Scottish Country Dancing Dictionary

Gaelic Dance Names In Scottish Country Dancing

Wherever possible, the titles of dances with Gaelic names are translated in the Dance Information for that Dance instruction page and an approximate pronunciation is provided. This page aims to give more general information on the pronunciation of Gaelic though the author is not a Gaelic speaker and his knowledge of the grammar is rudimentary. Identification of errors and corrections by an experienced Gaelic linguist would be welcomed (and acknowledged appropriately).


Most of the 18 letters of the Gaelic alphabet (there is no j, k, q, v, w, x, y or z) have much the same value as in most mainland European languages though:
b is sometimes nearer to the English p, as in Pabaigh;
c is always hard (unless followed by h when it is as in Loch);
d preceded or followed by e or i is like the English j as in Deas; when preceded or followed by a, o or u, it sometimes is nearer to t as in Madainn;
g is often nearer to the English k as in Sgeir;
s is never like the English z, is mostly like ss but is often nearer to the English sh;
t followed by e or i is like the English (not Scottish) ch as in Tiriodh.

Some adjacent consonants are pronounced as though separated by the indeterminate vowel (which is represented by ~, here); Kisimul, the anglicized form of the Gaelic Ciosmul (the name of the castle in the main harbour of the Isle of Barra), is phonetically (Keess~m~l) close to the Gaelic.

The consonants, l, n and r are never followed by h in accurate Gaelic; all the others change sound completely when followed by h. This addition (called aspiration or more properly, lenition) occurs after the first letter of nouns in many inflected forms (notably feminine singular adjectives, vocatives and some singular nouns with the definite article) and so presents a serious trap for the unwary; inflection usually involves changes to the vowels of the last syllable, too.
In detail:
bh is usually as the English v (Bhatarsaigh) but can be silent at the end of a word (Dubh) and often also within it (Uibhist);
ch has the familiar Scottish pronunciation as in loch though sometimes it is softer as in the German ich;
dh is usually a more guttural version of ch but is often silent at the end of a word (Barraidh) and also within it (Leodhas); at the beginning of a word when followed by e or i it is like the English y in its consonantal form;
fh is almost always silent;
gh varies between the soft form of ch and dh; it is often like the English y at the end of a word (Bagh) or the English v (Borgh, Horogh);
mh is usually as the English v (Mhòr) but is sometimes silent (Comhairle);
ph is as the English f (Caolas Phabaigh);
sh is usually as the English h (Sheabhal) though it is occasionally silent;
th is as the English h (Thartabhal).

In general, vowels have the continental European language values but diphthongs and triphthongs abound mainly as a result of the Gaelic spelling rule, "Slender to slender and broad to broad" ("Caol ri caol agus leathann ri leathann" in Gaelic). The vowels e and i are grouped as slender while a, o and u are broad. The rule requires the first vowel of a subsequent syllable to be of the same group as the last of the previous (for example, Eolaigearraidh). However, that there are a few exceptions, notably in imported words.
Some diphthongs have a special value, notably "ao" which is pronounced as in the French, coeur (Taobh).

Stress is almost ways on the first syllable of the word; for compound words (Co-chomunn, Mhicleod), it is on the first of both.

Phonetic Representation

The following table shows the, mostly English, equivalents used in this Scottish Country Dancing Dictionary to represent Gaelic pronunciation. Wherever a listed combination of letters occurs in a phonetic representation, the pronunciation of the combination applies rather than that of the single letters in succession; for example, oeu is never pronounced as oe followed by u. Wherever the single letter pronunciation is specified, it is only that form as listed that should be used; for example, i must always be as in bit, never as in bite or in bullion even though the letter sequence in English might imply such an alternative.

Phonetic     As in this usage, English unless otherwise specified
chas in the Scottish pronunciation of loch
chsha softer form of ch as in the German, ich, though not lengthened
dhas a more guttural form of the ch sound in loch
gh like dh as a more guttural form of the ch sound in loch
oeuas in the French coeur
ythe consonantal form as in yet
~the short, indeterminate vowel as in inf~nt

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