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> Scots Gaelic Lesson 2, Continuing the Scottish Lessons
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Danann 
Posted: 15-Jun-2004, 03:40 PM
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Aspiration

Aspiration is a way of indicating grammatical change in SG and, since it is widely used, it's best to start off by illustrating how it works. There are eighteen letters in Gaelic: five are vowels (a, e, i, o, and u, as in English), one is the letter "h", which is in a category all by itself, and the remaining letters are consonants (b, c, d, f, g, l, m, n, p, r, s, and t). Of the vowels, two (e and i) are called "slender" vowels, and three (a, o, and u) are called "broad" vowels. Of the consonants, all of them except l, n, and r can become aspirated in writing, and this changes their sound as well. (L, n, and r also sound different when aspirated in speech, but this is not marked in writing). To aspirate a letter, you simply put "h" after it when it appears at the beginning of a word, for example:


Letter Aspirated Form Sounds Like...
b bh "v" as in "vet"
c ch "ch" as in "loch"
d dh silent after a slender vowel; like "y" in "yet" before a slender vowel; like "gh" in "ugh!" after or before a broad vowel.
f fh silent
g gh silent after a slender vowel; like "y" in "yet" before a slender vowel; like "gh" in "ugh!" after or before a broad vowel.
m mh "v" as in "vet"
p ph "f" as in "fox"
s sh "h" as in "his"
t th "h" as in "his"; silent at the end of a word


The purpose of aspiration is to show certain kinds of grammatical change, just as in English we put "-ed" to the end of a verb (e.g. "walk" --> "walked") to show the past tense or put "s" at the end of a word to show the plural (e.g. "hat" -- "hats"). The difference is that Scots Gaelic, in common with the other Celtic languages, puts the change at the beginning of the word instead. For example, one common use of aspiration is to indicate certain kinds of possession. The SG word "mo" means "my" and causes aspiration (where possible) on the following word. The word "taigh" means "house". To say "my house" in Gaelic, you would say "mo thaigh". "Taigh" is pronounced like the English word "tie", but "mo thaigh" sounds like "mo hie". Or to take another example, "c" means "dog", so to say "my dog" you would say "mo ch". "C" sounds like "koo", but in "ch" the "k" sound is dropped in favour of a "ch" sound like in the word "loch" -- a sound halfway between "k" and "h".

There is no "eclipsis" in Scots Gaelic as there is in Irish.



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"To Be"

i) Present Tense, Affirmative

Like some other languages, for example Spanish, the Gaelic languages have two verbs that cover the range of the English verb "to be". One of them is used to join a noun with a noun, e.g. "Iain is a teacher" or "Calum is a Scotsman". The other one, which we'll look at in this lesson, is used to join a noun with an adjective -- e.g. "Ruairidh is tall", "Colin is old", etc. The basic present tense form of the verb is "tha" and the pronouns equivalent to English "I", "you", "he", etc. are as follows:

tha mi -- I am (ha me)
tha thu -- you [singular] are (ha oo)
tha e -- he is; it is (ha eh)
tha i -- she is; it is (ha eye)
tha sinn -- we are (ha shen)
tha sibh -- you [plural] are (ha seev)
tha iad -- they are (ha eahd)

(Note the difference between "thu" and "sibh"; "thu" means "you" when speaking to one person only. "Sibh" means "you" when speaking to more than one person but is also a polite form you can use when showing respect to someone who is older). The pronouns "e" and "i" mean "it" when they refer to masculine and feminine nouns rather than people, but for now I'll just use them in their personal sense.

The above forms are easily joined with adjectives like "beag" (little), "mr" (big), "g" (young), "sona" (happy), etc.:

Tha mi sona. -- I am happy. (ha me sohna)
Tha iad beag. -- They are little. (ha eahd beak)
Tha e mr. -- He is big. (ha eh more)
Tha sinn g. -- We are young. (ha sheen ohg)
"Tha mi fallain, tha mi g" -- "I am healthy, I am young" (ha me fahllen, ha me ohg)

-- that last example is a line from a Runrig song, incidentally.


Some other adjectives to get you started:

sgth -- tired (skee) tioram -- dry (cherum)
fuar -- cold (fuer) fliuch -- wet (fleurch)
blth -- warm (blah) snog -- nice (snohg)
trang -- busy (trahng) math -- good (mah)
leisg -- lazy (lehsg) dona -- bad (dohnah)
bragha -- beautiful (braagchah) dorcha -- dark (dorcha)
ciallach -- sensible (kayallach) grach -- stupid (gohrach)


ii) Present Tense, Negative

Just as in English and other languages, the verb "to be" in SG is highly irregular. To give the negative form of "tha", i.e. in order to say "... is not...", you have to use a different form altogether -- "chan eil":

Chan eil mi sgth. -- I am not tired. (chan eil me skee)
Chan eil iad beag. -- They are not little. (chan eil ehad beak)
Chan eil i g. -- She is not young. (chan eil eye ohg)
Chan eil sinn sona. -- We are not happy. (etc.) (chan eil sheen sohna)


iii) Present Tense, Question

In English to ask a question we can just rearrange the word order (e.g. "you are happy" becomes "are you happy?") or we can even leave the word order as it is and just change the tone of voice ("you *are* happy?") In SG, however, we have to use a question word before a verb in order to ask a question using that verb. The question word is "an", but this changes to "am" before the letters b, f, m, and p. Unfortunately since "tha" is irregular, we can't just put the question word before "tha"; we have to put it in front of an irregular form called "bheil". Since "bheil" begins with a "b", this makes the question word "am":

Am bheil thu sgth?/a bheil thu sgth? Are you tired? (am vwil oo skee/ a vwil skee)
Am bheil iad sona?/a bheil iad sona? Are they happy? (am vwil ehad sohna/ a vwil sohna)
Am bheil e g?/a bheil e g? Is he young? (am vwil eh ohg/a vwil eh ohg)
Am bheil mi fuar?/a bheil mi fuar? Am I cold? (am vwil me fuer/ a vwil me fuer)

Over time, however, the "am" has become shortened in speech and writing to "a", so that questions are now usually asked with "a bheil...?" I've shown you both forms because you will still come across them both in books and writing and because it helps to understand the basic rules involved with asking a question generally.

