01 July 2008

Pronunciation Woes IV: Consonants

All consonants have two different sounds: one for when they are flanked by broad vowels (AOU) and one for then they are flanked by slender vowels (IE). Much is made of this difference in the audio files for most Irish materials, and all the textbooks try to explain this difference in great detail early on in the process.

For the most part, I don't hear much difference between the broad and slender versions of most consonants. I think that this is common for English speakers (I've heard that the tonal languages like Chinese are even harder for us to 'hear'). For example, bó and beo (at least to my uneducated ear) seem to be pronounced the same unless I know which one is being said. There really is a subtle difference in the pronunciation of the 'b'. Slowed down, it finally sounds to me like 'bow' and 'byo', but even less noticeable than that in normal-speed speech. I had to slow down the pronunciation examples from Learning Irish to about half speed before I could consistently reproduce the sounds for the consonants.

You can hear the difference between broad b and slender b here, for example.

In some cases, the change from broad to slender is all that differentiates word that are in a different case, tense, or (and this is fun) singular vs plural. So it's important to get it right.

It's also important to remember that we have different sounds in English, too, it's just that we don't assign as much meaning to that change as Irish does. The 'p' in pot and pew are both recognized as a p-sound, and we don't separate out the sound as being different because it is handled automatically by the pronunciation of the vowels. We still recognize homonyms, of course (poo and pew are not the same), but I'll be darned if I can figure out what sort of rules control the sounds in English. So - we poor English speakers are perfectly capable of hearing and producing the different sounds--we just need good examples.

A slender consonant has a subtle glide-vowel inserted that adds a slight y-sound or i-sound to the vowel, which changes the way the consonant is pronounced. Think, 'boot' and 'beaut(iful)'. To be honest, if you learn the vowel combinations properly, you automatically pronounce the consonants acceptably. So, after all that harping, at the beginning, it's probably not going to be as hard as all that to figure things out. Other than a few consonants that really do change dramatically (s and t, for example) pronouncing most letters just like you would in English will be understandable and you can fine-tune things later.


There are some exceptions, of course -- but I'll cover those after I manage to get this all figured out!

No comments: