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    Sound variation across the dialects

Perhaps the most important differences between the three main dialects of Irish are to be found on the sound level. Certainly for students of Irish it is essential to grasp the pronunciation differences (apart from grammatical and lexical variation) and to use the variants for one particular dialect consistently. In particular, the realisations of vowels in stressed syllables (i) before former sonorant geminates, now written as two identical letters, -ll, -nn, -rr, (ii) before final /-m/ or (iii) before the cluster -rd, vary greatly across the dialects. Words with these sounds have a high lexical incidence, there is one or more of them in virtually every sentence.

To give an example of what is meant, consider that people aiming for a southern pronunciation would have to use /au/ before /-nn, -m/ as in ceann /kjaun/ ‘head, one’ and am /aum/ ‘time’ whereas those going for a western pronunciation would have to pronounce these words as /kjɑ:n/ and /ɑ:m/ respectively. Furthermore, learners of Irish must remember that sets of sounds correlate with one another. For instance, in southern Irish the vowel now written <ao> is pronounced /e:/ whereas in the west and north it is realised as /i:/. This means that /au/ for <-ann> goes with /e:/ for <ao> whereas /ɑ:/ (western) and /a/ (northern) for <-ann> both go with /i:/ for <ao>.

In addition vowel values vary according to whether the consonant(s) in the coda of the same syllable is/are palatal or non-palatal. Examples of the realisations found in the main dialects for these configurations are to be found below.

It would be beyond the scope of this website to mention all the dialect features of each region. However, there are a few which are particularly common in their regions and deserve mention here.

Learners should be aware that there are lexicalised exceptions to the pronunciation guidelines for the dialects. For example, it is true that the <ao> is normally /i:/ in western Irish, but it may also be /ai/ as in faoileán /failjɑ:n/ ‘seagull’.

AIRDE ‘height’ BAOL ‘danger’
BINN ‘summit’ BORD ‘table’
CORR- ‘occasional’ MEALL ‘entice’
MOILL ‘delay’ POLL ‘hole’

TONN ‘wave’   :   TONNTA ‘waves’ PEANN ‘pen’   :   PEANNA ‘pens’
CRANN ‘tree’   :   CRAINN ‘trees’ AM ‘time’-NOM   :   AMA ‘time’-GEN
FIOS ‘knowledge’-NOM   :   FEASA ‘knowledge’-GEN MUIR ‘sea’-NOM   :   MARA ‘sea’-GEN
FUIL ‘blood’-NOM   :   FOLA ‘blood’-GEN TROID ‘fight’-NOM   :   TRODA ‘fight’-GEN
LEANBH ‘child’-NOM   :   LINBH ‘child’-GEN BLAS ‘taste’-NOM   :   BLAIS ‘taste’-GEN
BOLG ‘stomach’-NOM   :   BOILG ‘stomach’-GEN OLC ‘evil’-NOM   :   OILC ‘evil’-GEN
SIOC ‘frost’-NOM   :   SEACA ‘frost’-GEN MUC ‘pig’-NOM   :   MUICE ‘pig’-GEN
OBAIR ‘work’-NOM   :   OIBRE ‘work’-GEN RAMHAR ‘fat’   :   RAIMHRE ‘fatter’
TINN ‘sick’   :   TINNE ‘sicker’ SAIBHIR ‘rich’   :   SAIBHREAS ‘richness’
TARBH ‘bull’-NOM   :   TAIRBH ‘bull’-GEN GARBH ‘rough’-NOM   :   GAIRBHE ‘rougher’-GEN

The plural of peann ‘pen’ is peanna in Connemara (de Bhaldraithe 1953: 20) but in Kerry and Donegal the plural is pinn. This is reflected in the sound extracts accessible in the above map.