There is no word for "yes" or "no" as such in Gaelic, so a question tends to get answered with either an affirmative or negative form of the verb that was contained in the question. For example, the question "am bheil iad sona?" (are they happy?) can be answered affirmatively with "tha", which just means "are"; the negative answer would be "chan eil" (are not). When the question is "am bheil...?", "tha" becomes a "yes" answer and "chan eil" becomes a "no" answer -- but "yes" and "no" in Gaelic are always different depending on what verb is in the question.


iv) Present Tense, Negative Question

A negative question corresponds to the English phrases "Isn't he/she/it...?" or "Aren't I/they...?" In SG the negative question word is "nach" and, as usual, an irregular form of "tha" is used -- "eil":

Nach eil mi sona? Aren't I happy? (nahch eil me sohna)
Nach eil e grach? Isn't he stupid? (nahch eil eh gohrahch)

As with "am bheil...?" the answer to a negative question with "nach eil...?" is either "tha" (corresponding to "yes") or "chan eil" (corresponding to "no").


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greenldydragon 
Posted: 16-Jun-2004, 09:57 AM
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You have in the question present tense section..
Am bheil thu sg`ith?/ a bheil thu sg`ith? and then..
Am bheil e `og?/ a bheil e `og? and in the pronunciations they are different. you have.. Am vwil oo skee and then Am vweil eh ohg..which is it? vwil or vweil?


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Danann 
Posted: 16-Jun-2004, 11:09 AM
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The correct pronounciation of bheil is (vwil) That was a long lesson, and aparently my fingers like to do the ei more than just an i... also, if you look at the whole of the pronounciations, the vwil is the most common pronounciation. Sorry for the confusion, but I was right with the six, and wrong with the two.
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WizardofOwls 
Posted: 16-Jun-2004, 09:40 PM
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Just wanted to make one small note here. There are a VERY few exceptions to the "fh is silent" rule. In those exceptions, the fh has an h sound. As far as I can remember, these are the ONLY exceptions to that rule:

fhathast (yet) pronounced "ha-ast"
fhuair (found) pronounced "hooer"
fhin (self) pronounced "hayn"
fhalbh (go) pronounced "hal-uv"

PS: Danann - I hope you don't mind if I try to post what I know... If you would prefer I can send this info to you via PM and then let you make the decision about posting it. Don't want to step on any toes or hurt any feelings... unsure.gif I just want to help where I can... let me know, okay?


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ghost 
Posted: 24-Aug-2005, 02:29 PM
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Sorry, did not want to bump this but I do want to learn more on the intonation and uses of the letter "h" in speech. I am hoping someone may provide me with a link that may have some phonetic soundbites for reference. *fingers crossed*
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ghost 
Posted: 24-Aug-2005, 11:25 PM
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Nevermind. I just found the pinned thread on Scottish pronunciation.
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WizardofOwls 
Posted: 25-Aug-2005, 04:54 AM
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Hi there, Eventide!

I have just one small comment about the above lesson. Danann suggests a pronunciation of "Vwil" for the word bheil. I don't mean to dispute what Danann wrote, however I have never heard that word pronounced that way. In my experience, the word should be pronounced "vayl," almost like the English word veil. It is possible however that she heard a dialect that I have noy yet heard...
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ghost 
Posted: 25-Aug-2005, 04:39 PM
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Thanks for the heads up WizardofOwls, so far in the litterature...I've seen it pronounced as veil too. I will keep this in mind as I continue in my searches.
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Faileas 
Posted: 27-Aug-2005, 04:29 AM
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Hello Eventide,

I can tell you what our Gaelic tutor from the choir tells us about the h-sound.

First of all I have to say though that it mostly is, as when you are trying to blow with the mound wide open. That is you get a very aspirated sound, and the air that comes from your lungs doesen/t touch your gums or teeth at all - its very difficult to explain without actually showing you. But I hope it does help a bit. This h-sound appears also in words like, e.g. "thuit" - I fell. That is you get this h-sound between the ui and the t at the end which is a tsch - sound. But so ye get thu - h - tsch. Does that make sense? ;-)l


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Faileas 
Posted: 27-Aug-2005, 04:34 AM
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concerning bheil - we say vwe:l - i. e. the e (like a german e - mind ye - bit like an english a but not so much diphtonged) - and a so-called slender l- effected by the i. That means your toungue is in the middle of your gum. Other regions might be different - but thats the Skye - way ;-).
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ghost 
Posted: 27-Aug-2005, 06:12 PM
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I appreciate the time everyone took, every little bit helps! smile.gif
I have been practicing...I did manage to find a site from the pinned "Scottish Pronounciation" thread...On this site there is a soundfile for vowels, consonants, aspirations and a lot more. I'm hoping this is accurate...
Scottish Gaelic
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