falamh, talamh, etc.; words in which a becomes au in the north, and those with long l which do not show au in the north, Alba, balbh, etc.

The capriciousness of the change is shown by its occurrence in so many words in one district and not in another, and also by such details as that àlainn has è at the north end of Arran, the lists above being from the south end, and that aca (at them) has a, while agam (at me), etc., and faca (saw) have e.

The presence, or introduction through inflection or otherwise, of the vowel i in the same syllable prevents the change to e, or causes the sound to revert to a again. For example, à is changed to è in the nominatives càl, nàmhaid, but not in càil (gen.), nàimhdean (plu.). It is è in slàn, nàraich, càramh, but à in slàinte, nàire, càirich. It is e (open) in agam, asad, againn, agaibh, in asam, asad, as, asainn, etc., but not in aige, aice, aiste, and in thar, tharam, tharad, etc., but not in thairis. The influence of i may be exerted even from the following syllable. In blàth (warm) and blàthas (warmth) à sounds è, but is à again in blàthaich (to warm). So in the nominatives athair, màthair, bràthair, nathair the vowel of the first syllable is a (à), but in the genitives athar, màthar, bràthar, nathrach it is e (è). In amhach (neck) the first vowel is sounded e in Kintyre, but in Arran, where the word is amhaich, it is sounded a. In a number of cases in which a is not changed to e in Arran, it may be observed that i is the sounded vowel of the following syllable. So incompatible with i is the change of a to open e in Arran as to be sufficient of itself to show which of two alternative spellings should be followed. The fact that the vowels, for example, of the first syllables of nàirich or nàraich, and of bainis or banais, are respectively è and e in Arran shows that, for that island at least, the correct forms are nàraich and banais. In other districts the contrary is the case; the same pronunciations è and e in those words show, in Lochaber for example, that the right forms for that district are nàirich and bainis. Similarly math or maith (good), is pronounced ‘me’ (‘mwe’) in Lochaber and in Arran, therefore maith is the right form in Lochaber, where math would not become ‘me,’ while math is the right form in Arran, for there maith would not become ‘me’ (‘mwe’).

Another instance of the way in which the pronunciation may be a check upon the orthography is the word for a nail given by Dr. MacBain as tarrag and tarrang. But a, which never becomes e before rr in Arran, does become e there in the first syllable of this word, and thereby goes to show that rr should be r. It is r, moreover, and not rr that is heard not only in Arran and in Kintyre, where the word is tarann, but also in Perthshire, Skye, West Ross-shire, and Sutherland, where it is tarag. As final ng is liable to become nn in some districts and g in others, as in cumhann and cumhag for cumhang, those pronunciations would point to ‘tarang’ as the form of the word. The plural, however, tàirnnean in Arran, tairgean in Perth, tairnean in Skye, tairgnean in Sutherland, etc., is nearer to the more literary and Irish form tairnge, as is also the corresponding verb in the districts named. Tairnge is apt to suggest that taireang would be more correct than tarang, but a form with ai, even if it were admissible in other districts, is forbidden by the e sound given in Arran. In Perthshire an alternative plural, taragan, is also used.

we for a

Another peculiarity of Arran Gaelic is associated with this change of a to e, and also with the change, yet to be noticed, of ao to é. After b, f, p, m, l, and n a sound like that of w is heard before this e for a, as bà ‘bwè,’ fàg ‘fwè’g,’ Pàpa ‘Pwèpa,’ màg ‘mwè’g,’ làn ‘lwè’n,’ nàdur ‘nwè’dur.’ So also fàl (peat-cutter), Pàtair (Patrick), màm (two handsful), and with short vowels, bad, bata, blad, blas, mach, marg, and others already mentioned. Aspiration of the consonant, except in the case of f, makes no difference in this respect; w remains, as bhà (was) ‘bhwè,’ mhàg ‘mhwè’g.’ When consonant and vowel belong to different words w is sometimes heard; ’g am fhàgail (leaving me) is sometimes ‘ga mwè’gail,’ and air m’fhàgail ‘air mwè’gail.’ The use of w is perhaps liable to give an exaggerated impression. Especially in the cases of l and n, and in all cases when the vowel is short, the sound is more nearly a very short u. On the other hand, the short u may be heard after l and n, at least occasionally in Kintyre.

a in ia, ua

The sound given to a in the diphthongs ia and ua, and also in uai, is generally a in the south and ao short in the north, but varies in certain districts according as the diphthong is followed by:—

mh, l, n, r, c, ch, s, t, th, as fiamh, ial, grian, miann, iar, iarraidh, fiacaill, fiach, dias, fiata, sgiath; ruamhair, cual, buan, fuar, cnuac, luach, suas, fuath; suaimhneach, tuaileas, suain, fhuair, stuaic, cruaich, duais, luaithe.

Or by:—

m, ll, dh, gh, as ciall, fiadh, liagh; gruamach, uallach, ruadh, sluagh; fuaim, uaill, buaidh, truaighe.

In East Perthshire, Strathspey, and Sutherland a is sounded a in the first class of words and ao in the second class. In Arran and Kintyre it is sounded a in both classes. In Badenoch, West Ross-shire, and Skye it is ao in both classes. Fiar (awry) and fuar (cold) for example are pronounced as written in the five districts first named; in the three others they are fiaor and fuaor, and, in West Ross and Skye at all events, the ao scarcely needs to be marked short. The a sound prevails in a great part of Argyllshire and in West Perthshire, and is that given by MacAlpine. He has ao in truagh, but a in truaghan and in truaighe. Ao appears also once in Arran in uaigneach, though it is not heard, so far as known, in that word in the north. In East Perthshire and in Strathspey biadh when it is the noun (food) is ‘biao’; when it is the verb (feed) it is ‘bia.’

What has been said above holds good generally in similar circumstances in regard to diphthongised eu (èa, etc.). Ceutach, for example, is ‘ciatach’ in the one group of districts and ‘ciaotach’ in the other. Io also becomes ia or iao in different positions, as stated above (p. 112).


The digraph ai is variously sounded as a single vowel a, a nasal, e open, close, or nasal, or ao short, or as a diphthong composed of any one of those vowels along with i. Any distinctions are more local than general. The most prominent of them is that before n as in gràin, thàinig, ainm, gainmheach, raineach the digraph receives the sound of à or a in some districts as ‘grà’n,’ ‘a’nm,’ etc., and that of è or e in others, ‘gr’èn,’ ‘enm.’ Two prominent words that follow this analogy are màthair, ‘mèhir,’ or ‘mèr,’ and Gàidheal ‘G’è-al.’ Perhaps nowhere is e for ai so frequent as in North Argyll and Lochaber. It is more frequent in Strathspey than Badenoch; it may be heard on one side of the Tay in Perthshire while a is found on the other, and prevails in Kintyre while a holds the field in Arran. Raineach, however, is roineach in Kintyre, and gives the local name Ronachan, Gaelic Roineachan, meaning place of bracken or ‘brackenry.’ It is the same name as Ranachan, of which there are several in North Argyll and Inverness, and is a diminutive form of the Perthshire name Rannoch. When e does occur for ai in Arran it is not open e to which a changes as above, but close e as in gairbhe, mairbh; in several words in which oi is written for an older ai as coileach, coille, goil, doire, goid; in airean (ploughman), and in air (on). In all those instances except air, however, ai or oi gets the sound of ao short in a number of districts, and it may be argued, that the close e here simply follows the Arran pronunciation of é (i.e. long close e) for long ao. Aig (at), which has close e almost universally, has ai in Arran and open e in Kintyre. Two words that have ai in place of a in those districts are ainnleann for annlan, in Arran à’lleann, in Kintyre eileann (eilleann?), and baintreach for bantrach, with ai as a in Arran and as e both in Kintyre and in MacAlpine’s Dictionary.

a and o

The Rev. John Forbes in his Grammar gives a preference for o as against a as one of the features of the northern as distinguished from the interior and southern dialects of Gaelic. More recently a partiality for a has been claimed as a feature of the Gaelic of Sutherlandshire. So far as that county is concerned the question has been discussed in full in the papers already mentioned on its dialect. All that can be said is that a does take the place of o in a number of instances in that county, and that o on the other hand in nearly as many instances displaces a, but somehow the latter do not strike the observer as the former do. A distinct feature is the substitution of close o for a before l, as in alt, altruim, allt, call, etc., also in dealt, pailt, etc.

Coileach, coire (fault), goil, and some others, it may be remarked, have ai—caileach, etc.—in Sutherland as in Arran.


The two sounds of o are distinguished as open and close and in writing, when long, as ò and ó. When short they are not distinguished in writing. The open sound ò is like that of o in English cot, lord, and the close sound ó like that of note, quote. In printing care has not been taken always, even in dictionaries, to distinguish ò and ó. Bó (cow), for example, is often given as bò. Mór (great) also generally appears as mòr. In this case there are in fact two pronunciations, the one ‘mór’ for ordinary use and the other ‘mòr’ kept for emphatic use. Móran and mòran (many) are distinguished in the same way.

Before long r it is ó that is heard in Sutherland as córr, tórr, órd, Górdan (Gordon), dórn, sgórnan, elsewhere còrr, òrd, etc.

ou and ò for o

As to o becoming ou or ò before long liquids, all that has been said regarding the corresponding changes of a, applies, mutatis mutandis, also to o, both in the general features and in the peculiarities associated with r long or short. Some of those peculiarities stated (p. 103, supra) as occurring in Rannoch extend also to Glenlyon. This has been indicated under a and holds also for o, as dorn, ‘dourn,’ sgornan ‘sgournan.’ Eorna (barley) is heard in Glenlyon both with a triphthong ‘eourna’ and the diphthong ‘eurna.’

u for o

A preference of u to o seems to be a feature of Sutherland Gaelic. Cnò, còmhradh, Nollaig, Cromba (Cromarty), Obaireadhain (Aberdeen), for example, all have u (ù) for o (ò). Even pòs (marry) is ‘pùs’ in the Reay Country (the north of the county).

u and ù

The standard sound of u in Scottish Gaelic resembles the u in English ‘rule’ ‘Yule.’

Except in the digraph ui, u has that sound almost invariably. The lengthening of this vowel is found generally in Scottish Gaelic before long rr and rd, and more variably before rl, rn, etc. Burr (pout, protrusion of the lips, for + borr) is ‘bùrr,’ surd is ‘sùrd,’ uird (gen. and plu. of ord) ‘ùird.’ Ciurrta (for ciurrte, hurt) is ‘ciùrrte,’ and ciuirteach (for ciurrteach, hurtful) ‘ciùrrteach.’ Similar lengthening before other long liquids is peculiar to the mainland of Ross-shire and to Sutherlandshire, where null is ‘nùll,’ tum ‘tùm,’ grunn ‘grùnn,’ and, with the like lengthening of the slender vowels, distinguishes the Gaelic of those districts from the rest of Northern Gaelic as well as from Southern Gaelic.


Ui is sometimes sounded Gaelic u, as in cuid, dùisg. More often it is a diphthong composed of that u and i or of French u and i. In other instances it has the sound of Gaelic i. The last pronunciation is characteristic of Arran and Sutherland, e.g. in suidh (sit), tuig (understand), cluinn (hear), cruinn (round), ruith (run), ruig (reach), etc. In many of the instances, of course, ui has taken the place of an earlier i.

wi for ui

In Sutherland and in Skye the sound of w is heard in place of u after an initial c. Cuibhrionn, cuigeal, and cuingean are respectively cwibhrionn, cwigeal, and cwingean both in Sutherland and in Skye. This cwi—like quee in English queen—is heard also in the words cuibheas, cuimhne, cuing, cuidhteag (the little finger), cuibhill, cuibhrig, cuidhtich, and cuilc in Skye and also in the local name Cuidh-Fhraing (Quiraing). Though not so frequent after c in Sutherland, it is heard there occasionally in the words guidh ‘gwi’ and suim ‘swim.’ The latter word, as heard there, sounds quite like the Scottish pronunciation, ‘sweem,’ of English swim.


The vowel ao as it now appears in Gaelic is broad. Mutable consonants on either side of it are sounded as when in contact with broad vowels. This holds true through all the variations of sound given to the vowel in Scottish Gaelic. It represents at the present day, especially, óe, ói, and ái of Old Irish. In some cases it stands for a or o before dh or gh, and in a few instances for an, en, or in where n has been assimilated to the following consonant and compensatory lengthening has taken place. Where the vowel represents old óe, ói, ái, it generally gets the sound of ao to which, as MacAlpine has said, the nearest sound in English is that of u in Burns, throughout Argyllshire with the exception of Kintyre, and in the west of Perthshire. In Arran it has that sound of é and also in Kintyre. Another sound given to the vowel is that usually called French u or the Scottish u in such words as ‘mune’ moon, ‘shune’ (or ‘shoon’) shoes. In Aberdeenshire, it is well to observe, the vowel of such words is like ee in English been, seen, and accordingly they are written there ‘meen,’ ‘sheen.’ The spelling ‘shoon’ represents yet another pronunciation, viz., that of oo in English moon, soon. Ao gets this û sound in a great part of Gaeldom, as in East Perthshire, Badenoch, and Strathspey, Skye, West Ross-shire, and Sutherland. For the old óe, etc. the û sound is much more widespread than the ao sound. Caol, aom, raon, daor, fraoch, laogh, gaoth and many others generally show those various pronunciations in the different districts mentioned. Some words are apt to be exceptions. Caomh, naomh, caomhain and aon with their derivatives have ì in Arran and Kintyre and û in Argyllshire (Ardnamurchan and also MacAlpine) as well as in the eastern and northern districts. In East Perth, West Ross and Sutherland, it may be remarked, mh of naomh is now represented by a Gaelic u so that a diphthong is formed of û and u, ‘nûu.’ The same thing (without nasalisation of the vowels of course) has happened to craobh and taobh in East Perth and to craobh in West Ross, ‘crûu,’ ‘tûu.’ Taobh has gone a stage further in West Ross and Sutherland as has also craobh in the latter district; both vowels have coalesced into one long Gaelic u, ‘tù,’ ‘crù.’

Another instance of ì for ao in Arran and Kintyre appears in maoth, ‘mì.’ The name Aonghas, in which ao is short and n long wherever that is the form, takes the form ‘Naoghas’ in Arran and Kintyre (and Skye) and has short i for ao.

When ao is for a or o before dh or gh, it is long in a few instances as aobhar, aobrann, aoradh, fòghlum or faolum, and is short in many in which it is heard but not written. When short as in aghaidh ladhar, Foghar roghainn, it is sounded ao short as a rule everywhere except in Arran and Kintyre where it is short e close. The same close e is heard in one or two instances such as adharc, fradharc, in Sutherland. In Foghar old Foghmhar ao is slightly obscured in some districts by a w coming from the old mh. Where ao is long it also becomes é in Arran and Kintyre. Elsewhere it is unchanged in most districts but occasionally becomes û. For example, û is found in aobhar and fòghlum in Sutherland and sometimes in East Perthshire, and is given by MacAlpine in aobrann (faobrann).

Foghlum has ò in MacAlpine and in Arran ‘fòlum’ but é in Kintyre.

In the other group of words which includes aodach, aodann, aog, aogasg, aotrom, ao, which again has become é in Arran and Kintyre, is more apt to become û outside of Argyllshire as in aodach, aodann, etc., in Skye, Perth, etc. Those words have sometimes been written with eu in lieu of ao as eudach, eudann, and eug seems to have been preferred to aog by Dr. MacBain. In North Argyll a distinction is attempted in regard to this word, aog being used for the noun (death) and eug for the verb. MacLeod and Dewar give eug as verb and noun, but aog only as a noun.

Aoi is generally the same as ao with i either forming a diphthong with it, or showing the ‘slender’ character of the following consonant. Aois for example is ‘és’ in Arran and Kintyre. A few irregularities occur here also. MacAlpine gives ûi (diphthong) for aoi in aoine as in Di-h-aoine and in naoi. The latter has ûi in North Argyll. Both have ì in Arran and Kintyre as has also maoin. Naoidhean has ì in Kintyre but seemingly short i in Arran. Maoidh is mì in Kintyre, mài in Arran, and mòidh with MacAlpine. Maois (Moses) and chaoidh or choidhche (ever) and also oidhche have ì in Arran and the first û, the others ûi, with MacAlpine. Caoin (weep) is cóin in East Perth and in Sutherland. In the latter county aoi often gets the sound of ì as in gaoith, MacAoidh (Mackay) and the parish name Claoin (Clyne).

As when a is changed to e, so also when ao is sounded é or ì, a w or very short u is heard sometimes in Arran. It is very slight in this case, however, is found only after l and n as in laogh, glaodh, lagh, naomh, naoi, and is perhaps to be regarded properly as the passage from the ‘broad’ sounds of those liquids to the narrow vowel. The w or u in the case of e for a has arisen no doubt from the effort to pass from a consonant, associated as it was with a broad vowel, to a now slender vowel, as it is found only before those attenuated vowels in Arran and in Kintyre.

The identity of the pronunciation of ao in aon, caomh, naomh, with that of aoi in aoine, maoin, naoi, etc., in Arran and Kintyre might lead to the supposition that there the oblique case, as in so many instances, has usurped the place of the nominative, and that the forms in which ao is sounded ì, are really aoin, caoimh, naoimh. The occurrence of the same pronunciation in caomhain, and of distinct pronunciations of oblique cases is, however, rather against the supposition. While naomh, for example, is ‘n’ìmh,’ or rather ‘n’ìf,’ in Arran, naoimh strangely enough is there ‘nûimh.’ Except in two instances, chaoidh and oidhche, in which oi generally has the sound of aoi, the vowels which get this ì sound are in contact with nasal liquids m, mh, or n, and are themselves nasalised. In other cases, though in contact with nasals, ao, however pronounced, is not nasalised. So in Argyllshire generally it is where nasalisation is found that ao gets the sound of û. What we have then is this: where ao, with or without i following, is nasalised, it has been changed from ao to û in the great part of Argyllshire, and from é to ì in Kintyre and in Arran. In other districts no apparent trace of such divergence is found; the sound of û nasal or not, as the case may be, is given to ao beside all consonants. Whether the Arran and Kintyre sounds (é and ì) are modifications of the Argyll sounds (ao and û), or whether the sounds in both cases are modifications of older sounds, may be a moot question, but there need be no doubt whatever that the starting point of the divergence from é to ì, and from ao to û has been in both cases nasalisation. The cause of the divergence is the difficulty or impossibility of nasalising the sound of ao. The difficulty is such that when a gets the sound of ao in the diphthongs ia and ua in the west of Ross-shire, for example, though i or u is nasalised, ao is not, in such words as fiamh, buan. The attempt to nasalise ao changes more or less the character of the vowel; hence the nasal û for ao in Argyll and perhaps also the universal û nasal or not for ao in other districts. The sound that at first, or, at all events, at one time took the place of ao only when nasalised, has since taken the place of that vowel entirely.

In Irish ao in general gets the sound of u in Ulster, of our Gaelic ì in Connaught, and of our é in Munster, but apparently there are more exceptions and more varieties of sound than in Scottish Gaelic.


The vowel e, like o, has an open and a close sound. The open sound, when short, is like that of e in English ‘bed,’ ‘less,’ ‘met,’ and when long is like the same sound lengthened, and is then written è. The close sound is like the vowel in English ‘whey,’ short or long as the case may be, and in the latter case is written é. It rarely stands alone as the vowel of a syllable. On the other hand it is the only vowel that may be followed by any of the others and preceded by none. The only exceptions are Gael, Gaelig, etc., which are unusual and bad renderings of Gàidheal, Gàidhlig, etc. The lengthening of short e before long liquids and the change of a long e (eu, etc.) into ia have been fully dealt with, but some other changes affecting the vowel or digraphs into which it enters remain to be noticed.


In the digraph ea the vowel that is sounded in some cases is e and in others a. In East Perthshire a is heard when the digraph is followed by l, nn, rr or rd, and e in other cases. The exceptions are few, e.g., seachd (seven) and Geamhradh (winter). In Arran a is somewhat more frequent and is heard before chd and in a few other cases. It is e there before ch except in deachaidh and seach, seachad, and seachran. MacAlpine gives a in Geamhradh, seachd, seach, seachad, neach, reamhar, but e usually in the positions in question. In breac (spotted), breac (trout), breac (to spot), with breacag, breacan, etc., leac (stone), seac (withered), and deachd (indite) he gives e and French u short as alternative pronunciations of the digraph. About Inverness a is noticeable before ch and in other cases; each (horse) for example is there ‘yach.’

