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IV.— Pure Consonants.


Of these five stoppages, one is made by the point or tip of the tongue against the hard palate ; two by the upper surface of the fore half of the tongue against the hard palate, and two by the upper surface of the rere half against the soft palate. The first of these, the English t, d, and «, are organically -- independent of the rule caol le caol, and therefore we shall treat them first. The remaining four sets will introduce us to the precise nature and reason of that rule.

§ 1. T, D, N

In pronouncing the English letters t, d, n, the edge of the tongue all round is pressed against the gums of the upper jaw. The letters are pronounced by lowering the tip of the tongue, so that the first rush of air strikes against the teeth. The t and d sound seems to have no recognised standing in native Irish words, although Munster speakers seem to use them pretty freely, at least in loan words. The n, however, is the common pronunciation of a single n at the end or in the middle of a word. N is, of course, a voice consonant ; its corresponding breath or flatus consonant does not exist in English . Irish speakers use it commonly in such expressions as shnubh. One ought to practice changing a voice consonant into its corresponding breath consonant. Pronounce in succession several times and very distinctly, the sounds v, v, v, v, and f, f, f, f. V is a humming from the throat that passes with friction between the teeth and the lips, while f is a voiceless breath passing with friction through the same place. Substitute for the humming through the nose of n a blowing of voiceless breath, and the result will be the shn or snubh .

Here it is best to introduce another pair of sounds which have no corresponding labials, the English l and its corresponding breath sound. These sounds require the same contact as t, d, n and shn except that the air is allowed to escape at the side of the tongue before the burst at the front is made. The breath form of l is heard in such expressions as a thlú

caol le acol agus leathan le leathan

The next four sounds will introduce us to the physical foundation of the famous Irish rule caol le caol. I shall begin with the soft palate ones as they are heard in English as well as in Irish

§ 2. Broad C, G, and ng

In pronouncing the English words coo, go and gong, the consonantal contact is produced by pressing the back of the tongue up against the lower edge of the soft palate. This is the portion of the tongue that is humped up in three different stages to produce the back vowels a, o, and u : — Another step in the humping upwards makes it touch the soft palate, thus producing a complete interruption in the vocal passage. This interruption is broken through by silent breath to produce c, by vocalised air to produce g, and by vocalised air with nasal escape to produce ng. The corresponding nasal breath sound is not heard in either Irish or English, so that it may be passed over. The three sounds given are written in Irish by the letters c, g and ng, proceeded or followed by a broad vowel. The ng sound is not heard at the beginning of any English words, and therefore it is rather a difficulty with learners to acquire the pronunciation of it at the beginning of an Irish word. Practise such an expression as a great number of times, and try to connect the ng rather with the following than the preceding vowel sound ; this will give Irish ng at the beginning of a word : as a nga, their spear.

s 3. c, g, ng Slender

In English words cave, give, king, the c, g, and ng are produced by a contact between the surface of the soft palate and the rere half of the tongue. In this case it is a front vowel that comes next the consonant. The front vowel requires the tongue arched up under the whole palate, so that its rere half lies near and parallel to the soft palate and its fore half near and parallel to the hard palate. By bringing the rear half from this position up against the soft palate, the soft palate slender consonants are produced ; and by bringing the front from this same position forward against the hard palate, we get the hard palate slender consonants. The soft palate slender sounds are represented by c, g, and ng proceeded or followed by a slender -vowel. Corresponding l sounds both voiced and voiceless are often heard, and are written respectively ghl and chl., followed by a slender vowel, e.g.,a ghleo, lamh chlí.

In English as in Irish the broad sound of c, g, and ng accompanies the broad vowel sounds, and the slender sound the slender vowel sounds. Compare the words caulk, coke, cook, cog, gog, gong in which all the vowels and consonants are broad, with the words gag, cake, kick, gang, keg, gig, in which they are all slender. Compare also coo () with cue (ciú). English spelling not being systematic the rule caol le caol does not apply to it. Understood of pronunciation, however, it is a phonetic law and must exist in every language in which the sounds occur.

§ 4. T, D, N, L Slender.

We must now return to the hard palate sounds. These sounds are not heard in correct English, but are often heard in English words as spoken in Ireland. To the t of tune, the d of dew and the n of new we usually give the slender sounds of t, d, and n. According to the true English standard we have in these words the ordinary sounds of t, d, and n, followed by a short but distinct i sound. This i sound is only brought in by a special effort of the voice, and this is the reason why it is so distinct. In the case of slender Irish t, d, and n, the short i sound follows as a matter of necessity, because the moment the t, d, and n is exploded the tongue must pass into the position required for the vowel i. This i sound is not dwelt upon, but is the shortest possible glide that must intervene between a slender hard palate consonant and a broad vowel.

