30 July 2008


Irish threw me for a loop when I first started: nowhere in English do the fronts of words change! Sure, we add prefixes to words to change meaning, but we don't start mucking about with the starting letters to denote plurals or present vs past tense and things like that! Most languages change the endings of words to indicate case/time/person (or sometimes the middles - life and live are an example of mutation in a word).

But not the Celtic languages. Nope - they, like Malay, Paiute, and a few languages in western Africa, have initial consonant mutation. What that really means is that Irish changes the beginning of words, as well as the endings of words. It can be a bit confusing, since quite often, both happen at the same time, and it accounts for the surprising number of 'h's" that show up in a language that doesn't actually have a letter H.

The two primary inflexions are lenition (séimhiú) and eclipsis (urú).

Lenition, or aspiration, affects the letters b, c, d, f, g, m, p, s, and t. I remember the rule about which consonants can be aspirated with the common HALORAN—the consonants in Haloran are never lenited. There are exceptions, of course - 'sl', 'sn', 'sr' are affected, but none of the other words starting with s, since they would be impossible to pronounce. In linguisitic terms, a becomes a fricative -- that is b, which is made by closing the lips and then allowing a puff a air through, is changed so that the sound is constant. This is most obvious with the pair of sounds b and w, but the rest are easy enough. Vowels don't lenite, they are already spoken without any sort of stop.

The sounds are easy:
b, m --> bh, mh --> pronounced as v or w
c --> ch --> as in Scottish loch
d, g--> dh, gh --> like the sound for ch, but with a gh-sort of guttural sound
p--> ph --> pronounced like f
s, t --> sh, th --> pronounced like hy- or h-
f --> fh --> silent
It's when they are used that gets a bit more complicated. I have pages of notes on when lentition occurs and in what situations it does not. Suffice it to say that whole chapters in grammar books can be devoted to lenition and the various rules (after articles, in the genetive case, in compound words, etc.) Nouns. adjectives, and some verbs can be lenited -- including names, which was a big surprise to me.

Your name is your name! The pronunciation of your name shouldn't change just becuase I am speaking directly to you (the vocative case). Máire becomes a Mháire, which is just freaky.

In any case, I don't understand all the situations where lenition occurs yet, so I'm just getting comfortable with the way it occurs so that I can correctly predict whether a letter can be aspirated and what the resulting sound is. For now, that's good enough.

The other kind of mutation is eclipsis, which replaces an initial sound with a different one. It's used in different situations from lenition, but is also effects nouns, adjectives, and verbs as well. Eclipsis affects b, c, d, n, f, p, t -- you can use MS HALORAN to remember the consontants that don't eclipse.
b-->mb, c--> gc; d --> nd, g--> ng; f --> bhf; p --> bp; and t --> dt.
all vowels are eclipsed by n-
Pronunciation is easy -- just replace the sound of the eclipsed letter with the new one. bád --> mbád --> pronounced mahd. Thess are usually pretty easy to spot, and the best hint I've read: if the combination of consontants at the beginning of a word look unpronounceable...chances are you just ignore the last one. I mean, how would you pronounce bpáirc? buh-puh-....ah, no.

So what does all this mean to a beginner, like me? Well, it makes looking up words in the dictionary pretty hard! Since I spend a fair amount of my time trying to decipher Irish in the many Yahoo! Groups and sites that I come across, knowing how to figure out what the real word is to look up is half the battle!

The very helpful folks at GaelMinn have put together a one-page guide to using the dictionary. It's helpful to learn the 'rules' when you start out, until you get a feel for the vagaries of the base words that are indexed.

28 July 2008

Synthesized Irish

Another really cool language site! Trinity College Dublin has put up abair.ie -- a spiffy page that lets you type in Irish words (sentences, even) and it generates a synthesized spoken version (among other neat language tools from the Phonetics and Speech Lab.

It's quite cool. And -- it offers a neat Firefox widget to add to the toolbar and use on any Irish page you find so you can quickly access the abair site from anywhere else. Have your browser read bits to you in Irish!

It's handy having the Firefox browser gaelspell add in, as well.

Grammar: Gender

One of the first things you'll hear/see in any course in just about any language except English is that "nouns have gender". Once again, a grammar term that we really don't have any reference for.

Most languages classify nouns into groups by the rather arbitrary criteria of "gender" -- that is, masculine or feminine (and often neutral, or neuter - and sometimes others: Polish, for exanple, has a few extra - Personal masculine, animate masculine, inanimate masculine, feminine, and neuter). This classification is used not so much to identify the nouns themselves, but to identify how they are changed. That is, do endings change or articles change when the word is used? For example, in German do you use die, der, or das as the article for the word, is the Italian ending -a or -o? French le or la? Arabic endings -a or -i?

Since English doesn't have this type of classification any longer, it is a weird extra thing to remember for learners of another language. We have just a single, common gender for everything and our articles and endings do not change based on the imagined gender of the object we're talking about. You don't have a different greeting when you meet a woman vs a man, or have a different verb form to say that the rooster ran away vs the hen. It's all the same to us.

(As a side note, we haven't entirely lost the idea of gender in modern English - we just apply it rather haphazardly to things like actor/actress, bachelor/spinster, blond/blonde, and the odd association of the pronoun she to ships, for example. The only other remnants are some forms of the pronouns, but they do not change how other words are formulated. See more here. )

Not having to remember whether a chair is masculine or feminine in English makes it difficult for us to learn to track gender with our vocabulary (Actually, I bet it's harder for people with languages that DO have gender, because I doubt every language classifies each noun as the same gender!) It would be logical if the gender assignment was to things that really did have observable gender (that is, natural gender) - male and female people and animals, for example, and leave all those other things as "it". But no, inanimate objects have gender, too -- chairs and cars and lamp posts and philosophy.

Irish lies somewhere between English and, say, Czech, in complexity. Like roughly half of the major langauges currently spoken, Irish has two genders: masculine (firinscneach) and feminine (baininscneach). There is no neuter gender in Irish. Every noun in Irish is designated as one or the other, and this has an effect on how the noun is declined-- that is, how the noun changes when used.

It's critical to learn whether a vocabulary word is fem. or masc., because this will affect how it behaves after the article, and how adjectives are applied, for example. Later on, it becomes very important when trying to figure out noun declension, but that's a whole other can of worms.
fear --> man (masculine) --> an fear --> the man
bean --> woman (feminine) --> an bhean --> the woman
One of the best pieces of advice I got for learning a language was: learn the gender with the noun, don't try to apply it later. When you learn the word for man, learn "the man" so you can instantly identify which gender it is.