In North Argyll and the adjoining parts of Inverness, Lochaber, etc., e is the vowel sounded in this digraph before l, nn, rr, and rd, and gives the dialect in those parts perhaps its most distinctive peculiarity of pronunciation. Geal (white) is there ‘ge’l,’ cearr is ‘ce’rr,’ fearr ‘fe’rr,’ ceard ‘cè’rd, fearna ‘fè’rna,’ and so on. As has been indicated already ea is diphthongised before long l, n, and m in the north, much in the same way as the single vowel a. Sometimes the resulting diphthong is au, and e is represented by a y sound preceding au or by its influence upon the preceding consonant, as Bealltuinn ‘Byaulltuinn,’ seann ‘shaunn.’ That is what takes place in the north generally before long l, and in Badenoch, Strathspey, etc., before long n also. In other cases the diphthong is formed of e and u in place of a and u, as ceann ‘ceunn,’ gleann, ‘gleunn,’ meall ‘meull,’ teampull, ‘teumpull.’ This is the rule in North Argyll and Lochaber, and extends in the case of nn as far as Rannoch, West Ross, and Skye, and in some instances to Sutherland. Before long l it extends in the case of meall (deceive) and meall (lump) to Rannoch and West Ross. In some cases ea is changed into eo before ll, e.g. geall ‘gyoull’; so seall, steall also in Lochaber, etc. In Rannoch ea is similarly changed to eo and diphthongised before rn as cearn ‘cyourn,’ etc. In Glenlyon ea becomes the eu diphthong in cearn, fearna, etc., in teàruinn and teàrnadh, in ceard, feaird, and in Peairt (Perth), in which r is short. The same diphthong is heard there also in peurda (flake of wool in first carding) as though the word were pèarda.

eo for ea

A substitution of close o for a is general in Northern Gaelic in such words as eallach ‘yollach,’ geall, seall, steall, dreall, greallag, sgeallag, and recalls the liking remarked in Sutherland for the same o before l. In other cases also, but without giving any great distinction of dialect, o (open, however) occurs for a, as feabhas, seabhag, treabh, treabhaire (houses), dreathan-donn, sreathart. ‘Feobhas’ for feabhas seems to be universal. Seagal generally has close o. Leabhar (book) and leabhar (wide) usually have o, but open in some districts and close in others. What happens in these—feabhas, seabhag, etc.—and other instances is that ea in place of getting the single sound of e gets that of o or yo. Feabhas instead of being ‘fe-as’ is ‘fyo-as.’ So lèabag (flounder), in some places liabag, is ‘lèbag’ in Arran, etc. and ‘lyòbag’ in West Ross, in Sutherland ‘lyóbag.’ Seòmar (chamber), which is ‘shòmar’ in most places, ought strictly to be sèamar, and is ‘shèmar’ in Perthshire and in Lewis.

(Continued from p. 239.)

a for initial ea

In North Argyll (Sunart) initial ea in a few instances is sounded a. Ealamh or eathlamh is ‘alamh,’ eanbhruith ‘anbhruich,’ and eanghlas ‘anghlas.’ Eanchainn is here ‘anchaill.’ There is a corresponding pronunciation in the case of io and of iu. Eathlamh, however, which is althamh (‘alhu’) in West Ross, is athlamh in Irish and athlam in Early Irish.


In such words as beum, ceum, feum with feumach, feumail, etc., geum, leum, teum, breun, treun, beur, eur, speur, beuban, treubh, creuchd, beud, deud, treud, beus, etc., eu is not known to become ia but is sounded é both north and south. M and n also where they occur in those words do not nasalise the vowel. Another diphthong, however, composed of e and u is heard in North Argyll and in Mull, Tiree, Coll, Eigg, etc., in the word feumach. In some parts of that area the sound seems to be rather iu or even yu. This pronunciation is not found in any other of those words, not even in feum or in feumail, in at least a great part of that area.

e and i

The change in Ross and Sutherland of e (ei) to i associated with a lengthening of the vowel before long liquids as in Bìnn for Beinn, mountain, has been noticed already. In addition to the examples given leinn, with us, becomes lìnn, there. Seann-seanair is there sì-seanair; compare sìsear the same districts for sinnsear (ì nasal in both instances).

Of the examples referred to seinn, sing, is sinn in Perthshire and creim, nibble, is crim in North Argyll.

Many other words show an interchange of the sounds of e and i in different dialects. The written vowel in these cases may be e, ea, ei, i or io. Mil, honey, and milis, sweet, have e—mel, melis—in Perth, East Inverness, West Ross and Sutherland. Meadhon, so Arran, Kintyre, and Perth, is miodhon in North Argyll, North Inverness, Skye, West Ross and Sutherland. This has been written sometimes miadhon as though it were an instance of the change of long eeu, èa etc,—into ia, but the e (ea) of meadhon is short. Meas, esteem, meas, fruit, measg, among, measg, mix, and miosa, worse, all have e—measa, etc.,—in Perth, and i—mios, etc.—in Arran, Argyll, Skye and Sutherland. Iosgaid, hough, and lios, garden, have e—easgaid, leas—in Arran, Perth, etc. Eirich, rise, is ìrich in Arran and in Kintyre. Smig, chin, in North Argyll and West Ross is smeig, inbhir in Perth, North Inverness and Skye enbhir, and gilb, eabar, and teine respectively in West Ross, sgeilb (in part of the district), iobar, and tine. Seamrag is in North Argyll siormag, and in West Ross both searmag and silmeag. The vowel of féill, in proper names of festivals and of fairs, is changed regularly in consequence of the unaccented position then occupied by the word, from long to short, and in addition is changed in Arran, Perthshire and other districts from e to i as An Fhill Màirtinn, Martinmas; An Fhill Brìde, St. Bridget’s day, etc.

When féin, self, is used with the second and third persons its vowel, as indicated at page 113 above, is é in all dialects. In Southern Gaelic it is é also with the first person. In the northern dialect, except in Sutherlandshire, when the word is associated with the first person, the vowel is changed to ì. In the south they say ‘Thu fhéin ’s mi fhéin,’ but in the north ‘Thu fhéin’s mi fhìn.’ In Sutherland with the first person, instead of either fhìn or fhéin, they say in one part of the county fhèin, (è nasal), and in another fhian—‘Thu fhéin ’s mi fhèin’ and ‘Thu fhéin ’s mi fhian.’


The Gaelic sound of i is like the English sound of e in ‘me’ or ee in ‘bee,’ ‘deep,’ long or short as the case may be. Sometimes when short, more especially in initial position, the vowel gets the sound of English i in ‘fit,’ ‘pin.’ This English sound of i is heard in Sutherland in inbhir (initially), sin, and for io in cionta and ciontach, crios, gliong, etc., and is more frequent in that county than in other districts. The lengthening of i before long liquids and the diphthongisation of long io have been dealt with already.

ea, io, and iu

The digraph iu in Northern Gaelic, more especially in its western half, is very often pronounced not yu as elsewhere, but as a diphthong iu or sometimes . Iu, for example, is heard in iubhar, iuchair, in cliù, siùil (sails) and in iullagach, etc.

Io in many cases is pronounced yu or in great part of the south and east and, following out the analogy, is also made iu or in the north-west, as in iochd, iodhlann, iolach, fiodh. In Skye the diphthong is extended to words in which y is at least not usual elsewhere. There io is iu in iomadh, iomain, iomaire, iomchuidh, iompaidh, iomradh, iomlaid and others.

A certain number of words which have this diphthong in the north vary in spelling or in pronunciation between io and ea in the south. Ionndrain, in Arran and Kintyre i’nndrain, in Perthshire eanndrain—yanndrain in the east of the county and eunndrain (eu diphthong as in certain pronunciations of ceann, gleann, etc.) in the west—is iunndrain in North Argyll, Skye, and West Ross, and yunndrain in Sutherland. Ionnsaich and ionnsuidh in like manner have i in Arran and Kintyre, eaya and eu—in Perth, iu in North Argyll, Skye, and West Ross, and yu in Sutherland. Fionn, fionna, fionnar, Fionnlagh, iongar, ionraic, reannag, sionnach, sionnachan, spionnadh and others follow the same analogy. Leann (ale) and peallach, which have ea in Arran and Kintyre, with others follow the analogy less completely. Mèag, whey, adds other variations to the series. It is mì’g in Arran, mè’g in Kintyre and Islay, myaog in East Perth, meóg in Rannoch, meog in North Argyll, miùg in Skye and miûng in Sutherland. In the four last forms both vowels are sounded, the first short and the second long in meóg, miùg and miûng, and both of equal or nearly equal length in meog. Generally in this connection it appears that the north has a partiality for iu while the south is divided between io (Arran, Kintyre, etc.) and ea (Perth etc.).

u for initial io and iu

As ea sometimes becomes a so initial io in some instances becomes u in Sunart. Iomadh is there ‘uma’ and iomall ‘umall’ and so also iomair (ridge), iomchaidh, iomchair, iomradh, report, (‘umra’ and ‘urma’) and iomramh, rowing.

The same thing happens in one or two instances in the case of iu. Iuchair, key, and iuchair, spawn, are both ‘uchair,’ iuchar, the dog days, is ‘uchar,’ and iullag, a skip, frisk, etc., is ‘ullag.’

vowels in unaccented syllables

The vowels of unaccented syllables get most frequently the sounds of a or ao short, or of i. If i does not appear in the written syllable the sound is a or ao in most dialects. When i stands along with a broad vowel the sound is in some cases a, in some ao, and in some i. When i stands alone it has of course its own sound.

Where ao and also in some cases where a is heard in such syllables in other districts, open o is substituted in many instances in the west of Ross-shire. This is the case especially in the suffixed syllables ach and achd. Mabach is here ‘maboch,’ ciallach ‘cialloch,’ teallach ‘tealloch,’ seileach ‘seileoch’ (‘se’l’och’), raineach ‘raineoch,’ beannachd ‘beannochd,’ cruithneachd ‘cruithneochd,’ and so ablach, cearbach, dìonach, fàrdach, feumach, Frangach, maorach, riòghachd, imeachd, etc. Aiteachan, places, is ‘àiteochan,’ gobhlachan, ear-wig, ‘gobhlochan,’ ceatharnach ‘ceatharnoch,’ dì-chuimhneach ‘diùchonoch,’ and spaidsearachd ‘spaidsearochd.’ Beannachadh is ‘beannochdainn,’ and so with other words of the same formation, as deasachadh, dìtheachadh, fiosrachadh.

Instances of o in other unaccented syllables are sgeadas ‘sgeados,’ saoghal ‘saoghol,’ innear ‘inneor,’ cianail ‘cianoil,’ dìomhain ‘dìomhoin,’ di-chuimhne ‘diùchoin,’ Sàbaid ‘Sàboid.’

Instances occur in Lewis also as tràbhach, a kind of grass, ‘tràbhoch,’ banachdach, pox, ‘banachdoch,’ dà-ghamhnach, cow that goes two years without having a calf, ‘dughanoch,’ trì-ghamhnach, one that goes three years without having a calf, ‘traghanoch,’ Sàbaid, here ‘Sàboinn.’

When Gaelic place-names are adopted into English the vowel of a final or other unaccented syllable is often changed to o, as in Avoch, Dornoch, Rannoch, Ranochan, Cawdor, Glasgow, Greenock, Lomond, etc.

final vowels

Words like fada, dalta, calma, fearna, àite, maide, fàilte, muime, duine, tròcaire, clachaire, are often heard without the final vowel, as fad, dalt, àit, tròcair. Old Irish has such a vowel in many cases in which modern Gaelic has not, as O.Ir. fírinne for fìrinn, snechta for sneachd, snáthe for snàth. In the southern dialect of Scottish Gaelic there seems to be a tendency to retain such vowels in many cases before words beginning with consonants, and to drop them at other times. In the northern dialect the tendency rather is not only to keep them where they existed already, but to affix them wherever it is possible to do so, e.g., deimhinn, O.Ir. demin, is in West Ross-shire deimhinne, and suilbhir, O.Ir. sulbir, is suilbhire there and in North Argyll. In East Perth and Strathspey, and, to a less extent, in Sutherland, the tendency is to drop a final a or e in all cases and circumstances. Even words like comharradh, a mark, còmhnadh, assistance, conaltradh, company, masladh, shame, osnadh, a sigh, Geamhradh and Samhradh, come under its influence in East Perth and in Strathspey, and are respectively, in both those districts, comharr, còmhan, conaltar, masal, osunn, Geamhar and Samhar, or indeed more nearly comhr, còmhn, conaltr, masl, osn, Geamhr and Samhr. Madadh, dog, wolf, appears in Perthshire in more than one place-name, as mad, and fasadh, a dwelling, the word met with in Fasnacloich, Fassiefern, Dochanassie, etc., occurs once as Fas, the name that is Englished as Foss, but with Fasaidh as its genitive.


A w is heard in Arran in some of those cases in which a and ao are changed to e, è, or é (pp. 228, 236 supra), and in Skye and Sutherland takes the place of u in certain instances (p. 233 supra).

W sometimes arises from bh, mh, and dh. Abhag is pronounced sometimes a-ug, and sometimes awag; seanamhàthair is seanavair, seanu-air and seanawair, and odhar is o-ar and owar. Such cases as call for remark will be taken under the respective consonants.


A y sound in the south and east has taken the place, to a great extent, of e and i in the diagraphs ea, eo, io, and iu in accented syllables. Bealaidh is byalaidh and eala yala; eòlas is yòlas, eòrna yòrna, and ceòl cyòl. Other examples have been given in dealing with io and iu. The dialect of the north-west in all those cases generally retains e or i, and forms it with the following broad vowel into a diphthong.

Y is the sound given to slender dh and gh at the beginning of a word, but does not give any mark of dialect.

nasalised vowels

A nasal sound is given to all vowels except ao by contact with the nasal liquids m, mh, and n, but not in all cases. The vowel is nasalised, for example, in eun, bird, and sgeun, start, but not in breun, putrid, or in treun, strong. Sometimes vowels are nasalised without nasal liquids in the words. Faigh, get, is nasalised in Arran, Skye, and Sutherland, and caith, spend, etc., in Arran and Skye. Ciabhag, lock of hair, treubh, tribe, and uabhar, pride, are nasalised in Skye and West Ross. Other instances of nasalisation of the accented vowels are oidhche, chaoidh, treibhdhireach, troigh, ubh, ubhall, uchd in Arran, dithis, fuasgail, tuaicheal, ultach in Perth, cubhaidh, cuibheas, fiach (worth), ucas, uchdach (ascent), urlar in West Ross. MacAlpine says urlar is properly unnlar; that means probably that in his dialect, as in West Ross, etc., the word is ùllar, with u nasalised, and r assimilated to l. Uaigh, grave, is nasalised generally in the north, through confusion, no doubt, with uaimh, cave. As tualaig, loosen, which is nasalised in Perth, is tuainig or tuanaig in other dialects, the word may be properly tuanlaig. Adhlac, to agree with its pronunciation, as has been said (p. 224), should be annlac, nn being assimilated to l. The first vowel of òran, song, is nasalised in Perth, though not in Arran, Kintyre, or Islay, where it is óran, or in North Argyll or Skye, where it is òran, but in Strathspey, Ross, Sutherland and Lewis, and in Ireland, the word is amhran, in Middle Irish ambrán.

Ao is not nasalised. Before nasalisation can take place, some other sound—û or ì—has to be substituted. The connection of this change of vowel with nasalisation has already been noticed (pp. 236, 237). With regard to the seeming exceptions, oidhche and chaoidh, it should be observed that though they do not contain nasal liquids, their vowels nevertheless are nasalised. As a matter of fact the sounds also of o and of e, when nasalised, are changed. The nasal ò of sròn is not the ó of bó, mór, but neither is it the ó of brón, ór, though it is nearer to the latter than to the former. Also the nasal è of eun is not the é of breun, treun, nor is it the è of è, he, though it again is nearer to the latter than to the former. This pronoun è, he, is itself nasalised when preceded by a particle ending with n; compare Am b’ e, was it, with An e, is it, and Cha ’n e, it is not.

In North Argyll (Sunart) a when nasalised changes its sound and becomes e. This takes place, for example, in bàn, dàna, làn, ràn, slàn, àmhuinn, cnàmh (digest), làmh, nàmhaid, sàmhach, snàmh, tàmh, màg, màs, nàduir, smàd, snàth, mach, math, etc. The change of vowel resembles that from a to e in Arran and in Kintyre, but in this district it is found only in the case of nasalised a.

svarabhakti vowel between two words

What has been called sometimes a euphonic a, to quote Munro’s Gaelic Grammar (2nd ed. pp. 96, 97), “is of constant occurrence in speaking; as in Gleanna gairidh, gacha ràidhe, gura mi, ma’sa tu, etc., where, without its intervention, the combinations nng, chr, etc., would sound extremely harsh and snappish. It is in compliance with this propensity to euphonia that the prefixes an, ban, etc., become, before certain letters, ana, bana, as in anabarrach, banacharaid, etc. Proper attention has not always been paid to this in the orthography; but as it is unquestionably a fixed principle in the pronunciation, it ought to be attended to in writing.” This parasitic vowel is found usually after liquids, as in ball-a-bùird, cam-a-chasach, sean-a-ghille, sean-a-mhàthair, barr-a-geal. Place-names having as their first part such words as cill, poll, toll, cam, druim, tom, beinn, ceann, gleann, barr, gearr, torr, often have the vowel. Cill Mhoire in Skye (‘Kilmuir’), Ardnamurchan, Knapdale, Kintyre, and Arran (‘Kilmory’ or ‘Kilmorie’) may be heard as Cill-a Mhoire, or, as it would be written in Gaelic, Cille Mhoire. Kilchoan (in several districts) is Cille Chòmhghain, Kilmodan, Cille Mhaodain, Kilmallie, Cille Mhàilidh, A’Chill mhór (Oban and Sleat), A Chille mhór, and so on. Drumalea in Kintyre is Druime liath, and Drumancroy at Portmahomack An Druime cruaidh, and Tomdoun in Glengarry An Toma donn. Glencoe is Gleanna Comhann, and in the districts of Ardgour, Morven, and Ardnamurchan there occur Gleanna Gobhair, Gleanna Galmadail, Gleanna Sannda, Gleanna Gùda, Gleanna Cnèapasdail, Gleanna Borrghdail, An Gleanna geal, An Gleanna dubh, An Gleanna mor, and An Gleanna beag. An Gleanna garbh is at Gruinard, Lochbroom, An Ceanna garbh on Loch Shiel, Am Barra Calltuinn (Barcaldine) and Am Barra glas near Oban, Am Barra mór in Appin, An Torra bàn in Sunart, and so on. The vowel is also heard occasionally after words ending with other consonants, as in Am Bada Beithe, An t-Easa mór.

This parasitic vowel has been mistaken sometimes in the case of names of glens for the genitive feminine of the article, and in consequence names like Glencoe have been written Gleann na Comhann, Glen Gour Gleann na Gobhair, Glen Garry Gleann na Garadh. This mistake would not be possible unless the view taken of the essential facts were so narrow as to exclude not only such instances as An Toma donn, An Ceanna garbh, Am Barra glas, etc., but also such as An Gleanna geal, An Gleanna mór, and the like, and even then it should not be possible.

svarabhakti internally

Internally, that is in the middle of a word, this svarabhakti vowel is at least equally common. The consonant groups into which it inserts itself contain in the case also, as a rule, a liquid either as the first or, less frequently, as the second constituent of the group, or they may consist of two different liquids. The intercalated vowel has the sound of a in some districts and of ao short in others in such words as balbh ‘balabh,’ sealg ‘sealag,’ Fearchar ‘Fearachar’; so borb, lorg, iarrtus, coslas, masladh, cosnadh, acras, easradh, calma, dearmad, Tormoid.

