An 'in the throat' ch is even closer to an /h/ than the 'ch as in loch ' is. But I think we should be careful about making generalizations about where precisely the ch in cha is made as there is bound to be a lot of dialectal variation. This broad ch is what is called in German, for fairly obvious reasons, the ach-Laut 'ach sound'. However, whilst it is consistently pronounced at the back of the mouth next to an o or u (German buch, Gaelic loch), it is, in some dialects, moved further back, into the throat when next to an a, and this may be what is happening with cha in Gaelic.
For those familiar with IPA, these are distinguished with
- /x/ at the back of the mouth 'velar'
- /χ/ in the throat, 'uvular'
If you move it even further back into the throat, you get what they call a pharyngeal sound
- /ħ/ 'pharyngeal'
This sounds quite like an /h/ and you only have to go a little bit further down the throat to
- /h/ 'glottal'
I tried to find some data. The only decent analysis of Gaelic dialects was done in the 1950s but this is not the major problem. The major problem is that they generally did a good job of choosing suitable words to record the pronunciation of but they had a bit of blind spot with any kind of inflections, and a ch at the beginning of a word is generally an inflected c. The only example they have of a word that starts with a ch is chuige. The problem here is that this word is a variant of thuige anyway, so it is a very unfortunate example as it is clear that many of the respondents were actually saying thuige. I looked for a non-initial ch next to an a and I found buachaile. Virtually everyone pronounced it /x/ (at the back of the mouth) but I do not think we can infer anything from this about how we pronounce words that start with a ch.
In some dialects, particularly as you get close to Ireland, ch is generally closer to /h/, but as you say, context is important. It is virtually impossible to think of a pair of sentences where the two could get confused.
Are you familiar with this project -- putting recordings of Gaelic with transcriptions on the web? If the transcripts are searchable (and the very plain straightforward web site style makes me think they would be) it might well be possible to find all instances of initial "ch" --and filter out inflected ones. http://www.smo.uhi.ac.uk/en/naidheachdan/proiseact-co-obrachaidh
Thank you for that. I went to the DASG website, and found that section with the audio. The search facility was nearly useless. I searched for
cha and, not surprisingly I got lots of words that contained these letters. I then searched for
cha (with spaces) and it hung the system. However I went back to
cha and found some examples of the single word. I followed the link but it played the whole piece without taking me to the correct word. In fact this is such a common word that essentially all texts of any length will contain this word. I listened to some of the texts until I got bored. However, if I were prepared to spend more time on it, it would be really helpful for learning Gaelic, simply because it is text in a variety of dialects, generally spoken fairly slowly and clearly, with both transcription and translation.
No. Duolingo is. It sometimes gets a bit confused with contractions. It is supposed to recognise them automatically without the writers having to specify. Worth flagging - for whoever this happens to next, so we can see if the mods can do anything about it. Until then just sigh.
Duolingo accepts a one-letter error as a typo. Sometimes it even forgets to mention typos at all.
The fault is that there is no way it can tell the difference between an unimportant typo and one that seriously changes the meaning, so should not be allowed.
But at least you noticed on this occasion so you learnt the correct form - well spotted.