It still seems awkward for me, so at this point, I'm just accepting it and learning the forms. But there are some ways to predict the gender of a word. The most general rule is that most nouns that end in a broad consonant are masculine, and most ending in a slender consonant are feminine. If they don't end in a consonant, there is no real rule.

A few more suggestions:
  1. Nouns designating males are masculine (bull, ram), nouns designating females are feminine (cow, ewe). -- note the odd exception here: cailín (girl), is a masculine noun. Come to think of it, isn't madchen, girl, neuter in German?
  2. Names for people are the gender of the person in question
  3. Most country names, and language names are feminine
  4. Nouns ending in aeir, -éir, -eoir, -óir, -úir, -ín are masculine
  5. Nouns ending in -eog, -óg, -lann
There are dozens of detailed rules and the best rule is Check a dictionary!

IrishGaelicTranslators take
Compendium Gramadach Gaeilge
Gramadach na Gaeilge (a fabulous site, if a bit linguistically technical!)
Wiki Irish Noun Declension

Voila! It all makes sense now, right?

27 July 2008

Irish Phonetics - 1904

I love antiquarian books. Even though the spelling and possibly the rules are different in Modern Irish, I was quite taken by Rev. O'Flanagan's eloquent description of Irish Phonetics. The pamphlet is reproduced on my website in a slightly more readable form.

The original was published in Dublin in 1904.

Rosetta Goes Audio

I've been really enjoying the Rosetta Stone Irish program - it's a surprisingly easy and intuitive way to learn a language - very engaging, interesting, and pretty fun (well, except when I simply cannot pronounce certain words and get that sad raspberry sound -- try tionmaint, anyone? The voice recognition part refuses to accept my pronunciation. bah!).

They just recently starting offering audio-only support for their programs - a CD set for each level of the language that reinforces the speech and listening portions of each lesson so you can continue to study after you've gone through the lesson. Brilliant!

If you order it with the whole package - Levels I, II, III -- you can add on the twelve CDs for fifty bucks. It wasn't available when the Adorable Husband ordered the program for me, so I got them afterwards (for more money, of course), and they arrived yesterday. They are very closely aligned with the computer program, and really can't be used alone. But, so far, well worth the additional cost.

25 July 2008

Studying What?

I normally tell people I'm learning "Irish", which most of my friends understand to mean that non-English language some people speak in Ireland. I'll specify 'Irish Gaelic' if I need more detail.

But what is this language really called? English speakers use 'Irish', 'Irish Gaelic', or sometimes just 'Gaelic'. The latter, though, is often understood to mean Scottish Gaelic and not the Irish sort. There are a suprising number of people who think that 'gaelic' is a single language spoken by Scots and Irish and that it is "mostly dead".

They are related langauges. of course; Irish is a Celtic language, and belongs to the goidelic language branch along with Scots Gaelic (gaedhlig) and Manx (gaelg). Ethnologue also notes a fourth, extinct language: Hiberno-Gaelic.The other branch of the Celtic languages, brythonic, includes Welsh, Breton, and Cornish.

The official name of the language in Ireland is Gaeilge (pronounced variously as ge:lik or ge:l'g'ə). Before the spelling reform in the 40s, it was Gaedhilge. There are some regional spellings and pronunciations, as well: gaedhlag is Ulster, gaedhealaing, gaouluinn or gaelainn in Munster. They all refer to the same thing, but it does explain why the Munster Irish lessons (Rosetta and Pimsleur) seem to be saying 'guael-lun'. I have read that this is considered an archaic form, which is in keeping with many of the Munster Irish forms. The common form of gaeilge reflects the Connacht pronunciation. Ulster is the outlier, I guess. guael-lig or guael-lik, much more like an English speaker would attempt to say 'gaelic'.

Wikipedia notes that the archaic term erse (a word that is probably not familiar to anyone except crossword puzzle fanatics) is no longer used and may be considered derogatory.

24 July 2008

Dia Duit/Dhuit

Well, now that I mentioned it in the previous post, just a few comments on the greeting 'Dia Duit'

This is posited as a standard greeting, although at least one of my courses (Irish on Your Own) notes that it is considered formal, and most people just use 'hello', like in English. Dia Dhuit means, roughly, 'God to you'. This seems analogous to opening a conversation with "Greetings!"; it seems too formal for normal conversation. However, I have seen a number of posts by native speakers that any learner attempting to speak in one of the Gaeltachts should always start off with this. While you can launch into a conversaion with "How are you?" in its many forms, that might be a bit too abrupt.

Just to be polite and proper -- say 'Hello, pleased to meet you" vs "Hi, how are ya?" when meeting new people. You can always relax the formality a bit, but if you start off too far down that ladder, you do risk offending someone.

Duit is the prepositional pronoun that combines 'do' (to, for) with 'tú' (you) -- do + tú = duit. There are a bunch of these combination forms - I'm sure I'll have some comments on those soon enough!. Most texts show 'Dia Dhuit'; It has to do with making the combination easier to pronounce, I think, and is a dialect difference. Most texts use 'dhuit', while duit is technically proper.

The greeings in question are are:
dia duit/dhuit - God to you
dia daoibh --> God to you all
dia 's Mhuire dhuit --> God and Mary to you (response)
In any case, it's the pronunciation of this that sends people into a tizzy. It's often transcribed (badly) on websites as 'djee-a gwitch' or 'dee-ah gwit'. Sometimes it's 'dee-uh-git', or 'dee-uh-gut', or 'djee-uh-dit'.

And therein begins the kerfuffle. There is no such sound as 'gw' in Irish. There is simply no way to make 'dhuit' suddenly start with gw -- although I have to admit to having a hard time hearing the difference in many cases, so the online examples are not too helpful.
Travlang's Version
Transparent Language
All three dialect's versions
Of course, the pronunciation from Foclóir Scoile has duit [dit'] - roughly 'ditsch'. This is the pronunciation that I first heard from Irish on Your Own -- jee-a ditch. Pimlseur and Rosetta and TYI all have the 'gwitch'-type pronunciation - definitely a difference between Ulster and Munster/Connacht pronunciations. A discussion of regional differences cam be found here.