In such as gilb ‘gilib,’ aimsir ‘aimisir,’ caismeachd, aigne, misneach, caidreabh, aitreabh, aimlisg, ainmhidh, it is ao short in some dialects and i in others.

Guilbneach, a curlew, is ‘guilbearnach’ in Perthshire, ‘guilibearnach’ and ‘guilibneoch’ in different parts of West Ross-shire, and ‘guileabarnach’ and ‘cuileabannach’ in different parts of Sutherlandshire. Glaschu, Glasgow, one of the few instances in which there is no liquid, is in Northern Gaelic generally ‘Glasachu.’

The tendency to vowel correspondence or to particular vowel sequences shown above in such instances as ‘balabh,’ ‘gilib,’ is found further developed in the west of Ross-shire. In that district the distinctive Gaelic sounds of a, o, u, and i are all given in intercalation in different cases.

a occurs when the preceding syllable has a, ea, or io as Alba ‘Alaba,’ armadh (oiling wool) ‘aramadh,’ carbhanach ‘carabhanach,’ lamraig ‘lamaraig’; dealrach ‘dealaraich,’ eanghlas ‘eanaghlais,’ earball ‘earaball,’ iomlan ‘iomalan,’ iomlaid ‘iomalaid,’ iorghuil ‘ioraghuil.’
It is found also after ai, as in ama’lisg for aimlisg, dama’sir for daimsir (mud).
Balbh is bala-abh and balahabh, garbh gara-abh and garahabh, dealbh deala-abh, and so falbh, marbh, etc.
o is heard after o or oi as tolog for tolg, conofhodh for confhadh, conophocan for conphocan (a sea-shell), coin’ohall for coingheall (loan), borobhan for borbhan, dorocha for dorcha, and so gorm, morbhach, morghan, etc.
u follows u, and sometimes iu and ui, as Muruchadh for Murchadh, siunnuchan for sionnchan (sionnachan), muluchag for mulchag (mulachag), cuil’ubheir for cuilbheir, guir’umean for guirmean.
i is found after i, ui, ei, and ai, as Gibilean for Giblean, iminidh for imnidh, inif for inbhe, iniwir for inbhir, cuilibheart for cuilbheart, suilibhire for suilbhir, seilicheag for seilcheag, eirimis for eirmis, seirim for seirm, ainim for ainm, farrige for fairge. A number of examples combine metathesis, as ilimich for imlich, iorimall for iomrall, and so imleag, imrich, imridh (must), iomradh (report), iomramh (rowing), and others. Words like Bailbh, gairbhe, deilbh, are bailahi, gairahi, deilaohi.

The more usual pronunciations also are heard sometimes in the district; e.g., iomradh is both iomaradh and irimeadh and coingheall is coin’ahall as well as coin’ohall. Those developed vowel sequences prevail especially throughout the district from Loch Torridon to Loch Broom. Further south, as in Lochcarron, they less frequently replace the ordinary pronunciations.

In some few instances this parasitic vowel has been admitted into the standard orthography. Iarunn, iron, if written according to the best analogy, would be ‘iarn’ and was so written in Old Irish. As it appears as iarund in Middle Irish, however, the current spelling may claim in this instance some of the respect due to age. Seanchaidh, Irish seanchuidh, is generally written seanachaidh, and seanchas, Old Irish senchas, is almost invariably seanachas. Donnchadh, Duncan, is usually Donnachadh which is quite the same as when Fearachar is substituted for Fearchar, and Murachadh for Murchadh, and is not to be defended. Fionnaghal in the same way is usually and quite erroneously written for Fionnghal, Flora. Banachag, milkmaid, meiligeag, pea-pod, muinichill, sleeve, muinighin, trust, muirichinn, family, mulachag, a cheese, spiligean, seedling, are examples of words written with a vowel that in pronunciation is only a svarabhakti, and, in order to be in agreement with Gaelic phonetics, they should be written banchag, meilgeag, muinchill (which is written sometimes) muinghin, muirchinn, mulchag (mulchan in Middle Irish) spilgean. This last word is Scottish spilkins, split-pease, from spilk, to shell peas, etc., whence Gaelic spiolg, to unhusk. Muinighin is muinigin in Early Irish, and may have had its pronunciation affected by analogy or some other influence. The old Irish colum, a dove, for example, is written now columan, calaman, and calman, and according to current pronunciation the best form phonetically is the last named.

In all these instances the liquids that precede the svarabhakti have those sustained or lengthened pronunciations already noticed (p. 99). Wherever indeed a long liquid is followed immediately by a vowel in the written word, that vowel, so far at least as its present value in the spoken language is concerned, is a svarabhakti. Such vowels are rather to be extirpated where they have appeared especially if there are alternative spellings without them already, than to be made by their insertion a cause of increased confusion in the orthography. They have no place in the old language; they may be absent in particular cases or in classes of words in one dialect though present in other dialects, and in any case they are merely parasitic. They are exactly of the same kind as the intercalated vowels in pronunciations of English such as ‘warum’ for warm, ‘woruld’ for world, and ‘kerub’ for kerb, and are doubtfully euphonious and certainly incorrect.

When liquids are short before other consonants, e.g., the tenues, the svarabhakti is not heard, as in Ailpean, alp, olc, corp, torc. A seeming exception is calpa, calf of the leg, but this, besides being a borrowed word, is more often perhaps calba in the spoken language.

In general the svarabhakti is most frequent in the north-west, and least frequent in East Perthshire and Strathspey. In Glenlyon it may be heard from some natives—by no means from all or perhaps even from the majority—in forms quite as exaggerated, though not in so many instances, as in West Ross-shire. In Sutherland it is at least not more frequent than in the southern dialect (exclusive of East Perth).

metathesis of vowel and consonant

Somewhat similar in appearance to the above is the change by which words like cuisle, cuimse, sùiste, oidhirp, become in pronunciation respectively cuisil, cuimis or cumais, sùsait, oidhrip. Certain words ending in rc are in particular subject to this change. Adhrac is heard for adharc, fradhrac for fradharc, amhraic for amhairc, pàiric for pàirce, suairic for suairc. Iomchorc, respects, regards, compliments, is pronounced ‘iomachorac’ and ‘iomacharac’ in Sutherland and Ross, and is written iomacharag (in Rob Dunn) and with more extended metathesis iomachagar. Another example is the word usually written làirig. It is common in place-names in Lochaber, Lorne, and especially about Breadalbane. It occurs ten times in Glenlyon, or rather between that glen and the valleys on either side. One between the heads of Glenlyon and Glenlochay where ‘Allt Learg Mac Bheattie’ is marked in maps, is classical:—

‘Tha sliabh na làirig an robh Mac Bhaidi
’N a mhothar fàsaich, ’s ’n a stràca trom.’

The term is applied to the ‘col’ or pass connecting two glens whose streams flow in opposite directions. Two are traversed by the Callander and Oban Railway. The first is at the head of Glen Ogle and of a small glen sloping down to the Dochart where the maps have Loch Lairig Eala. The other is to the west of Tyndrum between Strathfillan and the Glen Lochy that runs towards Dalmally. The probable explanation of Finlarig, in Gaelic Fionnlairic, lying low by the side of Loch Tay with no pass near apparently of the usual kind, is that the name originated high in the hills where ‘Coire Fionn Lairige’ and ‘Druim na Lairige’ appear in maps, and add one more to the number on the borders of Glenlyon. The word is properly làirc and is pronounced in that district ‘làiric,’ and, perhaps more frequently, ‘làirichc,’ exactly as suairc is ‘suairic’ and ‘suairichc.’ The one referred to by Duncan Ban Macintyre is locally Làirc (‘Làirichc’) MacBhàididh, and the one at Tyndrum Làirc Lòcha, or to distinguish from the Lochay at Killin, Làirc Locha Urcha. The word is lairge and lathairce in Irish with the meaning of thigh, in Middle Irish laarg, fork, leg and thigh, Old Irish loarcc, fork. Mr. Quiggin gives the Donegal form of the word as láiric.

These cases—cuisle, adharc, etc.—do not have the liquids long—not even in pairce or suairc—and show metathesis, or a change of place, by the vowel and the liquid or other consonant in most of the examples, rather than intercalation of a svarabhakti. This kind of metathesis is most frequent in East Perthshire and in Strathspey. It occurs in one or other, or in both of those districts, in the case of—

la, le as in Beurla, atharla, comhairle, mèirle, sgeimhle.

na, ne as in ceudna, eorna, tighearna. Di-Sathuirn, in Arran etc., ‘Di-Sathuirne,’ is in East Perth ‘Di-Sathrainn.’

sa, se as in the emphatic prepositional pronouns agamsa, asamsa, etc., and in tuairmse. Leamsa may be heard in Glenlyon as liuma-as, and riumsa as riuma-as, m being long in these instances.

(Continued from vol. iii. p. 332)

The mutual action and interaction of vowels and consonants upon one another are exceptionally prominent in the pronunciation of Gaelic, and show themselves very insistently in the orthography of the language. The silent vowels that form a part of that orthography have their explanation in most cases in the history of the language, but practically they owe their retention, or their presence, in the modern spelling to the adjacent consonants. Cois, the dative of cas, foot, for example, derived the i from a retraction of the ending of coxi, the prehistoric form of the dative of the word, but phonetically the preservation of the i is due to the fact that s has its slender or narrow sound or the distinctive sound that it has when in contact with either of the slender vowels e and i. On the other hand the retention and sometimes even the introduction of silent consonants are often due to adjoining vowels. One general use of such consonants in the modern language is to show that the vowels on either side of the consonant are to be sounded apart, or that, in other words, they belong to different syllables. Accordingly such consonants are introduced when required for that purpose in inflection and word formation. As Munro has it in his Grammar: 'In the course of inflecting a primitive word, or combining a termination or compositive syllable therewith, if two vowels belonging to distinct syllables meet together, they must be separated by a silent dh, gh, or th,' and he gives amongst other examples ceò, mist; but ceòthar, misty. Silent consonants in this way serve the same purpose as the diæresis mark in English orthography. Other purposes also are served by them. After liquids they indicate that the liquids are sounded long. After a vowel they often indicate that the sound of the vowel differs from what it would be otherwise, as when a and o are changed to ao before dh and gh. The number of instances in which consonants are absolutely silent, however, is by no means great. 'Silent' consonants are not always silent. They may be silent in one dialect and not in another. Indeed, apart from the cases in which there is immediate contact with a liquid or another consonant the instances of consonants that are silent in every dialect are comparatively few in number, and even where they are in contact with liquids or other consonants they are not without phonetic influence in the pronunciation of the word. Even th at the end of accented syllables in many instances is not silent in Arran, Kintyre, and Islay, or, though with a different pronunciation, in the west of Ross-shire.

Silent consonants owe not only their retention or introduction in many cases to their vowel neighbours. They often owe their silence to those same vowels. They have lost their sounds through aspiration, and aspiration has been caused by the vowels. Aspiration took place whenever a single consonant stood between two vowels in early Gaelic speech. No consonant, unless supported by its own double or by some other consonant, was strong enough to resist the force of vowels on either side of it, and remain unchanged in such a position. In the case, for example, of those consonants called mutes or stops, b, p, c, g, d, t, the organs of utterance which should be closed completely so as to stop or intercept the emission of breath between the two vowels, were only partially closed in anticipation of the coming vowel, and so permitted an emission of breath or aspiration that in place of the 'stops' caused the sounds that were really uttered to be the corresponding 'aspirates' or aspirated consonants. The consonants that were themselves spirants, as v and s, when they came into such a position, vanished altogether. The liquids in such positions also underwent a change, and though it is not properly aspiration, though often conveniently included under that distinctive designation, it agrees with aspiration in that it takes place in the same circumstances and arises from the same cause. The great cause of many, perhaps of most such changes, is ease of utterance. When one sound gives place to another the displacing sound is generally the easier to enunciate.

Aspiration is not unknown of course in other languages. In English, for example, father shows what we call aspiration in f and th of the original p and t seen in the Latin pater, only th in this as in some other instances has the sound of dh—not that of th as in 'thin'—and is the aspiration of d which took the place of t as seen in the Anglo-Saxon form fæder, Gothic fadar, etc. In our Gaelic athair p as usual has been lost and t has become th now either sounded as h or altogether silent.

Perhaps the most curious apparent parallel to this treatment of the particular consonant t is fonmd in the Glasgow vernacular, as when such a word as 'water' is pronounced 'wa’er' or 'waher.' Though the process of change in this case is hardly to be called aspiration, the result certainly is oddly similar.

Gaelic orthography, strange though it looks when first examined by those familiar with English and other languages, is in reality highly phonetic and well fitted to distinguish simply and effectively the sounds of the language. MacAlpine did not speak without knowledge when he uttered such an encomium as—'The orthography of the Gaelic shows more acuteness and ingenuity in its structure than any other language the author knows of.' In that orthography it is possible to distinguish simply and effectively four different sounds of each consonant in the event of its having so many. First there are the broad and the narrow or slender sounds. These are distinguished in spelling according as the flanking vowels are broad or narrow. If the vowel nearest to the consonant is broad, that is, if it is a or o or u, the consonant has what is called its broad sound. If the vowel is a narrow one, that is e or i, the consonant has its narrow or slender sound. This distinction in the sounds of the consonants is the foundation for the rule in Gaelic spelling that the vowels on either side of a consonant or group of consonants must be of the same class, that is, either both broad or both narrow. To quote the old couplet as given by Armstrong:—

'Leathan ri leathan is caol ri caol
Leughar na sgriobhar gach facal 'san t-saoghal'

'Broad to broad and small (vowel) to small, you may read or write every word in the world.'

Then there are the aspirated sounds of both the broad and the slender consonants. These are marked, except in the case of the liquids, by writing h after the consonant, a method which both indicates the change of sound and preserves the identity of the consonant.

In the case of some consonants the distinction of broad and slender, of course, is not, at least usually, recognised, and aspirated sounds that might be looked for and that did exist, no doubt, in the language at one time, are not now to be found, and have had their place taken by others. Thus dh gets the sound of gh both broad and slender, and sh, fh, and even in a few instances ch, get the same sound as th.

The liquids l, n, r

The four different pronunciations are recognised in the case of each of the liquids l, n, and r, also in the orthography. That is without taking into account difference of length. There are broad and slender sounds, as in the case of the other consonants, and they are distinguished in the same way by means of the flanking vowels. Both the broad and the slender sounds here also have their respective changes of sound, which correspond in their occurrence to the aspirations of other consonants, and are therefore commonly called their 'aspirated' sounds. The plain or 'unaspirated' sound of a liquid is represented, except at the beginning of a word, by writing the liquid double and the 'aspirated' sound by writing it single. This method of representation is in agreement with the law of aspiration, that a single consonant standing between two vowels in the primitive Gaelic speech became aspirated.

In the Highland Society's Gaelic Dictionary, and in the first quarto edition of the Gaelic Bible, initial aspiration of the three liquids is marked in the case of l by a cross line near the top of the letter, and in the case of n and r by a dot above the letter. Those markings occur also in portions of some of the current pocket editions of the Bible. A more consistent way would have been to distinguish the aspirated from the unaspirated sounds at the beginning of words by the same means as they are distinguished in the middle and at the end, that is, by writing the liquid double when unaspirated and single only when aspirated. This method has been followed in part of How to Learn Gaelic, by Dr. Alexander MacBain and Mr. John Whyte. Generally, however, in printed Gaelic there is no attempt to mark the initial aspiration of the three liquids.


The plain broad sound of l is represented, for example, in eallach, a load; mullach, top; call, loss; moll, chaff; and the plain slender sound in seillean, a bee; coille, wood; caill, lose; mill, destroy. The aspirated broad sound is represented e.g. in bealach, a pass; mulad, sadness; àl, brood; òl, drink; and the aspirated slender sound in seileach, willow; uile, all; bail, economy; mil, honey.

Initially broad and slender l are distinguished of course according as the next following vowel is broad or slender. The aspirated sounds are, or ought to be, heard when, for example, an adjective beginning with l—luath, swift; leathan, broad—follows a feminine noun, or a verb with initial l is used in the past indicative—labhair e, he spoke; leag e, he felled, and the unaspirated sounds when such adjectives follow masculine nouns, and when such verbs are used in the imperative or in the future indicative.

Initial aspiration has become unchangeably fixed in the preposition le, with, and its derivatives leam, with me, leat, leis, etc. In stereotyped phrases like a leas—Cha ruig iad a leas, they need not—and a lion—A lion chuid ’s a chuid, by degrees—the aspiration has also become fixed, but is there due to the preceding preposition, which was originally 'do,' but is now worn down to 'a.'

The tendency to loss or confusion of distinctive sounds that has touched other consonants has extended to the liquids, more especially in the Northern dialect. A difficulty in differentiating the aspirated from the unaspirated sound of broad l, as in a la, his day, and a la, her day, bealach, and eallach is general both in South and in North.

Unaspirated broad l has a peculiar pronunciation in the island of Eigg. Clach, stone, sounds there like 'cwach'; mullach a' chladaich, top of the beach, like 'muwach a' chwadaich,' and so on. There seems to be a trace of, or an approach to, this enunciation also in the speech to the south and east of that island.

Slender l loses one or other of its two sounds, at least with the younger people, to a great extent in Northern Gaelic. In Sunart, in North Argyll, it is the unaspirated sound that goes, and the aspirated sound may be heard invariably, e.g. in leanabh, never lleanabh, in leamh, leomhann, leann, léine, leubh (read thou), leubhaidh (will read), sleamhuinn, sliabh, buille, maille, seillean, etc. L, that is to say, in such words, is apt always to have the same sound as in baile, town; mile, a thousand. In West Ross and in Sutherland, on the other hand, the unaspirated sound not only maintains its ground, but takes the place of the aspirated sound in initial position. Leanabh is apt to be always lleanabh, and An do lion e? 'An do llion e?' So, An do fhliuch e thu? in West Ross, is 'An do lliuch e thu?'

In Lewis aspirated slender l appears to be broadened in medial position. At all events, baile in the dialect of the island, is often heard in place-names as 'bala,' and Balallau (Baile—Ailein) as 'Bal-Alain.'


The different sounds of n should be heard, for example, plain broad in connadh, donn; aspirated broad in canach, bàn; plain slender in cinneach, beinn; and aspirated slender in binid, min. In this case the sounds that are difficult to distinguish are the two aspirated, as in dùnadh, closing, and dùinidh, will close, and as is evinced in alternative spellings like cinealta for cionalta or ceanalta.

Broad n tends to take its aspirated sound permanently, when initial, in North Argyll, West Ross, and Sutherland. Nàire is apt to be always 'naire' and never 'nnàire,' and so namhaid, naoidhean, naomh, etc. Words like snàmh, swim; snàth, thread, which are pronounced respectively 'snnàmh,' 'snnàth,' elsewhere, follow suit in those districts.

Initial slender n retains its plain sound in Sutherland, and takes its aspirated sound in North Argyll. Neart, strength, for example, is apt to be always 'nneart' in the former district and 'neart' in the latter, and so neamh, heaven; neimh, venom; Niall, Neil, etc. Words like sniomh, sneadh, again follow suit. In West Ross the leaning, so far as it has appeared there, is towards aspirated n. In North Argyll aspirated slender n for unaspirated often appears both medially, as 'inean' for innean, anvil, and finally as gamhain for gamhainn, a stirk, and Samhuin for Samhuinn, Hallow-tide. The latter wordsì, however, have final n, not nn, in Irish.

In medial and final positions the plain sound of slender n is substituted for the aspirated sound in many instances in the West Highlands, more especially in the extreme south, but to some extent all the way northwards, and even into the south-east of Sutherland. Thus, words like minig, duine, mìn are sounded respectively minnig, duinne, mìnn, and so binid, muineal, léine, mòine, sine, teine, ùine, gràin, maoin, muin, and so on. In Arran and Kintyre these and many others all have nn. Indeed, in those districts the number of words in which n is not sounded nn in such positions is very small.

This same unaspirated slender sound of n is given to the n of the so-called diminutive suliix an when it follows a slender vowel in Arran, Kintyre, and Islay. Cuilean, a pup, for example, is 'cuileinn,' and so càirean, cìrean, fìrean, innean, and names like Ailean, Ailpean, Cailean, etc.


