Originally, the Celtic language was widespread over Europe, from the Bay of Biscay to the Black Sea and into Asia Minor. The Celtic clans were ruthless to their enemies, hence the name Celtic comes from Keltoi, which is Greek and means “barbarian”. Therefore, all the Cs in Celtic are pronounced K.
The spoken Irish language has three dialects:
The following pronunciation rules apply mostly to the Ulster dialect. The rules are divided into the following groups:
The vowels are the easiest when learning how to pronounce Celtic names and words. After each vowel is an example of the long and short sound of it: A = pa, ago; E = hey, deck; I = tree, sick; O = woe, sock; U = shoe, duck.
The Irish language has fewer consonants that English. The pronunciation of consonants depends on the vowels that surround it. They can be pronounced in a broad or slender way, with the vowels A, O, U, being broad, and I, E, being slender. Following are the consonants with examples of the broad and slender sounds. B = b, b; C = k, k; D = d, j; F = f, f; G = g, g; L = l, l; M = m, m; N = n, n; P = p, p; R = rolled r, r; S = s, sh; T = t, ch.
- Aspirated Consonants
Some consonants were originally changed by placing a dot above them. When Irish is printed with the Western alphabet, H is inserted to make this change. This is why you see so many Hs in Irish, but it is an operation, not a letter. Here are the aspirated consonants with their broad and slender sounds. BH = w, v; CH = loch, loch; DH = ch with g, y; FH = no sound, no sound; GH = ch with g, y; MH = w, v; PH = f, f; SH = h, h; TH = h, h.
- Eclipsed Consonants
Eclipsing happens at the beginning of a word, and is shown by two consonants together. The first is the letter to be pronounced and the second is the original letter before it was eclipsed. Notice that there is one aspirated consonant in the list: mb, gc, nd, bhf, ng, bp, ts, dt.
- Double Consonants
When there are two consonants together, they are sometimes difficult to say, so an indistinct vowel is sounded between them. When pronouncing Dublin, for example, there is a very short uh sound between the B and the L. These double consonants are: gn, lm, lg, bl, mn, nm, nc, rb, rbh, rch, rg, rm, rn, thn.
When two vowels are together, one usually predominates, especially if it is long. Here are the diphthongs and examples of their sounds:
- Long Diphthongs
AE = tray; AO = me; EO = toe; IA = see a; UA = truant
- Short Diphthongs
EA = mass; IO = miss; UI = miss
In Irish, the accent is usually on the first syllable. The only exceptions are compound words. Some of the more common ones are: anois, ariamh, arís, anall, arú, amháin, aneas.
The Celtic Language Today
Today, Celtic people are found in Ireland, Wales, Cornwall, Scotland, Isle of Man, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Patagonia, and Brittany (France). There are about one million people today who speak the Celtic languages.