The sound that is transcribed in pseudo-phonetic English as 'gwitch' on all those websites is really more of a gutteral gh/dh sound, at least to my ear. Rather like I try to say 'gwitch' but don't move my lips for the w sound. It's all in the throat, and has a harsher, half-swallowed, aspirated 'ch' sound. Ghu-it, almost. Yes, I know I should try to represent this as IPA symbols, but since I can't accurately describe the sound I'm hearing, it would be a wee bit difficult! Some speakers have compared the sound to those in German (ch) or Russian (x).

The general consensus is that 'gwitch' is wrong, but there is less agreement on how duit/dhuit is actually pronounced correctly. I get a pass from Rosetta Stone and its voice recognition, but I slip so easily into the Ulster 'djee-a dit' that I'm sure I'm mangling it either way. I'll keep setting the sensitivity up and see what happens!

I take some solace, though, in the fact that in normal speech 'dia dhuit/dia 's Muire dhuit' are said so quickly and slurred together so much, that any attempt is going to be understood -- as would be any "hihowareyuh' in English. At least, that's my hope.

Forvo for Gaeilge

I stumbled upon this new-ish website today, while looking for a pronunciation guide for 'dia dhuit' (which is a pretty contentious issue, if you ask Irish speakers!) and I just love the idea: speakers pick and submit words to the website, record themselves saying the new word, and others can search and listen to what is there. Maybe not perfect, and it's all sort of self-managed right now, but I've bookmarked the site for future reference.

Dozens of languages are covered -- there are only a few Gaeilge (Irish) words so far, but what a fabulous idea!

23 July 2008

Grammar: Case

I was discussing grammar with the Adorable Husband earlier this week (why, yes, we are a bit weird, why do you ask?) and was bemoaning the fact that unless you took a second languages in school, you probably didn't really get any formal lessons in grammar -- case, tense, etc. It was just assumed that you'd learn the language and understand the constructs without necessarily knowing the details of why things are the way they are. Diagrammed any sentences lately? Probably not.

At any rate, as soon as you pick up a textbook to learn another language you are suddenly bombarded with grammatical terms for nouns and verbs and relationships and the texts assume you simply know what these are. Genetive? Pluperfect? Vocative? Huh?

Nouns have a number of attributes that determine what form they are in and how they can be used. Nouns have case, gender and number.

The case of nouns has to do with the form of the word when used in different ways in a sentence. We have it pretty easy in English - most forms are the same and we really only differentiate possessive use from all the other types . Some languages (Russian or Lithuanian, for example) have six or seven cases: nominative, accusative, genetive, dative, vocative, locative, and instrumental. Eek!

Irish is a bit more complex than English, but not too bad. Irish combines a couple of the other cases into a common case, just like English does, so there are really only three cases that we need to keep track of: the common form, genetive, and vocative. The forms of the word change depending on how it's used.

It's probably easiest to discuss the specifics first: The vocative case is used when addressing someone or something directly.
'O, Fortune!'--> Fortune is in the vocative case.
Mary, how are you? --> Mary is in the vocative case
In Irish, this is usually signaled by using the particle 'a'. A Mhaire, conas tá tú? Any time you address something directly (whether a person or a thing), it will be in the vocative. Easy.

The genetive case is the possessive, or relational case. 'Hat' in the following English sentence is in the genetive case.
The man's hat
it's not 'man's' that is technically in the genetive case, according to my notes, which was confusing to me (since I said before that the genetive case is the possessive case, but what that means is that the thing is owned/had - the possessive form in English signals the genetive form). In nearly all cases, the noun in the genetive case can be replaced by the phrase 'of the [x]'.
The man's hat --> The hat of the man.
A country's citizens must vote --> The citizens of a country must vote.
Genetive forms are used to express origin, possession, position, kind, use, value, titles, contents. Not quite so simple, but if you use the quick test of replacing the word with 'of the...' as noted above, it's easy to identify which word is affected.

Pretty much everything else is in the common case. The common form includes the nominative (subject) case, accusative (object) case, and dative case. There are some specific exceptions (mostly in Munster Irish), but they are rare in the modern form of Irish. Here are some English examples:
  • Nominative: the 'naming' case. This is the form of the word that is in the dictionary, and is used primarily as the subject of a sentence. The cat chased the dog.
  • Accusative: used when the noun is the direct object of the verb in the sentence. The dog chased the cat.
  • Dative: used when the noun is the indirect object of the verb in the sentence. The dog gave the cat a bone.
Obviously, this is hard to see in English, since the word forms don't change at all. 'The cat' looks and sounds the same in all of those sentences. I don't understand all the rules yet on how to change the words for each of these cases, but just trying to get my head around the terminology was enough for today!

A very detailed explanation of the cases in Irish can be found here. It's more complicated than a beginner needs to know, but it's a good reference.

22 July 2008

To-MAY-to, to-MAH-to

Sometimes, having a couple of different audio references really isn't a help. One of the things that many textbooks do early on is highlight the differences between the three primary dialects of Irish. Ulster, Munster, and Connacht Irish often have different pronunciations -- much like Boston, Atlanta, and California speakers pronounce words differently in English. So far, so good.

This became an issue for me because my first exposure to Irish was via Ulster Irish in Irish on your Own. The primary textbook that I am using is Learning Irish (Connacht Irish -- and even more specifically, Cois Fhairrge). And now I'm focusing primarily on Rosetta Stone (Munster Irish).

This is getting a bit confusing. No, confusing is not really the right word -- I'm not having any problems understanding what is meant by the vocabulary or word forms, but I find myself blurring the pronunciation of specific words in a way that would probably make a native speaker cringe.

For example, "maith". (good, well). This comes up constantly in all the courses --
go raibh maith agat (thank you),
oiche mhaith (good evening),
tá mé go maith (I am well).
I've heard 'maith' pronounced as moy, my, mah on the different CDs and tapes that I have. Go online to listen to native speakers, and the variations abound.

Ulster Irish (at least according to the Irish on Your Own folks), pronounces this as something close to 'myee' or 'moy'. So, go raibh maith agat --> gur moy uh-gut (pardon the rude phonetics, but that comes pretty close).

