Blas na Gàidhlig

I have to admit that for some time I hesitated before buying this book. £35 did seem fairly expensive for me, especially as at the time when it came out I was unemployed. Nevertheless, knowing the author both through some of his previous work like this website and from some conversations we had in Fòram na Gàidhlig and in Wikipedias, I eventually decided to go for it – and I’m mighty glad I did.

The book is divided into four parts and appendices. Part 1 is basically a brief treatise on the importance of acquiring good pronunciation for a learner of a language in general and for a learner of Scottish Gaelic in particular. After all, when talking about Jock in Gaelic you should talk about Seoc, not about a shock. Thus, Part 2 decribes all Gaelic vowels and consonants – that is to say, the sounds, as opposed to the letters. When these appear in English and/or Scots as well, you are told in which words; when they don’t, there are usually given two or three ways of how to achieve them. To make this part more digestible, there are a few pieces of trivia scattered around, all of them related to the main text. More importantly, the words also appear in some 450MB of sound files, freely downloadable here – as do the words from the following two parts.

Part 3 explains how these sound interact with each other. This includes both phenomenons known in English as well, for example diphthongs, intonation, word stress, stress in a sentence or sounds disappearing in fast speech, and those particular to Gaelic like single and jumping lenition, slenderization/palatalization, preaspiration or final devoicing. Part 4 then looks at how these sound are put into the Gaelic spelling system and gives some general rules and hints.

The two most important appendices are the Wordlist, a sixty-three-page dictionary of the most usual words with pronunciation given not only for the basic forms, but also for genitives and plurals, comparatives, verbal nouns &c, including more detailed tables for irregular verbs. The other is a Guide to Reading Gaelic, about 250 rules following which you can, going letter by letter, ‘reconstruct’ the pronunciation of any Gaelic word from the way it’s written (apart from exceptions proving the rules, but the most common of the few are listed before the Wordlist).

The book isn’t larded with specialist terms, while explaining and making good use of those which are unextricably associated with Gaelic. Thanks to the sound files you are left in no doubt about how should a particular phonetic transcription really sound. Enjoyable without losing anything of its informativeness, I should especially recommend it to everybody who studies Gaelic without the possibility of being in a regular contact with a native speaker always at the ready to point out the mistakes a learner will inevitably do.

One warning, though: if your native language isn’t English, brace yourself for finding out about a thing or two you’re doing bad in that language as well.

 

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