If any of my readers are not acquainted with the common Irish pronunciation of tune, duty, and new, they may get very near the sounds as follows : ch of much, dg of bridge, and nch of pinch are very like the three sounds, but with a distinct sh or zh sound after each.

There is in Irish a corresponding l sound, which we give to ll in William ; also a voiceless l written shl and a voiceless n written shn .

§ 5. T, D, N L Broad.

The consonant sounds in the English words thaw and thee, as these words are usually pronounced in Ireland, are produced by contact between what is called the blade * of the tongue, and the inside of the upper front teeth. These are the broad sounds of t and d. By introducing the nasal hum, and the voice escape at the sides of the tongue, we get respectively the broad sounds of n and l.

These sounds are only heard in English, in such words as month and fifth, where they are immediately followed by the broad sound of t. They are sounds which very few learners master. They would find il useful to practise the four words tá, dá, ná, lá, , keeping the top of the tongue in exactly the same position for each of the four.

The following lists will illustrate the five sets of linguals : —

I. — Tip of tongue and hard palate.

taw daw gnaw law
tea Dee knee lea

II. — Blade of tongue and hard palate (Broad).

tae dae nae lae

III. — Front of tongue and hard palate (Slender).

teó deó neó leo

IV. — Rere half of tongue and surface of soft palate (Slender).

ceo geo[cach] a ngeo a ghleo
ár ngé a ghlé

V. — Back of tongue and margin of soft palate (Broad)

'gá ár ngá --
cae gae angae --

In each case I have given first a broad and then a slender vowel sound following the four consonant sounds. It will be observed that in group I. the consonant sound can be followed equally well by the broad and slender vowel sounds. In II. and V. the consonant can be readily followed by a broad vowel sound, but cannot be followed by a slender vowel sound without inserting a short broad vowel sound (glide). In III. and IV. the slender vowel sound follows naturally, but the broad vowel sound only by the insertion of a slender glide

§ 6. S.

S broad is pronounced exactly like s in say, and s slender like sh. They are, strictly speaking, not pure consonants, inasmuch as the air passage is not completely stopped. To pronounce s broad, as in sál, the blade of the tongue is pushed forward against the teeth, as in the case of s broad : a narrow space is, however, left between the tongue and upper teeth. Through this space a jet of breath is blown, striking against the edges of the the lower jaw, and producing the hissing sound of s . The vocal chords are then drawn into vibration, and at the same time the mouth is opened and the vowel sound follows. S, like t is a breath or mute consonant. Its corresponding voiced sound z does not exist in Irish.

To pronounce sh or s slender the top of the tongue is drawn back, so as to leave a cavity between it and the front teeth of the lower jaw. At the same time the "front" of the tongue is put-up close to the hard palate, and a jet of air is thus directed down into the cavity, producing the sound of sh. This sound is also a mute ; its corresponding sonant, the French j, is not heard in Irish

§7. R.

The sound of the consonant r is lost in modern English. It is now represented by a very short vowel sound. In Irish, however, and to a large extent in English, as spoken in Ireland, it is retained. The sound is produced by placing the tongue in pretty much the same position as for s, and allowing tip of it to be set in vibration by the outflowing current of air. The position for s broad will give r broad, and the position for s slender will give r slender. In the case of r broad the tip of the tongue is driven forward so as almost to touch the two front teeth, and the vibration is somewhat freer. In r slender the " front *' is elevated, the tip is therefore drawn back and the vibration less free. These sounds, especially the slender one, are rather difficult to acquire. The best way to go about it is to practice them in immediate connection with the other hard palatals. Thus in the words shriek and marsh, if the r is pronounced distinctly and in close union with sh, keeping the tongue in the same position for both, the slender sound of r- will result. For those who know the correct sound of slender t the pronunciation of tri ought to enable them to get the pronunciation of rí, lmirt, dreoilín, coisrigh and túirne afford good practice in r slender, as do ort, árd, trom, droma in r broad.

It will be observed that unlike s, r is a sonant or voice consonant. The corresponding breath sound is the one usually given to shr and thr, e.g., mo shrón, a shrian, ro throm, aithris.


* The blade is the portion inside the tip, between it and the " front."



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