Enter Pimsler...and 'maith' is clearly 'mah'. Well, except for 'oiche mhaith', which suddenly becomes 'ee-hah WHY', and the nifty phrase 'ba mhaith liom' that I learned in Ulster Irish as 'buh why lum' is inexplicably 'buh va lum' in Munster and 'buh wah lum' in Connacht. This isn't really a problem, and all three pronunciations are valid, but I catch myself refusing to say 'ba va lum' when talking to the Pimsleur speakers because it sounds wrong to me. It isn't, I just got the pronunciation sounds in my head from my first exposure and apparently that is what I "hear" when asked to repeat things.

Of course, Rosetta also uses Munster Irish -- well, not entirely, the native speakers are primarily Munster speakers, but there is quite a bit of variation in the spoken prompts. The catch here is that Rosetta Stone checks your pronunciation with rather sophisticated voice-recognition software, so you can't fudge it! Turn sensitivity up enough to catch the big gaffes, and it's definitely expecting 'mah'. I get a rather depressing raspberry sound when I respond 'my' brightly to the software.

Is this all really such a huge problem? No, not really. It might spark long and contentious arguments over the 'proper' pronunciation of things among advanced speakers (which just confuses those of us who are struggling with the basics), but any of the pronunciations given is probably going to be understood and you can tweak your pronunciation as you get more fluent. At least that's my opinion.

Of course, I'll probably end up speaking some strange mish-mash of different dialects. I don't see a problem with this -- all of us incorporate new words into our vocabularly, or hold on to our learned pronunciations. How do you pronounce 'aunt' -- ant? or awnt? It's a recognized variant, so no one blinks when you stick with the pronunciation you learned. The purists will not accept this, of course - there are a number of Irish speakers on various boards who insist that there is a "right way" and a "wrong way" to pronounce everything, and that anyone who does not recognize the differences is doomed to be an utter failure as a learner.

Part of learning a language is learning to mimic the pronunciation and intonation of native speakers -- it is important, and I don't mean to make light of the fact that to speak a language you do have to learn to speak it properly and understandably.

However, go online and check the variety of pronunciations offered for even this single word and it's easy to see how people get confused.
Transparant Language: go raibh maith agat, oiche mhaith, and others.
Daltai.com: tá mé go maith

Irish Times online Irish lessons:
Nóra: Tá mé go maith, agus conas tá tú féin? (TAW* may* goh MAH, AH-guhs KUN-uhs TAW* too fay*n).

Irish Lessons with Dennis Doyle:
Tá mé go maith--> tah may go mah or Táim go maith-->tah-im go mah
oíche mhaith-->ee-ha-why

Irish Lion (a restaurant, but with quite a bit of Irish culture notes)
Tá mé go maith go raibh maith agat, pronounced
taw may guh moh, gurrah mah hahgut, or taw may guh moh, guh row moy ah-gut,

Wiki Travel:
Táim go maith (TAW'm guh MAH)
Go raibh maith agat/agaibh. (GUH ROH MAH ug-ut/ug-iv)
Oíche mhaith. (EE-hah why)
And dozens of others - search irish pronuciation in Google and have fun!

Focal an Lae

If you scroll down a bit, you'll notice a brightly colored (woah!) widget from Transparent Langauge -- a "Word a Day" in Irish. It includes audio, so I thought I'd try it for a while, if I can stand the glare of it!

Travlang also offers an emailed "word of the day" delivered into your inbox every morning in a variety of languages.

21 July 2008

Yahoo Groups

Since I spend so much time at my computer, I'm always on the lookout for new online resources to help learn Irish. Years ago, I was a huge USENET fan -- it still exists, of course, but it's become a hotbed of spam and porn, and not much use for anything anymore.

However, the creation of chat groups in Yahoo has spawned a number of lists dedicated to learning Irish. Some are using a particular text, others just general reference and support. I've found the archives to be very useful, and I belong to a couple of the groups that are focused specifically on the books that I am using.

Most notably, I am a member of the coisfhairrge Irish group - going through O'Siahdail's Learning Irish lesson by lesson, with a lot of additional information from the members. I also read the Progress in Irish group via digest. Both groups have a file and download section that has many helpful documents put together by other learners. It's worthwhile browsing the file sections even if you don't receive emails for the list.

Other groups include:
The Philo-Celtic Society has a number of groups, geared to different levels of learning. The most populate starting groups are:
There are others of course - chat-type lists in Irish, discussion forum about culture, etc. Just do a seach for Irish Gaelic or Gaeilge at groups.yahoo.com.

I didn't have as much luck on Google groups, which seems to be much less organized part of the Google scheme, and full of advertising and sad groups with only 2 or three members. I didn't find any specific groups for learning Irish there at all.

Nancy Stenson's Workbook

There used to be a fabulous set of exercises and additional work based on O'Siadhail's Learning Irish, and developed by Nancy Stenson for her Irish Gaelic classes. However, people move around and the files vanished into the ether almost 10 years ago.

You can find all the lessons in the archives of the GAELIC-L listserv. The Archive is interesting on its own, but the text-only format is pretty hard to read.

However, I had all the workbook lessons and exercises copied into a local notebook (yes, I am a weird information hoarder) and I contacted Prof. Stenson and received her permission to post them on my website. The exercises are available as html files, and both the exercises and answers are available as a zipped MS Word file.

The files are available here: Nancy Stenson's Workbooks.

There may still be typos or errors in the exercises -- if you find any, please drop me a note so I can get things updated.

Triumphant Return

Ok, maybe not triumphant, given that I pretty much fell off the face of the earth two years ago with this blog. Life caught up with me, and while I still piddled around with Irish, I didn't do enough to warrant posting anything interesting at all.

However, I'm editing and reposting some of the earlier info I had here (oooh, all 15 posts) and I will definitely make an attempt to keep things more updated. I've made a renewed commitment to work through the lessons I have. It may or may not be terribly interesting or useful, but it's a good tool for me to try to articulate what I've learned, so you all get to suffer through it with me.

My adorable Husband bought me the Rosetta Stone software for Irish 1-3 for my birthday, and it has definitely renewed my enthusiasm. So! New layout, new content, and more regular posting. I promise. Things may be a bit out of order as I re-post some updated versions of earlier stuff, but we'll be moving on smoothly soon!


One of the hardest things for a new student is that Irish has three distinct dialects. The three main dialects are: Ulster (spoken in the north), Connacht (spoken in the west, in Galway, Mayo), and Munster (in the south, Kerry, Cork, Waterford) A fourth, Leinster, dialect is no longer spoken. Obviously, sub-dialects exist, but until I'm a whole lot more familiar with things, these aren't really important.

