Why is Irish spelling so--unusual?

Their own language, that is.

I’ve seen a number of Irish words with accompanying pronunciations, and they often have a bewildering (to a non-speaker) array of silent consonants.

What orthography did the Irish use before they adopted the Latin alphabet, and did it also have lots of silent consonants?

I can’t answer your question, but I certainly know what you mean.

Friend of mine from Ireland had 4 kids. Her son was Conal, sounds like it’s spelled. Then a daughter, Emer, again sounds ike spelled. Then Aoife, sounds like “eefa”, but the best was NIAMH, which Sounds like “neeve” mh=v??? Wierd weird weird.

I agree completely with their language is weird. I like the name Siobhan ( pronounced Shi-van) but it is just too painful for a child to endure that in their young lives.

I think it is a “take that” to the Brits as a way to get back at them in their own small Irish way for the years of oppression from the Crown. Ever see their street signs ( without english underneath?) you just know you’re screwed. It’s like " Reoudchlinnneagh" pronounced " Red-ee-nak" which means " Dead end" ( just kidding)

Well, Irish, like many of the Celtic branch languages is spelled like it sounds. Many of the “silent letters” are really combinations that produce a singular sound. I have to go to my Welsh language to reference this for you. For example, ch, th, dd, rh, mh, ph, ll, to name a few are all letters unto themselves. The “th” and “dd” in Welsh differentiatese the voiced “th” sound and the unvoiced. Example, there and bath (ddere and bath…if you adopted the consonants as appropriate.) I know this is not really Gaelic itself but there are enough similarities between Welsh (Cymru) and Irish (Gaelic) that this would not make a difference.

Creoso ac Afflau!

Gasoline: As an accompaniement to cereal it made a refreshing change. Glen Baxter

It should be remembered that the Roman alphabet was created to accomodate Latin. That it could be adapted to Gaelic testifies to the ingenuity (and persistence) of some early Ersemen.
The same applies, mutatis mutandis, to the use of the Roman alphabet to English. Looking at quite a few of our pronounciations would have caused Cicero to exclaim, “Where did that come from?” (In Latin, of course :slight_smile: ) We’re just used to its weirdness.

“Kings die, and leave their crowns to their sons. Shmuel HaKatan took all the treasures in the world, and went away.”

It should be remembered that Irish originally had its own alphabet - similar to but different from the Roman alphabet. In modern Irish (and Scots Gaelic) the “h” after a consonant is used to indicate that the consonant is aspirated; in the old Gaelic alphabet this was indicated by a dot over the letter.

Over time a lot of the aspirated consonants, especially those in the middle or end of a word, became virtually silent in Irish. The language underwent a reform in the 1940s (I think) in which a lot of those silent combinations were simply removed. My own alias, for example, is now simply spelled “rua” in Irish. However in Scots Gaelic the letters are still pronounced and consequently are still used in the written language.

Irish really is a very phonetic language - once you understand what sounds the letters represent, you can pronounce the words quite easily.

Those of you who insist the language is weird are just jealous because you are not Celts.

Well, I think English spelling is all screwed up. Us people descended from latins are much more coherent. :wink:

Actually, even other Germanic languages have a more coherent spelling.

Only humans commit inhuman acts.

…than English, I mean.

…which, incidentally, would be Eireann Go Brach in Irish, though the phrase is only used by Americans :slight_smile:

Besides the spelling, the word “Celt” itself is mispronounced by many non-Gaelic sort. It’s pronounced with a hard C, i.e. like “Kelt” NOT, and I repeat NOT, like “Selt.”

Forgive this hi-jack please :).

Irish words always seemed difficult to say because of the odd clusters in it (which from this post are really orthographic representations of single sounds :)). Anyway, there is a constructed language out on the net that attempts to construct what might have happened if there were enough Latin speakers in the British Isles to displace Old Gaelic (it looks a lot like Welsh, but you can see much of the Latin influence). There’s even a culture built around it that speaks it. it’s here: Brithenig.

Heres a sample of it, whish is I believe the longest place name in all of the kingdom of Kemr (an imaginary kingdom in the British Isles where Brithenig is spoken): Pluifairllagunblancoryllentiostillrhebiddgurypluitysiliocafurnrys: Mary’s parish (by) the white hazels’ pool, quite close to the rapid whirlpool (by) Tysilio’s parish (which has) a red cave; a small town on the Great Western Railway in northern Kemr.

:::gape:::: there are people who pronounce it “Selt”?!?!

O p a l C a t

Yeah, but most of them are in Boston.

Ruadh hit the nail on the head with the alphabet.

From what I remember the Gaelic alphabet in equivalent Roman script is :


We also use an accent called a fada on vowels. Like so… á

I think seeing the alphabet could help explain why non-speakers find the language so strange. But as Ruadh also said Irish is quite easy to pronounce with a bit of practise.

The reformation of the language was introduced to make the language easier to learn to help with it’s revival. This also coincided with teaching Irish being made compulsory in schools. As far as I recall only 10% of the population are actually fluent in Irish and the majority of these live in Gaeltacht areas - typically in the west of Ireland. But this is improving…

According to Mario Pei’s 1946 book The World’s Chief Languages, the reason “mh” in Irish sounds like “v” is “the loss of the nasal.” Thus:
mo mhathair (“my mother”) is pronounced “mo vaher”
Pei commented that Irish is the only [alphabetic] language in the world that can vie with English for spelling difficulties–although even the ones in English can be traced to obsolete pronounciations, the sound-schemes in foreign languages the words were derived from, or just the arbitrary decisions of early printers. (Shakespeare spelled his own name several different ways, according to documents generally attributed to him.)

There’s also a few football teams in the UK that are called Celtic, pronounced with an S sound. In every other instance it should be a hard c but I do encounter a number of people in the US who mispronounce it … probably because of the Boston team.

Yeah the phrase I posted earlier should actually be Éireann Go Brách but I couldn’t figure out how to make the fadas on the keyboard I was using at the time :slight_smile:

One thing about the pronunciation that does stymie me is the letter f - sometimes it’s silent and sometimes it isn’t, and I’ve yet to discover the rule.