Recently, I’ve found myself in a couple of YouTube and real-life discussions about how things are spelt in Gaelic, so I’m going to do a couple of posts on it. In part one, here, I’m going to post a thread of conversation from this YouTube video about Irish-language names, and explain the differences between Irish and Gaelic spelling. In part two, I’m going to explain the Gaelic alphabet and phonetic rules to you.
I’ve got to admit that many of the things UNITDW was saying in this thread are probably fairly common thoughts to have when faced with a text in Irish or Gaelic – although hopefully most people are able to express them without sounding quite as ignorant or rude. Gaelic does look odd, at first glance, and it does bear little resemblance, to English-speaking eyes, to what is said aloud.
All of what I said on the thread can apply equally to Irish and Gaelic. For these purposes, I’m excluding Manx from discussion, because it uses a very different orthography, based (I believe) on the Welsh phonetic system rather than the Gaelic one. For much of their history, Irish and Gaelic have been the same language (in fact, it was only in the 90s that the Australian census started classifying them separately), and many speakers today still consider them to be the same language. A Gaelic-speaker should refer to Irish as “Gaidhlig na h-Eireann” (Gaelic of Ireland), while an Irish-speaker should refer to Gaelic as “Gaeilge na hAlba” (Irish of Scotland). You can read more about that particular issue here.
The point is, the languages – and their spelling systems – are very close. Up until the Gaelic translation in 1801, Gaelic-speakers read the Bible in Irish. That 1801 Bible still looks very Irish to modern eyes, since a lot of the differences were dialectal and not typographical back then.
Over the last 200 years, both countries have had a number of spelling reforms – Ireland more than Scotland – which have driven the languages further apart in terms of written mutual intelligibility. Both countries moved away from a two-accent (grave and acute) system to a one-accent system, with Scotland going for acute accents and Ireland going for graves, so one of the most immediate differences when looking at a text is the direction of the accents. Canadian Gaelic, however, has retained both accents, and resisted a number of other spelling reforms from Scotland. Scotland’s accent shift only happen about 20 or 30 years ago, so books published in the 70s and 80s, or anything from Canada, still has accents going both ways.
The other main difference between the orthography of Irish and Gaelic is a reform in Ireland to get rid of some of the “superfluous” or “silent” letters, like the -gh, -th, and -dh combinations at the ends and middles of words, and replace them with fadas (accents). Therefore, in Irish, “day” is spelt “lá”, while in Gaelic, it’s spelt “latha”. Likewise, in Irish, “fairy” is spelt “sí”, while in Gaelic, it’s spelt “sidhe”.
So, there you are: one ignorant YouTuber, and the main differences between Irish and Gaelic spelling.