The dialects are mutually understandable, of course (think Georgia vs New York English). Most of the differences between the dialects are as you would expect: pronunciation, vocabulary, and some word-form changes. The language used to be more homogenous, when there were more speakers and much more contact between the different areas. Travelling through the country, the slight changes would be gradual from one area to another, and probably barely noticeable. Now, though, small Gaeltachts (Irish-speaking areas) scattered around Ireland have tended to enhance (and perhaps artificially focus on) the differences.

I discovered the difference between the dialects in the very first exposure I had to Irish -- in the first lesson:

How are you?
Ulster: Cad é mar atá tú?
Connacht: Cén chaoi a bhfuil tú?
Munster: Conas taoi? or Conas ta tú?

Ulster (Ulaidh) -- This the main dialect spoken in the northwest of Ireland. It is quite different from other dialects, sharing more in common with Scots Gaelic than the others. This means it has a tendency to include unique words and meanings that are not used in Connacht or Munster. For example, druid (close) is in the other dialects dún.

The Ulster dialect is fairly easy to learn, but because of the odd pronuncation of some words, it might be hard to understand speakers of the other dialects. Irish on your Own is Ulster Irish. I also have a complete set of sounds recorded by a speaker from the Daltai forum hosted on my site.

Connacht (Connachta) -- by far the largest group of people speak this dialect, which is common in the western part of Ireland along Galway Bay. This is the closest to the 'standard' Irish as proposed by the government, and carries with it few archaic terms and forms. The majority of students seem to gravitate to this dialect (especially since the primary book, Learning Irish, is written in a subdialect of Connacht, Cois Fhairrge). The pronunciation is clear (although quite gutteral) and the grammar is somewhat simplified. The strongest form of this language is Connamara Irish (spoken on the Aran Islands). This is the primary dialect that I've been studying, and it was on the Aran Islands that I managed to have a few short conversations in Irish without being completely lost!

Munster (An Mhumhain) -- southern irish, and probably the most archaic form of the language. It has a number of different forms for verb conjugations and pronouns. A lot of learners really like this dialect, because it sounds "very Irish" and is linked very closely to other Celtic languages. Pimsleur Quick Irish is the Munster dialect, and the more musical pronunciation and speech patterns are very apparent on the CDs. Other materials include Irish for Beginners and Enough Irish to Get By. Also, an early version of Teach Yourself Irish (by Myles Dillon) is Munster-based. You can often find copies on eBay.

Munster has a set of 'synthetic' verb forms that are different than the other two dialects. In most cases, these take the form of personal endings to verbs, instead of a separate pronoun. Here is an example:

Munster = Connacht/Ulster
táim = tá mé
tánn tú = tá tú
tá sé, sí = tá sé, sí
táimid = tá muid
tánn sibh = tá sibh
táid = tá siad

Standard Irish -- the language was standardized in the 50s, with new spelling, and a 'generic' form of Irish was artificially created. The official standard of Irish called the "Caighdeán Oifigiúil," referred to by native speakers as "book Irish." The central dialect pronunciation, called Lárchanúint, seems to take the common pieces of all three dialects, simplifies the grammar and spelling. Learning materials for this 'dialect' include Buntus Cainte and Teach Yourself Irish.

A very interesting, if linquistically challenging explanation of the differences between the dialects can be found here on Brain Sip and here on Wiki. Another source here, as well.

You can hear the different sounds and forms here for Munster and Connacht/Ulster:

So, what does this mean? Well, not much actually, except to suggest that you pick a primary dialect to study and don't worry too much about being understand by other speakers. If you 'mix' dialects, you'll still be understood, there is no 'wrong' or 'right' dialect. (well, opinions probably differ on that, and people are quite ferocious defending their favorite!). It gets confusing only when you start mixing books and cds and end up with phrases with slightly different word order or with different endings. Until you have some familiarity with the rules, it's hard to tell if you've got it right.

20 July 2008

Basic Resources

As part of the new-and-improved plan for learning Irish, I’m really going back to square one and trying to add some sort of structure to what I’ve been doing. My approach has really been scattershot, using a number of different resources. While this has given me a good beginner-level understanding of things (at least so far!) it’s been unsatisfactory – I don’t feel like I’ve really got a good grasp on things – only that I’ve learned X or Y, but not necessarily how it all fits together.

I think this is pretty common learning a new language as an adult. We approach it differently, I think. More...analytical, more information…but with less control, perhaps.

There are a number of resources available to a beginner:

I had been using the audio lessons of Irish On Your Own to get a working knowledge of things. This course comes with five cassette tapes with lessons and conversations to repeat, as well as a colorful textbook that manages to insert some grammar and cultural references. But this course only touches on grammar and relies heavily on rote repetition of phrases in simple conversation. I like the course a lot, it’s very energetic and certainly gets me speaking (at least to my car!) out loud. I strongly recommend this book-and-tape set.

The primary course book for Irish – or at least the most popular one – is a densely foot-noted textbook by Michael O’Siadhail, titled Learning Irish. While this is designed as a self-taught course, it is definitely not an easy one and focuses on grammar more than conversation. I’ve had to rely on a lot of outside support to make sense of the rules. Each chapter has exercises which are mostly translation work, which is not a very successful learning method for many people. I'm currently hosting an online set of additional lessons by Nancy Stenson -- these are very useful as more ‘conversational’ level work that follows along with each lesson. There are tapes (an a newly released version with CDs) along with the book, which have some rather flat recitations of vocabulary words and short readings. (I say flat, but what I usually tell people is "scary" -- the woman who reads the pronunciations and initial chapter's vocabulary is a fierce sounding woman, indeed).

Rosetta Stone language learning software has recently released three levels of Irish instruction. Using pictures and a variety of interactive activities, Rosetta Stone teaches language in a natural and easy-to-use method. My adorable husband purchased all three levels for me, for my birthday this year, and I am using those lessons as the basis for returning to my study of Irish. So far, it has been a very easy and low-stress way to learn. Being able to "talk back" to the computer and compare my pronunciation with theirs has been a really interesting process. I can pinpoint where the problems are and as I get better with pronunciation, the software can be set to be more and more picky about matching exactly. I feel a bit ridiculous wearing a headset and solemnly replying to my computer, but any time I speak out loud, I'm making better progress.

