You have already noticed the frequent use of what looks like an accent mark over vowels in Irish words. The slanting line (síneadh fada (SHEEN-uh FAH-duh) or sometimes “síneadh”) is not really an accent mark, however, but instead basically indicates the length of time that you pronounce the vowel. For example, the word “pósta” (POHS-tuh), meaning “married”, has the same (oh) sound that is in the word “cnoc” (kuh-NOHK), meaning “hill”, but for “pósta” the (oh) sound is held longer.
Often a short vowel in an Irish word will sound to an American somewhat like the (uh) in “unfit”. We have represented the sound by (uh) in some cases, because Americans will find the (uh) sound closer to their pronunciation experience. The Irish word “clog” is an example. We represent it by (kluhg), but as your pronunciation improves, you will learn to pronounce it with a short (oh) sound, rounding your lips more than for (uh).
Irish makes less use of the (uh) sound than does English, and this is important to remember as you refine your pronunciation.
The síneadh fada can indicate significant pronunciation differences. For example, “Seán” is a name, but “sean” means “old”. “Fear” (far) is “man”, but “féar” (fay*r) is “grass”. The word “Éire” (AY-re) means “Ireland”, but “eire” (E-re) is “burden”. On Irish stamps a few years ago, Ireland was called “Eire”, through either ignorance or malice.
In Irish, nearly all adjectives follow the noun, and if the noun is feminine, the initial consonant of the adjective is aspirated. Learn these examples thoroughly:
First, masculine nouns:
an lá mór (un law* mohr), the big day
an fear beag (un far byuhg), the little man
bus dearg (bus DYAR-uhg), a red bus
an bord mór (un bohrd mohr), the big table
mo bhord mór (muh vwohrd mohr), my big table
do bhord beag (duh vwohrd byuhg), your little table
do bhád beag (duh vwaw*d byuhg), your little boat
Next, feminine nouns:
bean mhór (ban vwohr), a big woman
an bhean mhór (un van vwohr), the big woman
fuinneog bheag (fwin-YOHG vyuhg), a little window
an fhuinneog bheag (un in-YOHG vyuhg), the little window
tír fhliuch (teer lyuk*), a wet country
an tír fhliuch (un teer lyuk*), the wet country
cos fhada (kuhs AH-duh), a long foot
an chos fhada (un k*uhs AH-duh), the long foot
oíche mhaith (EE-hye vwah), a good night
an oíche mhaith (un EE-hye vwah), the good night
A few adjectives come before the noun. “Sean” (shan), meaning “old”, is one of these. It aspirates the initial consonant of the noun. Learn these examples:
sean-bhord (shan vwohrd), an old table
an sean-bhord (un shan vwohrd), the old table
an sean-fhear (un shan ar), the old man
“Tá … sa chistin (taw* … suh HYISH-tin) means “… is in the kitchen”.
With this as the basic sentence, go through the progressive drill that you learned in Lesson 4, inserting these word groups for “…”:
bean mhór (ban vwohr), a big woman
an bhean bheag (un van vyuhg), the little woman
cailín álainn (kah-LEEN AW*-lin), a beautiful girl
an fhuinneog mhór (un in-YOHG vwohr), the big window
mo bhord íseal (muh vwohrd EE-shuhl), my low table
do chat ramhar (duh k*aht ROU-wuhr), your fat cat
Start with: An bhfuil bean mhór sa chistin? (un VWIL ban vwohr suh HYISH-tin) Is there a big woman in the kitchen? Níl bean mhór sa chistin. Tá an bhean bheag sa chistin. An bhfuil an bhean bheag sa chistin? And so on. The last two sentences will be: Níl do chat ramhar sa chistin. Tá bean mhór sa chistin.
You should now know some basic pronunciation of the simpler words. The words that you have learned were given chiefly to illustrate pronunciation. We will devote more space henceforth to vocabulary and grammar. The emphasis will always be on building your speaking ability, with phrases rather than separate words as the basic units. You should also be able to initiate a conversation by now, if you have studied the conversation for each lesson.
Brian (BREE-uhn): Dia duit, a Phádraig (DEE-uh git, uh FAW*-drig). Hello Patrick
Pádraig (PAW*-drig): Dia’s Muire duit, a Bhriain (DEE-uhs MWIR-uh git, uh-VREE-in.) Conas tá tú? (KUN-uhs taw* too) Hello, Brian. How are you?
Brian: Tá mé go maith (TAW* may* goh MAH). Agus conas tá tú féin? (AH-guhs KUN-uhs taw* too fay*n) I am well. And how are you yourself?
Pádraig: Tá mé go maith, freisin (FRESH-in). Tá báisteach air anois (taw* BAW*SH-tuhk* er uh-NISH). I am well, too. It looks like rain now.
Brian: Bhí sé ag cur báistí aréir (vee shay* uh kur BAW*SH-tee uh-RAY*R). Féach! Tá an t-sráid fluich fós (FAY*-ahk*! taw* un traw*d flyuk* fohs). It was raining last night. Look! The street is still wet.
Pádraig: Tá an aimsir fuar fliuch, go cinnte (taw* un EYEM-sheer FOO-uhr flyuhk*, goh KIN-te). The weather is cold and wet, certainly.
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