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Gaelic Alphabet

If you want information about the Gaelic alphabet, you need to realize the Scottish Gaelic language is very similar to Irish and Manx. So information about one will be information about all three. Gaelic is also related to Welsh, Cornish, and Breton.

Gaelic Alphabet

Gaelic Alphabet

Scottish Gaelic is still spoken by around 60,000 people in Scotland. The earliest text written in Scottish Gaelic is the Book of Deer written in the 10th century. Scottish Gaelic arrived in Scotland in the 4th century from Ireland.

The Gaelic alphabet has 18 letters and each has the name of a tree or shrub. This was probably done because of an ancient belief that held trees sacred. Also, the ancient Ogham alphabet did the same thing. Here are the letters, their name, and the tree associated with each one:

  • A = Ailm, Elm
  • B = Beith, Birch or White Birch
  • C = Coll, Hazel
  • D = Dair, Oak
  • E = Eadha, Aspen
  • F = Fearn, Alder
  • G = Gort, Ivy
  • H = Uath, Hawthorn
  • I = Iogh, Yew
  • L = Luis, Rowan or Quicken Tree
  • M = Muin, Vine
  • N = Nuin, Ash
  • O = Oir/Onn, Gorse
  • P = Peithe, Guelder Rose or Downy Birch
  • R = Ruis, Elder
  • S = Suil, Willow
  • T = Teine, Furze or Holly
  • U = Ur, Heather

The Consonants

All the consonants in the Gaelic alphabet have two or more different pronunciations which are determined by their position in a word and which vowels come before or after them. Consonants are divided into two groups: broad or slender. Broad consonants have an A, O, or U before or after them. Slender consonants have an E or I before or after them. If a consonant comes at the beginning of a word and is followed by an H, that is called lenition and it changes the sound of the consonant. The resulting letters are fricatives. For example, Bh would be pronounced like a V and Ch would be pronounced like an X.

The Vowels

To indicate if a vowel is short or long, a grave accent is placed on it and makes the vowel long. Sometimes an acute accent mark is used on the letters A, E, and O. This acute accent mark leans forward and the grave accent mark leans backwards. The sound of vowels also changes according to whether they are in stressed or unstressed syllables.

Comparing the Celtic Languages

Although the Celtic languages share an alphabet, there are some difference in words. Below is a comparison of some words, beginning with the English translation followed by the Gaelic, Irish, Manx, Welsh, Cornish, and Breton words, in that order.

  • Bad = droch, droch, drogh, drwg, drog, drouk
  • Good = math, maith, mie, da, da, mat
  • Day = latha, lá, laa, dydd, dydh, deiz
  • Talk = bruidhinn, caint, caaynt, siarad, kewsel, komz
  • River = abhainn, abhainn, awin, afon, avon, aven
  • Red = dearg, dearg, jiarg, coch, kogh, ruz
  • Yellow = buidhe, buí, bwee, melyn, melyn, melen
  • Black = dubh, dubh, doo, du, du, du
  • Silver = airgead, airgead, argid, arian, arghans, arc'hant
  • One = aon, aon, nane/un, un, onan, unan
  • Two = dha, dó da, dau or dwy, dew or diw, daou or div
  • Three = trì, trí, tree, tri or tair, tri or teyr, tri or teir
  • Ten = deich, deich, jeih, deg, deg, dek
  • Hundred = ceud, céad, keead, cant, kans, kant
  • Cat = cat, cat, kayt, cath, kath, kazh
  • Dog = cù, cú, coo, ci, ki, ki
  • Cattle = eallaidh, eallach, ollagh, buwch, bugh, buoc'h
  • Pig = muc, muc, muc, mochyn, mogh, moc'h
  • Man = duine, duine, dooiney, dyn, den, den
  • Woman = bean, bean, bene, banw or menyw, ben, maouez

Now you know more about the Celtic languages and the alphabet used in Gaelic.