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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Gaelic for beginners



It has been felt that the first three pages of Roderick MacKinnon's book Gaelic may be too condensed for some readers. This book is probably the best complete course for beginners in the language and is published by Hodder & Stoughton at 95p (Australia and New Zealand $2-75) and in U.S.A. by David McKay Company, Inc. N.Y. -- ISBN 0 340 15153 6.
Accordingly, the following commentary has been produced in the hope of giving examples of pronunciation down from the Gaelic-English vocabulary (on pp. 270-302) of the same book. It is useful to consult this part of the vocabulary as the number given after a word refers to a lesson in which it first occurs.

In following this commentary one is expected to have Mr. MacKinnon's book open in front of one and follow it closely with this commentary. If, afterwards, one wishes to progress to a more advanced stage in studying the pronunciation or phonetics of Gaelic advice can be obtained from Gairm Publications, 29 Waterloo Street, Glasgow G2, Scotland, or An Comunn Gaidhealach, Abertarff House, Inverness, Scotland, they might suggest Calder's Gaelic Grammar or the Norwegian Universities publication on the subject. There are several others available too.
Beginning with the consonants on the first page:
b is much like English to begin a word (beo = alive) but more like p elsewhere in a word (ciobair= shepherd).

bh as in bha=was. Rarely silent at the beginning of a word.

c as k in cat. In middle or end of word often has h sound.

ch phonetically given as ch as in 'loch', itself a Gaelic word.
t with either e or i gives the first and last sounds as in 'church', as in té=one or tir=land.

chd given phonetically chk as in 'beannachd'= blessing.

d as discussed here is a d followed or proceeded by a broad vowel -- a, o or u as in dad= anything; dol= going; dubh = black; by saying it with the tongue on the tip of the front teeth. However, d with a slender vowel e or i gives a sound as the first consonant in 'jam', as in de=what and in goirid=short.

dh is represented by gh when with a broad vowel somewhat as the a, o, u, the last letter in 'mug' as in bualadh =striking. The y sound when with a slender vowel e or i as in ceilidh=a social gathering.

f as in English -- e.g. fas=grow. fh is silent except in fhein= self; fhuair= got; and fathast=yet, where it is sounded like h.

g as in English at the beginning of a word gas=gas. But elsewhere in a word more like k as in fag= leave. gh is treated the same as dh already discussed above.

h as in English -- e.g. na h-uain=the lambs (page 148).

d with a slender vowel is treated phonetically as in 'jam'.

l with a slender vowel (e or i) in the middle of a word as in mile=mile or thousand.

ll as in muillean =million (page 156).


l with a broad vowel a, o, u, said with tongue on tip of front teeth as: lach=wild duck; loch=loch* and luch=mouse. m as in English but nasal, as mala=eyebrow.

mh is also nasal as v in 'van' sometimes silent as seasamh= standing.

n is always nasal: with a broad vowel is pronounced nasally with tongue on tip of front teeth as in nan=of the, or if: an nochd=to-night and null=over.

n + a slender vowel e or i is nasal, otherwise as in English, as in nead=nest and ni=will do.

ng is shown in the phonetics, as in English as in trang=busy.

nn as in tinn=sick.

p at beginning of a word as in English as pos=marry but elsewhere in a word of sounded with h before it as in 'cupa'=cup.

ph =f as in English as Mac-a-phearsain= Macpherson.

r with a slender vowel like e or i sounds like 'th' in English or like a narrow r as in tir=land.

r (r phonetically) with broad vowel a, o, u, is rolled as with rach=go; ron=seal; rud=thing.

s with a broad vowel a, o, u as in English salm=psalm; sona=happy; suipeir=supper.

s with a slender vowel e, i is as the 'sh' in 'shut. Seomar=room; sin=that.

t with a broad vowel is pronounced with the tongue on the tip of the front teeth, unlike in English where the tongue goes on to the ridge of the gum. As talla=hall; tog=lift; turus=journey.

t with a slender vowel has the sound of the 'ch's' in 'church' as an t-eilean=the island; tir=land.

idh/igh or the other slender vowel dhi/ghi gives the 'y' sound as in dhiubh=to you (plural).

MacKinnon next deals with his phonetics of vowels on the third page.

There are two types of short vowels. The stressed short vowel which is usually the first vowel of a word. In double words, like te-eiginn= someone (feminine), the first vowel is short as also the first vowel after the hyphen.

Stressed short vowels have their pronunciation somewhat as in English but when they are unstressed coming in second or later place they are unstressed and all sound as 'u' in 'but'. This is clearly seen in fada=long, which is pronounced 'fadu', remembering that the 'd' is broadened by the broad vowels.