Ng is very variable in most dialects. Perhaps in the greater number of instances it tends to disappear between vowels in the extreme south—Arran and Kintyre—and north—Sutherland. In North Argyll—mainland and islands—it becomes very generally ng-g both medially and finally. Ionga, a finger nail, for example, is iong-ga, i.e. has the sound of ng with a g added. So in other instances, as seangan, sreang. The sound is like that of ng in such English words as 'anger,' 'finger.' Indeed natives of the district in question often carry this peculiarity into their English pronunciation, and may be heard to say, for instance, 'hang-g' for hang, and 'king-g' for king.

Final ng in words of two syllables is variously ng, nn, and g when broad, and nn and g when slender. A preference for nn appears in Arran and Kintyre, and for g in Northern Gaelic, e.g. in cumhang (narrow), tarrang (a nail), aisling (vision), bodhaig (bothy), eislinn (stretcher), cudainn (cuddy fish), faoileann (sea-gull), etc.

Verbs borrowed recently from English appear to carry with them as a rule the present participle ending, and end in ig, as robaig, rob; ropaig, roup, sell by auction. (A sale by auction is ropainn!) At Lochtayside, or at least in one part of that district, such verbs uniformly end in inn, e.g. ùisig, to use, is there 'ùisinn,' and cuipig, to whip, 'cuipinn.'


The four sounds of r should be heard, for example, in earrach, fearr, mearachd, fear, mirr, éirich, cèir. Often only two sounds are recognised. These are a plain and an aspirated r, the distinction of broad and slender being then unobserved. Generally, however, the two aspirated sounds can be differentiated, but so much cannot be said of the unaspirated sounds. Duplicate forms like nàraich and nàirich, to shame, an uraidh and an ùiridh, last year, are due immediately not to failure to distinguish the different sounds, but to difference of dialect, though ultimately the difference of dialect itself may be referable to such failure. In Arran and with MacAlpine the word for shame is nàire, but the adjective is nàrach and the verb nàraich. A màireach, to-morrow, is in Irish a márach, in Early Irish, imbárach, but Mr. Quiggin has found both amárach and amáireach in Donegal. An uiridh, so Perthshire, etc., Early Irish inn uraid, Old Irish urid, is an uraidh in Arran and in Modern Irish. Into such a word as uiread, so much, urad in Arran and with MacAlpine, the prepositional prefix ar, air, which takes so many diverse forms, enters.

Initial aspiration has become fixed in the prepositions ri, to, with its derivatives rium, to me, riut, etc., and roimh, before, with romham, romhad, etc. Other instances of fixed aspiration are a riamh, ever; a rìreadh, indeed; a rithis, again.

The initial aspiration of slender r is disappearing both in North Argyll and in Sutherland. Da rìgh, two kings, is 'da rrìgh' and reoth e, it froze, 'rreoth e.' The aspiration is maintained in the case of broad r.

At Alligin on Loch Torridon aspirated slender r sounds as though an attempt were made to say y at the same time. This is heard, e.g., in ri, to, with rium, riut, ris, rithe, riuthal; coire, cauldron; coire, fault; màireach, cuir, fhuair. Further north at Little Lochbroom r has dropped out of the combination and only y remains.

In part of Lewis aspirated broad r, for example in farum, noise, sounds like th in English 'then,' 'this.'

Long liquids

The long sounds which have been noticed in connection with vowels (vol. iii. pp. 99, 330) differ from the other sounds only in length, and are found in the case of the aspirated, as well as the unaspirated sounds. Sean, old, to take an exceptional instance, occurs in different positions or dialects with three sounds of the liquid. When the word does not stand before its noun n has, as it ought to have etymologically, its aspirated sound and is short. Sometimes it retains this sound before a noun beginning with a vowel if the two words have become one, as in seanair, grandfather, for sean-athair. Generally before a noun n has become unaspirated and has been lengthened at the same time, and accordingly is often written 'seann' in that position. In Arran and Kintyre n in that position remains aspirated but is lengthened; that is, it has the sound and the length that it has generally in seanmhathair, grandmother, and that are also heard probably universally in the words seanchaidh or seanachaidh, a genealogist, and seanchas, conversation. Sean with the same pronunciation of n has also the meaning of grandparent in Arran and Kintyre; Am fac thu sean? have you seen grandfather? (or grandmother); Tha e tigh shean, he is at grandfather's (or grandmother's) house. The word is used also in the district of Ardnamurchan, but with the article there, Am fac thu an sean? and with the same aspirated and lengthened sound of n.

The four sounds of l have been found amongst the older people in Donegal by Mr. Quiggin, but the aspirated sounds are not usual with the young. It is the same with n. There also, as on our own west coast, there has been an extensive substitution of unaspirated for aspirated slender n, as duinne for duine, man, gloinne for gloine or glaine, glass. Of unaspirated slender r no trace was found, and aspirated slender r was not found at the beginning of words except in a few stereotyped phrases, such as, a réir, according to; a riamh, ever; a rist, again; a righ, O king. Except in such phrases initial r, whether broad or slender, gets the sound of aspirated broad r, and consequently 'is unaffected by aspirating words.' In Donegal in other words, with the few exceptions mentioned, initial r, whether its sound should be broad or slender and whether it should be plain or aspirated, always has the same sound, and that the sound of aspirated broad r.

Liquid Changes

A substitution of one liquid for another is not an unknown occurrence generally, but appears with quite unusual frequency in Sutherlandshire. The following instances have been noted there:—

gòireag for gòileag, or còileag (a haycock)
meireachadh " meileachadh
Sgeireaboll " Skelbo, old Scelleboll
abharn " abhainn, used as genitive of abhainn
airn " ainm
airmig " ainmig
fiarnaidh " fiannaidh (a giant)
gairmheach " gainmheach
guilbearnach " guilbneach
irinn " inghean (daughter)
lormachd " lomnochd
mearmainn " meanmainn
seinnlear " seinnlean, seillean (a bee)
Euraboll " Embo, old Eyndboll
called Eunaboll by West Coast fishermen
sparraban " bannaban (forehead bandage)
earachainn " eanchainn
fasaireadh " fasansdh (posturing)
mearbh " meanbh
githil " githir (pain in wrist)
grath-muing " gath-muing (name)
torrasgil " toiragean
eilthir " oirthir
falair " faraire
talcuis " tarcuis.

The three last are from Rob Donn’s Poems. ‘Merachan,’ in the same author’s ‘‘S mear a ni Eòri mire ri Deòrsa,’ seems clearly to be for manachan, the groin. Some of the words in this list are from the Rev. Adam Gunn.

The following more or less peculiar instances of liquids from the same county may be noted here:—

garnardaich for [gannardaich?] (yawning)
gunnars " gunnas (gorse)
ainig " aing (displeasure)
ainigeach " aingeach (displeased)
ainigidh " aingidh
uinigneach " uaigneach
miong " mèag
tastar " tartar.
Garnardaich seems analogous to fiarnaidh for fiannaidh, and suggests connection somehow with English yawn, Old English gánian, Scottish gant. Gunnars is found in West Ross (Applecross and Lochbroom) and in Easter Ross, but gunnas in the Black Isle and gunnais in Gairloch. Whether it is or is not based on conas is doubtful. The word aing and the form miong are used also in the Outer Hebrides. Tastar for tartar occurs in Rob Donn’s Poems; in West Ross it is tatar.

Guilbearnach is heard in Perth and West Ross, and irinn in Easter Ross. Airm for ainm, and also aram for anam, are met with in the book of the Dean of Lismore, and occur in Irish Gaelic.

(Continued from p. 80)

In other dialects liquid changes occur but are not a prominent feature. It may not be amiss, however, to give some of the examples and also a few of the instances of the insertion of liquids.


Initially, m sometimes takes the place of b. Binid, calf’s stomach, is minid in Glenlyon and North Argyll. In the latter district moile, impatience, seems to be for boile, madness, rage. Nèarachd, happiness, in Argyll meurachd according to MacAlpine, is miarachd in Skye, (Early Irish, mogenar); Is nearachd an duine a smachdaicheas Dia, happy is the man whom God correcteth.

Màm, ulcer in the arm-pit, is màn in North Argyll and in Maceachen’s Dictionary.


Meilich, become numb, is meinich in Gairloch and Lochbroom, and capal-coille is capar-coille in Perth.

Taibhse is taillse in Perth, and foidhidinn is foidhildinn in West Ross.

Apparently, on the analogy of words like iarmailt, l has been introduced into one or two words. Faoghaid, better faghaid, chase, hunt, hunting party, from Latin agitatio, is met with as faoghailt and faodhailt. Compare also a’ Ghearmailt (the) Germany, which may have influenced or been influenced by an Eadailt (the) Italy.

Burmaill occurs for burmaid, from wormwood.


Eilear-nis is sometimes heard in Skye for Inbhir-nis (Inverness). Mionchuileag (or meanbhchuileag), a gnat, midge, is milchuileag in Arran and Kintyre; in Kintyre also mìchuileag. Lunnainn, London, is Lumainn in Perth. Daonnan or daondan, always, is daolant and daonalt in Perth and daornan in Kintyre. Braonan, earth nut, is braolan in Arran and braoran in Glenlyon. Mèanan, yawn, is miaran in Ardnamurchan and in Skye. In Arran comanaich, communicate, is comaraich, and feamnach, sea weed, in Kintyre feamanach, is feamrach.

N is changed to l in several words like iarmailt, from firmamentum, susbailteach (in West Ross) for susbainteach, from susbainn—substantia.

Eanchainn is ‘eanchaill’ in North Argyll and West Ross, sgùlan, ‘sgùlar’ at Blair Atholl, and mugharn ‘mughairl’ in Arran. Muilichinn for muinichill is muilchir in Perth, and we may note Muireall, from Marion, and mairseal in Arran from merchant.


‘Cha leig e leas’ is common in Argyll for ‘cha ruig e leas.’ Airean, ploughman, is ailean at Shiskine in Arran. In West Ross Griogarach, MacGregor, is Griogalach; seamrag trefoil, in one pronunciation, silmeag, and ciùrach, small rain, ciùlach. In Kintyre rùdhrach, searching, is rùdhlach.

An earar, day after to-morrow, is an eanar in Kintyre, and MacArtair is MacArtain in Skye.

Àbhairst for àbhaist has been noticed already. Crobhsag, gooseberry, in West Ross, is crobhrsag in East Ross. Tort for tota or tobhta, a piece of turf, is heard at Shiskine in Arran, and tuarnalaich for tuanalaich, dizziness, in Gairloch. Uaigneach, lonesome, is uairgneach in Perth, Strathspey, West Ross, Skye, and Lewis. Eireannach, ivy, apparently for eidheannach, occurs in Arran.


M being liquid, nasal, and labial, shares characteristics belonging to all three classes of consonants, When unaspirated and long it follows the other liquids, l, n, and r, in diphthongising or lengthening preceding short accented vowels. It nasalises a neighbouring vowel, but on the whole perhaps not so generally as n does. Marbh, mór, muir, mèag, beum, ceum, feum, geum, leum, teum, com, lom, tom, for example, generally, and less generally fuaim, gruaim, gruamach, uam are exceptions to the rule of nasalisation.

A loss of initial M in patronymics is characteristic of the speech of South Argyll and of Arran. In Kintyre and Arran M is usually retained in formal or guarded speech. It is in colloquial and familiar talk, though not always even then, that it is dropped. For example, in Arran MacNeacail, Englished Nicol, may be heard as Ac Riocail, Mac Cùga, Englished Cook, as Ac Cùga, and Mac Lothaidh (Mac Clothaidh?), Englished Fullarton, as Ac Lothaidh. We may note also Gleann Ac Lothaidh or Glen Cloy, in 1472 Glenklowy, meaning Glen of Mac Loy or Fullarton, in which the family of Fullarton of Kilmichael has owned lands from the days of King Robert the Bruce. Similarly, in Kintyre, Mac Dougall is Ac ’ùghaill, Mac Ionmhuinn, Englished Mac Kinven, is Ac Ionmhuinn, and Mac Naomhain, Mac Niven, exemplifying the local change of ao in certain cases to nasal ì, is pronounced Ac Rìomhainn. Mac Ionmhuinn, which is distinct from Mackinnon in Arran and Kintyre Mac Eanain, is a Gaelic rendering of the imported Lowland name Love, which is its English equivalent in Arran, just as Mac bradain and Mac sporain are Gaelic renderings respectively of the imported names Salmon and Purcell. In at least one instance the patronymic has passed into English in its decapitated form, viz., Mac Mhuirich, pronounced Ac uirigh and known in English as Currie. This peculiarity, which is quite unknown in the North Highlands, is met with in Ireland, and is prominent in the Isle of Man. Many Manx names, owing to it, begin with C or K, and have done so for over three centuries; e.g. Callister , for Mac Alister, is on record in 1606, and Kermod for Mac Dermid in 1586, and both are still in use. The corresponding Welsh word Map, son, has suffered in the same way, and so many Welsh names begin with P, as Parry, son of Harry, Pritchard, son of Richard.

This ac for mac has been given by Shaw in both parts of his Dictionary as a Gaelic word for son, and has been adopted by other dictionaries.


Non-initial mh nasalises an accented flanking vowel as a rule. There are exceptions, such as cliamhuinn, son-in-law, riamh, ever, in some dialects.

Otherwise the variations of mh appear to arise solely from its labial quality, and have a very close resemblance to those of bh. Like this consonant it is sounded variously as v, f, u, w, h or not at all.


Except after Mac in a few patronymics in Kintyre and Arran, mh as the aspirated form of initial m invariably gets the full sound of v like v in English vast, eve.

Medially mh has this sound almost everywhere in a small number of words as clamhan, a buzzard, deimhinn, certain, dìomhain, idle, ìomhaigh, image, leamhan, elm, ainmhidh, animal, ionmhas, treasure, ionmhuinn, beloved, etc. Dìomhain, ìomhaigh may be heard with w as well as with v in Sutherland, where, on the other hand, nàmhaid, enemy, and sometimes sàmhach, quiet, with one or two others retain the v sound that they lose in many dialects.

In Arran and Kintyre, and, as appears from MacAlpine’s Dictionary, in Islay medial and final mh as a rule sounds v. In all three places it has this sound in amharc, amharus, caomhain, cliamhuinn, deimhinn, dìomhair (secret, not diamhair here), dìomhain or rather here dìomhanach (idle), gamhainn and genitive gamhna, nàmhaid and plural nàimhdean, reamhar, sàmhach, Samhuinn and genitive Samhna, sgiamhail (squealing), sleamhainn, àmhghair, geamhradh, ionmhuinn, samhladh, etc. MacAlpine sometimes gives v, e.g. in umha, where Arran and Kintyre have mh silent, and on the other hand those districts have v where MacAlpine gives mh as silent, e.g. in gainmheach (sand), ionmhas, ruamhair. MacAlpine gives the v sound in gaineamh, sand, but writes ‘gaineach’ for gainmheach.

In all three districts final mh is v in words like caomh, cnàimh (bone), cnàmh (digest), damh, dàimh, fiamh (aspect), freumh, gnìomh, làmh, naomh, neamh, ràmh (oar), riamh (ever), sgiamh (squeal), snàmh, snìomh, tàmh, and also in claidheamh, ealamh, falamh, talamh. In addition, àireamh, aiteamh, annamh, seasamh, ullamh, breitheamh, coinneamh, teagamh, and the ordinal numerals ceithreamh, coigeamh, etc., are sounded with v by MacAlpine, and the first five also in Kintyre. ‘Mh sounds v, never u,’ MacAlpine tells us, and again ‘mh serves very often only to give a nasal sound to a or o; not so in ràmh, tàmh, ràv, tàv, an oar, rest; it is silent always in the prefix comh, but giving the nasal sound; also in dhomh, ghó, etc.’ Apart from words like comhairle, coimhearsnach, into which the prefix comh, coimh, enters, the instances in which the sound of v is not given where mh is written are very few in number in those southern districts. A tendency indeed to introduce the v sound mistakenly is discoverable in the case of mh, and also, as we shall see, in the case of bh. MacAlpine maintains explicitly that the true orthography of words like mothar (loud sound, mòthar Mac Bain), when the vowel is nasalised, is momhar, and accordingly writes momha and momhaide for motha and mothaid, greater. Coinnseas, conscience, also, which is pronounced coiseas with oi nasal, in Arran and the North Highlands he writes coimhseas. Damhsa, dance, in which he gives mh the v sound, has that sound also in Kintyre and in Arran. ‘Dausa,’ au diphthong and nasal, is the pronunciation in East Perthshire, where damhsa but not dannsa would be so pronounced, and in Northern Gaelic, where dannsa with a diphthongised au before long nn, and nn assimilated to s as in ‘rausaich’ for rannsaich, would be so pronounced. Dannsa, the original form of the word, from English dance, might very readily be written damhsa, therefore, in the northern dialect, but how it could become either ‘dausa’ or ‘davsa’ in the southern dialect is not clear. In Arran and Kintyre the noun indeed is damhasa, and the verb is damhais there and with MacAlpine. Shaw gives damhasam, to dance, and damhasaire dubh an uisge, water-spider, literally, black dancer of the water.

The v sound is equally prominent in the case of final mh in North Argyll, and occurs in at least a number of the examples in Skye. In West Ross it is found after broad vowels in monosyllables, as damh, gnìomh, etc., but not dàimh, aireamh, talamh, etc.


In a few cases mh has taken the sound of f. Naturally it has done so most readily where the tendency to keep the v sound is strongest in the most southern dialects. Mac Mhuirich, Englished Currie, is Mac Fuirigh or Ac Fuirigh, and Mac Mhurchaidh, Englished Macmurchy and Murchie, Mac Furchaidh both in Kintyre and at Shiskine in Arran; at the south end of Arran Mac uirigh and Mac urchaidh. So in Kintyre Mac Mhaoilein, MacMillan, is Mac Faoileinn.

Medially f takes the place of mh in Mac Creamhain, ‘Crawford,’ in Arran, and both there and in Kintyre in fomhair for famhair. MacAlpine pronounces aimheal, Irish aithmheal, effal or evval (e nasal), where the lost th may be held to have induced the f (ff) from v (vv); in other words he gives vf, as amhach, neck, ‘avfach,’ so amhaidh, sour, raw (of weather), amhain, entanglement by the neck. etc.

Famhair, a giant, in the Book of the Dean of Lismore, fowir, Manx fowar, Irish fomhor, is fohfair rather than fofair in Arran; in MacAlpine, Perth and Lewis it is favair, in Strathspey fawair, in North Inverness and North Argyll fo-air, in West Ross fohair, in East Ross fu-air at least in the place-name Novar ‘Tigh an fhumhair,’ in Skye fu-aire. Possibly fuamhair, quoted in dictionaries from the margin of Genesis, represents the pronunciation fu-air. The Lewis pronunciation may have been adopted from literature; the word seemingly is unfamiliar in Sutherland. The vowels are nasalised in all the pronunciations.

In final position f is heard in caomh and naomh in Arran, and in amh, nèamh, and samh in West Ross.


This sound is heard medially mostly where it has coloured or superseded a following a. In North Argyll amhach, neck, is ‘e-uch,’ and so amhaltach, amharc, amharus, deamhan, glamhas for glomhas, cleft, and glamhadh for sglamhadh, a snap, snatch, and also diamhair, gamhainn, namhaid, reamhar. The spelling of other words, such as àmhuinn, cliamhuinn, Samhuinn, sleamhuinn, shows u in place of a after mh owing to the u sound of mh. In West Ross this u is heard in a few instances, e.g. dàmhair, làmhadh (a. hatchet), miamhail (mewing), reamhar, while amhaich (for amhach) is there ‘ahuich.’ Sàmhach, quiet, which may be heard as ‘sà-ach’ in Rannoch and Skye, is ‘sà-uch’ in West Ross and Sutherland and ‘s’è-uch’ in North Argyll. In East Perth ‘sà-uch’ and ‘sòch’ are both current; the latter is the pronunciation also in Strathspey. The accented vowel always and the other usually are nasalised in those pronunciations.

