Doubt, Nowt, Tink, Tree

Many Irish speakers don’t say “th” sounds. They pronounce Dowth “Doubt.” Knowt is “Nowt,” think is “tink,” three is “tree,” thirsty is “tirsty.”

Written Irish, however, is littered with h’s. Just look at this sentence: “De bharr an teanga a bheith ag forbairt i rith an ama, tá bearna shuntasach tagtha chun cinn idir an caighdeán scríofa agus nósanna áirithe sa teanga bheo.”

These are examples of lenition, known in Irish as séimhiú. Séimhiú is indicated with a letter h after the first consonant of certain nouns and adjectives. The h is not a letter, it is an operation that changes the pronunciation of the consonant.

It gets more complicated. Consonants are “broad” or “slender,” depending on the vowels that surround them. So there are broad and slender versions of séimhiú.

Broad
bh is pronounced w
dh is pronounced gh
sh is pronounced h
Slender
bh is pronounced v
dh is pronounced y
sh is pronounced h

 

 

 

There’s a great Web site called forvo. You can search for Irish words at forvo.com/languages/ga/ Volunteer pronouncers offer suggestions. If you create an account (it’s free), they’ll pronounce words you ask about if they think they’re worthwhile.

Here are some doozies you encounter when you’re trying to learn a little Irish:
Saoirse Ronan, the lead in Brooklyn? Here’s how to pronounce her name. Then there are actors Ciarán Hinds and Siobhan McKenna.
The prime minister of Ireland is the taoiseach. It means chieftain.
Here, by the way is the pronunciation of séimhíu.
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