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  5. "The river in China."

"The river in China."

Translation:An abhainn ann an Sìona.

December 11, 2019



Why isn't it 'anns an Sìona'?


That would be 'in the China'.


After I posted this, I realized why the definite article isn't used here, as it would be with many other countries ('anns an Fhraing') and as it would be in Irish Gaelic. The article is used in both languages with most country names that end in a slender consonant. That is an tSín in Irish and even the Scots Gaelic Wikipedia includes an t-Sìn as a redirect.


Could you please give some examples of some slender and non-slender consonants?


The vowels i and e are considered slender (caol); a, o and u are not slender but 'broad' (leathann). The vowels effect how the consonants are pronounced. The d and r in the word idir are next to slender vowels, which in this case causes a striking difference from the same consonants near broad vowels (compare with the r in leabhar or the d in dona). TY Gaelic gives the example of broad d pronounced as the d in 'drew' at the beginning of a word (but as a clean t at the end of a word) while a slender one is like the j in 'jet' (at the front of a word). Expect it to be devoiced as a ch in other positions, as in idir.) A basic rule for Gaelic spelling is 'caol ri caol agus leathann ri leathann': slender to slender and broad to broad. In other words, consonants are usually flanked by slender or broad vowels, but not both: hama (broad), sgillinn (slender). Foreign place names with a slender consonant at the end tend to use the article, as I noted: an tSuain, anns an tSuain (Sweden, in Sweden. Hope I got that right!) Siona, ann an Sìona.


Very helpful, thank you!


I have never heard that rule before, but looking down a list of countries I think it is quite accurate in a somewhat accidental way. The rule I was taught was that countries in Europe other than the home countries (Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England) have an article. I think the actual explanation is that places that were known in Gaelic a long time ago have an article, and a Gaelic name that is often slender. And it happens that many newer country names (that are not specifically Gaelic) often end in an a or something else that is broad.

An tSìn / Sìona is rather an odd example as it seems to end in a slender vowel in Irish but not in Gaelic.


That's how we're taught to spell in Irish schools. "Caol le caol agus leathan le leathan". I'm assuming it was just borrowed into Scottish here. I remember being taught in school that the way to remember it was 'i' and 'e' are caol and go together because they mean Ireland (eg Ireland&Éire) and the rest are leathan and "don't matter".


I like that mnemonic. A number of points arise:

  • We have the same rule: caol ri caol, leathan ri leathan. You will learn later that Irish le is either le or ri in Scottish Gaelic, and you have to get it right.
  • Scottish is not a language. Scots is the language like English that was spoken in the Lowlands and is increasingly being spoken throughout Scotland. Our Celtic language is properly called Scots Gaelic. But as that gets confused with Scots, it is increasingly being replaced with Scottish Gaelic, or, when the context is clear, just Gaelic. Either way, it is pronounced Gallic when referring to the Scottish language.
  • There were no 'borrowings' from Irish (except possibly in very recent times). The languages gradually drifted apart over the last few centuries. Each language has made changes, such as SG (as it is sometimes abbreviated) dropping the nasal mutation, and Irish losing the le/ri contrast.


The speaker pronounces the BH in ABHAINN as W instead of V. Is this a feature of a specific accent? I've never heard this pronunciation before from anybody.


Hi, this is really common. It's also the given pronunciation on the learn Gaelic website. I can't speak for everyone but I'd say this is more common than a hard v sound here.


I'll second this!


Arrggh! In Beag air bheag, I first learnt it with a 'v' sound not the 'w'. As a non-native, I want to stick to 'most common pronounciation' in the abscence of any RP for Gaelic - gotta relearn this one.


At the beginning of a word it's different. This is similar to how some English accents roll "R's" differently depending on the position in a word or the initial sound of the following word (though apparently in Scottish English you roll everything).


My wife was born on Islay and lived in Bunahabhainn. She and all her family and anyone else i ever met - including whisky fans- pronounced it with a V sound.


I was just coming to comment that when I first learned of 'abhainn' it was because of Bunnahabhain, and it's the only reason I remember the Gaelic word for river. When I initially learned how to pronounce Bunnahabhain, it was from several native speakers who used the V sound rather than the W. I wonder if the V sound is a dialectic thing strictly from the Islands, as opposed to the mainland, though?


