Irish initial mutations

Irish, like all modern Celtic languages, is characterized by its initial consonant mutations. These mutations affect the initial consonant of a word under specific morphological and syntactic conditions. The mutations are an important tool in understanding the relationship between two words and can differentiate various meanings.

Irish uses two mutations on consonants: lenition ( _ga. séimhiú) and eclipsis ( _ga. "urú"). (The alternative names, "aspiration" for lenition and "nasalisation" for eclipsis, are also used, but the terms are a bit misleading.)

Originally these mutations were phonologically governed external sandhi effects: lenition was caused by a consonant between two vowels, and eclipsis by a sequence of nasal consonant + obstruent, also at the beginning of a word.

There are also two mutations, t-prothesis and h-prothesis, found on vowel-initial words.

See Irish phonology for a discussion of the symbols used on this page.

Lenition

Effects of lenition

# A stop becomes a fricative. Voicing is retained, as is place of articulation except with the coronals.
#*IPA|/pˠ/IPA|/fˠ/
#*IPA|/pʲ/IPA|/fʲ/
#*IPA|/t̪ˠ/IPA|/h/
#*IPA|/tʲ/IPA|/h/
#*IPA|/k/IPA|/x/
#*IPA|/c/IPA|/ç/
#*IPA|/bˠ/IPA|/w/
#*IPA|/bʲ/IPA|/vʲ/
#*IPA|/d̪ˠ/IPA|/ɣ/
#*IPA|/dʲ/IPA|/j/
#*IPA|/ɡ/IPA|/ɣ/
#*IPA|/ɟ/IPA|/j/
# becomes IPA|/w/; IPA|/mʲ/ becomes IPA|/vʲ/.
# and IPA|/ʃ/ become IPA|/h/; but IPA|/sˠp(ʲ)/, IPA|/sˠm(ʲ)/, IPA|/sˠt̪ˠ/, IPA|/ʃtʲ/, IPA|/sˠk/, and IPA|/ʃc/ do not mutate.
# and IPA|/fʲ/ are deleted.

Lenition is symbolized in the orthography by an h following the consonant in question.

The other consonants do not change under lenition.

Environments of lenition

After proclitics

;After the definite articleThe definite article triggers lenition of:
# a feminine noun in the nominative singular
#: _ga. "an bhean" "the woman"
# a masculine noun in the genitive singular
#: _ga. "an fhir" "of the man"
# a noun in the dative singular, when the article follows one of the prepositions _ga. "de" "from", _ga. "do" "to" or _ga. "i" "in"
#: _ga. "do" + _ga. "an" = _ga. "don": "don fhear" "to the man"
#: _ga. "de" + _ga. "an" = _ga. "den": "den bhean" "from the woman"
#: _ga. "i" + _ga. "an" = _ga. "sa(n)": "sa chrann" "in the tree"; _ga. "san fhómhar" "in the autumn"
*IPA|/d̪ˠ, dʲ/ and IPA|/t̪ˠ, tʲ/ are not lenited after the article::: _ga. "an deoch" "the drink", although _ga. "deoch" is feminine nominative singular:: _ga. "an tí" "of the house", although _ga. "tí" is masculine genitive singular
*IPA|/sˠ, ʃ/ becomes IPA|/t̪ˠ, tʲ/ (rather than IPA|/h/), written "ts"::: _ga. "an tsúil" IPA|/ən̪ˠ t̪ˠuːlʲ/ "the eye" (fem. nom. sg.):: _ga. "an tsaoil" IPA|/ən̪ˠ t̪ˠiːlʲ/ "of the world" (masc. gen. sg.)

;After the vocative particle "a"
* _ga. "a Bhríd" "Bríd!"
* _ga. "a Sheáin" "Seán!"
* _ga. "a chairde" "my friends!"

;After possessive pronounsThe possessive pronouns that trigger lenition are _ga. "mo" "my", _ga. "do" "your (sg.)", _ga. "a" "his"
* _ga. "mo mhac" "my son"
* _ga. "do theach" "your house"
* _ga. "a pheann" "his pen"

;After certain prepositions
* _ga. "de chrann" "out of a tree"
* _ga. "faoi chrann" "under a tree"
* _ga. "mar dhuine" "as a person"
* _ga. "ó Chorcaigh" "from Cork"
* _ga. "roimh mhaidin" "before morning"
* _ga. "trí shioc agus shneachta" "through frost and snow"
* _ga. "um Cháisc" "at Easter"
* _ga. "idir fhir" agus mhná" "both men and women"
* _ga. "ar bhord" "on a table"

;After the preterite/conditional of the copula
* _ga. "Ba dhuine mór é." "He was a big person."
* _ga. "Ba dheas uait é." "That was nice of you."

