Scottish Gaelic phonology

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For assistance with IPA transcriptions of Scottish Gaelic for Wikipedia articles, see WP:IPA for Scottish Gaelic.
Distribution of Gaelic speakers in 2011

This article is about the phonology of the Scottish Gaelic language. There is no standard variety of Scottish Gaelic; although statements below are about all or most dialects, the north-western dialects (Hebrides, Skye and the Northwest Highlands) are discussed more than others as they represent the majority of speakers.

Gaelic phonology is characterised by:

Due to the geographic concentration of Gaelic speakers along the western seabord with its numerous islands, Gaelic dialectologists tend to ascribe each island its own dialect. On the mainland, no clear dialect boundaries have been established to date but the main areas are generally assumed to be Argyllshire, Perthshire, Moidart/Ardnamurchan, Wester Ross and Sutherland.

History of the discipline[edit]

Descriptions of the language have largely focused on the phonology. Welsh naturalist Edward Lhuyd published the earliest major work on Scottish Gaelic after collecting data in the Scottish Highlands between 1699 and 1700, in particular data on Argyll Gaelic and the now obsolete dialects of north-east Inverness-shire.[1]

Following a significant gap, the middle to the end of the twentieth century saw a great flurry of dialect studies in particular by Scandinavian scholars, again focussing largely on phonology:

  • 1938 Nils Holmer Studies on Argyllshire Gaelic published by the University of Uppsala
  • 1937 Carl Borgstrøm The Dialect of Barra published by the Norsk Tidskrift for Sprogvidenskap
  • 1940 Carl Borgstrøm The Dialects of the Outer Hebrides published by the Norsk Tidskrift for Sprogvidenskap
  • 1941 Carl Borgstrøm The Dialects of Skye and Ross-shire published by the Norwegian University Press
  • 1956 Magne Oftedal The Gaelic of Leurbost, Isle of Lewis published by the Norsk Tidskrift for Sprogvidenskap
  • 1957 Nils Holmer The Gaelic of Kintyre published by the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies
  • 1962 Nils Holmer The Gaelic of Arran published by the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies
  • 1966 Gordon MacGillFhinnein Gàidhlig Uibhist a Deas ("South Uist Gaelic") published by the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies
  • 1973 Elmar Ternes The Phonemic Analysis of Scottish Gaelic (focussing on Applecross Gaelic) published by the Helmut Buske Verlag
  • 1978 Nancy Dorian East Sutherland Gaelic published by the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies
  • 1989 Máirtín Ó Murchú East Perthshire Gaelic published by the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies

In the period between 1950 to 1963, fieldwork was carried out to document all then remaining Gaelic dialects, culminating in the publication of the five-volume Survey of the Gaelic Dialects of Scotland by the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies in 1997. The survey collected data from informants as far south as Arran, Cowal, Brig o' Turk, east to Blairgowrie, Braemar and Grantown-on-Spey, north-east to Dunbeath and Portskerra and all areas west of these areas, including St Kilda.

Vowels[edit]

The following is a chart of the monophthong vowel phonemes appearing in Scottish Gaelic:[2]

Scottish Gaelic vowel phonemes[3]
Front Near-front Central Back
Unrounded Unrounded Rounded
Close i ɯ u
Near-close ɪ
Close-mid e ɤ o
Mid ə
Open-mid ɛ ɔ
Open a[4]

All vowel phonemes except for [ɪ] and [ə] can be both long (ː) and short.

Diphthongs[edit]

ei, əi, ai, ui, iə, uə, εu, ɔu, au, ia[5]

Orthography[edit]

The orthography is as follows:

A table of vowels with pronunciations in the IPA
Spelling Pronunciation Scottish English [SSE] equivalents As in
a, á [a], [a] cat bata, ás
à, a [aː] father/calm bàta, barr
e [ɛ], [e] get le, teth
è, é [ɛː], [eː] wary, late/lady gnè, dé
i [i], [iː] tin, sweet sin, ith
ì, i [iː] evil, machine mìn, binn
o [ɔ], [o] top poca, bog
ò, o, ó [ɔː], [oː] jaw, boat/go pòcaid, corr, mór
u [u] brute Tur
ù, u [uː] brewed tùr, cum

The English equivalents given are approximate, and refer most closely to the Scottish pronunciation of Standard English. The vowel most commonly found in 'Southern' English cat is not [a] but [æ], just as the [aː] in English father is [ɑː]. The "a" in English late in Scottish English is the pure vowel [eː] rather than the more general diphthong [eɪ]. The same is true for the "o" in English boat, [oː] in Scottish English, instead of the diphthong [əʊ].

