Irish: lenition

hailfrommayo

New Member
English - American
Just beginning Irish, but I've already seen stuff like: Maidin mhaith (good morning), An fear agus an bhean (the man and the woman), etc. And I've looked up how to pronounce each aspirated consonant broad and slender, but when do I use them instead of a regular consonant? Does it have anything to do with feminine words (notice in my example above, "fear" is not aspirated, but "bhean" is)?
 
  • AndrasBP

    Senior Member
    Hungarian
    Hello,

    The "consonant + h" combinations are not aspirated consonants in Irish, the sound change is called lenition (softening, weakening).
    The rules for lenition (and for the other sound change called eclipsis) should be available in any trustworthy resource for learners of Irish.

    Does it have anything to do with feminine words (notice in my example above, "fear" is not aspirated, but "bhean" is)?
    Yes, the initial consonant is lenited after the definite article if the noun is feminine, or in the case of an adjective after a feminine noun (see your example maidin mhaith). Also, after the possessive pronouns mo, do (mo bhean - my wife), after the numerals 1-6 (cúig sheomra - five rooms), etc.
     

    L'irlandais

    Senior Member
    Ireland: English-speaking ♂
    Hello halffrommayo,
    Welcome to the forum. Your example hit on an exception to the rule.
    The pocket Oxford English Dictionary tells us:
    ..lenited consonants.. with the exception of f which is not pronounced when leited as fh.
    For example fear when lenited as fhear is pronounced like the English word are.
    Séimhiú (lenition) and it's opposite Urú (eclipsis) can be found online here:
    tearma.ie - Dictionary of Irish Terms - Foclóir Téarmaíochta
     
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    L'irlandais

    Senior Member
    Ireland: English-speaking ♂
    Fair point. Yet in pronunciation terms the former is a kind of softening, while the latter (tearma.ie - Dictionary of Irish Terms - Foclóir Téarmaíochta) is a nasalization; almost a sharpening, if that’s the right word. So yes you are correct in saying they are similar, in that they are both initial mutations, rather than opposites. Yet they are not the same from the point of view of learning the language.
     
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