Irish Gaelic: Long and Short Vowels
Every language has long and short vowels -- each letter (a, e, i, o,u, and sometimes y) have two or more different sounds. Irish is nice enough to actually identify the differences by using an accent mark over the vowel. English isn't so nice -- you're expected to figure it out based on arcane spelling rules and other cues. Region differences also control how we pronounce words.
Irish is much nicer. Vowels come in two flavors -- "long" and "short". Short vowels are just the leter (a, e, i, o, u). Long vowels are written with a mark over them, (á..é, í, .ó, ú).
Unlike consonants, vowels are pronounced very differently:
Of course, just as in English, vowels that are in unstressed syllables tend to disappear as individual vowel sounds and end up being voiced as some generic vowel -- "uh". For example, the English word "above" is not pronounced "ah-bohv"...it is "uh-buhv". The vowels a and o are both sort of subsumed into the sound of the syllable and become a slight "uh" sound.
The same occurs in Irish. Vowels -- long or short -- in unstressed syllables are reduced to the generic "uh" sound. This also occurs with some of the shorter words (as, ag, agus) that are simply reduced to a brief "uh".
The shortening of vowels to the generic sound is one of the side effects of spoken Irish. Like ang other language, the spokein version deosn't often vear a resembelnce to the written version. Most languages "condense" spoken language as it speeds up. That's the reason we have contractions and slang in English. "Going to the store" becomes "goin' t' th' store" and "pork and beans" becomes "pork 'n beans".
Everyone has met someone who speaks English as a second language who has the odd habit of extemely precise pronunciation -- be careful of learning the pronunciation of "written Irish" -- pronouncing each and every letter as written -- since it will mark you as a beginner ecvery time. Definitely study with a native speaker or good recordings to make sure you learn how it's really spoken. Or at the very least, learn to reccognize the unstressed syllables of words to reduce the vowels.