And one can tell how a word is pronounced from the spelling!
That's as true for Irish as it is for Welsh.
Is it? I remember looking at several descriptions of what Irish vowel digraphs do and still being unsure of what actually went on. I'm pretty sure that ea
is [_ja] and ai
is [a_j] (palatalization goes on following consonant -- sorry, I'm being sloppy with transcriptions), but then some people seem to say that ea
is actually [j_E], [j_æ] or something, and that confuses the heck out of me. Can't anyone make up her mind?!
How fronted the vowel is in ea
depends on the consonant that follows. You wouldn't get [ʲɛ] in any of the dialects I'm familiar with, but you would get [ʲæ] if the following consonant is also palatalised.
I generally find that if you're pronouncing the consonants correctly, then the vowel quality takes care of itself. In fact Ó Siadhail analyses the language as having just three stressed short vowels which are phonemically distinguished only by height with frontness/backness determined by context.
And don't even ask me what ia and ae do; I thought I knew at one point, but I just couldn't get a clear picture from anything I ran into. Maybe I should do some more research on this subject, but I'd probably just get overwhelmed and run away making vague noises of consternation.ia
is [ʲiːə], regardless of what follows. ae
is the spelling of /eː/ when flanked by velarised consonants. Phonetically, it's generally something like [ɰ̯ɛː] in the dialects I'm familiar with. (In Cork, ao
is pronounced the same way, but in other dialects this is equivalent to uío
And then, of course, just when you think you know what's going on with all those vowels and slender/broad consonants, you run smack up against the inevitable dialectal variation. I know, I know, dialects are so great and wonderful and we mustn't squash them because they show the character of the region or whatever, but they're so confusing if you don't know which is which or which one you're learning or reading about. They also result in countless variant spelling schemes, regardless of whether someone's already devised a unified orthography. Welsh and Irish both have lots of dialectal variation (yes it was hard for me at first with Welsh but soon I got it all straightened out), and I think Irish has some sort of unified orthography too, which Welsh doesn't seem to, but my impression was that whereas Welsh spelling varied slightly based on local pronunciation, Irish spelling varied greatly based on how the writer felt like spelling it. Admittedly both their spelling schemes probably vary based on both factors, but I think one is predominant for Irish and the other for Welsh. Correct me if you think I'm wrong, as I may well be.
Irish spelling is unified; that's part of the Official Standard (Caighdeán Oifigiúil
) I've talked about elsewhere. I do occasionally see variant spellings to show dialectal peculiarities, but less often than I see with Welsh. (About the same frequency as I see with English, actually.)
About the only Irish texts I have which use dialect-specific spellings are Ó Siadhail's Learning Irish
(which has the specific aim of teaching his native Connemara dialect) and Ó Cuív's The Irish of West Muskerry, Co. Cork
, which--as the title tells you--is concerned with the pronunciation of a specific Cork variety.