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    Dialects – sound tables

This module offers an overview of the main phonetic differences between the three chief dialect of Irish, in the north (Co. Donegal), west (Co. Galway) and south (Co. Kerry) of the country. The recordings were gained from native speakers from the individual areas as part of the project Samples of Spoken Irish.

1) Realisation of inherited AO vowel

vowel northern western southern sample
<ao> i:   [listen] i:   [listen] e:   [listen] baol ‘danger’


(i)   In Co. Donegal, e.g. Tory Island and the adjacent mainland, a retracted version of /i:/ is common, e.g. aon [ɯ:n] ‘one’. This is a feature which it shares with Scottish Gaelic.

Retracted realisation of <ao> (word: saol ‘life’) in northern Irish

(ii)   In some dialects there are lexicalised exceptions to the realisation of <ao> as a long monophthong: a few words show the diphthong /ai/ here, e.g. faoileán /failʲɑ:n/ ‘seagull’.

2) Stressed vowel reflexes before word-final sonorants

context northern western southern sample
<ill#> i   [listen] ai   [listen] i:   [listen] maoill ‘delay’
<im#> i   [listen] i:   [listen] i:   [listen] im ‘butter’
<inn(C)#> i   [listen] i:   [listen] ai   [listen] roinnt ‘some’
<all#> a   [listen] ɑ:   [listen] au   [listen] meall ‘charm’
<am#> ɑ:   [listen] ɑ:   [listen] au   [listen] am ‘time’
<ann#> a   [listen] ɑ:   [listen] au   [listen] peann ‘pen’
<airC(V)#> a:   [listen] ai   [listen] i:   [listen] airde ‘height’
<oll#> ʌ, ɔ:   [listen] au   [listen] au   [listen] poll ‘hole’
<om#> ʌ   [listen] ʌ   [listen] au   [listen] trom ‘heavy’
<onn#> ʌ   [listen] u:   [listen] au   [listen] fonn ‘wish’
<ong#> ʌ   [listen] ʌ   [listen] ʌ, u:   [listen] long ‘ship’
<orC#> ɔ:   [listen] au   [listen] o:   [listen] bord ‘table’
<orr#> ɔ   [listen] au   [listen] ʌ   [listen] corr- ‘occasional’


(i)   The symbol ‘#’ indicates a word boundary. ‘C’ stands for a consonant, ‘V’ for a vowel.

(ii)   The diphthongisation of stressed /a/ before a final nasal is greatest in the east of Munster, e.g. in Ring (Co. Waterford), rang ‘class’ is /rauŋg/. The diphthongisation is also found in unstressed, non-final position, e.g. Breandán /bʲrʲaunˡdɑ:n/ (first name).

(iii)   In Corca Dhuibhne (Co. Kerry) a final velarised /ɫ/ may be realised as /x/, e.g. mall [maux] ‘slow’.

(iv)   There are cases where the low vowel /a/ is retracted to /ʌ/, e.g. ceann [kʲʌn] ‘head’ (northern Irish). This is also found in western Irish (in other contexts), e.g. cat [kʌt] ‘cat’.

3) Long vowels and diphthongs deriving from vocalised fricatives

context northern western southern sample
<agh> ɛi   [listen] ai   [listen] ai   [listen] laghad ‘least’
<abh> o:   [listen] au   [listen] au   [listen] leabhar ‘book’
<amh> ʉ, aʉ   [listen] o:   [listen] au   [listen] amhrán ‘song’


(i)   Historically, the fricatives (lenited stops) gh, dh /ɣ/, bh, /v/ mh /ṽ/ were absorbed into the vowels which preceded them, that is they migrated from the coda of the syllable to its nucleus. This caused a lengthening of the syllable vowel because a short vowel plus a vocalised consonant led to a long vocalic element, thus maintaining the overall length of the syllable rhyme (nucleus and coda). The phonetic result could have been either a long vowel or a diphthong, see the different reflexes in the above tables.

4) Short vowel + long vowel in disyllabic words

context northern western southern sample
<aCá> ˡa + a   [listen] ˡʊ + ɑ:   [listen] ə + ˡɑ:   [listen] scadán ‘herring’


(i)   Both western and northern Irish have initial stress so that when the first vowel of a word is short and the second long a tension arises between the stressed short vowel and the unstressed long one. In northern Irish the situation has been resolved by the shortening of the second vowel so that such words now consist of two short vowels. In western Irish the first vowel is raised to /ʊ/, but the short + long sequence remains. In southern Irish, which has variable stress, the long vowel of the second syllable attracts stress and remains long.

5) Realisation of unconditioned long vowels

context northern western southern sample
<-í#> i:   [listen] i:, ai   [listen] i:   [listen] luí ‘lying’
<éC> e:   [listen] e:   [listen] i:   [listen] éan ‘bird’
<á> æ:, ɛ:   [listen] ɑ:   [listen] ɑ:   [listen] áit ‘place’
<eo, ó> ɔ:   [listen] o:   [listen] o:   [listen] beo ‘alive’
<ú> ʉ:   [listen] u:   [listen] u:    [listen] fiú ‘even’


(i)   The front realisation of /a:/ in Donegal Irish leads to a shift of a preceding /ɣ/ to [j]. A similar fronting, though not quite as advanced, is found in the Muskerry district of south-west Co. Cork.

6) Realisation of alveolar palatals in onset of stressed syllables

context northern western southern sample
<t-, d-> tʃ   [listen] tʲ   [listen] t   [listen] teach ‘house’

7) Realisation of /-x/ in word-final position

context northern western southern sample
<-ch#> Ø   [listen] x   [listen] x   [listen] gach ‘every’

8) Realisation of syllable-final /-x/ in covered position

context northern western southern sample
<-chC> r   [listen] x   [listen] x   [listen] slacht ‘polish’