07 August 2008

Spelling Rules

Everyone with familiar with the Irish spelling rule caol le caol, agus leathan le leathan - broad with broad/slender with slendet. This basically says that the vowels on either side of a consonant have to be of the same type.

It actually makes Irish spelling very regular, despite the rather bizarre combinations of letter that show up. If we remember that "h" isn't actually a letter, just a symbol for aspiration, a word like múinteoir is actually predictable, despite the vowel-groups. More so than English sometimes, I think.

Hey, in English we get tough, though, through -- tuff, tho, thru -- and absolutely no consistent rules about spelling. I'm amazed that we managed to come up with any sort of standard, considering that English didn't start to develop spelling rules until some time in the late 18th century. Noah Webster (of Webster's Dictionary) was a strong proponent of spelling reform --a although with the rather bizarre ways that English represents sounds. (look at the ways we spell the long U sound: shoe, grew, through. do, doom, flue, two, who, brute, duty! More from Ridiculous English Spelling, if you're interested, and linguistic rules from Wikipedia.)

Irish probably has at least as many vowel combinations as English does (more!) to represent the basic vowel sounds, but it does follow that simple rule - iai and eoi and oia and all those unpronounceable combinations are the result of spelling.

At the very least, we should be glad that Irish Spelling reform was successful (whether beloved or not). ríoghdhacht , for example, is now ríocht as a result of efforts that started in 1922 and were finalized with the release of the Offical Standard in 1957 -- and bitterly opposed by many Irish speakers and the Gaelic League, which was committed to the preservation of the Irish language. Mostly, spelling reform eliminated the groups of silent letters that were often left in the middle of the words because of inflexion (eclipsis and aspiration) and the changes required by conjugation and declension. bhthdh were dropped in many cases.

Reading and writing a language can be difficult - but relying on the the consistency of the spelling rule can be helpful: writing out words, you can do a quick check that you have broad (a,o,u) or slender (e,i) on both sides of the letter - might not be much, since it doesn't help decide which of the vowels goes there, but anything helps!

If you're using an older dictionary (such as Fr. Dineen's), the spelling is 'old' spelling, and you should be careful to use a modern dictionary to pick up the standard veresions.

1 comment:

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