May 23, 2013 | Irish
Irish Pronunciation: Wow!
I flee my grammar book for Forvo.
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I Am Studying Genitive in Here Now
Tonight I was working along in Basic Irish: A Grammar and Workbook by Nancy Stenson when I reached my limit, not for the first time, of the number of Irish words I could go through in one sitting without knowing how to pronounce them. I hate reading things that I don’t know how to pronounce, plus I feel that doing so develops bad habits as bad imaginary pronunciations fill my brain.
Therefore, I decided to temporarily lay off my grammar book, which I am in fact enjoying very much, in order to visit the Forvo website. Forvo is a pronunciation guide that promises “All the words in the world. Pronounced.”
Naturally it is not quite true that all the words in the world are pronounced there, but many, many words are, by nice people all over the planet who just happen to feel like going to the site and uploading their versions of various words in their native tongues.
Forvo is like the language-pronunciation equivalent of Wikipedia, I suppose, with hundreds of languages represented. Many words have multiple people pronouncing them in different ways from different places in a given country, so Forvo is a great vehicle for investigating dialects and regional variations. They even display a map so you can see where the different pronouncers are located.
Forvo’s Irish Section
Also, if you want to know how to pronounce a word, you can add it to a list of words awaiting pronunciation.
The five biggest languages on the site—meaning the ones with the most pronunciations contributed—are German, English, Russian, Portuguese, and, bizarrely, Tatar.
I know nothing about Tatar, so I had to go look it up. According to the Omniglot website, “Tatar is a Turkic language with about 7 million speakers in the Russian republic of Tatarstan, and also in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Belarus, China, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkey (Europe), Turkmenistan, Ukraine, USA and Uzbekistan.” Although Tatar has been written with a number of different alphabets, what I saw on Forvo was rendered with the Cyrillic alphabet, which I gather is the norm nowadays.
I have wondered previously about the prominence of the Tatar language on Forvo, so today I took a closer look. There are 128,361 Tatar words pronounced, and 110 pronouncers. That is an average of 1,167 words per pronouncer. For Spanish there are 58,640 words and 20,509 pronouncers. That’s less than three Spanish words per person.
I went to the Tatar section to investigate further and immediately noticed the same person popping up repeatedly among the pronouncers. AqQoyriq, a male in Russia, has pronounced 67,374 words, more than half the words in the Tatar section and more words in total than are in the entire Spanish section on Forvo. It is pretty easy to get a handle on Spanish pronunciation, but I think it is also safe to say that AqQoyriq has an unusual degree of commitment to the Tatar language.
Who is this Mr. AqQoyriq?
The sad thing is, I did conspicuously better guessing the pronunciations of Tatar words than I did of Irish. So I have some work to do.
There are currently 7,120 Irish words pronounced on Forvo, with 726 pronouncers. BridEilis, who describes herself as “a Connemara speaker of Irish,” has pronounced 3,564 of them. I decided to keep clicking the “random” button at the bottom left of the page to bring up random Irish words and test myself. I went through several dozen.
On Forvo, You Can Click an Arrow to Hear a Pronunciation from a Specific Place in Ireland
Some of them I got right.
Some of them I might have gotten right, but I couldn’t tell whether the difference between my pronunciation and the speaker’s was a question of regional variation or just a mistake on my part.
Some of them I got somewhat wrong.
Others I got wildly wrong.
I will share with you some examples of Irish words to illustrate the challenges. Try guessing the pronunciations of the words and phrases listed below (no fair if you actually speak Irish!), then click the links to go to Forvo and hear the correct version of each. Or at least a correct version of each.
- príomh (main)
- athchairdeas (reconciliation)
- oighearshruth (glacier)
- Breithlá sona duit (Happy birthday)
How did it go?
It did not go all that well for me, I am afraid. I have concluded Irish is not an easy language to learn to pronounce on your own. The way those familiar-looking Roman letters are used is just very different from how they are used in English. I have now read multiple times about strong versus weak consonants, lenition, eclipsis, etc., but reading through long lists of rules does not translate automatically into correct pronunciation, as language students (excluding some language savants perhaps) well know.
As I kept going through my Forvo Irish words, I thought I would start getting a higher percentage of pronunciations right, but that did not seem to be the case. I think I will have to wait a little longer for improvement to be perceptible to the naked ear.
Do not think I am discouraged, however! Guessing what to do with those heaps of consonants and vowels is entertaining and makes me laugh at myself.
Laughing at yourself is good for the soul.