Vowel di-/tri-graphs[edit]

The language uses many vowel combinations. These can be categorised into two types depending on the status of one or more of the written vowels in the combinations.

Category 1 : vowel plus glide vowels.

In this category, vowels in digraphs/trigraphs that are next to a neighbouring consonant are for all intents and purposes part of the consonant, showing the broad or slender status of the consonant.

Category 2 : 'diphthongs' and 'triphthongs'.

In this category, vowels are written together to represent either a diphthong, or what was in Middle Irish a diphthong.

Category 1 IPA
Spelling Pronunciation As in
ai [a]~[ɛ]; (unstressed syllables) [ɛ]~[ə]~[i]
preceded by a broad consonant or Ø and followed by a slender consonant
(stressed syllable) caileag, ainm [ɛnɛm];
(unstressed syllables) iuchair, geamair, dùthaich
ài [aː]
preceded by a broad consonant or Ø and followed by a slender consonant
àite, bara-làimhe
ea [ʲa]~[e]~[ɛ] [in part dialect variation]
preceded by a slender consonant or Ø and followed by a broad consonant
geal; deas; bean
[ʲaː]
preceded by a slender consonant or Ø and followed by a broad consonant
ceàrr
èa [ɛː]
preceded by a slender consonant or Ø and followed by a broad m, mh or p
nèamh
èa [ia]
preceded by a slender consonant or Ø and followed by a broad consonant other than m, mh or p
dèan
ei [e]~[ɛ]
preceded by a slender consonant or Ø and followed by a slender consonant
eile; ainmeil
èi [ɛː]
preceded by a slender consonant or Ø and followed by a slender consonant
sèimh
éi [eː]
preceded by a slender consonant or Ø and followed by a slender consonant
fhéin
eo [ʲɔ]
preceded by a slender consonant or Ø and followed by a broad consonant
deoch
[ʲɔː]
preceded by a slender consonant or Ø and followed by a broad consonant
ceòl
eòi [ʲɔː]
preceded by a slender consonant or Ø and followed by a slender consonant
feòil
eu [eː]~[ia] [dialect variation, broadly speaking south versus north]
preceded by a slender consonant or Ø and followed by a broad consonant
ceum; feur
io [i], [(j)ũ(ː)]
preceded by a slender consonant or Ø and followed by a broad consonant
fios, fionn
ìo [iː], [iə]
preceded by a slender consonant or Ø and followed by a broad consonant
sgrìobh, mìos
iu [(j)u]
preceded by a slender consonant or Ø and followed by a broad consonant
piuthar, fliuch
[(j)uː]
preceded by a slender consonant or Ø and followed by a broad consonant
diùlt
iùi [(j)uː]
preceded by a slender consonant or Ø and followed by a slender consonant
diùid
oi [ɔ], [ɤ]
preceded by a broad consonant or Ø and followed by a slender consonant
boireannach, goirid
òi [ɔː]
preceded by a broad consonant or Ø and followed by a slender consonant
òinseach
ói [oː]
preceded by a broad consonant or Ø and followed by a slender consonant
cóig
ui [u], [ɯi], [uːi]; (unstressed syllables) [ə/ɨ]
preceded by a broad consonant or Ø and followed by a slender consonant
muir, uighean, tuinn
ùi [uː]
preceded by a broad consonant or Ø and followed by a slender consonant
dùin
Category 2 IPA
Spelling Pronunciation As in
ao [ɯː]
preceded by a broad consonant or Ø and followed by a broad consonant
caol
ia [iə], [ia]
preceded by a slender consonant or Ø and followed by a broad consonant
biadh, dian
ua [uə]
preceded by a broad consonant or Ø and followed by a broad consonant
ruadh, uabhasach

