OT - Irish and German

Colin Fine colin at kindness.demon.co.uk
Thu Mar 31 16:00:23 EST 2005

Dorian E. Gray wrote:

> Colin replied to me...
>>> What I meant by that statement is that once you know the pronunciation
>>> rules in Irish, they don't change; you don't have more than one sound
>>> associated with the same letter or combination of letters, nor more
>>> than one way of spelling the same sound.  You do have to know the
>>> rules first, but once you do, pronunciation and spelling are very
>>> straightforward.
>> I don't think it's as straightforward as you suppose. To pick a word at
>> random from a website (http://www.cnag.ie/): Oireachtais (not quite at
>> random: an example with several sequences of vowels and no accent 
>> marks).
>> Now I know enough to know that those three pairs <oi>, <ea> and <ai> are
>> not in fact digraphs, but in each case one of the the vowels will be
>> pronounced and the other is a buffer for a broad or narrow consonant.
>> What I don't know is which is which. I can make a guess (I think for
>> example that neither <i> has vocalic quality) but I don't know. Are you
>> saying there are rules for this?
> 1 May
> To be honest, I started learning Irish at such a young age that I've 
> pretty much internalised the pronunciation rules, and cannot, 
> unfortunately, explicate them.  If you want the actual rules, Ania, 
> who learned the language as an adult, can probably help you.  But 
> yeah, <oi>, <ea> and <ai> have each their own pronunciation and that 
> pronunciation doesn't change.
But do they? My impression (which may be wrong) was that <oi> could be 
/o/ before a narrow consonant *or* /i/ after a broad one.

> However, my original point still stands.  *Once* *you* *know* *the* 
> *rules*...all is good.  The fact that a person does not know the rules 
> does not invalidate my point.  If you, individually, are simply trying 
> to learn the rules, that is a completely different point.
I'm questioning whether there are the rules you claim. But again I 
concede that my knowledge of the subject is limited.
(In English there are many rules of pronunciation, which mostly work 
most of the time).

>> Syllable-initial <st> and <sp> are invariably pronounced /sht/ and
>> /shp/, but if they happen to come together in separate syllables they're
>> /st/ etc. Compare Eistanze and Stanze.
> Okay, now I see what you're getting at.
> But surely that's a perfectly regular pair of pronunciations, where in 
> the first case the pronunciation of "st" is modified by the leading 
> "ei" and in the second case, the pronunciation of "st" is dictated by 
> the fact that it's the start of the word.
> Admittedly, I did say that one spelling had one sound, which was 
> probably oversimplistic of me.  But I don't see a problem with a sound 
> being modified by a preceding syllable, as long as the modification 
> happens *every* time that preceding syllable is involved.  The 
> spelling/pronunciation relationship is still regular.
Philip has very elegantly (and much more knowledgeably than I could be) 
countered that one. Thank you Philip.

I am not denying that German orthography has fewer special cases than 
English, or that German word order may be a little less free than 
English. But I tend to (over)react when people make sweeping statements 
about languages, especially when comparing them to English.


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