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III.— Vowels.

The vowel sounds are all pure voice. When voice is allowed to pass freely out through the mouth, the result is a vowel sound. The character of the vowel depends on the shape of the oral passage. Theoretically the number of vowel sounds is unlimited. There are, however, six that are well known and easily distinguishable.

Three of the. Irish vowels are commonly known as broad. They are written A, o, u. When long they are pronounced respectively like the vowel sounds in the words law, no, and too. Put the forefinger in the mouth, letting it lie along the upper surface of the tongue, and pronounce in succession the three long vowels á, ó, and ú. It will be observed that in pronouncing á the back of the tongue is arched slightly upwards towards the soft palate ; in pronouncing ó it is arched up more ; and in pronouncing ú still more. These three vowels are therefore called back vowels, and are distinguished respectively as low, medium, and high.

The Irish slender vowels é and í are pronounced like the vowel sounds in pay and pea. Place the finger in the mouth as before and pronounce these two vowel sounds. In this case it will be seen that it is a portion of the tongue nearer the front, about an inch behind the tip, that is arched upwards. For é this portion of the tongue approaches closely, and for í still more closely, the highest portion of the roof of the mouth. These two vowels are called front vowels, and the portion of the tongue arched upwards in their production is called the FRONT. There is a third front vowel sound in Irish, but it has no separate character to represent it. The sound is that commonly given in Ireland to the vowel in half or pan. It is represented in Irish spelling by ea or ai. If you have got its true pronunciation you will observe that it is accompanied by a slight elevation of the front of the tongue. It is therefore called the low front vowel sound é and í representing respectively the medium and high front vowel sounds.

The true English sound of the vowel in half can scarcely be classed as back or front : while pronouncing it the tongue appears to be kept in a state of practically complete relaxation. Even the Irish sound has its frontal character so little in evidence that it does not class itself with é and í in the rule caol le caol.

The only remaining simple vowel sound is that represented by the letters ao. This combination is pronounced in three different ways in the North, West, and South. In the North it gets the French u sound, which is heard so frequently from Ulster speakers of English. In the West the sound is something like ee, except that it is pronounced at the back of the mouth instead of the front. In the South the sound is the French eu, so often heard from genuine Munstermen in such words as there. The Munster sound is formed in much the same way as the Connacht one, except that the opening between the back of the tongue and the soft palate is wider in the South. The Ulster sound is narrow or high like the Connacht one, and is chiefly distinguished from it by the rounding of the lips. In each case the vowel is a true back vowel, but the back of the tongue, in addition to being elevated as it is for the ordinary back vowels, is also slightly pushed forward.

The short soulid of an English vowel scarcely ever corresponds to its long one. Thus the short sound of e in pen is really the short form of the sound of a in pane : the short form of i in fill is the shortened form of ee in feel. In Irish, however, each of the vowels has one long and one short sound ; and the short sound is in each case the shortened form of the long sound.* The long sound of á is always like au in naught, while the short sound is like o in not. The long sound of ó is like oa in boat, and the short sound like u in but. In like manner ú is like the vowel sound of poor, and u like that of put. é is like the a of pane, and e like the e of pen ;í like the ee of feel and i like the i of fill.

* I do not wish to enter into the rather difficult distinction between what are called narrow and wide vowel sounds,



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Irish phonetics - Rev. M. O'Flanagan - 1904