Category 2 digraphs can by followed by Category 1 glides, and thereby form trigraphs:

Category 1+2 IPA
Spelling Pronunciation As in
aoi [ɯː]~[ɤ]
preceded by a broad consonant or Ø and followed by a slender consonant
caoil; gaoithe
iai [iə], [ia]
preceded by a slender consonant or Ø and followed by a slender consonant
Iain
uai [uə] preceded by a broad consonant or Ø and followed by a slender consonant ruaidh, duais

Consonants[edit]

Like the closely related languages, Modern Irish and Manx, Scottish Gaelic contains what are traditionally referred to as "broad" and "slender" consonants. Historically, Primitive Irish consonants preceding the front vowels /e/ and /i/ developed a [j]-like coarticulation similar to the palatalised consonants found in Russian[6][7] while the consonants preceding the non-front vowels /a/, /o/ and /u/ developed a velar coarticulation. While Irish distinguishes "broad" (i.e. phonologically velar or velarised consonants) and "slender" (i.e. phonologically palatal or palatalised consonants), in Scottish Gaelic velarisation is only present for /n̪ˠ l̪ˠ rˠ/. This means that consonants marked "broad" by the orthography are, for the most part simply unmarked, while "slender" consonants are palatal or palatalised. The main exception to this are the labials (/p pʰ m f v/), which have lost their palatalised forms. The only trace of their original palatalisation is a glide found before or after back vowels, e.g. beul /pial̪ˠ/ ('mouth') vs beò /pjɔː/ ('alive'). Celtic linguists traditionally transcribe slender consonants with an apostrophe following the consonant (e.g. m′) and leave broad consonants unmarked.

Consonants of Scottish Gaelic
Labial Coronal Dorsal Glottal
Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar
Stop pʰ   p t̪ʰ   t̪ tʲʰ   tʲ kʲʰ   kʲ kʰ   k
Fricative f   v ʃ ç   ʝ x   ɣ h
Nasal m n̪ˠ n ɲ
Approximant l̪ˠ l ʎ j
Tap ɾ ɾʲ
Trill

In the modern languages, there is sometimes a stronger contrast from Old Gaelic in the assumed meaning of "broad" and "slender". In the modern languages, the phonetic difference between "broad" and "slender" consonants can be more complex than mere "velarisation"/"palatalisation". For instance, the Gaelic "slender s" is so palatalised that it has become postalveolar [ʃ].

Certain consonants (in particular the fricatives [h x ç ɣ ʝ v] and the lenis coronals [l n ɾ ɾʲ]) are rare in initial position except as a result of lenition.

Phonetic variation[edit]

Gaelic phonemes may have various allophones as well as dialectal or variations in pronunciation not shown in the chart above. The more common ones are:

  • /tʲʰ/ as [tʃʰ] or [tɕʰ][8]
  • /ɾʲ/ as [ð] in Hebridean dialects[8]
  • /ɲ/ as [nʲ][8]

Velarised l[edit]

Allophone regions of Dark l

Velarised /l̪ˠ/ has 6 main realisations as shown on the map:[8]

  • Area 1, by far the most populous, has [l̪ˠ]. The area includes most of the Outer Hebrides, the Highlands and areas south of central western areas such as Kintyre, Arran, Argyll and East Perthshire.
  • Area 2, Ardnamurchan, Moidart, Lochaber, South Lorn and Upper Badenoch has [l̪ˠw] or [wl̪ˠ]
  • Area 3, between Mull and Lismore has vocalised it: [u̯ˠ]
  • Area 4, in the south of Mull and Easdale, has [ð] or [ðˠ]
  • Area 5, Islay, has [t̪ˠ] or [t̪ˠl̪ˠ]
  • Area 6 (St Kilda) had [w] or [ʊ̯]

The Survey of Scottish Gaelic Dialects occasionally reports labialised forms such as [l̪ˠw] or [l̪ˠv] outside the area they predominantly appear in, for example in Harris and Wester Ross.

