One of the most frightening things about learning Gaelic is Lenition – that´s where an H enters a word and changes its whole pronunciation. When you first come across it, you will see that it looks very confusing – but, actually it isn´t. In fact we use them in English all of the time. Consider the word Phone – we have inserted an H into the word to avoid a hard consonant. Fight is another one, we put an H into the word to get the right sound. Gaelic has a structured use of doing this and its easy to know. Just before I tell you about it, you should know that the H always goes into the second letter, is not always written and can behave a bit odd. Gaelic words also have plurals by changing the end of the word – thats nothing to do with what we are talking about – that process is called “slendering” and we will talk about that another time.
Dont worry too much if you don’t get this, you just need to know that it happens so you can hear it.
The letters which are aspirated are B,C,D,F,G,M,P,S,T
You could try to make a little rhyme to remember it. Mine is “Brigid´s Cold Day First Gave March Pre-Summer Time”.
When we lenite a word, the whole sound changes
mh has a v sound,
ch as in Loch,
ph like pheasant
sh and th like hat
dh and gh can vary in sound.
1.We aspirate, to make the past tense
tog e – he lifts
thog e – he lifted
2. We aspirate SOME of the possessive pronouns
Mo Mhac – son
Do bhàta – your boat
a bhàta – his boat
Our, their and her do not lenite. Only practice will make this clear so I don’t want to really write a lot more about it right now.
3. Triggered by some prepositions
- anns a’
4. also triggered by Feminine nouns
5. Intensifiers also trigger lenition
6. There are also a few other minor things which cause the H, which you will see when you come across them
We will study these more in due course.