The venerable Teach Yourself series has a book on Irish which has recently been updated and released with CDs. While I have a copy (books! more books!) I haven’t really used this much. Quite a few people like these courses very much, and a grammar reference has been released in the last few months. There is also a quick-and-dirty Teach Yourself Irish Conversation that is primarily an audio-only course and is a quick introduction to the basics.

Progress in Irish is a teeny little book that relies almost entirely on translations exercises to introduce vocabulary and grammar concepts, so in my opinion, it can’t really be called a “course”, especially since correct answers aren’t actually provided in the book. It can be a bit hard to work with alone, but online resources do help a bit here.

Perhaps the most common first-time Irish texts that are mentioned are the Buntus Cainte series, which are entirely conversation based, no grammar rule, and split up into short, easy to repeat lessons. They introduce Irish as it would be learned as a child: short, simple sentences that build on one another and can be learned by heart and then extrapolated into more difficult sentences. This is a fairly old course, but it has recently been rerecorded with CDs. The illustrations are still cute, though.

Pimsleur also produces a short course in Irish, but other than an interesting example of the Munster dialect, it really doesn’t offer much (a grand total of 55 words). I snagged it off Audible.com, but it really hasn’t been very useful except to get me more comfortable with speaking out loud. I suppose if my goal was to chat up someone of the opposite sex while traveling, this would be good: half the course is a single conversation with someone asking if they understand you and where they're from.

Most of these books can be found at Litriocht or from Amazon.


We once counted, and there are 37 dictionaries in the Phouka house -- a dozen or so in English (from a lovely 1894 dictionary to medical speciality books to the latest Oxford English Dictionary on CD), and the remaining in other languages. Why, yes, every household does need a Latin-English dictionary, just in case. And Spanish, German, Greek, Swedish and others....you know, you might need to look up some strange reference. It happens!

I love dictionaries and have been known to just sit down and read them. So, when I embarked on learning Irish, I immmediately compiled a goodly list of Irish dictionaries, based on recommendations from a number of of the Gaelic sites. The links are to Amazon, although these books are often found on eBay, and can be ordered from Irish Books and Media or Litriocht.com

At the very least, the primary recommendation for learners is Foclóir Scoile English-Irish/Irish English Dictionary published by An Gum, which is one of the few with complete phonetic pronunciation hints for about 30,000 words. It has the basics for everything in the classes that I've looked through.

The "Master" Irish dictionary is the Foclóir Gaeilge-Béarla (Irish-English) originally compiled by Ó Dónaill (and currently edited by de Bhaldraithe). This couple-pound tome has Irish headwords only and definitions and idiom in English. This is has been updated several times and the current version (also published by An Gum) no longer has the archaic spellings or Irish fonts. I have an older version that I picked up on eBay that is the "old" typography, and while it is quite lovely, I appreciate the modern typeset version. It's still a bit difficult to use, if you're not familiar with Irish word-forms, and the Gaeltacht Minnesota folks have put together a nice document offering some help on how to look things up that I've found invaluable. A few more hints are here.

A reference dictionary of English-Irish only, edited by de Bhaldraithe is also published by An Gum. The headwords are English only, with definitions and idioms in Irish. This won't tell you what a particular Gaelic word means, but if you are stuck with trying to translate your English sentence, this is the most complete dictionary I've found. It is the companion volume to the Foclóir Gaeilge-Béarla.

There are a few little pocket dictionaries, useful to carry around a decipher newspapers and signs, but not really useful for doing classwork, in my opinion. Of course, I still have two -- The Oxford Irish Minidictionary, which is quite nice, and the Foclóir-Póca, a miniaturized version of the Foclóir-Scoile listed above, which includes pronunciation help. There is also a Collins pocket dictionary.

There are a few good online dictionaries:
For the word-philes among us, there is a great CD set of the Corpas na Gaeilge, which is a reference collection of Gaelic language from 1600-1882, listing all instances of words in historic books. I picked mine up in Ireland, on a whim, and haven't really had a chance to look at it much. It's definitely not a learner's tool -- it's more academic/historic in nature.


One of the things I did with my spare time (yes, I'm compulsive) is to transcribe a series of books called Simple Lessons in Irish by Rev. Eugene O'Growney, which were published in 1904. These pamphlets use an archaic font for the Irish, that I attempted to reproduce with modern fonts so the online versions are as similar to the books as possible.

In these older fonts, you'll often see consonants with dots over them. This is used to show pronunciation changes in the word (a change that denotes aspiration, called lenition). In modern script, this is shown by adding an H (remember the conversation about that fact that 'h' is not a letter?) after the consonant instead of the dot-notation.

While it's easy to swap over your keyboard so that you can easily produce the fada over long vowels, the "old" forms for the consonants are a bit harder, since they are not usually a part of the normal character set for a font.

However, if you want to write in an Irish script with the "fancy" S and R and use the dots over the letters, it is possible, but a bit more cpmplicated. As far as I know, there is no easy way of writing them using a standard keyboard, even if it's mapped to Irish Gaelic. You have to use the alt-key combinations that are supported in Word (and some other applications). I'm on WinXP and using MS Word, so that is what follows. I have no idea how to get this all to work on Linux or Mac, for example. (If you have any hints, drop me a note).

The alt-key combinations are a bit different for the consonants, but these work for Bunchlo Arsa, the Gaelic font I have been using:


In this case, you simply type the 4-character code, then press alt-x to print the letters. What I've done in documents is write the version with the h and then write quick macro to replace the letters one by one -- tedious, but unless someone know how to edit keyboard files to produce these 'combination" letters, that's what I'm stuck with.

Not that I suggest you write much in these old forms, mind you. It might look nice, but the majority of people will not be familiar with them, and will be looking for the standard spellings.

15 July 2008

Gaelic Interfaces

Well, I hate to suggest that Microsoft actually did something right, but they have worked hard to support "minority" languages, such as Irish Gaelic. They've provided some tools, and even updated the interface for local language use. You've always been able to change keyboards, and to type in the ASCII or Unicode codes to get non-standard letters, but being able to change the whole environment to support a foreign language has usually been limited to the "biggies".

Now, though, you can download a completely changed interface for dozens of languages. Using their Windows Language Packs.

