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   Lexical sets for the three main dialects of Irish

According to the convention introduced by J. C. Wells in his three-volume work Accents of English (Cambridge University Press, 1982), a lexical set is any group of words which show the same pronunciation for a key sound, irrespective of whether this is shared by other varieties of the same language, such as the standard, or not. For instance, in English the TRAP lexical set refers to all words which have the phoneme /æ/ although the actual realisation of this in a variety of English may vary, e.g. it might be [trɛp], [træp] or [trap].

The principle of lexical sets is very appropriate to Irish as pronunciations of one and the same word vary between the different dialect areas. For instance, the lexical set NAOI shows the realisation [nˠi:] in the west and north, with [nˠɯ:] an option for the far north, while it the south the realisation is [nˠe:]. This distribution of pronunciations holds for other words with the vowel, e.g. saol ‘life’, baol ‘danger’, maol ‘bare’, etc.

The key word of a lexical set is written in capitals letters.

Consonantal lexical sets

POST ‘job’ PIOCADH ‘picking’
BUIDÉAL ‘bottle’ BEO ‘alive’
FADA ‘far’ FIÚ ‘even’
BHOG ‘moved’ BHÍ ‘was’
TÓG ‘take’ TEACH ‘house’
DUBH ‘black’ DEOCH ‘drink’
SÚIL ‘expect’ SIÚL ‘walk’
CÁ ‘where’ CEART ‘correct’
GACH ‘every’ GEARR ‘cut’
CHARR ‘(his) car’ CHEANN ‘one (n.)’
DHÁ ‘two’ GHIALL ‘(his) jaw’
MÁLA ‘bag’ MEALL ‘pile’
NAOI ‘nine’ NEART ‘strength’
NGLÓR ‘(their) voice’ NGEALL ‘(their) promise’
LUÍ ‘lying’ LÉAMH ‘read’
ROINNT ‘somewhat’ AIRE ‘care’
A HAINM ‘his name’ A HINÍON ‘his daughter’

Vocalic lexical sets, 1

FIOS ‘knowledge’ TE ‘hot’
TEACHT ‘coming’ SLACHT ‘polish, finish’
SCADÁN ‘herring’ CHOR ‘movement’
SIOC ‘frost’ TURAS ‘journey’
LÍON ‘fill (v.)’ BHAOL ‘danger’
ÉAN ‘bird’ ÁIT ‘place’
ÓL ‘drink (v.)’ GÚNA ‘dress’
LAGHAD ‘least’ LEABHAR ‘book’
BIA ‘food’ CHRUA ‘hard’

Vocalic lexical sets, 2

IM ‘butter’ BINN ‘summit’
LONG ‘ship’ MOING ‘mane’
AM ‘time’ TROM ‘heavy’
GLEANN ‘valley’ FONN ‘wish, desire’
NGEALL ‘(their) promise’ MALL ‘slow’
POLL ‘hole’ MHOILL ‘(without) delay’
GEARR ‘cut’ CORR(FHOCAL) ‘odd word’
BORD ‘table’ AIRDE ‘height’


In the following there are active maps for each of the keywords used for lexical sets in the current project. By and large, speakers from different dialect areas accepted the words offered but nonetheless in some instances they preferred the word most commonly used in their dialect. For instance, there were three different words for ‘nose’, one for each dialect area as there were for ‘somewhat’ (with a fourth, fifth and sixth form also found in Kerry, see tables below).

The tables below illustrates those words which vary across the main dialects and show the different variants. If a word is not listed in a table it can be taken to be common to all dialects. These tables can be interpreted as tendencies across the dialects. While in some instances, e.g. with tábla ‘table’, bealach mhór ‘road’ and úr ‘new’ in Donegal, speakers were adamant about their lexical preferences, in other instances, e.g. páistí ‘children’ versus leanaí ditto, the divisions across the dialects were less distinct.

Keywords for lexical sets which differ in preference between dialects

Kerry Galway Donegal meaning
baol baol dainseár danger
bord bord tábla table
cáirt carr carr car
cuibheasach, saghas, ábhar, beagán roinnt, saghas rud beag somewhat
dá laghad dá laghad ar bith at all
gúna gúna sciort skirt
meall meall moll heap
tig teach teach house

Words in sample sentences which can vary across dialects

Kerry Galway Donegal meaning
ana- an- iontach very
bóthar bóthar bealach mhór road
caincín srón gaosán nose
chor chor bogadh move, budge
chuir leag chuir place (v.)
déanamh imní déanamh imní bheith buartha faoi to be worried about
dhein rinne rinne did
fonn fonn dúil wish, desire
fós fós go fóill still
gach gach achan every
go moch go moch go luath early
gráin gráin ní raibh dúil... dislike
cha (north) not
nua nua úr new
páistí leanaí páistí children
ollamh réidh réidh ready
sioc sioc siocán frost
tar éis th’éis i ndiaidh after
téad téad córda rope
tógaint tóigeáil tógáil building (v.)

There is also morphonological variation in modern Irish. Fluctuation is found, for example, with adjectives after feminine nouns or after masculine nouns in the genitive. In this position lenition is required by the standard but not always found. For instance, the northern word for ‘road’ is bealach mhór, lit. ‘big way’ which, because the noun is feminine, requires that the qualifying adjective be lenited. But not all native speakers showed this lenition. Even more striking is the variation with the third person possessive pronoun a /ə/ which, again according to the standard, takes lenition in the meaning of ‘his’, but zero mutation when meaning ‘her’. However, many native speakers lenited the noun after a /ə/ in those cases where it meant ‘her’, e.g. Tá a sean-athair [ə hænæhɪrʲ] beo fós ‘Her grandfather is still alive’ or Cá bhfuil do mháthair ina cónaí [ɪnə xo:nˠi:] ? ‘Where is your mother living?’.













































There is a clear tendency in Southern Irish to have /e:/ for ao (this is supported by onomastic evidence in the south where English /e:/ is used as the equivalent for Irish ao, e.g. Irish Slaod = English Slade, Co. Wexford). However, there are lexicalised examples with /i:/, e.g. daoine /di:nə/.