;After the preterite preverbal particles
* _ga. "Níor mhúinteoir é." "He was not a teacher."
* _ga. "Níor thug mé" "I didn't give"
* _ga. "Ar shagart é?" "Was he a priest?"
* _ga. "Ar tháinig sé?" "Did he come?"

;After certain preverbal particles
* _ga. "ní thuigim" "I don't understand"
* _ga. "má thagann sé" "if he comes"
* _ga. "an fear a thabharfaidh dom é" "the man who will give it to me"

;A verb in the preterite, imperfect or conditionalThese were originally preceded by the particle _ga. "do" and often still are in Munster.
* _ga. "bhris mé" "I broke"
* _ga. "bhrisinn" "I used to break"
* _ga. "bhrisfinn" "I would break"

In modifier + head constructions

Lenition is blocked in these constructions if two coronals are adjacent.

;After certain numbersThe singular form is used after numbers and is lenited in the following cases:
* _ga. "aon bhó amháin" "one cow"
* _ga. "an chéad bhliain" "the first year"
* _ga. "dhá theach" "two houses"
* _ga. "beirt fhear" "two men"
* _ga. "trí bhád" "three boats"
* _ga. "ceithre bhó" "four cows"
* _ga. "cúig phunt" "five pounds"
* _ga. "sé mhí" "six months"

;After preposed adjectivesConstructions of adjective + noun are written as compounds.
* _ga. "seanbhean" "old woman"
* _ga. "drochdhuine" "bad person"
* _ga. "dea-sheirbhís" "good deed"
* _ga. "nuatheanga" "modern language"
* _ga. "tréanmhuir" "stormy sea"
* _ga. "fíorchneas" "true skin"
* _ga. "ardbhrú" "high pressure"
* _ga. "ógfhear" "young man"

;After most prefixes
* _ga. "an-bheag" "very small"
* _ga. "ró-bheag" "too small"
* _ga. "aisghabháil" "retake"
* _ga. "athbhliain" "new year"
* _ga. "dobhréagnaithe" "undeniable"
* _ga. "fochupán" "saucer"
* _ga. "forbhríste" "overalls"
* _ga. "idirchreidmheach" "interconfessional"
* _ga. "ilphósadh" "polygamy"
* _ga. "leasmháthair" "stepmother"
* _ga. "míshásta" "unhappy"
* _ga. "neamhchodladh" "insomnia"
* _ga. "príomhchathair" "capital city"
* _ga. "sobhriste" "fragile"

;The second part of a compound
* _ga. "ainmfhocal" "noun" (lit. "name word")
* _ga. "dúghorm" "blue-black"
* _ga. "státfhiach" "national debt"

In head + modifier constructions

In these constructions coronals are lenited even following other coronals.

;Genitive nouns in certain circumstances
* _ga. "aimsir bháistí" "rainy weather" (lenition after a feminine singular noun)
* _ga. "buidéil shú" "bottles of juice" (lenition after a plural ending in a slender consonant)
* _ga. "teach Sheáin" "Seán's house" (lenition of a definite noun in the genitive)

;Postposed adjectives in certain circumstances
* _ga. "bean dheas" "a pretty woman" (lenition after a feminine singular noun)
* _ga. "na fir mhóra" "the big men" (lenition after a plural noun ending in a slender consonant)
* _ga. "ainm an fhir bhig" "the name of the small man" (lenition after a masculine singular noun in the genitive)
* _ga. "sa chrann mhór" "in the big tree" (lenition after a noun lenited by virtue of being in the dative after _ga. "den", "don", or _ga. "sa(n)")

Eclipsis

Effects of eclipsis

1. A voiceless stop or IPA|/fˠ, fʲ/ is voiced:
*IPA|/pˠ/IPA|/bˠ/
*IPA|/pʲ/IPA|/bʲ/
*IPA|/t̪ˠ/IPA|/d̪ˠ/
*IPA|/tʲ/IPA|/dʲ/
*IPA|/k/IPA|/ɡ/
*IPA|/c/IPA|/ɟ/
*IPA|/fˠ/IPA|/w/
*IPA|/fʲ/IPA|/vʲ/

