Anonymous asked: When is s pronounced "ss" and when is it pronounced "sh"?
Thank you for your question.
In Irish, we have broad vowels and narrow vowels. The broad vowels are A O and U; the narrow vowels are I and E.
In Irish we say "caol le caol agus leathan le leathan" [QUAYLE LEH QUAYLE AW-gus LA-hin LEH LA-hin] which means “narrow with narrow and broad with broad”. It refers to how the vowels are placed around consonants or consonant clusters.
It’s not as difficult as it sounds, I promise.
Example 1: A popular phrase among Irish revolutionaries is "tiocfaidh ár lá" [CHUCK-hig AWR LAW] which means “our day will come” (still waiting, guys!). If you look at the word tiocfaidh there, you’ll see there is an O in the middle of the word, and then a CF and then an A. The only reason that A is there is because of the O three letters beforehand.
Example 2: There is another Irish word, cuirfidh [QUIRR-hig], which means “will put”. The spelling of the ending is different, even though it’s pronounced the same, and it means the same thing (it means this verb is in the future tense). The only reason that second I is there is because of the previous I.
This rule is all-pervasive. If you read any random paragraph of Irish anywhere, I guarantee you will find many instances of this rule.
Seriously? I asked when is s pronounced “ss” and when is it pronounced “sh”? I was there at the time I posted that question. I know what I did. What is all this crap about vowels?
I told you this was complicated stuff I didn’t want to go into, didn’t I? I told you to just leave it alone. But no. You knew better. You knew it all. You made this happen, Anonymous. You did this. I didn’t want this. I mean, I would have got around to it eventually, you know, but not like this. NOT LIKE THIS!
In Irish, broadly speaking (what I did there, you will no doubt see it), an S is pronounced SS when it’s before a broad vowel (A,O,U) and an S is pronounced SH when it’s before a narrow vowel (E, I).
Why didn’t you just say that at the start? Jesus Christ!
Because the more you know about these things, the better equipped you will be to apply them to actual language. Like all languages, Irish isn’t just a bunch of rules waiting for you to plug the vocabulary into the correct slots; it’s an interlocking web of grammar, syntax and morphology (and in this case, phonology) which all affect each other in different ways.
The hope is that any one post will work with any other one post to create at least a part of that network. For instance, this post relates to Sounds Like Trouble in at least two ways, improving your understanding of that post, this post, and Irish in general. That’s the way I’m intentionally trying to structure this entire blog.
You have made it this far. Well done. I’m going to end this badly-worded excuse for a post with some examples illustrating the rule, keeping in mind that there are a few exceptions which will yield to no explanation.
- saol [SAY-oll]: “life”
- sé [SHAY]: “him”
- siad [SHEE-ud]: “them”
- soiléir [soh-LAYRE]: “clear”
- súil [SOOL]: “eye” or “hope”