Examples of MacKinnon's short vowels are given. His phonetics are given first:
a as in 'bat' see ad=hat.
e as in 'bet' see b'e=it was he/it (page 28).
i as in 'bit' see cathair=chair.
o as in 'bot' see droch=bad.
u as in 'but' see second vowel in fada=long.
a as in 'gate' see first vowel in eile=other.
e as in 'feet' see cir=comb.
i as in 'fire' see gruaidh=cheek.
o as in 'rote' see tog=lift.
u as in 'cute' see iuchair=key or you.
oo as in 'coop' see cupa=cup.


Two accents are used in Gaelic; acutes as in céis=case/envelope, and graves as in pòg=kiss. Not only do they make clear the sound of the vowel but show that the vowel really is long, much longer than any in English.

aa long as in second syllable in 'barrage' see Màiri=Mary.

eh as explained, it is the same sound as in French but longer, see greasaiche = shoemaker.

oeu as explained, see gaoth=wind.

aw as explained, see ol=drink.

au as explained, see toll=hole

nall= over

These last two words are seldom now written with double consonants -- (tom (m) =heap, tuft; (am (m) = time

ay as explained, see céis=case, envelope.

e as explained, see cir=comb.

oo as explained, see cul=back (side), rear.

i as explained, see also as 'gut', see doirbh= difficult.

In the interests of simplicity and space, MacKinnon has omitted certain other points of pronunciation. Examples are given from pages 280 to 302 which might be of some help.

adharc=horn and aghaidh=face often 'adh' or 'agh' in front of a word is pronounced as ao in gaoth.

Certain words like ailm=helm, aimsir=weather, ainm=name, airgead=money, Alba=Scotland, have an unstressed vowel sound as in 'but' where indicated by the
arm=army; marbh =dead; fearg= anger.
earb=roedeer; ainm=name; falbh=go away;
ailm=helm; tilg=throw;
sgolb=lump (not in MacKinnon); calpa=calf of leg. Also 'sr' sounds like 'str', e.g. sraid=street.

Lastly, 'rt' and as mart=cow and 'rd' as ard=high, tall, usually have an 's' sounded after the 'r'. There are other interesting features and to avoid spoiling the enjoyment it is suggested that other items of interest be noted as one works through Roderick MacKinnon's excellent work.

Gaelic is no more difficult than many other European languages and is more consistent in spelling than English.

As our own language, which has come down to us from our forefathers its appeal is irresistable.

While every help to enquiries will be gladly given by An Comunn Gaidhealach and Gairm Publications mentioned above it might be of interest to note that a fine printed list of publications currently available can be obtained by writing The Gaelic Books Council, Department of Celtic, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8RZ, Scotland and asking for their catalogue Leabhraichean Gaidhlig, which is well set out and in English.

In the year 1838, a large number of people emigrated to Australia from the neighbourhood of Kingussie. The St. George, by which they had taken passage to Sydney, lay at Oban, so it was necessary for them to make the long journey to Fort William in carts, and thence proceed to the place of embarkation by steamboat. Their departure from Kingussie took place at mid-summer, and on the day of St. Columba's Fair -- Latha Feill Chaluim Chille. {My wife and I were married June 9th 1982 and my grandfather passed away on this day as well}This fair was the occasion of a general gathering of the inhabitants of Badenoch; and to it many resorted from a distance for purposes of trade or mere amusement. Several near relatives of the writer, who were among those present on the memorable day referred to, used to describe with deep emotion the scenes of heartrending grief which they witnessed.
A band of strolling musicians in connection with some entertainment, readily entered into the situation and temper of their assembled patrons at the fair. Playing airs suited to the occasion, and followed by crowds of people, they made their way to the top of the Little Rock, which commands a view of the whole of Badenoch downwards from Glen Truim. From that height, where a few years before, "the young men of Kingussie" had erected a cairn in memory of Duke Alexander, many eyes were turned wistfully to take a last farewell of much-loved haunts and homes. One strain of song touched every heart, and snatches of it were ever associated with recollections of the affecting events of the day:

Let Fortune use me as it may,
I will think on Scotland far away.

After descending from the Creag Bheag, the emigrants set out on their westward journey, accompanied as far as the old stage-house of Pitmain by relatives and friends. Here, those who were departing for the 'New World' and those who were remaining behind took leave of each other as persons who would never meet again on this side the grave.

Among those who then bade farewell for ever to the banks of Spey, there was one of whom I should like to make passing notice, This was a young man named John Eason. His parents were natives of Morayshire, and had come to reside at Kingussie, no doubt in consequence of some employment on the Gordon Estates. A stone-mason to trade, he found time to devote to reading and the cultivation of the Muses. Being much possessed of much public spirit, he was the recognised leader of the forward youths of the village, and a universal favourite throughout the country. Half a century after he had gone, those of his companions who still survived, like to speak of him often. I understand that he died not long after his settlement in the 'New World'.