It's the same in Irish. Abhainn is pronounced with a V sound in certain dialects, and a W sound in others.


English and Welsh are the only languages I know that maintain a clear distinction between /v/ and /w/. In English we have to keep them apart because we have so many minimal pairs:

wet/whet — vet
wine — vine
while/wile — vial/vile
mow — mauve
etc. etc.

But most languages, including Gaelic don't have these pairs, so they tend to vary a lot word to word and dialect to dialect.

In Gaelic, where both bh and mh are usually pronounced as /v/ or /w/ these days, there is a spectrum from words that are almost always /w/ such as leabhar to ones that are nearly always /v/ such as bhàta. But even then you only have to cross to Ireland to find a different opinion - listen to this Irish recording of the Scottish song Fear a' Bhàta. Most words are just somewhere in between - /v/ in some dialects and /w/ in others.

So the clear advice is not to worry about it unless you want to learn one specific dialect - which you can't from Duolingo. You will be understood and you will not seem incompetent. And being exposed to both and getting to treat them as interchangeable will simply increase your ability to understand a variety of dialects. D


WET and WHET are not homophonous; neither are WILE and WHILE. Scottish and Irish speakers still keep a clear distinction between voiceless WH and voiced W, though the English lost it a WHile ago. Incidentally, another language which makes a clear distinction between the sounds of V and W is Polish; but there the sound of V is written W and the sound of W is written with an L with a wee stroke through it - a separate letter in the Polish alphabet from L without the wee stroke.


Wine/whine merger
I wondered if I would get more complaints if I treated these as homophones or if I left them out. This apparently well researched Wikipedia article describes the merger as an ongoing process. My experience, having stayed right in the middle of Scotland for 18 years is that it is, for all practical purposes, complete here. When I first arrived, new to Scottish accents, I listened carefully to all the accents I heard from all around, and I hardly every hear the /hw/ except very occasionally from older speakers with non-local (mostly est-coast, I think) accents. I listen to people in the media from all over the world and again, I just don't recall hearing it recently.

There is something very telling about the Wikipedia article, and that is that all the references except one are to 2007 or earlier, and no suggestion that any of the primary data that they rely on was collected after the 1990s. The exception is not to people actually using /hw/ in normal conversation, but rather it is to a an advert mocking the implicitly obsolete /hw/ (Family Guy advert for Wheat-thins).

Of course it will take time for the merger to fully complete, so I would be really interested if you can cite any examples where a significant proportion of the population in any area still has the contrast in 2020.

This is really interesting. This sort of language feature tends, to some extent, to go by family group, so it does not alter the picture for Wester European (Romance/Germanic/Celtic) languages.

As it happens, two of my great-great-uncles, called Elworthy set up a company in what is now Ukraine, and the name became something in Cyrillic (that Duolingo refuses to render properly) and then Elvorti, showing that not all Slavic languages can handle the v/w contrast (or indeed the t/th contrast).

But whilst both Polish and Welsh have two distinct phonemes, do you know if Polish has the long list of minimal pairs that English does? I don't think Welsh does but I am no expert. D


WINE-WHINE MERGER - I must admit, to my great sorrow and distress, that the rising generation in Scotland appears to be losing the distinction: you do hear "white" pronounced as "wite" and the like. I don't know what the "official" attitude taken by schoolteachers is, or if there is one at all. But certainly the WH- / W- distinction is not lost entirely in Scotland.

POLISH - well, the W-sound there has arisen (I gather) from a distinction (which Gaelic has) between velarised and palatalised L: the velarised version has lost its lateral quality and just become a W. (To go off at a complete tangent, in the German tradition of teaching English the so-called "dark" and "clear" L of RP - still the model accent used for teaching there - is over-emphasised to a ridiculous extent: maybe not so much now, but when I was young German learners of English seemed to think they had to swallow their Ls down to their gullets.) Stroked L and non-stroked L even alternate in some circumstances: the masculine, feminine and neuter nominative singular of the word for "small" are MAŁY, MAŁA, MAŁE, but the masculine and neuter plural is MALI. (Y is pronounced like I in SIT and I like EA in SEAT.) That being the case, there’s not the same historical association of the V-sound and the W-sound in Polish as there is in English.