2. A voiced stop becomes a nasal:
*IPA|/bˠ/IPA|/mˠ/
*IPA|/bʲ/IPA|/mʲ/
*IPA|/d̪ˠ/IPA|/n̪ˠ/
*IPA|/dʲ/IPA|/nʲ/
*IPA|/ɡ/IPA|/ŋ/
*IPA|/ɟ/IPA|/ɲ/

3. A vowel receives a preceding IPA|/n̪ˠ/ or IPA|/nʲ/ (broad preceding "a"/"o"/"u", slender preceding "e"/"i"). However, a vowel-initial word is not affected after the definite article _ga. "an".

Eclipsis is symbolized in the orthography by placing the letter of the new sound in front of the original letter.

The other consonants do not change under eclipsis.

Environments of eclipsis

After plural possessive pronouns

The possessive pronouns that trigger eclipsis are _ga. "ár" "our", _ga. "bhur" "your (pl.)", _ga. "a" "their"
* _ga. "ár gcairde" "our friends"
* _ga. "bhur bpáistí" "your (pl.) children"
* _ga. "a mbád" "their boat"

After certain numbers

The numbers that trigger eclipsis (the noun being in the singular) are:
* _ga. "seacht gcapall" "seven horses"
* _ga. "ocht n-asal" "eight donkeys"
* _ga. "naoi gcat" "nine cats"
* _ga. "deich bpeann" "ten pens"

After the preposition _ga. "i" "in"

Before a vowel _ga. "in" is written instead of _ga. "i n-".
* _ga. "i dteach" "in a house"
* _ga. "in Éirinn" "in Ireland"

Genitive plural nouns after the definite article

The genitive plural article _ga. "na" eclipses a following noun:
* _ga. "na n-asal" "of the donkeys"
* _ga. "na bhfocal" "of the words"

Dative singular nouns after the definite article

In western and southern dialects, nouns beginning with a noncoronal consonant are eclipsed after combinations of preposition + article in the singular (except _ga. "den", "don", and _ga. "sa(n)", which trigger lenition)
* _ga. "ag an bhfear" "by the man"
* _ga. "ar an gcrann" "on the tree"

After certain preverbal particles

* _ga. "an poll a dtagann na coiníní as" "the hole that the rabbits come out of"
* _ga. "An dtagann sé gach lá?" "Does he come every day?"
* _ga. "Cá bhfuil mo spéaclaí?" "Where are my glasses?"
* _ga. "Dúirt sé go dtiocfadh sé." "He said that he would come."
* _ga. "dá mbeadh a fhios sin agam" "if I had known that"

Changes to vowel-initial words

A vowel-initial word does not change where lenition is expected:
* _ga. "an oíche" "the night" (feminine singular nominative noun after definite article)
* _ga. "an uisce" "of the water" (masculine singular genitive noun after definite article)
* _ga. "ó Albain" "from Scotland" (noun after leniting preposition)
* _ga. "seanathair" "grandfather" (noun after preposed adjective: _ga. "sean" "old" + _ga. "athair" "father")

But where neither eclipsis nor lenition is expected, an initial vowel may acquire a prothetic onset consonant. For example, a vowel-initial masculine singular nominative noun requires a "t-" after the definite article:
* _ga. "an t-uisce" "the water" (masculine singular nominative)

Otherwise, there is the prothetic onset "h", which comes only when both the following conditions are met:
#a proclitic causes neither lenition nor eclipsis of consonants
#a proclitic itself ends in a vowel

Examples of "h"-prothesis
* _ga. "a haois" "her age" (after possessive pronoun _ga. "a" "her")
* _ga. "go hÉirinn" "to Ireland" (after preposition _ga. "go" "to, towards")
* _ga. "le hAntaine" "with Antaine" (after preposition _ga. "le" "with")
* _ga. "na hoíche" "of the night" (on feminine singular genitive noun after definite article)
* _ga. "na héin" "the birds" (on plural nominative/dative noun after definite article)
* _ga. "chomh hard le caisleán" "as high as a castle" (after "chomh" [xo] "as")
* _ga. "go hálainn" "beautifully" (after adverb-forming particle _ga. "go")
* _ga. "Ná himigh uaim" "Don't leave me!" (after negative imperative particle _ga. "ná" "don't")
* _ga. "an dara háit" "the second place" (after an ordinal numeral)


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