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Bonnie Blake ( -
Posted on Wednesday, March 15, 2000 - 04:31 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

I would like to learn the Irish language, and have bought a tape and small book to learn some phrases. But an alphabet of the Irish language was NOT included. Can you tell me please where I might get a copy of the Irish alphabet, and something to tell me how each letter is pronounced. I would like to attend some of your classes but I live in Harrisburg, PA - too far to travel.

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Máire Ní Ógáin ( -
Posted on Wednesday, March 15, 2000 - 08:36 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

There is an Irish alphabet, but only about 3 people in the country could recite it for you and I'm not one of them. Everyone else uses the English alphabet, though there are many letters you won't use in Irish. The only letter that people tend to pronounce differently is a - you would say ah instead of ay.

I've seen a children's picture book in Irish with the full English alphabet included. They had to invent words like Jíp (for jeep) to illustrate some letters!

The Irish alphabet, if you like, runs
a b c d e f g h i l m n o p r s t u v

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Posted on Saturday, March 18, 2000 - 07:39 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

The Irish alphabet is (the way I learned anyway):


No Q or W. W can only be seen in 'loan words'.


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Louis C. Newbury
Posted on Saturday, April 15, 2000 - 10:22 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

The Irish alphabet, in ancient times, seems to
have consisted of

vowels: a e i o u

consonants: b c d f g l m n p r s t

These 17, plus the letter H are what is generally
reckoned as "the Irish Alphabet" today.
The h seems originally to have had no use but in
situations like "le ho/r," "na huain,"
"De/ hAoine." The Scots introduced the innovation
of expressing the "lenitions" by adding the h
after the lenited consonant, e.g. bh, ch &c.
This was c. the 16th century with the introduction
of the printing press, for which the Gaelic type
was difficult to obtain, with the superscript
dots for lenition. The letter H is now, be-
cause of contamination by English, the "principal"
(non-mutated) letter in some words, e.g. "hata."
The letter V is increasingly used, with the sound
of "bh" or "mh," where it is the principal of the
word, e.g. "vo/ta." But it is also (regrettably?)
used in foreign words elsewhere in the word, pre-
sumably to "conform" to pan-European usage, e.g.
"so/iveatach (Soviet)."
The remaining letters are j k q w x y z.
Some are redundant, like K, and some are
alien to the sound-structure of Irish, like Z.
But all may appear in international vocabulary
items (technical, geographic...) or in in-
completely "digested" English items like "job."
If your interest is in the "names" of the letters
for the purpose of reciting the alphabet,
O/ Siadhail deals with this in the very excellent
"Learning Irish."(Appendix IV)
There were also, in ancient times, tree-names for
the 17 letters that were then in use:
ailm 'elm', beith 'birch', coll 'hazel',
dair 'oak', edad 'aspen', fern 'alder',
gort 'ivy', idad 'yew', luis 'mountain-ash',
muin 'vine?', nin 'ash', onn 'gorse', pin '?',
ruis 'elder', sail 'willow', tinne 'holly'
u/r 'blackthorn'.
(The source for the "runic" letter-names is
Myles Dillon and Donncha O/ Cro/ini/n's
wonderful 1961 "Teach Yourself Irish" which has been replaced in the series by one by new authors. Hopefully someone will re-publish it,
as it still has a lot to offer.)

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Posted on Monday, April 17, 2000 - 11:49 am:   Edit Post Print Post

Using an 'h' to indicate lenition goes back further than the Scots of the 16th century. The spelling convention existed in Latin (philosophia, physica, Josephus, Carthago), mostly for words from Greek.

The Irish adapted the Latin alphabet to Irish by 600 AD., so they were familiar with this use of 'h' from the beginning. No surprise, therefore, that the Irish scribes, poets, etc. often used ch, ph and th as they found in Latin (bearing in mind that Latin did not use ch and th to indicate quite the same sounds and that Latin spelling was filtered though old Welsh or at least the British dialect of Latin).

