Irish Gaelic: Broad and Slender
p h o u k a   h o m e i r i s h   l e s s o n s   h o m e

Bi (is)
Poss. Pronouns
Verb Classes




Witin the firwst few days of studying Irish, you'll be confronted with the idea of "broad" and "slender". It's not a concept that English-speakers understand very well. We don't hear the difference, in many cases -- the l in "lamb" and "limb" sound pretty much the same to us unless we have some expert advice in hearing the slight difference.

The Irish textbooks are no help, either, telling you to 'put your tongue behind your teeth and exhale forcefully'; or some such nonsense. Trust me on this one, it really is important to hear the different in order to really understand it in most cases. Then again, the way that an Emglish-speaker pronounces Ls the same is probably the reason we have a (hopefully) charming American or English accent when speaking Irish

That's all an accent is, you know -- a slightly "off" pronunciation of vowel and consonant sounds when we speak. One of the pieces of advice I dot was to "try to mimic an Irish accent" when speaking irish and you'll get the pronunciation right. Maybe not the best advice, but it can't hurt.

Vowels are separated into two groups:

slender vowels i, e
broad vowels a, o, u

Consonants are considered to be "broad" or "slender" based on the vowels next to them. A consontant next to a slender vowel is slender, one next to a broad vowel is broad. One of the major rules in Irish spelling is "broad with broad, slender with slender" -- which means that in most caes consonants must be surrounded by the same kind of vowel -- both must be slender (e, i) or both must be road (o,a,u). This is not always the case, but it probaby covers 99% of the words.

Pronouncing letters broad or slender is easy for vowels, but gets a bit tricky for consontant. I have a hard time differentiating between broad and slender vowels for anything other than t, s, and d which change sounds quite noticeably. t becomes ch, s becomes sh, d becomes j. Those I can hear pretty well, others are less obvious.

  broad slender
b but beaiuty
p put pew
d duh duty
t tut (t) tune, tree (ch)
g gum jewels
k cut


w won view
f fun few
s sun (s) sheep (sh)
ch loch hugh, ich
m much music
n need new
l la million
ng sung sung
r trilled r trilled r

The easiest difference for me to detect are b and p -- "but" and "beauty" sound very different to me when I try to discern the difference. I had to practice these words (from Learning Irish) over and over again in order to figure it out. Even then, I mess it up pretty often and I'm sure I mispronounce things consistently. It's hard to UN-learn a bad pronunciation, so try to get these right the first time.

Don't worry so much about broad and slender consontants until you start writing Irish and need to spell it. In most cases, the letters are simliar enough that pronouncing them in English-like fashion are ok and (like i said before -- hopefully charming) accent.

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

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Irish gaelic - Notes from a beginner