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     The transcription of Irish

In the present website the transcription system used corresponds to the recommendations of the International Phonetic Alphabet (revised to 2005, see chart below). A number of differences can be seen when this is compared to transcriptions found in other published works on Irish.

IPA and Irish phonetic transcription

Firstly, Irish transcriptions are given in bold typeface without bracketing, e.g. ba:Lə balla ‘wall’. This means that a distinction between phonological segments, enclosed in obliques //, and phonetic realisations, enclosed in square brackets [], is not made in Irish phonetic transcription.

Secondly, palatality is indicated differently in both transcription systems. The IPA uses a superscript yod [ ʲ ] whereas in Irish phonetics the prime symbol [ ´ ] is placed after the segment it qualifies.

Thirdly, there is a difference in the use of capital letters in the IPA and Irish phonetics. The latter uses uppercase N and L to indicate a nasal or liquid which is pronounced with maximum secondary articulation along a palatal-velar cline. Where an uppercase N or L is used with the prime symbol this indicates a strongly palatal n- or l-sound; without the prime it indicates a strongly velarised n- or l-sound.

Irish and IPA transcription in comparison

  Traditional Irish IPA IPA
  sign/indication sample sign sample
Palatality prime bhí v´i: ʲ bhí /vʲi:/ ‘was’
uppercase naoi Ni: ˠ naoi /nˠi:/ ‘nine’

The options (i) uppercase or (ii) lowercase and (iii) prime or (iv) no prime yield a fourway distinction for n- or l-sounds in Irish.

Possible fourway distinction for sonorants in Irish

palatal          n    N velarised
palatal            l     L velarised

In this system the two lowercase transcriptions represent a weakly velarised sonorant (without a prime) and a weakly palatalised sonorant (with a prime). It is doubtful whether there is a fully-fledged fourway distinction among sonorants, with the normal function of distinguishing many pairs of words, for any variety of modern Irish. The central difficulty with such a fourway distinction would be in proving that the distinction between n and or l and is fully phonemic and not just predictable from the environment in which such sounds occur.