Latin used a dot over consonants called the punctum delens as a device to indicate that a letter had been written by mistake and should not be pronounced. The Irish only used it to indicate lenition of f and s in the beginning, because they were not usually pronounced.

For consonants other than f, s, c, p, and t, lenition was not normally expressed at all in Old Irish but came to be indicated in Middle and Modern Irish by a dot above the consonant. The dot later came to be used over b, d, g and m to indicate lenition (but not l,n or r, which were always left alone). But as the example of the 16th century Scots shows, people literate in Gaelic were also familiar with the concept of putting an h after consonants.

So the use of h to indicate lenition is an ancient concept, one that is much clearer than the practice in Old Irish of not indicating lenition at all for many consonants. The beloved 'ponc' can still be used in nonpublished materials, for ornamentation and -- now that we have a computer-based society where the ponc is no longer a typesetting problem -- occasional published material. But no one is going to return to the ponc and old Irish script for school Textbooks, novels and newspapers.

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william fuller ( -
Posted on Monday, April 17, 2000 - 05:24 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

a chairde:Gabh mo leithsceal; ni folair roinnt focla a scriobh as Bearla._ Some very learned observations so far.The Teach yourself book seemed quite hard for home study, but it gave me some beginning with An Teanga. ..."ni folair dom" is what I had meant to write above.

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Posted on Monday, April 17, 2000 - 11:42 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

A chara a Sheosaoimh

It is a pity that the computer wasn't around before the standardization. I find the dot above the consonant quite explicit, and easier to deal with than the recurring Hs. From a visual standpoint, I find it splendid.

As I understand it, the h following the consonant was resurrected to accomodate the limitations of the typewriter.That makes me wonder what the Persians and Japanese did in the heyday of typewriters.


Like you, I don't see that changing, but I wonder if designers and artists might prove to be compelling. I wonder if there isn't room for both, to put it another way.

Be certain that anything I prepare for print or the web will use the dot to indicate lenition, and people who want the aiches will have to adjust. Since my fluency is non-existant and my literacy is worse, no one has anything to fear from me.... :-)

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Posted on Tuesday, April 18, 2000 - 11:57 am:   Edit Post Print Post

I do find the "h" easiest for written materials I give to people I'm introducing to the language. I do, however, use the dot and old script for personal writings and I try to introduce them to it as early as possible. It has (no pun intended) "character."

If the language stays the way it is, I can see the retention of the Roman script as inevitable, and one has to question (as did National Geographic recently) just what the effect of computerization will be on any language. They seemed to observe a "Latinization" of alphabets to conform with a computer "standard." Countries like Azerbaijan, which insist on retaining their distinctive "shwa."

Which brings me to another point. Look at the "Cyrillicization" of all the former Soviet states. In this instance, another alphabet was adopted by entire nations in about a generation. So it can be done. If the language gets much stronger (about as strong as Spanish in the US), I think you will then see a movement to bring back the script for some or most newspapers and novels. I'm currently putting together a small primer of children's stories, and, I assure you, (barring anything drastic) I intend to print in the old script. I honestly think it helps English speakers do the mental adjustments that a second language requires. The thing that confuses most is that things that look like english constructions sound very different. The old script at least makes the word look totally alien and thus it is easier to divorce certain letter combinations from their english counterparts.

Let's get the language on its feet first, the script will follow. There are a number of fonts (both mac and pc) out there capable of all the séimhiú's and fada's, with the Gs Rs and Ss as well. The best one I've found is for the mac (macs are better for accents in general) and works best with a US system6 keyboard layout. It is freeware, so anyone who wants a copy just ask me at ANTAINE@AOL.COM and I'll be happy to send you a copy as an attachment. It is called simply "Gaeilge" and can be found on various free font websites as well, and many others at http://www.geocities.comAthens/Academy/1641


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Posted on Tuesday, April 18, 2000 - 04:03 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

P.S. another good site is you can install pc truetype fonts on a
mac. It requires a (free) ttconverter, available through celticlady or me. Happy


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