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Scottish Gaelic from English

I am having great difficulty trying to work out what the persons are saying in the Gaelic lessons. I can read and write it but when listening I cannot distinguish mh from m or bh from b as in bheag or beag I know one is male and the other with the h is female but the speakers do don't distinguish it enough for beginners. Maybe if the words are spoken as a vocabulary it would be easier. In my present lesson the word spoken is ur or dubh but it sounds like eve to me.

January 21, 2020



For the listening tasks, it often helps me to think about how the sentence should be. I search my brain for words that could theoretically match with what I'm hearing and would make sense there. If I know the h should be there, I put it there, even if I don't necessarily hear it.

Here's a list of the things that I've encountered so far that cause lenition (=inserting an "h" behind those letters that will take it):
- adjectives after female nouns
- intensifiers "glè" = very, "ro" = too, and "fior" = truly
- after numbers aon ‘one’ and dhà ‘two’
- female nouns after the definite article
- in the vocative (=when adressing a person “tapadh leat, a Chaluim”)

It won't help with the the one word listening exercises (for those, I sometimes just choose the recording that sounds exactly the same), but I hope it will help on the listening exercises with sentences or phrases.


Look for a decent description of the sounds represented by the letters, maybe that will make it easier for you if you have a better idea what sounds exactly to expect? You can try those:

As for m, mh, b, bh:

  • m sounds just like (or very similar to) English m, /m/.
  • b sounds like English b, /b/.
  • mh does not sound like m, it is /v/ – like English v in vest.
  • bh sounds just like mhnot like b – again the v in vest.

The reason mh and bh sound the same (and unlike m and b) is that they are lenited m and b and those consonants have identical place of articulation (m is pronounced exactly the same way as b, except that in m is nasal – you let the air flow through your nose when saying it – and b is not). Both m and b are stops – they block the flow of air through your mouth, stopping it entirely.

Lenition (marked with h after the consonant) of stops gives fricatives – consonants in which the air flow through the mouth is blocked slightly but not entirely – just to get some friction – and if you let the air flow through your mouth when saying b, you get a sound similar to v but made with both lips instead of the lower lip and upper teeth(written as [β] in IPA) – mh and bh used to be /β/ in Gaelic but today, I believe, most speakers pronounce them with the lower lip and upper teeth just like English /v/.


Here's a tip. Once you have the correct transcription, replay the audio file several times while looking at the words in order, synchronous with the sound clip. It helps fix the sounds of the words in your head so you recognise them more easily next time. You start to spot where the occasional short word flashes past so quickly you hardly hear it, too.

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