I haven't installed any of these tools (they change the entire interface, menus, dialogs, etc, into Irish Gaelic and I'm quite certain that I don't have the vocabulary for that yet!) But, the instructions note you can turn the new interface on and off, so you should be able to go back if it's just too confusing. Maybe I'll try it on my laptop (not quite willing to trust MS messing with my interface on my primary home machine).

Pacáiste Comhéadan Gaeilge Office 2003

Windows XP in Gaeilge
Office XP Proofing tools (including spellchecker). Note that this works with Office XP only, not the latest version. I wasn't able to find anything more recent. Hm. Maybe Microsoft is letting me down.

Firefox also has a Gaeilge interface (although not for the most recent version 3).

There are also some non-MS tools out there for the aspiring Gaelic author, including a windows version of GaelSpell 3, and a Gaelic version of Google.

01 July 2008


I find the fact that 'film' is pronounced 'fillum' in most of Ireland quite charming. Because there is really no way in Irish Gaelic to pronounce that weird letter combination, a quick 'uh' (schwa) is stuck between them so you can wrap your tongue around the letters. It's not written, but appears when the letters l, n, or r get bumped up against b, c, g, or m. Pronounce both sounds separately, with that auxiliary vowel sound stuck in there as you need to.

For example, banbh (piglet) is pronounced roughly 'ban-uhv' (don't pay any attention to that weird 'bh' combination yet! Just trust me that it's 'v'). And bolg (stomach) is roughly bullog. I don't think that I'd be misunderstood if I didn't insert the 'uh' sound and just said bol-g, but I imagine that it would be seen as a quaint mispronunciation that added to our "American" accent in Gaeilge.

American English (most dialects, anyway) don't have this pronunciation issue. We just run the sounds together in most cases, so 'film', 'berg', 'calm' don't need this auxiliary vowel sound inserted. I have heard some British English speakers with the extra syllable, however.

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!

Pronunciation Woes III: Weird Endings

Just a quick update -- there are a few vowel combinations that crop up in the vocabulary of Learning Irish early on that are hard to pin down (listen to the tapes a lot at first, and repeat things over and over. If you can manage to tape yourself and listen to the source and then your recording, that would be good). Most of what I have here has been gleaned from the books I have and websites I've found. Remember that I am NOT a native speaker!

The big thing to remember is that Irish, despite the clusters of vowels that would please any Scrabble player, has very few true dipthongs. The o's and i's showing up all over are simply pronunciation marks for broad or slender consonants and are not specifically pronounced. So, a lot of the vowel-groups are pronounced the same way despite being spelled very differently.
abh, obh, ogh --> ow as in 'cow'; at the beginning of a word, like German 'au'
amh --> at the end of words, 'av', otherwise 'au' (in connacht only)
adh, agh, eidh --> at the beginning of a word, like 'eye'
omh(a) --> ó
umh(a) --> ú
But it's the endings of words that cause some problems for me -- especially since they are pronounced quite a bit differently in the different dialects. The ending of a word may change to denote plurals or other grammatical meaning. For example, -(a)igh and -(a)idh occurs quite often and is pronounced quite differently:
In Munster --> ig'
In Connacht --> ə (just 'uh')
In Ulster--> i or ə
In Standard Irish --> í
Another common ending is -óidh:
In Munster --> óig
In Connacht --> ó
In Ulster --> the old suffix -ochaidh is used
In Standard Irish --> oí
I've just picked up a new book that has some very clear pronunciation rules - as soon as I get my head wrapped around them, I'll post again.

Pronunciation Woes: Vowels I

I can only hope that my accent speaking Irish is as charming and sexy as we American English speakers find an Irish accent. (Really, several of the lovely barmen in Ireland could just read the phone book and I'd be enthralled). We have accents because we do not have the same sounds for vowels and our "native" pronuncation spills over into how we pronounce foreign words.

Americans have a hard time with the French nasal 'n', Spanish trilled 'r', and the rounded vowel sounds of some Scandinavian langauges (hell, we have problems with our own language, I shoudln't worry about examples!). Many speakers of western langauges have a very hard time even hearing the difference in many Asian languages, much less being able to reproduce the sounds accurately. Is that 'a' pronounced 'aw' or 'ah' or 'ay'? It is 'ee' or 'eye' for 'i'? The Irish speak English with that lovely accent because of the way letters are pronounced in Gaelic, and I will likely speak Gaelic with the flat vowels of American midwestern English unless I pay close attention and try to mimic native speakers and practice a LOT with recordings.

Which of course assumes I can find a native speaker. Not the easiest thing in the world, so I've been reduced to the CD sets that come along with my books, and online references (hopefully with sound files). In fact, one of the posters from Daltai has provided recordings of all the sounds in Ulster Irish, which I host on my website.

Vowels are actually easy. As I noted before, there are short forms and long forms of each vowel in Irish. And, unlike English, Irish Gaelic has the common decency to show when the vowel is long or short (instead of relying on incomprehensible spelling rules and rote memorization).

Short vowels are a, e, i, o, u. Long vowels are written with an acute symbol over them, like this: á, é, í, ó, ú. Because i and í look awfully alike, a font face that is Gaelic-friendly will not have a dot over a normal i, and you normally omit it when you write things out longhand.

botherában, bar
Of course unstressed syllables disappear into a generic 'uh' sound. The English word 'above' is not pronounced as an exaggerated 'ah-bohv', the 'a' and 'o' are subsumed into the sound of the syllable and it becomes 'uh-buhv'. The same occurs in Irish. Vowels -- long or short -- in unstressed syllables are reduced to the generic schwa. Occassionally whole words disappear -- as, ag, agus often are reduced to an 'uh' sound in normal conversation.

Learning Irish has a rather cryptic fold-out pronunciation guide, which I must admit confused me more than it helped. Partly this is because the "example" words are supposed to be pronounced as an English person would say them, not American English, which got me set off on the wrong foot. Even with a standard phonetic spelling, it can be difficult. Each word introduced in the lessons is provided with pronunciation notes in the vocabulary list, as well.

I will make a strong suggestion that you learn to read and use the International Phonetic Alphabet, which is used in some form in nearly all pronouncing dictionaries (including the Foclóir Scoile.) It takes a bit to learn, but it really is the most accurate (and non-accented) way to understand the sounds that you're supposed to be using. Be careful on websites to determine whether their are using 'English' pronunciation (American English and British English pronounce many vowels quite differently) so you know how it should be used.