Aspiration[edit]

The fortis stops /pʰ, t̪ʰ, tʲʰ, kʲʰ, kʰ/ are voiceless and aspirated; this aspiration occurs as postaspiration in initial position and, in most dialects, as preaspiration in medial position after stressed vowels.[9] Similar to the manifestation of aspiration, the slender consonants have a palatal offglide when initial and a palatal onglide when medial or final.[10]

Preaspiration[edit]

The approximate distribution of preaspiration in Gaelic dialects

Preaspiration varies in strength and can manifest as glottal ([ʰ] or [h]) or can vary depending on the place of articulation of the preaspirated consonant; being [ç] before "slender" segments and [x] before "broad" ones.[11] The occurrence of preaspiration follows a hierarchy of c > t > p; i.e. if a dialect has preaspiration with /pʰ/, it will also have it in the other places of articulation. Preaspiration manifests itself as follows:[8]

  • Area 1 as [xk xt xp] and [çkʲ çtʲ çp]
  • Area 2 as [xk xt hp] and [çkʲ çtʲ hp]
  • Area 3 as [xk ht hp] and [çkʲ htʲ hp]
  • Area 4 as [ʰk ʰt ʰp]
  • Area 5 as [xk] and [çkʲ] (no preaspiration of t and p)
  • Area 6 no preaspiration

Nasalisation[edit]

In some Gaelic dialects (particularly the north-west), stops at the beginning of a stressed syllable become voiced when they follow nasal consonants of the definite article, for example: taigh ('a house') is [t̪ʰɤj] but an taigh ('the house') is [ən̪ˠ ɤj]; cf. also tombaca ('tobacco') [t̪ʰomˈbaʰkə]. In such dialects, the lenis stops /p, t, tʲ, kʲ, k/ tend to be completely nasalised, thus doras ('a door') is [t̪ɔrəs], but an doras ('the door') is [ə n̪ˠɔrəs]. Something similar happens in the closely related Irish (as eclipsis) and in Modern Greek phonology.

Lenition and spelling[edit]

The lenited consonants have special pronunciations.

Lenition changes[12]
Radical Lenited
Broad Slender Orthography Broad Slender
[p] [pj][13] b bh [v] [vj][13]
[kʰ] [kʲʰ] c ch [x] [ç]
[t̪] [tʲ] d dh [ɣ] [ʝ]
[f] [fj][13] f fh silent
[k] [kʲ] g gh [ɣ] [ʝ]
[l̪ˠ] [ʎ] l [l̪ˠ] [l]
[m] [mj][13] m mh [v] [vj]
[n̪ˠ] [ɲ] n [n] [n]
[pʰ] [pʰj][13] p ph [f] [fj][13]
[rˠ] r [ɾ]
[s̪] [ʃ] s sh [h] [hj][13]
[t̪ʰ] [tʲʰ] t th [h] [hj][13]
^† Lenition of initial l n r is not shown in writing. Word initially, these are always assumed to have the strong values (/(l̪ˠ) ʎ n̪ˠ ɲ rˠ/) unless they are in a leniting environment or unless they belong to a small and clearly defined group of particle (mostly the forms of the prepositions ri and le). Elsewhere, any of the realisations of l n r may occur.

The /s̪/ is not lenited when it appears before /m p t̪ k/. Lenition may be blocked when homorganic consonants (i.e. those made at the same place of articulation) clash with grammatical lenition rules. Some of these rules are active (particularly with dentals), others have become fossilised (i.e. velars and labials). For example, blocked lenition in the surname Caimbeul ('Campbell') (vs Camshron 'Cameron') is an incident of fossilised blocked lenition; blocked lenition in air an taigh salach "on the dirty house" (vs air a' bhalach mhath "on the good boy") is an example of the productive lenition blocking rule.

Stress[edit]

Stress is usually on the first syllable: for example drochaid 'a bridge' [ˈt̪rɔxɪtʲ].