Wine/wine merger
Well I have just learnt the word wite, so thank you. It is not a word I use every day - indeed I have never heard it even in Scotland, which is where Wiktionary says it is to be found.

Yes that loss would be as sad as the merger of loch and lock which is happening amongst younger Scots.

Some very interesting points. So the contrast is not between etymological v and etymological w as it is in English, but between etymological l and etymological v, which is precisely why they write it as ł. It is just a clear l that sounds like a /w/.

L drifting into /w/ actually occurs in dialects of several languages, often without people noticing it. In my experience most Scots that stay near An Eaglais Bhreac 'the speckled church' think that there is an l in the English name Falkirk, simply because of the English spelling of a word that never had an l in the first place. The English spelling seems to have arisen simply because Scots do often pronounce l as /w/, resulting as /w/ being perceived as the Scots pronunciation of l.

It is said that l is /w/ in Canadian dialects of Gaelic, and indeed you will often hear /w/ for l in a number of North American dialects of English. D


Ha-ha - I wasn't even thinking of the Scots word "wite" - that's pretty good! Actually it's more often spelt WYTE - cf. the famous Charles Murray poem "It wisna his wyte". But the main poiunt is true; the threatened loss of the W-WH distinction in Scottish speech is sad indeed; and even sadder the tendency among some youngsters to lose the fricative CH! "Lock" Lomond - it sets our teeth on edge to hear even Sasunnaich saying it like that, but fellow Scots...

Yes, what's referred to as "L-vocalisation" is a key factor in the development of the distinctive sound system of Scots - that's why FALL is FAA, GOLD is GOWD, SHOULDER is SHOUTHER, etc. And the same thing happened in French: AUTRE (Italian ALTRO, keeping the Latin L), DOUCE (Italian DOLCE), etc. Lots of place names like KIRKCALDY, CULROSS, PETERCULTER, etc, show the loss of L. And FALKIRK, as you rightly say, is a mistaken spelling for a word that never had an L originally, but has now acquired it in some people's mistaken usage through the influence of the spelling!


Useful info. If you weren't thinking of wite or wyte then you should have used wight. Wikipedia has a rather incongruous entry on this word, listing historical uses of the word. Or you could have used the Isle of Wight. D


I just meant "wite" as a spelling representing the common mispronunciation of "white" - not as a word at all!


Ah yes. As a mispronunciation that makes sense. I was thinking of it as a merger.


Last year I visited Wroclaw in Poland with its wee stroked l - along with its "ts" sound for the c it is a great tongue tvister...


Oh, it's a tongue-twisting language all right! It's the most fiendishly difficult language I've tried, and that includes Chinese and Japanese (not to mention Gaelic). Its one redeeming feature is that the sound-values of the letters are completely consistent; but the sequences of consonants that you find would break your jaw!


Great discussion. Bookmarking it.


I wonder (again) why I was faulted for typos when I used only the word lozenges provided


There are two likely explanations on these questions.

One is that Duolingo gets confused with apostrophes and hyphens. But it can't be that here as there aren't any in this sentence.

The other is that it was a genuine typo. You get a typo when your word is different from theirs by one letter. I don't know what words you were offered but you certainly had ann and an. So you could have written *an ann. That would have scored you two typos. They might have offered you anns, which would be a typo for ann, or san, which would be a typo for an, or a (a' with the apostrophe missing), which would also be a typo for an.

When it says you have a typo it always gives you the sentence with the corrected letter(s) underlined. Always look at this. Unfortunately this means there is no way it can show the error if you insert a letter by mistake as there is no 'correct' letter to underline. Furtht, it always says typo (singular), even if you get more than one word wrong.


Thanks, Daibhidh. There's no way I can check now, although I did look carefully at the time. Your explanation does seem the likely cause - sonething like "an ann" instead of "ann an". We'll assume that's the answer, at least for now.

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