Mh final in monosyllables with long vowels is often u in Perth, Strathspey, and Sutherland, e.g. in cnàmh, freumh, gniomh, làmh, naomh, nèamh, pràmh, ràmh, riamh (ever), snàmh, snìomh, tàmh, and others.

In words of more than one syllable amh or eamh final is sounded u more or less frequently throughout Northern Gaelic and almost invariably in East Perth and in Sutherland, as in àireamh, aiteamh, caitheamh, claidheamh, ordinal numerals ceithreamh, coigeamh, etc. The only exceptions observed in the former of the two districts named out of about two dozen instances are caitheamh, claidheamh, one pronunciation of falamh, soitheamh, ullamh, and in the latter district claidheamh and falamh. In West Ross, on the other hand, in this class of words u is heard only in breitheamh, deanamh, ealamh, talamh, teagamh, and the ordinal numerals. In Arran this pronunciation is heard in àireamh, breitheamh, and in Kintyre in breitheamh, teagamh, and ordinal numerals with the exception of ceithreamh.


In Perth, Strathspey, and Sutherland especially the sound after short accented a or e sounds is w rather than u, as in amhairc, amhuil, gamhainn, Samhuinn, and genitive Samhua, sleamhuinn; amh, damh, creamh, leamh, samh (smell). W occurs sometimes before a liquid or other consonant, as in amhlair, samhladh, gamhnach (farrow cow), geamhradh, samhradh, geamhta; and sometimes after a long vowel or dipthong, as àmhuinn, cliamhuinn, sgiamhuil. The same pronunciation is heard in West Ross in most of those words, with the exception of the monosyllables, and also in nàmhaid, glamhadh (for sglamhadh), and tamhasg. It is heard in Sutherland additionally in dìomhain and in alternative pronunciations of ìomhaigh and sámhach. Reamhar, fat, which is ‘revar’ in Arran and Kintyre and ‘r’avar’ with MacAlpine, and ‘re-ur’ in North Argyll and West Ross, is ‘re-ur' and ‘rewar' in Perth and ‘r’awar’ in Sutherland. The word for a song, which is óran in Arran and Kintyre and MacAlpine, and òran in North Argyll, Skye, and (with ò nasalised) Perth, is amhran, ‘awran’ (or ‘auran’), with aw (or au) nasalised in Strathspey, West Ross, Sutherland, and Lewis. In Irish the word is written amhrán and abhrán and, as usual reversing the relations as they are in Scotland, is pronounced ‘óran’ in the north of Ireland and ‘auran’ in the south.


Instances of this have been given from West Ross, where it is found, in ‘ahuich’ for amhaich (amhach) and ‘fohair’ for famhair.


Besides instances referred to already—the prefix comh, etc.—a few of the words in which mh is silent apparently in all dialects are cumhang, tomhas, umhail, umhal, romham, romhad, tromham, tromhad, etc., cuimhne, Domhnach, cloimh, roimh, troimh. In Domhnall, Donald, mhn are all usually silent. In ùmhlachd (obedience), where mh is silent, u owes its length (ù) to the contraction of the syllable from umhal, obedient, and has caused this adjective sometimes to be written erroneously ùmhal.

The sound of short open o is given in Arran to the termination amh or eamh in the ordinal numerals and in the word teagamh. Shaw, in his Dictionary, writes ceathro, fourth; coigo, fifth; fithchiodo, twentieth, etc.; also teaga, perhaps. Ceithreamh only has this o in Kintyre, the other ordinals having u there.

In coinneamh and ullamh the sound is short ao in Arran, and in the former in Kintyre. The former represents an old conne, but is dealt with in some dialects as coinneamh.

Caitheamh, wearing, càramh, repairing, creideamh, and deanamh end with dh in lieu of mh in Arran, Kintyre, and Islay, as do also feitheamh and seasamh in Arran and with MacAlpine. Seasamh, however, is given as well by MacAlpine. In the literature of South Argyll and Arran dh is often found in place of mh in most or all of those words.

The sound of slender gh appears to be given by MacAlpine to final mh after a slender vowel in one or two instances. In cloimh, scab, and cnoimh, maggot, for example, mh is represented by him by yh, by which dh in déidh and gh in brigh, etc., are represented.


In some dialects, such as that of East Perth, p in medial or final positions sometimes is hardly, if at all, distinguishable from b, as in apa, capull, ceapaire, leapa, genitive of leabaidh, tapaidh, cnap, ceap, etc. In most dialects p in such positions sounds as with an aspirate before it. In Rannoch and in Strathspey this aspirate, if it has not altogether become ch, has come to sound very like that guttural. Thus tapaidh in both those districts strikes the observer as being sounded ‘tachpaidh,’ and so with apa, etc. A similar peculiarity in those two districts is observable in the case of broad t.


Gaelic b is commonly said to sound like English p, but is described more accurately as a surd or voiceless b and may be produced by trying to sound b without voice. Sonant or voiced b, i.e. b as in English, is occasionally heard in Sutherland, e.g. in beag, lèabag.

A change of b to p occurs in buinne, tide, current, which is puinn and pinn in West Ross and, according to the Rev. Adam Gunn, puinne in the Reay country (North Sutherland); Tha puinn air, or Tha pinn air (lit. there is a current on it) is said at Stromeferry when the tide Hows swiftly through the narrows. The same change to p is found in West Ross also in bruith ‘prih’ and in briste.


As has been said under mh, bh is sounded v, f, u, w, h, or not at all.


Initially bh always, except in one or two instances in which it sounds f, has the sound of v.

Medially it has the sound of v almost as regularly as mh has, in Arran, Kintyre, and MacAlpine, as in aobhar, cràbhach, dòbhaidh, fabhra (eyelid), faobhar, gàbhadh, labhair, rabhadh, riabhag, saoibhir, slabhag, treubhach and treubhantas, uabhar, aoibhneach and aoibhneas, arbhar, cabhruich, cuilbheart, gealbhan, inbhe, sealbhag, slabhraidh, treibhdhireach, uabhrach (proud), etc., and in loan words as fàbhar, sàbhail, sabhal, searbhanta, seirbheis, sìobhalta, etc. From MacAlpine may be quoted also abhacas, abharsair, abhcaid, craobhaidh (tender, nervous), diobhail, éibheall, rabhairt, tàbhachd, trobhad, abhras, asbhuain, cuibhrionn, siabhrach, brabhd (a bandy leg), rabhd, sabhd, etc., in all of which he sounds bh as v.

Aoibhneach, aoibhneas, cuilbheart, gealbhan, saoibhir, sealbhag, sàbhail, seirbheis, sìobhalta have v apparently in all dialects, and gàbhadh in all except that of West Ross where it is ‘gà-ug.’

In North Argyll, in addition, aobhar, asbhuain, cràbhach, fàbhar, rabhadh, riabhag, saoibhir of the words above have v; in Perth aobhar, cràbhach, fabhar, gàbhadh, saoibhir; in Skye asbhuain, cràbhach, fàbhar, saoibhir; in West Ross asbhuain, craobhaidh, dìobhail, saoibhir, uabhar; and in Sutherland aobhar (South Sutherland), arbhar, fàbhar, faobhar, and saoibhir all have v.

In final position bh sounds as v as a rule in Arran, the three Argyll dialects, and in Skye. In West Ross the v sound is confined generally to monosyllables. Divergences from the v sound occur mostly where the nearest vowel is slender, and are rarest in the three southernmost dialects, more frequent in North Argyll, and extend to a few words with broad adjacent vowels in West Ross. Baobh, cliabh, dèabh, eubh, gabh, leubh, saobh, sgriobh, sibh, sliabh, with words like balbh, falbh, dealbh, deilbh, seilbh, meanbh, dearbh, garbh, doirbh, soirbh, have v in Arran, Kintyre, Islay, and North Argyll, as have also craobh, taobh in Kintyre and Islay, and dèabh in Islay and North Argyll. Baobh, cliabh, eubh (cry), leubh (read), sgriobh, sliabh have v in West Ross, as have also balbh, dealbh, and most others with the nearest vowel broad, and one or two such as seilbh, where that vowel is slender. Ciabh, a lock of hair, in Arran a whisker, has v with MacAlpine, and in Arran, North Argyll, Skye, and West Ross, but is ciabhag (with w) in the last three districts and (with w) also in Sutherland. The v sound prevails in Skye also, at least in many of the words as baobh, cliabh, craobh, eubh, gabh, leubh, sàbh, sibh, sliabh, balbh, falbh, marbh, tarbh, mairbh, etc. Gheibh, which is ‘gheo’ with MacAlpine and in North Argyll, Perth, and West Ross, may be heard as ‘gheo’ in Arran and in Skye. MacAlpine says of gabh ‘gav (murdered by some gow and gaw).’

Aitreabh, beulaobh, cùlaobh, leanabh, have v with MacAlpine and in North Argyll. Beulaobh and cùlaobh have v in Kintyre, and leanabh in Arran and Kintyre. Beulaobh, cùlaobh, which are properly old datives plural, beulaibh, culaibh, and other datives plural, beothaibh, fearaibh, geallanaibh, linnibh, etc., have the v sound in Skye.

The termination of the second person plnual in prepositional pronouns and in imperatives agrees as a rule in the different dialects with the local pronunciation of sibh. Where bh is sounded v in sibh as it is in Arran, Kintyre, Islay, North Argyll, and Skye, it is sounded as v also in agaibh, with you, oirbh, on you, annaibh, in you, asaibh, out of you, dhibh, of you, and so on, and in brisibh, break ye, dèanaibh, do ye, ithibh, eat ye, òlaibh, drink ye, togaibh, lift ye, etc. In Arran ‘shu’ is heard, but more rarely than ‘shiv,’ for sibh, and has not afected the forms in question. In Perth and Badenoch bh is simply silent in sibh, and so also in all the forms. In Sutherland sibh is ‘shu,’ and correspondingly the others are agu, annu, brisu, deanu, etc. In West Ross, though bh is silent in sibh, it is sounded as b in the related forms annaib, ichib (eat ye), òlaib. Probably this has arisen from the pronunciation there of sibh fhéin frequently (not always) as sip fhéin (si péin?), though it has to be observed that sip fhéin in Skye and siu pé, which is heard in Arran and in Sutherland, have not had such an effect in those districts.

MacAlpine writes comhstri, but pronounces it comhstriobh, Stri, strive, strife, he calls a ‘corruption of striobh, which is used in Knapdale and Sutherlandshire,’ and he writes strìobh and strì. In Arran strìobh is heard, but more frequently strì.

In several instances u or w in borrowed words has become v in the most southern dialects. MacAlpine not only writes bh, which was, of course, the correct thing to do, but pronounces it as v in cabhsaidh, cosy, cabhsair, causeway, cabhtair, cauter, fabhd, Scot. faut, fault, gabhd, Scot. gaud, a trick, sàbh, saw, and sàbhadair, sawyer, sabhs, sauce, sabhsair, sausage, tobha, ‘tow,’ rope. Cabhsair is ‘cavasa’r’ in Arran. Sàbh, saw, is ‘sàv’ in Arran, North Argyll, and Skye. The noun is sàbha, ‘s’èva' in Arran; in West Ross it is ‘sàv,' but the verb is sàbhaig, pronounced sàwaig. In Rannoch both sàv and àu or sàw are heard.


Initially bh is f with MacAlpine and in Skye, etc., in bharr for a bharr, from off, used prepositionally, and in West Ross, etc., in bho, from, and bhos, on this side. The latter, however, is for a(n) bh—fos. A height at Little Loch Broom, with a few boulders that look from a distance like men standing or squatting on the top, is called Carn nam fir fréig (bhréig), Cairn of the False Men. MacBride, in Kintyre Mac Ille Bhrìde, is Mac Bhrìdeinn and occasionally Mac Frìdeinn at Shiskine in Arran. Mac Figeinn, which is the Gaelic in Kintyre for the surname Littleson, is obviously for Mac Bhigein, from beag, little.

Medially, f occurs in Arran in cabhag, siabhrach, ‘sìofrag,’ siobhag; with MacAlpine in siobhag, tabhann, etc.; in West Ross in creubhag, daobhaidh, inbhe; in Skye in sìobhalta. Cabhag, which is ‘cavag’ in Kintyre, North Argyll, Perth, and Skye, and ‘cavaig’ in Sutherland, is ‘cafaig’ in West Ross, and ‘cavfag' with MacAlpine. Siobhag, which is ‘siofag’ in Kintyre and North Argyll also, is siofhag (‘sihag’) in West Ross.

Finally, f is heard in Arran in craobh, dèabh, and taobh, and in West Ross in faobh.

MacAlpine gives vf for bh in several instances, as abh, bark, abhag, terrier, cabhlaiche, an admiral, etc.


For bh before a and e sounds u is heard, especially in North Argyll and West Ross, e.g. abhag, ‘a-ug,’ arbhar, ‘ara-ur’ (first r long), faobhar ‘fao-ur’ in Argyll and ‘fû-ur’ in Ross, labhair, slabhag. So diubhair, ‘di-u’r,’ leabhair, rabhairt, ‘re-u’rt,’ sàbhadh (sawing), sàbhaidh (will saw), ‘sa-ui,’ sabhal, siubhal, tabhann, ubhall, in North Argyll; and cràbhach, dabhach, dubhach, fàbhar, tàbhachd, a few infinities like leubhadh, ‘lia-ug,’ craobh, ‘crûu,’ dèabh, ‘dèu’ (taobh is ‘tù’), and dearbh, ‘derahu’ (long r), and one or two others in West Ross. It is heard sometimes in Sutherland, e.g. in treabhair, treabh, sgrìobh, etc., and in Perth, e.g. in abhag, rabhadh, slabhag, tabhann, craobh, leubh, sgrìobh, taobh, treabh. The place-name Fìobh, Fife, which in Rannoch is Fìou and Fìv, is in East Perth Fìu. Fìu and Fìou indeed sound like two syllables Fì-u and Fì-ou, as do also leubh, ‘lè-u,’ sgriobh, ‘sgrì-u,’ and some other words with a long vowel in Perth.

In all words like balbh, meanbh, dearbh, bh is u in East Perth and Sutherland, where the nearest vowel is broad, and, in Sutherland also in a few instances where the vowel is slender, as deilbh, seilbh, mairbh. Words like aitreabh, leanabh, beulaobh, cùlaobh, fhearaibh, all have u ‘aitru,’ ‘leanu,’ etc. in Perth and Sutherland, as have also the prepositional pronouns agaibh, etc., and imperatives brisibh, etc., in Sutherland, as already noted.


This sound may be heard in Perth, e.g. in asbhuain, cabhruich, cobhair, cobhar, gobha, gobhal, gobhar, labhair, labhar, leabhar (book), leabhar (long), sabhal, slabhruidh, cliabh, sliabh, etc.; in West Ross in abhras, fabhra (eyelid), aobhar, cabhraich, cobhair, gobha, gobhal, gobhar, rabhairt ‘rowirt,’ sabhal, slabhruidh, etc.; in Sutherland in aobhar (North Sutherland), ciabhag (lock of hair), cliabh, sliabh, etc. Abhainn, river, which has v in Arran, Kintyre, and MacAlpine, and is ‘a-u’n’ in North Argyll and ‘o-inn' (open o), in Strathspey, is ‘awinn’ in Perth, Badenoch, Skye, West Ross, and ‘awarn’ in Sutherland.


Instances of h are characteristic of West Ross, e.g. in cobhar, foam, ‘cohar,’ diubhair, difference ‘dihu’r.’ Bailbh is there bailahi, meinbhe (comparative of neanbh), menahi, gairhh, gairahi, meirbh merahi, and sometimes dearbh, derahi, and garbh garahu, with the liquids long in all cases.


At the south end of Arran, Mac Bhrìdein (Mac Bride) may be heard as Ac rìdeinn. Bh is silent generally in some words, as cuibheas, dubhan, siubhal, thubhairt, ubhal, luibh; in the three southern dialects in cobhair, cobhar, gobha, gobhal, gobhar, riabhach, etc. In a few instances like feabhas, leabhar (book), leabhar (long), treabh, bh, though silent, may have been the cause of the change generally of ea into eo in those words. Gheibh also in most dialects is pronounced as if it were gheobh, with bh silent.

Bh is silent with MacAlpine in cubhaidh, cuibhrionn, gheibh, but sounds v in those words in Arran. On the other hand it is v with MacAlpine in inbhir and easbhuidh, but silent in Arran. MacAlpine gives two pronunciations of eanbhruich, inbhe, and taibhse, one with bh as v and one with bh silent, Àbhaist is àvist (àvisht) in Arran, Kintyre, MacAlpine, and Sutherland; àvist, àst, and àist (àsht) in Perth; à-u'rst in North Argyle, and fà-uist in West Ross. Éubh (in Kintyre Èubh) is rendered by MacAlpine ‘Eve, first woman; aspen tree'; Eabha, Eve, and eabhadh, aspen tree, are given in O’Reilly’s Irish Dictionary. Shaw has Eabha for both. In Scottish Gaelic the aspen is eibheadh and eadha and Eve in Arran Gaelic is Eobha or Eodha ‘yo-a,’ a dialect form of eadha. Clearly the Gaelic for Eve has somehow been influenced by the name for the aspen tree.

The pronunciations, as far as known, of cathadh, drift, point to cabhadh as being the correct form of the word, viz., cavfadh, with MacAlpine; cawa, Perth; ca-udh, North Argyll; cahudh, Skye; cahug, West Ross; ca-u, Sutherland; cafa, Lewis. Armstrong has cathadh and cathamh; the latter occurring also in Eng.-Gael. is evidently his own form. The regular verb cabh, ‘kavf,’ is given by MacAlpine, and is in use in Perthshire. In Arran the word is càthadh, like the Irish cáthadh, and either has been influenced by, or is identical with càthadh, winnowing.

Words like deilbh, seilbh, mairbh, tairbh are in Perthshire deli, seli, maori, taori (East Perth, mari, tari in Rannoch). In Rannoch dealbh is ‘deala-ah,’ meanbh ‘meana-ah,’ dearbh ‘deara-ah.’ In some dialects deala-u, deara-u, etc., may be heard. In East Perth this glide a may be heard sometimes after the u sound, which is then apt to become w, as balbh, balua, or balwa. The Dean of Lismore writes dalwyth (dealbh), Bano (Banbh), garo, garrowe, and gerve (garbh). Manx forms are marroo (marbh), tarroo (tarbh). Compare Welsh marw, Cornish marow, Breton maro (Gaelic marbh).

MacAlpine gives bh the sound of broad gh in one or two instances, and dubh, black, which is one of his instances is pronounced dugh in North Argyll. He, however, makes guth voice ‘gugh.'

(Continued from p. 183)


The gutturals c and g have broad and slender pronunciations both in their plain and in their aspirated forms. The slender pronunciations of both consonants, both plain and aspirated, are formed with the middle of the tongue against the hard palate. Broad c is much the same as in English, e.g. in ‘cat’ ‘cock.’ The slender sound of c is given provincially to that consonant in English in such words as cape, care, cube, cure, and to k in such words as key, king. In English words of Anglo-Saxon derivation the influence of the distinction between the broad and the slender sounds in question may be observed in the prevalence, at the beginning of words, of c before the broad vowels a, o and u, and of k before the slender vowels e and i. In cases like cape, where the sounded vowel is e though the written one is a, and cube where u represents a sound that is written iu in Gaelic, c, in such provincial pronunciations as have been referred to, has its slender sound in agreement with the slender vowel sounds in contact with it.

In the same manner slender g is heard provincially in English in association with slender vowels or slender sounds e.g. in gear, get, gild, give, game, gay, guess, guest, guild.

Broad ch is the sound familiar in ‘loch’; slender ch prevails in Lowland Scots in association with slender vowels as in dreich, tedious, flech, a flea, and generally in lieu of gh beside a slender vowel as in heich, high, eicht, eight, licht, light.

Broad and slender gh are the voiced sounds corresponding to the voiceless sounds of broad and slender ch.


