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Knowledge of Higher Worlds and its Attainment

Rudolf Steiner

The Worm Ouroboros

E. R. Eddison

Theory of Colours

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Vanity Fair

William Thackery

Irish phonetics

by Michael O'Flanagan



The object of the following few pages is to examine the sounds of Irish in the light of general phonetic principles. I do not claim to speak with any special authority on the subject; I merely wish to draw attention to a very interesting aspect of Irish, which, as far as I am aware, has hitherto been practically untouched. Anybody who has already mastered the sounds of Irish will derive advantage from this little book only in so far as he critically examines each statement in it, and perceives its truth from his own experience.

It is now generally admitted that the rational way to acquire the sounds of a new language is by systematic drill upon exercises drawn up in accordance with phonetic laws. Such exercises for Irish will be found on pages 17 and 18. The set may be rendered fairly complete by re.writing the given lists with the consonants aspirated. Teachers should write such lists on the blackboard, and get their classes to repeat them in unison.

The remarkable way in which the phenomena of broad and slender sounds, of aspiration and of eclipsis work out is the most interesting portion of the booklet. I hope it will surprise and delight my readers as much as it did me when I first realized it.

M. O'F.

January, 1904.


I.—The Organs of Speech.

The lungs blow air through the windpipe into a cavity at the back of the mouth called the pharynx. Just before leaving the windpipe the air passes between the vocal chords, which may be relaxed and silent as they are in breathing, or may vibrate so as to produce voice. From the pharynx the air may pass over the tongue, between it and the soft palate, and out through the mouth; or, it may pass up behind the soft palate and out by the nostrils. It is while flowing from the pharynx through one or both of these passages that the voice, and the voiceless currents of air are moulded into the various vowel arid consonant sounds. There is, however, one written sound that is articulated by the vocal chords themselves.

II.—The Aspirate.

If air from the lungs is blown silently over the relaxed vocal chords, and, "while the current continues, the chords are suddenly drawn into position for vibration, the transition from a silent to a sounding breath of air gives the aspirate. Similarly,

if the vocal chords are in vibration, and, while the air current continues, are suddenly relaxed, we have a final aspirate or h sound. As this is an important and fundamental point, it is as well to realise it fully. In pronouncing the word awe the first step is to put the vocal chords under proper tension for vibration. A column of air is then played on them, so that the moment it starts the chords begin to vibrate, and voice is produced. This voice is, as we shall see afterwards, moulded by the mouth into the vowel sound awe. In pronouncing the word haw, the stream of air is first set up, and flows for a moment over the relaxed vocal chords: then the chords are drawn into position, and the vowel sound follows.


The vowel sounds are all pure voice. When voice is allowed to pass freely out through the mouth, the result is a vowel sound. The character of the vowel depends on the shape of the oral passage. Theoretically the number of vowel sounds is unlimited. There are, however, six that are well known and easily distinguishable.

Three of the. Irish vowels are commonly known as broad. They are written A, o, u. When long they are pronounced respectively like the vowel sounds in the words law, no, and too. Put the forefinger in the mouth, letting it lie along the upper surface of the tongue, and pronounce in succession the three long vowels A, 6, and u. It will be observed that in pronouncing A the back of the tongue is arched slightly upwards towards the soft palate ; in pronouncing 6 it is arched up more ; and in pronouncing I-l still more. These three vowels are therefore called back vowels, and are distinguished respectively as low, medium, and high.

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