Gaelic in modern Scotland
Gaelic in modern Scotland

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Gaelic in modern Scotland

5.2.2 Sounds and letters

In this section you’ll notice that words have been pronounced with different accents. These accents are from Harris, Lewis and North Uist. Can you hear the regional distinctions?

Gaelic vowels can be long or short. The long ones are shown by a grave accent, e.g.:

  • bata (with a short a in the first syllable) means ‘a stick’
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  • bàta (with a long à) means ‘a boat’.
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Consonants can also have two sounds - as in English (e.g. the ‘d’ in ‘door’ and in ‘duke’). The Gaelic ‘d’, when it is next to the letters ‘a’, ‘o’ or ‘u’, is like the ‘d’ in ‘door’:

  • doras’ (a door)
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  • ’ (two).
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However, it is like the ‘d’ in ‘duke’ when next to the letters ‘e’ or ‘i’:

  • de’ (from, of)
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  • idir’ (at all).
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Some consonants interact with ‘h’, which changes the sound of the letter. For example, when you are addressing someone called ‘Màiri’ (Mary), you say ‘Mhàiri’ (pronounced ‘vaary’).

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Some people use this form as a name in English.

Gaelic has more individual sounds than English but uses fewer letters. The letters therefore have to work harder but, in fact, Gaelic spelling is quite consistent. Try saying the following words and then click on the link to hear them spoken by a Gaelic speaker.

Remember, the first part of the word is usually stressed in Gaelic, look out for the grave accent and think of the effect of ‘e’ and ‘i’ on the letters beside them, including ‘s’!

aran (bread)

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balach (boy)

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còta (coat)

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deoch (a drink)

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cidsin (kitchen)

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làr (floor)

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madainn mhath (good morning)

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rathad (road, with silent ‘th’)

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seo (here)

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tòrr (a lot, a hill).

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