Non-initial c, both broad and slender, is sounded in some dialects so as to be difficult to distinguish from Gaelic g, in others as with an aspirate—hc—before it, and in most as chc; for example, in such words as fiacaill, tooth; acras, hunger; breac, speckled; mac, son; mulc, push; cearc, hen; faicill, care; uircean, pig; faic, see; glic, wise; cuilc, reed; seirc, love. At the end of unaccented syllables c is apt to be sounded g in most dialects, but chc is harder sometimes, as in adhlaic, berry, and amhairc, look, in Islay and North Argyll. The two extreme pronunciations prevail in Perthshire, the first (c) in the east, and the third (chc) in the west of the county. In other cases different pronunciations constitute local distinctions. Thus hc may be heard in Badenoch and in the south of Lewis and chc in Strathspey and in Harris. The c sound prevails in Arran, Kintyre, and Sutherland, and chc in Islay, North Argyll, Skye and West Ross. There is thus no broad distinction as regards this consonant between Southern and Northern Gaelic.

The English word doctor, which appears sometimes as doctair (so Perth) and sometimes as dochtair (so Arran and Perth) is dotair in great part of the West Highlands. Faicinn, seeing, which is fakin and faïn in Manx, is sometimes fa'inn in Arran. The past indicative chunnaic, saw, besides having th often in place of ch sometimes loses c or ic or even aic. In Arran thunnai and thunna, in Knapdale thonnai and in Jura thanna may be heard. In Perthshire chunna and chunn, in North Argyll chunna, and in Sutherland thunnaic and thunn are found. Mary Macpherson has chunna twice (pp. 41, 170); Munro, in a footnote, says of chunnaic, ‘Often pronounced, and sometimes written, chunna’ (Grammar, p. 118), while MacAlpine gives this sense of the verb as, ‘Chunna or chonnaic mi, I saw or did see; Chunna or Chonnaic thu,' and so on. The final c when kept is at least in most dialects sounded g and the spelling chunnaig is favoured by one or two writers. Thàinig, came, for thàinic, Irish tháinic, etc., Old Irish tánic is treated similarly as to the final syllable. In Arran and Kintyre it is usually thàini in all positions; in Perthshire thàin, and sometimes thàine, are heard. Mary Macpherson has thàin’ (p. 37). Those shortened forms are heard in replies to questions as well as when followed by their subject; e.g. Am fac thu e?—Chunna or Chunn’ (Perth); Thannai or Thanna (Arran).

In Donegal tháine tu, you came, tháini se, he came, occur.

On the other hand the termination ig or aig has been added to the words chual or chuala, heard, and faca or fac, saw, in Jura, North Argyll, and part of West Ross; thus, An cuala tu e?—Chualaig. Did you hear him ?—I did; Am faca tu e ?—Cha’n fhacaig. Did you see him ?—I did not.

When the vowel following Mac in a surname is slender its influence makes c slender in Arran in two or three instances, as Maie Eamailinn, Englished Bannatyne, Maic Ionmhuinn, Englished Love, and Maic Eanain, local Gaelic for Mackinnon.

In Argyllshire English Mac, it may be remarked, is sometimes pronounced Mag e.g. in MagLeod MagLachlan.

ch broad

In initial position broad ch, as has been noticed, has become th, i.e. h in certain districts in chunnaic: in Manx this word is honnick, and in Donegal Irish thannaic. Chugam, to me, chugad, to you, etc., and the negative cha, have th almost universally for ch; thugam, thugad, etc., indeed are sometimes written. The preposition chun or chon, too, is often thun, and occurs even as un in Skye and Perth, but is ghon in West Ross, e.g. Tha e a’dol ghon a’bhaile, he is going to the town. Chaidh, went, is in Arran thai, in Manx, hie. Cha, not, it may be remarked is ha in Manx and is pronounced in Donegal with h for ch, as is also chuaidh went.

In other positions broad ch is seldom changed or lost. Drochaid, bridge, is drothaid in West Ross, and dro’id in North Inverness and Sutherland In Arran deachaidh, went, and meille-chartan, chilblain, pronounced meileartan there, show loss of ch. The pronunciation chc, which is given, as has been noticed, to non-initial c in many districts, is the regular sound of chd. In Arran ch has been lost from this combination in a few instances. Iochdar, lower part, uachdar, upper part, currachd, cap, and ònrachd, solitude, are there respectively ì’car, uacar, currac, and òrac (ò nasal). ‘Currac is heard sometimes in one or two other dialects. Slachd, to beat, which is slacair in Arran and slacairim in Irish, ought to be, and is sometimes, written slac, and so also slachdan, a beetle, rod, ought to be slacan.

In contrast with that the Irish casachtach, coughing, which is casadaich or casdaich in Scottish Gaelic generally, is casachdaich in Arran and in Islay. We may note also the Arran frasachdach, showery, and fùchadaich, rummaging, pushing heavily. The former suggests connection with MacAlpine’s frasachd, showery weather; the latter appears to be a form of fùcadh, from Scots powk, English poke, to thrust.

ch slender

There is one instance of the change of slender ch into th in initial positions. In Arran, chì, will see, is pronounced thìbh, with related forms, thìbhinn for chithinn, I would see, ma thìbh for ma chì, if (I) see, thibhear for chither, shall be seen, thibhteadh for chiteadh, would be seen, etc. Chibh occurs in the Gaelic translation of Pope’s Messiah, given in Shaw’s Analysis, vv. 67–70:—

‘Ionadh an treudich glacidh ’m fasach lom;
Nuair chibh e feur us neonain fas fo bhonn;
Cliosgidh, nuair, measg nan carruig thartor chruaidh,
Ni easan leimnach monar ann a chluais.’

In other positions ch is changed or lost in a few instances in the north. It is lost in Sutherland in fichead, twenty; beannaichte, blessed; mallaichte, cursed, there ‘mullait,’ with meaning of ‘wicked,’ and in cluich, play. ‘Dealrait' for dealraichte, brightened, etc., also occurs in a hymn published with those of Donald Matheson, Kildonan, Sutherland, and composed probably by one of his sons. In West Ross ch is lost in cluich, but is more apt in that district to be sounded h. In Gairloch a phrase used to order one out of a house sounds ‘Gabh am fhoith,’ literally, ‘Take the green.’ The word is faich, a green, a lawn, Irish faithche, and is pronounced ‘foih’ and also, at all events in a couple of place-names, fothaigh (‘fohi’). The latter is an oblique case taking the place of the nominative. An Fhothaigh is a small township at Aultbea, and Foy Lodge, Lochbroom, is in Gaelic Tigh na Fothaigh. With fothaigh, which is the regular genitive of the word in the district, may be compared clothaigh (‘clohi’), the pronunciation there of cloiche, genitive of clach, a stone. The pronunciations here also of foipe, roimpe, and troimpe, respectively ‘fòhi,’ ‘ròhi,’ and tròhi (o nasal in two last), dealt with below, are to be kept in view.

The West Ross duainidh, bad, ill of looks or of conduct, notwithstanding that it is duaineil in Sutherland, seems to be for duaichnidh, which, however, comes from du-aithne.

Flichne, sleet, a derivative of fluich, wet, is flinne in Arran, Islay, and Skye. In West Ross flichneadh-shneachd (dh = g) is used. MacAlpine gives flichne for Cowal and Coll, Armstrong has flichne and flicheann; the latter on the face of it should be a Perthshire pronunciation of the word.

Among Scottish Gaelic dialects loss or absence of slender ch in medial and final positions is peculiarly characteristic of the speech of Arran and, though perhaps in a less degree, of Kintyre and Islay. Medially it is silent in Arran in fichead, twenty, flichne, sleet, timchioll, around, pronounced ‘tiumall,’ the personal name Mìcheil, Michael; in passive participles of ich verbs, as beannaichte, blessed; ionnsuichte, taught; in dìchioll, diligence, at the north end of the island, and others. In the future indicative and other parts of ich verbs ch is broad, not slender as in other districts, as ceannachaidh, or rather ceannchaidh, will buy, for ceannaichidh; cheannchadh, would buy, for cheannaicheadh; dh' éireachadh, would rise, for dh’ eiricheadh or dh' éireadh; sanntachaidh, will covet, for sanntaichidh. Shaw in his Analysis uses beannuchibh for beannaichibh, coiruchidh for coirichidh (will blame), mhothuchas for mhothaicheas (will perceive, etc.), and others. Ch is broad in such cases also in Kintyre and in some instances at least in Jura, and so no doubt in Islay also.

In one instance—seiche, hide—ch sounds h in Arran.

Final ch is silent almost invariably in Arran when it comes into contact with the slender vowel i, as in doilich, difficult, etc., ‘doili,' or ‘doiligh’; in nouns ending in ich as buainich, a reaper, ‘buainigh’; in oblique cases in ich as coilich, ‘coiligh,’ genitive singular and nominative plural of coileach, cock, in verbs in ich as éirich, rise, ‘ìre'; imich, go ‘imi’; and so on. Shaw has abuigh for abuich, ripe; anabuidh for anabuich, unripe; caoraidh for caoraich, sheep, and renders ‘Picts’ na Cruinnith for na Cruithnich.

That the same thing is at least fairly common in Kintyre is shown by the following list, probably far from being a full one, in which ch has been noted as being si1ent—abaich, doilich, Di-Domhnaich, éirich, ‘ìri,’ fiadhaich (wild), ionnsaich (learn), mallaichte ‘mollaite.’ MacAlpine has abuidh and fiadhaidh along with the usual forms, and, under Càisg, ‘didònaidh càisg, Easter Sunday,’ for Di-Domhnaich.

Some of the instances in which slender ch is heard in Arran are doiliche, more difiicult; oidhche might (in Manx oie); bruich, boil; cluich, play; deich, ten; and deicheamh tenth, but not deichnear, ten persons! Ith, eat, is sometimes i' and sometimes ich. Bàthaich, a byre, is bàiche, and dùthaich, country, dùiche. The former is bòcha in Kintyre, where also bruich and cluich have ch.

c and g

In initial position g and c in borrowed words sometimes take one another’s place in different dialects. Cadhmus, a plasm, mould for casting bullets, from Scot calmes, caums, in Sutherland càmus, is gàmus in West Ross, and is so given in the Highland Society’s Dictionary (supplement and English-Gaelic part sub plasm). Geuban, crop of birds, in some districts gizzard, referred by MacBain to English gaps, is ceòban in Strathspey, and ciaban in Skye and West Ross. Cial, brim of a vessel, in Rob Doun’s poems ceàl, is identified by MacBain with ciobhull, jaw, ‘more properly giall,’ he says. Cial means jaw in Strathspey. The West Ross culm, obscurity, haze about the moon, etc., seems to be a variant of gulm, a frown, etc., from English gloom? MacAlpine’s ‘glìbheid, weather in which a curious mixture of rain, sleet, and hail prevails’ is clìfeid in West Ross, in Sutherland glìfeid with meaning of sleet; c.f. glìb, sleet. Clìobar and glìobar, glìobas, sleet, also occur. Gartan, an insect found on deer, cattle, and dogs, West Ross, seems to be a form of cartan, a cattle·bott, heath-mite, etc. The connection of crobhsag, gooseberry, West Ross, in East Ross crobhrsag with plural there crobhrsan, seems certain, though not quite clear, with gròiseid borrowed from Lowland Scots, in which the word is variously written grozel, grizzle, groset, grozer, groser, grosert. Different terms for gadfly are creithleag, cleithir, gleithir, creithire, Kintyre, etc., Irish cleabhar, creabhaire, and creathaire, Middle Irish crebar.


G is often silent in the prepositional pronouns agam, ‘a’am,’ agad, againn, agaibh, e.g. in Arran, Kintyre, North Argyll, Perth, Skye, and Sutherland. In the group sgt sometimes it is silent as in passive participles loisgte, burned, pronounced ‘loiste’; ruisgte, stripped, ‘ruiste.’ Sometimes g is preserved in that group. The difference is due to frequency of use, the cause of many of the seeming irregularitities in letter changes. When a word is in constant use phonetic changes are apt to take place more readily, and to be carried further than in words that are more rarely used. In final position g is wanting in Arran in Gillesbuig, Archibald; Eanruig, Henry, from Old English Henric; in ‘Domhnach Càs' for Domhnach Càisg, Easter Sunday, and sometimes in shealg in La shealg na cuthaige, All Fools' Day.

(To be continued.)

st for sg

St sometimes takes the place of sg in medial and final positions in Arran. Whether the seeming analogy of such pronunciations as loiste for loisgte has had any influence in bringing the change about or not, is not certain. Sothaisgean, the name for the primrose in Kintyre and at the south end of Arran, is sothaistean at the north end of the island, where also brisg, brittle, dùisg, awaken, and loisg, burn, are respectively brist, dùist, and loist. At the south end the change is less frequent, but is conspicuous there in uiste for uisge, water.

St for non-initial sg is a feature of Manx Gaelic; for example, our measgadh, mixing, toisgeal, the left, and soisgeul, gospel, are respectively mastey, toshtal, and Sushtal in that language, and Sasunn England, Old Sacsunn, and in Arran at the present day Sasgunn, though the adjective is there Sasunnach, is Sostyn in Manx.

Contrasted with that are such northern forms as cosg used by Duncan Ban, and cosgus for cosd and cosdus, and perhaps cas-ruisg for cas-ruisgte, barefoot.

gh broad

Broad gh when non-initial is unaspirated as a rule in Arran. Amhghair, affliction, bràghad, throat, and truaghan, a miserable creature, are respectively àmhagair, bràgad, and truagan. Agus, and, also is pronounced there as written, not as in North Argyll and West Ross aghus, nor as so often in other districts aoghus (ao short). Leómhann, lion, Old Irish leoman, from Latin leo, leonem, sometimes written leòghann, and pronounced with gh by MacAlpine is leògann in Arran. At the end of monosyllables especially, as dragh, trouble, lagh, law, seagh, sense, sleagh, spear, gh is g in Arran. At the north end even brèagh, fine, may be heard as brèag, and at Shiskine laogh, calf, is laog, whence the local name Glenlaeg or Calves’ Glen.

In a few instances such as àmhghair, affliction, aoghaire, shepherd, truaghan, miserable person, etc., gh has its proper sound in most dialects. It is sounded in aghaidh, face, in Arran, Perth, West Ross, and Sutherland, but is silent in Kintyre, North Argyll, and Skye; MacAlpine gives both pronunciations. Foghar, autumn, harvest, Irish fóghmhar, Early Irish fogamur, has gh—faoghar—in Perth, Strathspey, and Sutherland; and bh—fe’bhar (close e)—in Arran, Kintyre, and Islay; in Skye it is fao’ar, in West Ross faowar, and in North Argyll fowr (o close), the vowel of the first syllable being short in all those pronunciations. In West Ross gh is heard in rìoghann, a nymph, etc., sometimes written rìbhinn, and by MacAlpine rìghinn with gh sounded slender in this case; in Early Irish it is rígan. In the same district gh is heard in làghan, sowens, the local form of làgan; possibly it should be làthan, a spelling favoured by the sound of à (not ao as is usual before gh and dh); cf. làghaich there for làthaich, mire, and the hill name Liaghach for Liathach from liath, hoary. The root of làthach, mire, is suggested doubtfully by Macbain for làgan.

Final gh in monosyllables, as agh, heifer, dragh, trouble, laogh, calf, leagh, melt, is heard more or less distinctly in great part of the west and north—North Argyll, Skye, West Ross, and Sutherland.

The sound of bh, i.e. v, is given to gh in Easter Ross and in Sutherland in a few instances, e.g.: truaghan, in Sutherland truaowan, is truaobhan in Easter Ross, although truagh is there truaow, and saoghal, the world, is sûbhal in Sutherland.

gh slender.

Medially slender gh is often heard in a few words, as àilgheas, fastidiousness, doilgheas, sorrow, duilghe, more dillicult, muinighin, or, as in the Gaelic Scriptures, muinghin, trust. MacAlpine has it silent in duilghe and muinighin. It is heard in West Ross in builghionn, a half-quartern loaf, a form marked obsolete in the dictionaries, usually written builionn.

At the end of words, mostly monosyllables, it is sometimes heard in North Argyll and several of the islands, e.g.: in brìgh, substance, rìgh, king, uaigh, grave, luigh, lie, in North Argyll. It is heard in laoigh, calves, in Arran. MacAlpine represents gh in his phonetic spellings of such words often by yh, by y, and by gh, by all which, doubtless, he means the slender gh sound. He gives yh in brìgh, but gh in brìgheil, substantial, and yh in dòigh in the Dictionary but y in his Grammar (p. xvi), and at the same page he says, not distinguishing broad from slender, ‘Dh initial sounds often like y, and sometimes like gh.’


T is formed with the point of the tongue pressed against the gum, and is more explosive than in English. In contact with slender vowels it is sounded with sh after it—tsh—, and resembles, except for the difference between Gaelic t and English t, the pronunciation of tch in English ‘etch,' ‘witch,’ or that of ch in ‘chief,’ ‘rich.’ D, often popularly described as being like English t, would be better designated a voiceless or surd d. Beside slender vowels it also is followed by sh—, dsh—, and is nearer to English tch or ch above than to English dg, as in ‘edge,' ‘bridge,’ or g as in ‘gem,’ ‘ giant.’

Corresponding sounds are heard sometimes provincially in English, as when t is pronounced tsh in such words as tune, tube, ritual, mutual, actual, and when d is pronounced dg in such as due, duel, gradual, individual.

An absence of the sh sound after the slender dentals is a feature of the speech of that part of West Ross-shire that extends from Loch Broom to Loch Carron, or perhaps to Loch Alsh, and indeed has been spoken of sometimes as the shibboleth of that district: e.g. in words like teine, fire; teich, flee; tioram, dry; tìr, land; àite, place; ite, feather; lite, porridge; téid, go; tìde, time; dean, do; deas, ready; an dé, yesterday; an diugh, to-day; direach, straight; aidich, confess; idir, at all; maide, stick; cuid, share, etc. In such cases t as pronounced in that district resembles English t when not pronounced tsh in such words as tune, ritual, and d approaches English d when not made dg in such as due, gradual.

The slender dentals have the same pronunciations in Perthshire in a few words in which n or more rarely l is in juxtaposition. In taitinn, please, taitneach, adj. pleasing, taitneachd and taitneas, pleasure; in aiteann, juniper, and its adjective aitneach, as in dearcan aitneach, juniper berries; in cinntinn, growing, cluinntinn, hearing, inntinn, mind, and less uniformly in some words like coilltean, woods, and uillt, burns, t is not followed by the sh sound in that county; and so with d in foidhidinn, patience; maidinn, morning, with its adjective maidneach; in caidil, v. sleep, etc. Maidinn, Irish maidin, Old Irish matin, from Latin matutina (whence English matin), has d sibilant in South Argyll and Arran. The spelling maidainn or maduinn, which prevails elsewhere, may really represent maidinn with d non-sibilant as in Perthshire. One instance of non-sibilant slender t in a place·name is Allt Chailtnidh, Keltney Burn, near Aberfeldy.

The non-sibilant sound is heard sometimes in Skye, Eigg, North Argyll, and Arran, in taitneach, taitneas, and some forms of taitinn, specially such as have n following t immediately—taitnidh, will please; thaitneadh, would please, etc. It is heard in Sutherland in tilg, v. throw, cast.

The influence of analogy and the tendency to make exceptions conform to rule often cause the sibilant sounds to be given to the slender dentals in those cases, especially by the more educated speakers.

It is curious that the non-sibilant sound of t has been preserved also in the Manx form of our taitneas. According to Professor Rhys, ‘Voiceless mute t sounded like English t should represent Aryan t associated with a narrow vowel e or i, and we have it occasionally as in tatnys, now written taitnys, joy, delight, pleasure.’ In Irish apparently the dentals have sibilant sounds only in Connaught.

In Arran slender c is heard sometimes in place of t in taitiim, taitneach, and taitneas; thaicinn e ris, it pleased him; bheil sin a’ taicinn riut, does that please you?

An insertion of t in the group sr at the beginning of words is characteristic of Northern Gaelic, as srad, a spark; srann, snore; srath, a strath; srathair, a pack-saddle; sreath, a row, series; sreothart, a sneeze; srian, a bridle; sròn, nose; , sruth, a stream; sruthail, to rinse, etc. A number of words, mostly borrowed, have str in both Southern and Northem Gaelic, as stràc, a stroke, a strickle; stràic, pride; straighlich, rattling noise; streap, climb ; strì, strife; strìoch, a streak; strìochd, yield; stròic, tear asunder, etc.

