"Chan eil thu ann an Obar Dheathain."
Translation:You are not in Aberdeen.
One of the great difficulties I have learning this language is that in many cases you have to memorise the phonetic sound of the word because the spelling and / or pronunciation of the letters in the word bears no relation to the actual pronunciation. In this case for 'Obar Dheathain', the letters 'Dheath' are completely redundant and the name is pronounced 'Obar Ain'. Is there any reason for the redundant letters? Wouldn't it be simpler to spell some of these words more concisely? In the long run it might make the language survive longer if it was easier to acquire! Thanks for any comments.
As for the letters bearing no relation to the sounds pronounced I think you confuse English with Gaelic… It’s English where the letters make no sense. :P
In Gaelic the pronunciation is quite regular, although perhaps not the most intuitive.
dh makes the [ɣ] sound when standing next to broad vowels: a, o, u and the [ʝ ~ j] sound when next to the slender vowels: e, i. Then th makes the [h] sound (at the beginning of a word, or at the end when the next word starts with a vowel) or sometimes is silent between vowels (marks a hiatus – syllable break between two vowels).
Here, the pronunciation isn’t exactly predictable as it’s got a bit simplified in the proper name: the /j/ of the dh disappeared after another consonant, and the final /n/ would regularly be lenited [n] but here it’s unlenited [ɲ]. So instead of expected /je.an/ you get still similar /ɛ.ɛNʲ/ for Dheathain.
Thanks for the brilliant reply! Is there a website or book where some of these rules might be looked up? How about the symbols you mention (ɣ and ʝ). These are not normally used by civilians! I think you have to be a linguistics student to know how to apply these things? Is there an easy reference for these also or we shouldn't pay too much attention to them? (Very interesting tho - I would like to have an inkling to their application if it's not going to go too far over my head!). Thanks!
Well, I haven’t ever studied linguistics (at least not formally at any linguistics school; I did spent a lot of my personal time learning on my own though ;-)).
You don’t need to pay too much attention to them, especially you don’t need to worry to much about differences between [j] and [ʝ], or [o] vs [ɔ], or [e] vs [ɛ], when starting to learn a new language.
Wikipedia is your best friend in the beginning: International Phonetic Alphabet is the place to start (it’s the best tool we have to reproduce sounds of human speech in writing – not the perfect tool, but the best one we’ve come up with). This interactive IPA Chart where you can click on symbols to hear the sound they make might also be helpful.
As for pronunciation of Gaelic, I’d suggest taking a look at the printable pronunciation guide to Gaelic spelling at Akerbeltz wiki (it heavily uses simplified IPA) and The Unofficial Guide to Pronouncing Gaelic on the Cambridge University Hillwalking Club website (this one’s for a layperson, using only English examples as approximation for the pronunciation).
Besides that – check out words in Am Faclair Beag – it has transcription of pronunciation of most words (using the same variant of simplified IPA as the Akerbeltz wiki) and many words also have recordings provided.