There are dozens of online sources for pronunciation, here are a few:
Phouka.com (with sound)
Daltai (with sound)
Beginners Guide
Fios Feasa
Musical Traditions (simplified)
Nagail Magazine (with sound)

Pronunciation Woes: Vowels II

I found it easy enough to figure out the "plain" vowels (a, e, i, o, u, á, é, í, ó, ú) and the whole idea that they tend to disappear in normal speech under certain circumstances. Even if I manage them as I would in English, I'm probably ok. 'Bat' vs 'ball' for the 'a' is pretty intuitive.

However, it's about this point that most books toss in the 'slender/broad' thing. This really relates to how consonants are pronounced, but it affects how vowels are combined, so let me explain:

In Irish, the vowels i and e, whether long or short, are considered slender vowels. A, o, u (and the combination ae) are considered broad vowels. This doesn't actually change the pronunciation of the vowels themselves, but it affects spelling in a predictable (but odd) way. The rule you'll hear quoted in every single Irish textbook is 'caol le caol agus leathan le leathan' -- slender with slender, broad with broad.

What this means in practice is that the 'type' of vowel on either side of a consonant must be the same. If there's an i before the consonant, then there must be an i or e after it (well, if there are any letters after it at all, of course). Because of the spelling rule, there are often vowels inserted into the word to ensure that the consontant is flanked by the same type. The tricky part is that these are not always pronounced, but they do change the pronunciation of the following consonant. I'll talk more about that later, but suffice it to say that sometimes the combinations of vowels that show up in words are a bit off: iúi, eoi, uai.

Most of the time, the i at the end of the vowel combination is not really spoken, it just adds a bit of a 'glide' to the pronunciation -- an i-sound or y-sound that is very subtle, like the difference between the vowel sounds in (American) English 'moot' and 'mute' or 'pave' and 'pail'. Actually, that's a fairly strong example, it's usually less obvious, at least to my ear.

It's the combinations of vowels that throw me (as they do in English, I guess.) Learning Irish doesn't really talk much about these, but the first time you venture into an Irish Dictionary, you'll be faced with some interesting spellings. Quite a few of these are pronounced almost the same as the basic vowel, just a tiny bit of that 'moot/mute' vowel changing.
ái → ai
ói → ói
éi → éi
eo → ə
íu → íy
aoi → uí → oí → í
eoi → yoi
iúi → yúi
uío → eeo
ia → íə
uai → úe
ao → é (munster) → í (connacht/ulster/standard)
ae → é
ei → eh
ea → a (in connacht like ae)
ai → a or o
ui → i
oi → between e and o
io → í
There are also a few combinations that are pronounced differently when they occur at the beginning of a word:
eo at beginning → ó
iú at beginning → ú
ui at beginning → i
oi at beginning → i or e
I'm sure there are others that I haven't managed to track down yet. As you can see, in most cases, you actually do pronounce all the vowels that are printed, some just get squashed into the 'glide' (usually i or o). I've printed out a chart and taped it to the inside of Learning Irish, in the hopes that these will start to look familiar.

Writing Irish

Irish uses the same alphabet as English, more or less. Other than a few words adopted from other languages, Irish doesn't have any native words including j, q, v, w, x, or z. You'll find gaelic-ized versions of some words beginning with these letters, but they are all imported words that are force-fit into the Irish scheme. For example, jacaí (jockey). Pronounced roughly the same, just spelled according to the rules. It's rather amusing to page through a dictionary and see just a few entries for these letters.

In some older books, you'll see forms of the letters that are quite different from normal roman letters, for example: ſ for r, or ɼ for s. This old-style lettering has been replaced by modern letters for readability. The change does explain one of the wierd quirks of Irish, that is: even though the letter 'h' shows up all over the place in written Irish, it really isn't considered a letter. (well, like the letters listed above, it does occasionally get used in loan words, but I digress). Instead, it is a sign of aspiration, a change in the way the previous letter is pronounced. In the old typeface, these changes were noted by a dot over the letter. Getting rid of the dot meant having to add an h afterwards to show the change. So, the old typeface might show which is now shown as Bh. Easy enough. [note, if you can't see these, you need the font from here]

English doesn't have acute symbols or any kind of accent marks in normal spelling. Except for some obviously foreign loan words which have managed to hold on to their native typography, we don't have dots or tails or lines floating around in written English (well, I suppose pre-teen girls tend to dot their i's with hearts, but that doesn't really count.) We tend to denote changes in pronunciation by using different letter combinations or other spelling peculiarities -- or we don't bother to differentiate at all and expect speakers to 'just know' the right pronuncation for a specific series -- is the 'ough' pronounced 'uff' (as in tough) or just 'oo' (as in though)? Not the best scheme.

Irish uses an acute symbol over vowels to show how they are to be pronounced (whether the vowel is long or short, bite vs bit, for example). So, you'll see á, é, í, ó, ú in words as well as a, e, i, o, u. Irish doesn't use any symbols over the consonants, only vowels are distinguished this way. When spelling out loud, the long accent is also 'spelled' -- á is spoken as 'a-fada', literally, 'a-long'.

Well, fabulous. How on earth do you get these letters to print out on your computer? There are two ways of doing this -- both of which are a bit complicated. The first method uses the ASCII equivalents that are typed using the ALT-key and the numeric keypad. These are as follows:

á ALT-0225
é ALT-0233
í ALT-0237
ó ALT-0243
ú ALT-0250

Á ALT-0193
É ALT-0201
Í ALT-0205
Ó ALT-0211
Ú ALT-0218

The second method involves installing a secondary keyboard mapping into your computer that lets you generate the characters more easily. Adding the English(Irish) keyboard is quite simple, and you can swap between keybaords on the fly in most versions of Windows. Once the keyboard is installed, you can type the accented letters by using the right ALT-key and the letter itself. A side effect is that some of the other keys are moved, and some change meaning, but nothing you can't get used to.
  1. In windows XP, go to start > control panel > regional and Language Options.
  2. On the languages tab, select details.
  3. Click add, and select the language you want to add the keyboard layout you want to use.
  4. The layout will be available via the language bar.
Here are instructions on adding and Irish keyboard in Windows from the language bar itself. For Macintosh, there is info here. OS 10.2 support an extended Irish keyboard.

I tend to type out all my lessons, since I spend my days in front of the computer anyways, and my handwriting has degenerated into an illegible scrawl due to typing all day.