In one or two instances in which str is found in the South, sr occurs in particular districts in the North. Srac, tear asunder, for example, is strac generally if not universally in the South, but srac in Lochaber.

th changed to ch.

The change of th into ch seems to be universal in dachaidh, home, from do-thigh, and in gu bràth, for ever, written ‘gu brach’ in the 1408 charter. The latter is pronounced gu brách in Irish and is dy bragh in Manx. Bothan, hut; lothag, filly; triath, a chief, etc., and féith, vein, are respectively bochan, lochag, triach, and féach in Arran. Bochan, lochag, triach, and feich are all met with in Shaw’s Dictionary. Triach occurs in Kintyre, and MacAlpine pronounces triath and its adjective triathail with ch. At the end of monosyllables th is often represented by gh in MacAlpine’s pronunciation, for example, in guth, voice, dlùth, wrap, mùth, change, maoth, soft. Compare the Manx daghy, dye, our dath, and myghin, clemency, our maothainn.

In Arran a Thighearna as an exclamation may be heard as a Chiarn, and Shaw gives ‘ogchiern, a young lord’; the Manx is Hiarn, pronounced, according to Professor Rhys, Chiarn. Medially and finally th is pronounced ch in laitheil, daily, snàithean, thread, maith, good, ràith, quarter of year, ruith, run. Súith, soot, Irish súithche, Middle Irish súithe, Old Irish suidi, is here sùiche. Shaw has laichol, daily.

In Kintyre snàithean, ràith, here ‘ràiche,’ ruith, and sùith, here ‘sùich,’ have ch. In other instances in this district and also in Islay ch for th is associated with an intrusive slender vowel after long, broad vowels. Thus càth, husks of corn, is here càich; gaoth, wind, is gaoich, which occurs also at Shiskine in Arran; luath, ashes, is luaich, and sàth, repletion, is sàich.

MacAlpine usually writes such words with the slender vowel and th and pronounces ch, as in àith ‘àich’ for àth, kiln; càith ‘càich,’ husks; luaith ‘luaich,’ ashes; sàith ‘sàich,’ repletion. In some instances he gives also the usual form. Of gaoith, ‘gaoich,’ he says, ‘sometimes the nominative, and always the genitive of gaoth, wind.’ He gives this ch, with alternative pronunciations in some instances in snàithean, maith, ràith, ruith, and sùith.

In those third singular feminine and third plural prepositional pronouns in which p or mp is written, ch is usually heard in Arran and in Kintyre. Uaipe, from her, is bhuaiche and uapa, from them, is bhuacha in both districts. So foipe, under her, and fopa, under them, have ch in lieu of p in both districts. Ròiche for roimpe, before her, occurs in Arran and ròcha for rompa, before them, in both districts. Troimpe, through her, is ròiche for thròiche, and trompa ròcha for thròcha in Arran; in Kintyre they are roiche and ropa. MacAlpine writes foithe for foipe, fodha and fotha for fopa, roithe and roimhpe for roimpe, throimhe for troimpe, and thrompa for trompa. In West Ross foipe is fòithe, pronounced ‘fòhi,’ and might be written fòthaigh; compare the pronunciation there of cloiche, of a stone, viz., ‘clohi.’ So in that district also roimpe is ròimhe ‘ròhi,’ and troimpe tròimhe ‘tròhi.’ In all cases in which m is found in the usual written form o is nasalised in the pronunciations given, and therefore ròiche might be, and perhaps ought to be, written ‘ròimhche’ or ‘roimhthe,’ ròcha ‘ròmhcha’ or ‘ròmhtha’ and so on.

Ch is heard in others of the prepositional pronouns. Dhiubh, of them, written dhiuth by MacAlpine, is pronounced dhiuch in Arran. Leatha, with her, leotha (for leò), with them, rithe, to her, riutha (for riù), to them, all have ch for th in Arran with lengthening, moreover, of the preceding vowel leà’che (with her), leòcha, rìche, but also rithe (not rìthe), and riùcha. MacAlpine also gives ch and lengthens the vowels, leatha and lèche, leócha, rìche, and riùcha. Ch where it occurs in those pronunciations of prepositional pronouns is for th.

dh broad.

D for dh may be noted in two or three instances. The two forms iomadh or ioma and iomad are well known. Àraidh, certain, is with MacAlpine àraid. In Perthshire there are two instances. A thuilleadh (or thuille) air sin, moreover, in addition to that, is a thuillead air sin, and sometimes a thuilleid air sin. Thigeadh would come, would become, befit or suit, has taken further the special meaning of ought to, with the form of thigead. The form and use were recalled to mind when an old friend, lamenting the indifference to Gaelic, spoke of that tongue as ‘A’ chainnt a thigead bhi anns an dùthaich,’ the language that ought to be in the land. John M‘Gregor, a native of the county, uses the form in this sense in his songs (p. 190):—

‘Chunnaic mi a bhratach uaine
Ard shuaicheannas Cloinne Ghrigair
Le craobh ghiubhais dhosrach bhuadhar
Aig na h-Uaislean mar a thigead.’

Perhaps the d in this instance has shifted back from the prepositional pronouns domh, etc., before which the word is oftenest used in this sense as ‘thigead duit, or thigeadh duit a dheanamh,’ it would be becoming of you to do it, you ought to do it.

Broad dh has the same sound as broad gh, always in initial position, and in most dialects medially in a few words, such as diadhaidh, pious, with diadhair, a divine, etc., eadhon, namely, fiadhain, wild, fiodhag, bird-cherry, fiodhan, cheese-vat, and iodhal, idol. So also feadhainn, people in west Ross. Bàbhun, bulwark, enclosure for cattle, bàbhuinn, towers in Ezekiel xxvi. 4; bàbhuin, bulwarks, in metrical Psalm xlviii. 13, is in Sutherland, bàdhan, a burying-ground, with dh sounded as gh; the Irish bábhún, Middle Irish bódhún, is written badhbhdhún by Dinneen, and pronounced nearly bàwan by Quiggin. Baun, in the parish of Kilberry, opposite Kintyre, is in Gaelic am Bàbhun (with bh silent).

Final dh receives the sound of gh in monosyllables usually in Kintyre, Islay, North Argyll, Skye, West Ross, and, to some extent, in Strathspey, but not in Perth or in Sutherland. In words of more than one syllable, as cogadh, war, deireadh, end, monadh, hill, osnadh, sigh, and the names Donnchadh and Murchadh, the gh sound is heard in those western districts, except Ross, and also in Badenoch. In West Ross gh is heard sometimes, but is not the usual sound in such nouns and in the parts ending in dh of verbs. In Perthshire the gh sound is confined to subjunctives of verbs, and even then alternates with another pronunciation to be noticed.

This sound is heard in Argyll in a few instances in which the written language has mh, as in caitheamh, wearing, càramh, mending, etc., creideamh, belief, and dèanamh, doing, in Kintyre and Islay, and càramh, dèanamh, and iomramh, rowing, in North Argyll. All those, except iomramh, have dh, but pronounced g, as we shall see in Arran. Càramh follows the analogy of the other words as dèanamh, ‘dèanu,’ in Perth, and is pronounced ‘càru,’ but in West Ross and Sutherland it is ‘càra,’ unlike either words in ‑adh, or words in ‑amh in its last syllable.

The ordinal numerals are sometimes spelt with dh in lieu of mh, as ceithreadh, fourth, coigeadh, fifth, by Arran and Argyll writers, but the pronunciation of the syllable in question differs in Arran and in Kintyre, and probably elsewhere, from those with either dh or mh.

The sound of unaspirated g is given to medial and final dh in some instances in Arran, especially at the south end of the island, as in cràdhach, painful, diadhaidh, fiadhaich, iodhal, idol, fiadh, deer, fiodh, wood, gèadh, goose, ruadh, red, fionnadh, hair, reothadh, frost, altachadh, grace. In words of one syllable, and in the terminations of verbs, g for dh is the rule there. As already indicated, this g for dh takes the place here of mh in the words caitheamh, dèanamh, etc. Some of the parts of the verb gràdhaich, love, are pronounced (with à sounded è throughout) gràgai’, will love, ghràgaicheag, would love, gràgachag, loving, ghràgachag, was loved, and so on.

G is heard as frequently as gh for dh in subjunctives of verbs in Perth. Thus abrag and abragh are said equally often for abradh, would say; so with chuireadh, would set, etc. In infinitives in ‑adh the whole syllable, when not wanting altogether, is pronounced ao short in that county; a’ reubadh, rending, is a’ reubao, or a’ reub. In West Ross in all words of more than one syllable final dh, occasionally pronounced gh, is usually g, as in achadh, field, ‘achag,’ Murchadh, Murdoch, ‘Murchag,’ sileadh, dropping, ‘si1eag,’ shileadh, would drop, ‘shileag,’ adhlaiceadh, burying, ‘adhlaiceag.’ Fasadh, a dwelling, a residence, whence Fassiefern, Dochanassie, and in Perthshire Foss, Gaelic Fas, but genitive as in Bràigh Fasaidh, Brae of Foss appears as fasag, genitive fasaidh, in several place-names throughout West Ross, as Fasag at Torridon, Cromasag (crom, crooked) at Kenlochewe, Fasagrianach (grianach, sunny) at Lochbroom, and am Fasag àluinn, the lovely dwelling, the Gaelic name of the modern Duncraig Castle (or, strictly speaking, of its site) near Plockton.

The sound of Gaelic u, like u in English ‘rule,’ is given almost invariably in Sutherland to adh in words of more than one syllable. Achadh, for example, is ‘achu,' altachadh ‘altachu,’ and so geamhradh, winter, samhradh, summer, Murohadh; parts of verbs, as dheanadh, would do, ag cruinneachadh, gathering, etc. The same pronunciation is met with in Easter Ross, and prevails, excepting in the verbs, in great part of Ireland.

The sound of bh or v, which, as we have seen, is given to broad gh in Sutherland, is given also to broad dh at the end of accented syllables both there and in Easter Ross, as in diadhaidh, diadhair, fiadhaich, and gràdh. This pronunciation is most prevalent probably in Easter Ross. Within the county of Sutherland it is most frequent in the part adjoining Easter Ross; it is rare in the_ east of Sutherland, and has not been noticed in the north.

The same sound is given to dh in subjunctives of verbs in Knapdale, and as far north as the border of Lorne; dheanadh e sin, he would do that, for example, is there dheanabh (‘dheanav’) e sin.

Dh, medially and finally is often silent, and sometimes sounds as w, e.g. bodhar, deaf, often ‘bowar.’

dh slender.

Slender dh, pronounced slender gh initially, is silent in other positions in many districts. When final in monosyllables it sometimes sounds like y in North Argyll. In several of the islands, including far St. Kilda, it has the sound, when final, of slender gh, rising in cases to slender ch. MacAlpine represents it sometimes by yh, as in fàidh, prophet, cruaidh, hard, and sometimes by y, as in laoidh, a lay, luaidh, lead. In nasgaidh, gratis, slabhraidh, chain, and tuilidh, more, he pronounces, and, in the two latter words, even writes in alternative forms ch for dh. ‘Slabhraich,’ chain, has been noted also from Kintyre.


Initial sv is represented usually in Gaelic by s, but sometimes by t, p, or f; as piuthar, sister, Early Irish siur and fiur, Sanskrit svâsar. Thus seal, a while; fiolan, an earwig, and fealan, itch; pill, till, and fill, return, and seillean, a bee, are all apparently from the same root. Various pronunciations of seillean as teillean in Perth and Lewis; tainnleag, etc., in Sutherland, have been given already in the Review (vol. ii. p. 35). Other instances of t for s, or vice versa, are sabaid and tabaid, a brawl; and tìde and sìde, time, weather. Séist or séis and téis, melody, air, are both from the root of seinn, whence Latin sonare, sonus, English sound.

Iosal, low, which has broad s in Perth, Badenoch and Strathspey, West Ross and Sutherland, has slender s ‘ìseal’ in Arran, Argyll, and Skye. So also treasa, stronger, ‘treise’; dìleas, faithful, ‘dìlis,’ and others in Arran and Argyll.

The insertion of the sound of s in the group rt in accented syllables prevails both in the northern and in the greater part of the southern area: as mart, a cow, ‘marst’; ceart, right, ‘cearst’; ort, on you; furtachd, help; cairt, bark, ‘cairst’; beairt, loom; goirt, sour, etc. In unaccented syllables the group rt is sounded rst, when not changed as it so often is to rd, as comhartaich, barking, ‘comharstaich’ (but also ‘comhardaich’); luchairt, palace, ‘luchairst’; but anart, linen, ‘anard,’ and so ascart, tow; cunnart, danger, etc. Both pronunciations occur in the same word in different compounds; cuilbheart, a wile, from cùil-beart, is ‘cuilbhearst,’ while caisbheart, or caiseart, foot-gear, from cas-beart, is ‘caiseard.’

It is a feature of Arran Gaelic that s is not heard in the group rt there, e.g. ‘mart,’ not ‘marst.’

In the case of rd an insertion of s is not general, but is heard in North Argyll mainland and islands. In Sunart ard, high, is ‘arsd’; ceard, tinker, ‘cearsd’; ord, hammer, ‘orsd’; and so also ardan, pride; bard, poet; card, a card, to card; bord, table; cord, agree; ordag, thumb, etc. Where rd is slender, s is heard in at least the following instances: ceàird, a trade, ‘ciao’rsd’; ceaird, tinkers, ‘cèrsd’; feaird, the better, ‘fèrsd.’

In Colonsay also s is heard, e.g. in ‘borsd,’ table. In Tiree s appears even to have displaced r both before d and t; bord is commonly said to be pronounced ‘bòsd,’ mart ‘mast,’ and cairt ‘caist,’ in that island.

When rt is combined with l as in ceirtle, a clew, Old Irish certle, and in fairtlich, baffle, t often disappears and leaves this intrusive s in its place. The commonest forms of the two words, at all events in Southern Gaelic, are ceirsle and fairslich. Both words have evidently proved troublesome phonetically, and the former also orthographically. The orthographic difficulty has arisen from the change of sound from e to a (ea) before slender consonants. This change of vowel is usual before broad consonants as in ceart, right, Old Irish cert, ceard, craftsman, Early Irish cerd, and is exemplified before slender consonants also, as in beairt, loom, etc.; ceaird, tinkers; Peairt, the place-name ‘Perth,’ etc. A better spelling than ceirsle accordingly would be ceairsle, which is MacAlpine’s, and is found also in the Highland Society’s Dictionary; but the logical, and, on the principles of Gaelic orthography, strictly phonetic trigraph eai has somehow often been avoided, and the phonetically incorrect digraph ei has been employed in this and other instances, such as beirt for beairt, feirt for feairt, attention, cèird for ceàird, etc. Besides those forms of ceirtle, others, of which some are attempts to spell, and some show differences of pronunciation, are ceartla, ceirsleadh, cearsla, and, under ‘bottom’ of yarn, cearsail given by Armstrong, cearsle and cearla by Shaw, and ceirthle, ceathairle, and, as obsolete from MSS., cearla also in the Highland Society’s Dictionary. Cearla is nearly the pronunciation—‘ceairlle’—in Shaw’s native island of Arran. It is cearta in Gairloch according to MacDonald’s Faclair Gàidhlig le Dealbhan. In Irish ceirtle, ceirsle, ceircle (influenced probably by cearcuil, circle), ceirtlín and ceartlinn are found (Dinneen), and in Donegal ceirtlin has three pronunciations (Quiggin), which we should write ceairllín, ceairtlín, and ceirllín.

Fairtlich is not quite so variable. In Southern Gaelic generally it is pronounced and often written fairslich (‘fa’rsllich,’ in Glenlyon ‘fau’rsllich,’ with au diphthong, as noticed in vol. iii. p. 225). Artlaich is given in the Highland Society’s Dictionary. In Badenoch and Strathspey the word is pronounced faltraich, in Lochcarron fartaich—cf. cearta, Gairloch, supra—and in Arran fairlich, ‘fairlli,’ Shaw farlaicam, for which read farlaicham, while in MacDonald’s Faclair Gàidhlig failich and falaich are given as Lewis forms.[1]

Airtneal, weariness, also is often written airsneal, and is quoted as airteal from both Alexander and Ronald MacDonald (H.S.D.). The Irish is given by Dinneen as aisnéall. Variations of feursann, a warble, have been dealt with in the second volume of the Review. In addition to the forms given there, fèurtan is used in Glenlyon, féurtann and féirsinn (all three singular in number) in North Argyll (Sunart), and feursag, feursdag, and, from Lewis, fiarsnan, occur in MacDonald’s Faclair Gàidhlig.


In two instances sh has become ch in Arran. Car mu chlios, upside down (of clothes), is obviously for car mu shlios. ‘All Fools’ Day' is there La chealg na cuthaige, sometimes La cheal’ na cuthaige, and is to be explained as La shealg na cuthaige, lit. Hunting of the cuckoo day, or in broad Scots ‘Hunt-the-gowk day.’

(Continued from vol. iv. p. 280)


Where a liquid is assimilated to a following liquid or other consonant, the preceding vowel if short, as will be exemplified in some of the instances to be quoted, often becomes long in pronunciation. Thus millse (or milse) sweeter, where i is short and ll long, may be heard as mìse in West Ross. The vowel in such cases is not infrequently marked long in writing, and certainly where the assimilated liquid is left out in the spelling the marking of this compensatory lengthening of the vowel may be justified; but when the silenced liquid is retained in the spelling it would seem better to leave the vowel without the long mark. Thus, to mark i long would be justifiable if we were writing mìse (cf. sòise sub), but would not be correct if we retained the liquid, milse or millse. So also in such a case as mìslean, mentioned under Metathesis for milsean, ì is justifiable in the former, but would not be correct in the latter.


Slender l or ll often disappears before s, as in milse and milsead, sweeter, in West Ross mìse and mìsead. So in Skye boillsgeadh, gleaming, and soillse, brightness; and in Sutherland soillse and the place-name Goillspidh, Golspie. Deillseag and déiseag, a slap, find a place in most of the dictionaries. MacAlpine gives the latter, and also has a verb déis, to slap. Soisich is more familiar to him, or at least is used in a greater variety of ways than soillsich, enlighten, while his sòise, a bolis or ball of fire in the heavens, unexplained by Dr. MacBain, is obviously for soillse. His aisinn, a dream, may have come, not direct from aisling, but through a form ailsing, which occurs, as we shall see, in Kintyre, and so with éiseach and éisleach, a crupper, given by him as Jura and mainland forms.

In abhsadh, slackening of a sail, and abhsporag, stomach of a cow, both northern forms apparently, written also respectively allsadh and allsporag, bh represents the sound of u, and the explanation of the forms seems to be first diphthongisation of a into au before ll, and then assimilation of ll to the following s. Aibhsich, exaggerate, from aibheis, boasting, aibheis, sea, abyss, the deep (?), appears also as aillsich; but the latter form seems to be due to the influence of aillse, a fairy, diminutive creature, pigmy, confused with aibhse, spectre, sprite, apparition, diminutive being. With MacAlpine aibheis has the meaning of a place full of fairies. Comparison may be made with taillse, a spectre or apparition, the pronunciation in some parts of the Highlands of aillse according to Armstrong; it is the current equivalent in Perthshire of taibhse, a ghost, and it is to be accounted for, doubtless, by confusion between taibhse and aillse.