The Bard, Domh'Il Phail, was another resident in the neighbourhood of Kingussie, who had resolved to seek his fortunes beyond the seas. Circumstances, however, prevented him from carrying out his intention. It was when in prospect of leaving his native land, and when the advantages of emigration were constantly under discussion, that he composed this song, which makes bantering allusion to the various inducements that might be supposed to suggest themselves to his mind. It may be remarked that the good ship, St. George, took no less than five months to make the voyage to Sydney, which must have been a tiresome one, indeed, for the unfortunate passengers.

Gu 'm a slàn do na fearaibh A health to the fellows,
Théid thairis a' chuan, Who'll cross o'er the sea!
Gu talamh a' gheallaidh, To the country of promise,
Far nach fairich iad fuachd. Where no cold will they feel.
Gu 'm a slàn, etc. A health to, etc.

Gu 'm a slàn do na mnathan A health to the goodwives!
Nach cluinnear an gearan, We'll hear no complaining;
'S ann thèid iad gu smearail, They'll follow us heartily
'G ar leantuinn thar 'chuan; Over the sea.
Gu 'm a slàn, etc. A health to, etc.

'Us na nighneagan bòidheach, And the beautiful maidens
A dh' fhalbhas leirnn còmhladh, Going with us together,
Gheibh daoine ri 'm pòsadh, They'll get husbands to marry.
A chuireas òr 'nan dà chluais. Who'll give earrings of gold.
Gu'm a slàn, etc. A health to, etc.

Gheibh sinn aran 'us im ann, We'll get bread and butter,
Gheibh sinn siucar 'us tea ann; And sugar and tea there;
'S cha bhi gainne oirnn-fhìn, Well experience no want,
'S an tìr 's am bheil buaidh. In that bountiful land.
Gu'm a slàn, etc. A health to, etc.

'N uair dh' fhàgas sinn 'n t-àit' so, When we're gone from this country,
Cha chuir iad mór-mhàl oirnn; Our rents will be trifling;
'S cha bhi an Fhéill Màrtainn And Martinmas will not
'Cur nàire 'n ar gruaidh. Bring blush to our cheek.
Gu 'm a slàn, etc. A health to, etc.

Gu 'm fàg sinn an tìr so, We'll depart from this region,
Cha chinnich aon nì ann; Where nothing will flourish,
Tha 'm buntàt' air dol 'dhìth ann, The potatoes are ruined,
'S cha. chinn iad le fuachd. And won't grow for the cold.
Gu 'm a slàn, etc. A health to, etc.

Gheibh sinn crodh agus caoraich; We'll get cattle and sheep;
Gheibh sinn cruithneachd air raointean, We'll get wheat on the fields,
'S cha bhi e cho daor dhuinn, And it won't be so dear
Ri fraoch an Taoibh-Tuath. As the heath of the north.
Gu 'm a slàn, etc. A health to, etc.

'N uair a théid mi do 'n mhunadh, When I go to the mountains,
A mach le mo ghunna, And roam with my musket,
Cha bhi geamair no duine No keeper, or living,
'G am chur air an ruaig. Will drive me away.
Gu`m a slàn, etc. A health to, etc.

Gheibh sinn sìod' agus srolann; There we'll get silk and ribbons --
Gheibh sinn pailteas de 'n chlòimh ann, We'll get wool in abundance;
'S ni na mnathan dhuinn clò dheth, And the wives will make cloth
Air seòl an Taoibh-Tuath. In the style of the North.
Gu 'm a slàn, etc. A health to, etc.

Cha bhi iad 'g ar dùsgadh, They will not arouse us,
Le clag Chinne-Ghiùbhsaich; With the bell of Kingussie;
Cha bhi e gu diùbhras, Nor will it much matter,
Ged nach dùisg sinn cho luath. Though we wake not so soon.
Gu 'm a slàn, etc. A health to, etc.
Though the present bell of Kingussie Church, which has sounded out loud and strong over the valley, summoning successive generations to the worship of God, is perhaps better than many country parishes can boast, it is not nearly equal to one which was anciently intended to occupy its place. The unfortunate bell I allude to was cast on the Continent, but the ship in which it was conveyed safely across the German Ocean, went down in the River Tay at Perth. Hence the traditionary rhyme:

"Tha clag mór Chinne-Ghiùbhsaich 'n a cruban am Peairt",
"The great bell of Kingussie is crouching in Perth."

from SINTON's The Poetry of Badenoch.



Caroline Gill said...

I imagine your interest here is as much in the Gaelic as in the history of the St Geprge, but John Eason links into my family tree [it appears], and we have just returned from Kingussie!


Hello! Yes, I am interested in Celtic music particularly Gaelic music of Ireland and Scotland but of ocurse I like Breton and Welsh music too and I have many Welsh albums or Welsh singers singing songs of the British Isles.

Now explain to me who John Eason is I don't get that reference