Epenthesis[edit]

A distinctive characteristic of Gaelic pronunciation (also present in Scots and Scottish English dialects (cf. girl [ɡʌɾəl] and film [fɪləm]) is the insertion of epenthetic vowels between certain adjacent consonants. This affects orthographic l n r when followed by orthographic b bh ch g gh m mh; and orthographic m followed by l r s ch.

tarbh (bull) — [t̪ʰaɾav]
Alba (Scotland) — [al̪ˠapə].

Occasionally, there are irregular occurrences of the epenthetic vowel, for example in Glaschu /kl̪ˠas̪əxu/ "Glasgow".

Elision[edit]

Schwa [ə] at the end of a word is dropped when followed by a word beginning with a vowel. For example:

duine ('a man') — [ˈt̪ɯɲə]
an duine agad ('your man') — [ən̪ˠ ˈt̪ɯɲ akət̪]

Tones[edit]

Of all the Celtic languages, lexical tones only exist in the dialects of Lewis[14] and Sutherland[15] in the extreme north of the Gaelic-speaking area. Phonetically and historically, these resemble the tones of Norway, Sweden and western Denmark; these languages have tonal contours typical for monosyllabic words and those for disyllabic words. In Lewis Gaelic, it is difficult to find minimal pairs. Among the rare examples are: bodh(a) [po.ə] ('underwater rock') vs. [poː] ('cow'), and fitheach [fi.əx] ('raven') vs. fiach [fiəx] ('debt'). Another example is the tonal difference between ainm [ɛnɛm] and anam [anam], the latter of which has the tonal contour appropriate to a disyllable. These tonal differences are not to be found in Ireland or elsewhere in the Scottish Gàidhealtachd.[16]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Campbell, JL & Thomson, D. Edward Lhuyd in the Scottish Highlands 1699-1700 Oxford (1963)
  2. ^ MacAulay, Donald (1992). The Celtic Languages. Cambridge University Press. p. 236. 
  3. ^ Bauer, M. Blas na Gàidhlig (2010) Akerbeltz ISBN 978-1-907165-00-9
  4. ^ Note that phonologically, [a] behaves both as a front or back vowel depending on the geographical area and vowel length
  5. ^ MacAulay, Donald (1992). The Celtic Languages. Cambridge University Press. p. 237. 
  6. ^ Thurneysen (1993:?)
  7. ^ Thurneysen (1980:?)
  8. ^ a b c d e Ó Dochartaigh, C. Survey of the Gaelic Dialects of Scotland I-V Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (1997) ISBN 1-85500-165-9
  9. ^ Silverman (2003:578–579)
  10. ^ Silverman (2003:579), citing Borgstrøm (1940)
  11. ^ Silverman (2003:579)
  12. ^ Based on Gillies (1993)
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h Labial consonants /m p b f v/ do not make a phonemic contrast between broad and slender, though before or after back vowels, historic slender consonants have become clusters of a labial consonant and [j]. In initial position, the [j] follows the consonant and in medial position it precedes it. The same vocalic environment also causes /hj/ as a result of lenited /tʲʰ/ and [ʃ]
  14. ^ Ternes (1980:?)
  15. ^ Dorian (1978:60–1)
  16. ^ Clement (1994:108)

References[edit]

  • Borgstrøm, Carl H.J. (1940). The dialects of the Outer Hebrides. A linguistic survey of the dialects of Scotland 1. Oslo, Norway: Norwegian Universities Press. 
  • Calder, George (1923, reprint 1990). A Gaelic Grammar. Glasgow: Gairm. ISBN 978-0-901771-34-6. 
  • Clement, R.D. (1994). "Word tones and svarabhakti". In Thomson, Derick S. Linguistic Survey of Scotland. University of Edinburgh. 
  • Ó Maolalaigh, Roibeard; Iain MacAonghuis (1997). Scottish Gaelic in Three Months. Hugo's Language Books. ISBN 978-0-85285-234-7. 
  • Silverman, Daniel (2003). "On the rarity of pre-aspirated stops". Journal of Linguistics 39: 575–598. doi:10.1017/S002222670300210X. 
  • Thurneysen, Rudolf (1993) [1946]. A Grammar of Old Irish. Translated by D. A. Binchy and Osborn Bergin. Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. ISBN 1-85500-161-6. 

External links[edit]

See also[edit]