In most dialects, if not in all, n or nn is assimilated in annlan, condiment; coinnle and coinnlean, gen. and plur. of coinneal, candle; coinnlear, candlestick; connlach, straw; crannlach, a teal; cuinnlean, nostril; eunlaith, birds; innleachd, device; Fionnlagh, Finlay; in annrath, distress; canran, wrangling; cunnradh, bargain; ganradh, gander; ganraich, noise; ionraic, upright; onrachd, solitude; sonraich, appoint; Eanruig, Henry; in bainnse, gen. of banais, wedding; coinnseas, conscience; innse, gen. of innis, island; innseadh, telling; oinnseach, foolish woman; sinnsear, ancestor; uinnsean, ash-wood. Puisean (from English ‘poison,’ so Arran, Kintyre, and Perth—puision, Armstrong)—has ui nasalised in many dialects, as North Argyll and West Ross, and consequently, on the analogy of words like uinnseann, is usually written puinsean. Innis, tell, though a vowel stands between nn and s, is usually pronounced ìs (ì nasal), as is also innis, island, often when forming the first part of a place-name. Ministear, a minister, may be heard in some districts, e.g., Arran and Perth, without n, ‘mi’istear.’ ‘Coinean,’ rabbit, is often coi’an, and ionann, like, ‘i’ann.’ Domhnall, Donald, is perhaps everywhere ‘Dò’all’ or ‘Dòll’ (o nasal), and Raonall, Ronald, ‘Raoll,’ or in Skye ‘Ràll.’ Coainneal, candle, is caoi’al (ao short) in North Argyll, cai’ill (ai nasal) in West Ross, and cai’il (ai as ei and nasal) in Sutherland. Anart, linen, is a’ard in Perth and Strathspey; and arad (first a nasal in both) in Sutherland; in Arran, North Argyll, Skye and West Ross n is kept.

Mh is sometimes written for nn, e.g. by MacAlpine in comhlach for connlach or conlach (which he calls ‘Irish pronunciation of comhlach’), coimhseas for coinnseas, comhsaich for connsaich, contend, and comhspaid for connspaid, a quarrel. In Northern Gaelic where a and o become au and ou before long nn, mh, which often has the sound of u after a or o, is liable to be written for nn where the letter has been assimilated in pronunciation. The West Ross word ‘crannlach,' a tulchan calf, for example, so far as the pronunciation, which is ‘craulach’ (au nasal), shows, might equally well be written cramhlach, or even cnamhlach. Thus are to be explained such alternative spellings as famhsgal and fannsgal, hurry, confusion; gamhlas and gannlas, also ganndas, and in Sutherland gamhaldas, malice. Seamhas and seanns, good luck, with corresponding adjective seamhsail and seannsail, lucky, are derived by Dr. MacBain from English ‘chance,’ and, mh being sounded v by MacAlpine, furnish a parallel to damhsa and dannsa, dance (Celt. Rev., iv. 172). Tamhasg, blockhead, and tannas, tannasg (tanas and tannas in MacPherson’s Ossian), an apparition, ghost, if those usual renderings are considered, would seem to be different words, and are so regarded by MacBain; yet the Highland Society’s Dictionary gives ghost as one of the meanings of tamhasg; and MacAlpine translates it spectre, apparition, ghost, knows no other meaning, and refers to it for the explanation of tannas.

Annlan, condiment, is ainnleann in Arran (‘àilleann’), and in Kintyre ‘eileann.’ MacAlpine gives ‘ainnlean’ and under lìon ainleann. In Perthshire it is àlan; in Strathspey, Skye, and West Ross, aulan; in North Argyll, eulann. In the south of Sutherland aultan and in the north ùltan are heard, the vowel sound or sounds of the first syllable being nasal in all cases.

Grànnda, ugly, pronounced so, only with è for à in North Argyll, in Arran, Kintyre and Islay grànna, is gràda in Perth, Strathspey, Skye, West Ross and Sutherland. Deargannt, a flea, so Arran and Perth, in Kintyre, Islay and North Argyll deargann, is deargad in West Ross and Sutherland. N is assimilated to t in West Ross in a few cases like duinte, closed, sgàinte, burst, slàinte, health, and nn in Sutherland in cainnt, speech, inntinn, mind, muinntir, people.


Assimilation of r to l is prevalent in Strathspey in such words as atharla, heifer; Beurla, English; comhairle, counsel; earlachadh, preparation of food; meirle, theft; òirleach, inch; Tearlach, Charles. It is found in part of West Ross and in Lewis in Beurla; dòrlach, handful; and the surname MacPharlain, MacFarlane; in West Ross in addition in atharla and garlach, peevish creature, and in Lewis in fairtlich, baffle, ‘faillich,' and in North Sutherland in Beurla. Urlar, floor, which is so pronounced in East Perthshire, is in MacAlpine's opinion properly unnlar, and is ùllar in Arran, Glenlyon, Strathspey, and, with u nasal, in West Ross, and iùllar in North Sutherland.

Atharnach, ‘red land,’ that is land cleared of a crop of potatoes or turnips, is athainneach in Badenoch. The word is popularly thought to be from eòrna, barley—ath-eorna-ach—which is usually sown in ‘red land,’ and is written also aithearnach and aitheornach.

Assimilation Externally

A final n or m in proclitics also is assimilated to or disappears before certain initial consonants, especially in the northern dialect. The proclitics in question include the article an, nan, the relative an, the plural possessive pronoun an, the preposition an, the interrogative an, and the conjunctions an and na’n if; gun’n, that; mu’n, before. For example, an la, the day, is a' la, and nan laogh, of the calves is na’ laogh. So na tighean aig a’ robh e, for na tighean aig an robh e, the houses at which he was; na h-eòin agus a’ nid the birds and their nests, for na h-eòin agus an nid; chaidh a’ losgadh, they were burnt, for chaidh an losgadh; chaill iad a’ saothair, they lost their labour, for an saothair, and so on. This loss or absence of n is seen before words beginning with l, n, r, or s, and sometimes also before initial d or t. Before b, f, and m, also this n, which appears as m where it has not been lost, is often wanting in the north, as a’ baile for am baile, the town; chaidh a’ bristeadh for chaidh am bristeadh, they were broken; a’ fraoch for am fraoch, the heather; ann a’ fàsach for ann am fàsach, in a wilderness, a’ mac for am mac, the son; tha iad le a’ maighstir (for am maighstir), they are with their master.

Such assimilation is of course of old standing in the language. The Book of Deer has, for example, igginn for in cinn, at the head of, and naglerec for nan clerec of the clerics.

Before the verbal particle ‘do’ n is sometimes lost. For example, in West Ross, An do chuir thu e? Did you sow it? is ’Do chuir thu e? so ’Do dhùin thu e ? Did you close it? Do ghabh thu e? Did you take it? Also in Thubhairt e gu’n do chuir thu e, he said that you had sowed it, gu’n do is sounded gu’do, and so on. A more frequent occurrence in the North and a distinctive feature of the northern dialect is the loss of d in all those positions. Munro in his Gaelic Grammar says in a footnote (p. 207): ‘In speaking, an do, whether interrogative or relative, is commonly contracted into na; as ’Na shil e? for an do shil e? Has it begun to rain? Seall na ghoil e, for seall an do ghoil e (see if it has boiled), etc. In writing so violent an elision is hardly admissible. In verse, however, where the poet is obliged at times to reduce the two particles into one syllable, the contraction is allowable; more especially as the other form of it (’ndo) is so difficult of pronunciation, v. Ossian, Comala, 11. 38, 82, 83). The lines from Comala, with their renderings in the version by Peter M‘Naughton, Grandtully, are:—

‘Na choidil righ Mhòrbheinn an treun?’
(‘Has the brave King of Morbheinn slept?’)

‘’Na thuit MacChumhail féin ’san t-sliabh?
’Na thuit, a thriath a’s duibhe sgeul?’
(‘Has Cumhal’s son fallen on the hill?
Has he fallen, thou chief of sad tale?’)

In those instances na is for the interrogative particle an and do. The phrase ‘Na thuit?’ Did [he] fall, is of constant occurrence in MacPherson’s Ossian, e.g. Fingal, i. 11. 203, 263, 265. Instances of na for an do abound in the works of Mary MacPherson, the Skye bardess; and some have been quoted in the paper on Skye Gaelic mentioned at the beginning of these articles. For example:—

‘’S ann chuir thu onair air do dhùthaich
   H uile taobh na thriall thu.’
(‘You have done credit to your land everywhere you have gone.’) P. 72 of Songs.

‘B’e chiad ni air na chrom e
 Bhi plùcadh sios nam bantrach.’
(‘The first thing that he began (lit. bent) to was to oppress the widows.’) P. 121.

‘San dòigh na chleachdadh sibh’ for anns an dòigh (anns) an do chleachdadh sibh.’
(‘In the way in which you were accustomed.’) P. 223.

‘Far na dh’ àraicheadh na Gaisgich.’
(‘Where were reared the heroes.’) Pp. 246, 260.

‘Far na sheinn mi,’ (‘where I sang’), p. 166; ‘Gus na thionndadh mi,’ (‘until I turned’). P. 168.

Where do is preceded by conjunctions with final n only n remains: Gu’n chreach iad sinn for Gu’n do chreach iad sinn, that they plundered us, p. 34. Gu’n [Gu’n do] ghabh mi, that I took, p. 217.

‘’S gu’n dhearbh thu bhuaidh m’an dhealaich sibh.’

—gu’n for gu’n do, and m’an for mu’n do—And that thou provedest victorious ere you parted, p. 287. Na’n [Na’n do] chum thu, if you had kept, p. 253.

So in the Hymns of Donald Matheson, Kildonan, Sutherland, we meet with Far na [Far an do] thog thu, where you have built. Ris na [ris an do] chleachd thu, to whom you were wont. Gu’n [Gu’n do] dhìbir, that [it] has forsaken.


The prepositions do, to, and de, of, in positions in which they have not been worn down to a mere vowel ‘a’ are aspirated initially in the Northern, but not in the Southern dialect. Mary MacPherson has:

‘Is ionnsaichibh dha’n oigridh i,’
(‘And teach it [Gaelic] to the children.’) P. 38.

And again:—

‘’S iomadh car a chaidh dhe’n t-saoghal.’
(‘Many a change the world has seen.’) P. 54.

In Matheson’s Hymns the aspirated and the unaspirated forms are met with sometimes within a single stanza. Where the prepositions are reduced to ‘a,’ North and South do not differ; as Chaidh e a Lunainn, or even Chaidh e Lunainn, he went to—do—London; Am beagan a fhuair thu a ghliocas, the little you have got of—de—wisdom.

Variations in sound of certain aspirated consonants in different forms of the same word occur in Northern Gaelic. In Skye mh sounds v in cnàimh, bone, and u or w in the plural cnàmhan; bh is v in the imperatives eubh, call; gabh, take; falbh, go; leubh, read; sàbh, saw; but is silent in the subjunctive eubhadh, the Future Indicatives gabhaidh, falbhaidh, and the infinitives leubhadh, sàbhadh, and dh is sounded in biadh, feed, but is silent in biadhadh, feeding.

In West Ross mh is v in sgiamh, squeal, and u or w in sgiamhail, squealing; bh is v in sgriòbh, write, sàbh, a saw, leubh, eubh, but u (w) in sgrìobhadh, writing, in the verb ‘sàbhaig,’ saw, and is silent in leubhadh, reading, eubhachd, calling; and dh is sounded dh in luadh, full, but h in luadhadh, fulling.

Conversely in other cases the consonant has the more degraded pronunciation where it is final. In Easter Ross gh in truagh, wretched, has the sound of u, but in truaghan, a wretch, it has that of v. So in Sutherland bh is u in eubh, but v in eubhachd, and mh which is u in cnàimh and is silent in làimh, hand, is sounded v in the plurals cnàmhan and làmhan.


Traces of eclipsis are found more or less in most dialects. As a prominent feature it is met with in Skye and Lewis, and also, it is said, in the west of Sutherlandshire. Tìr nam beann, nan gleann, ’s nan gaisgeach, land of the bens, the glens, and the heroes, usually pronounced Tìr nam beann nang gleann ’s nang gaisgeach, is in Skye, and presumably in Lewis, Tìr nam ’eann, nang ’leann ’s nang ’aisgeach. N of the article, etc., is changed in sound to ng before g, and also before c in Scottish Gaelic generally. Thus an guth, the voice, is pronounced ‘ang guth,’ and an cù, the dog, ‘ang cù.’ ‘Whether you go or not?’ is in Lewis Gaelic ‘Eadar gu’n ’éid no nach téid thu?’ Téid, go, is itself eclipsed after an, gu’n, cha’n, nach, etc., in Scottish Gaelic generally i.e. it is pronounced ‘déid’ not ‘téid.’ In Skye the following cases of eclipsis have been observed:—

b after the article, e.g. am baile, the town, ‘am ’aile,’ nam baile of the towns ‘nam ’aile.’ So am bard, the poet, nam bard, of the poets, etc.

d after the article, as an duine, the man, ‘an ’uine’; after the preposition ‘an’ in the phrase an deaghaidh, after, and after the numeral aon, one.

g after the article, as an geamhradh, the winter, ‘an ’eamhradh.’

The change does not take place regularly and is not carried out consistently. An exceptional instance is the name Ben Jianabhaig not far from Portree, written Beinn Dìonabhaig in Mary MacPherson’s Songs (p. 23), and heard locally as Beinn ianabhaig. The neighbouring township is called in Gaelic Camus Jianabhaig, written Camstinvag by Martin, but D may have been changed to J after final s of Camus.

In Badenoch such a pronunciation may sometimes be heard as Am bosgail e? for Am fosgail e? Will it open?

The change of initial b to m sometimes in words and in place-names is explained by eclipsis. For example bealaidh, broom, a word thought to have come to us from the Pictish language, is mealaich with MacAlpine, and mealaidh in Skye; binid, rennet, is minid in North Argyll, and Moness, a place-name near Aberfeldy, was of old Buness.


‘Metathesis,’ Mr. Quiggin says, ‘is a frequent phenomenon in Gaelic dialects, as will be patent to any one turning over the leaves of Dinneen’s Dictionary.’ Among the examples he gives from Donegal are clupaide, wrinkle in cloth, etc.; Middle Irish culpait; craorac, light red, for caor-dhearg; tligean, vomiting, for teilgean, from teilgim, throw, Scottish Gaelic tilg; ruball, tail, for earball; Cnochar for Conchar, Connor, Middle Irish Conchobar. According to Dinneen comhluadar, conversation, is cluadar in Derry and cruadal in East Ulster and Omagh. Many of the examples are common to Scottish Gaelic also, as éisteacht, listening, Old Irish éitsecht, our éisdeachd; altughadh, grace at meat, Old Irish attlugud, our altachhadh; fuasclaim, release, our fuasgail, Early Irish fuaslaicim; réalt, star, Early Irish rétla, our reul and reult; coisreacadh, consecration, Scottish coisrigeadh, Book of Deer consecrad, Old Irish coisecrad, from Latin consecratio. The Middle Irish comairce, protection, appears in Modern Irish as coimirce, comraighe, and coimrighe, and in Scottish Gaelic as comraich, with coimric, coimirc, etc., in dictionaries. The comparative of fagus, near, Irish fogus, is with us faisge for faigse, in Irish foigse and foisce. The Old Irish foráil is fuláir in Modern Irish and fuilear in Scottish Gaelic except in West Ross and Sutherland; Cha’n fhuilear dhomh, I had better, it is time for me, etc., is in West Ross sometimes and in Sutherland usually Cha’n fhuireal.

Latin axilla, Irish ascall, oscaill, ocsal, Middle Irish ochsal, usually achlais in Scottish Gaelic, is asgaill in Arran and aslaic in Perthshire, while asgall, asgailt, and asgnaill are given in dictionaries and aslaich in the margin of Proverbs xix. 24. Sasunn, England, for old Sagsunn, is in Arran Sasgunn, though the adjective is there Sasunnach. Féile, kilt, in North Argyll éile, is eibhle (bh sounded v) in Arran; Shaw gives ebhladh, and the Highland Society’s Dictionary has éibhleadh from Gillies. Éibhleag, live coal, is eilbheag, and earball, tail, generally urball, but sometimes ulabar, all in Arran. Diordaoin, Thursday, is Di-daoirn in Arran, Islay, and Jura. Aonghas, Angus, is Naoghas in Arran, Kintyre, Islay, and Skye, and seangan, an ant, is sneaghan in Arran, Kintyre (pronounced ‘sneagan’ in those two districts), Islay, Perth, and West Ross, snioghan in Badenoch, and snioghag in Sutherland.

Barail, opinion, is balair in Perth, Badenoch, and Strathspey, and is written ballir in the Book of the Dean of Lismore. Coinneal, candle, is coilinn in Perth and coillinn in Badenoch; fairtlich, baffle, is faltraich in Badenoch and Strathspey, and earball, tail, is ealabar in the Laggan division of Badenoch.

Slender ls or lls sometimes becomes sl. Foillsich, reveal, from follus, may be heard as foislich; and soillsich, brighten, from solus, as soislich, e.g. in North Argyll, West Ross, and Lewis. Mìslean, sweet meadow grass, a form used by Duncan Ban Macintyre, is for milsean, from milis, sweet, and soislean, phosphorescence, in West Ross, is for soillsean. Drisleach for drìlseach, glittering, occurs in dictionaries. MacAlpine has disle and dillse as comparative of dileas, faithful, etc., and Armstrong’s duisleag for duileasg, dulse, may be noted.

Sometimes the reverse takes place. In Kintyre ailsing for aisling, vision, and cuilse for cuisle, pulse, may be heard. In Perth and Strathspey, where the forms foillsich, soillsich, dillse are retained, there seems to be a preference for ls or lls. Isle, lower, comparative of iosal, is there illse, and so with the related forms islean, inferiors, ‘illsean,’ and ìslich, to lower, ‘illsich.’ Similarly uaisle, nobler, nobility, from uasal, noble, is uaillse, a form occurring also in Badenoch, and so ‘uaillsean,’ gentry; ‘daoine uaillse,’ gentlemen. Armstrong gives illse, illsich, uaillse and uaillsean; and MacAlpine writes uaisle, but pronounces uaillse.

In all these forms except the two from Kintyre l or ll when standing before s is long, but when s precedes l the vowel, if short, is lengthened. (Drìlseach is properly drillseach with long ll.) In ìsle, for example, i is long while in illse it is short, and ll is long. So with foislich (oi lengthened), etc. In uaisle, uaillse, etc., the vowel—diphthong—is already long and does not change, but ll is long in the latter form.

In Northern Gaelic, or at all events in several of the northern dialects, m often changes places with a following l or r. Imleag, navel, is ‘ilimeag,’ and imlich, to lick ‘ilimich’ in Badenoch, Strathspey, North Argyll, West Ross, North Sutherland and Lewis; and imrich, removal, is irimich in all except Lewis. Iomraidh or imridh, must, is irimidh in Badenoch and firimidh in North Argyll and North Sutherland. Lomradh, a fleece, fleecing, is luramadh in Badenoch and loramadh in Sutherland. lomradh, report, is uramadh in North Argyll, and ioramadh in West Ross and Lewis, while iomradh or iomramh, rowing, also uramadh in North Argyll, is ioramag in West Ross and ioramadh in North Sutherland. The word iorram, a boat-song, rowing-song, explained by MacBain as air-rám, ‘at-oar,’ seems rather to be a metathesis of the imperative ‘iomair’ of the latter verb used as a noun. Iomair is heard as ioraim in West Ross. In West Ross and North Sutherland iomlaid, exchange, is iolamaid, and iomrall, error, is ioramall in West Ross and Lewis. Lomnochd, naked, in West Ross and South Sutherland luramachd, and in both North and South Sutherland and in Lewis loramachd, shows dissimilation combined with metathesis. Seamrag, clover, is siormag, ‘siuramag,’ in North Argyll, and both searamag and silimeag in West Ross. Arcas for acras, hunger, and arcach for acrach, hungry, occur in Strathspey and in West Ross. The English word ‘cork’ has become crocas, and deisciobul is ‘deisbigil,’ both in West Ross. The English cumber borrowed into Gaelic as cumraich, cuimrig and coimrig, occurs in the south of Sutherland as cumraig and cuirmaig, and in the north as coirmig. According to the new dictionary by MacDonald, fuaidne, peg of a warping-frame, is in Uist fuaidhne, and is also written fuaithne, and has plurals fuaintean and fuaircean. The Sutherlandshire word iolaman, a covering of skin for the mouth of a milk-pail, is probably to be explained as iomallan, a remainder or piece of a skin used for the purpose. The word is used by Rob Donn. Dùdlachd, dùldachd, dùdlach so North Argyll, dùbhlachd so West Ross, Dùlach so Glenlyon, all mean the depth or darkest part of the wintre, ‘dark December.’

  1. The last form exemplifies the broadening remarked above (p. 74), of aspirated slender l in Lewis.

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