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How to Say: Irish political terms

13:14 UK time, Thursday, 25 November 2010

Brian Cowen is Ireland's taoiseach

An occasional guide to the words and names in the news from Jo Kim of the BBC Pronunciation Unit.

The announcement of the Irish Republic's austerity plan has made big headlines this week. Along with the economic and political news and analysis on the BBC, this has also highlighted several Irish political terms that can leave non-native speakers of Irish (initially) scratching their heads.

Like English, Irish does not have a one-letter, one-sound correspondence: the "e" in English, after all, is pronounced differently in words such as "me", "bet", "dances". However, unlike English spelling, the correspondence between spelling and pronunciation is considerably more regular, once you get the hang of it.

There is also a great deal of variation in accents and dialects of Irish and Irish-English, just like in British English. The pronunciation of the "ái" vowel can vary according to sociolinguistic factors. The realisation of the vowel can sound closer to -aw as in law, -aa as in father or -oy as in boy depending on the region.

For words and phrases in languages other than English, it is the BBC Pronunciation Unit's policy to recommend a pronunciation which is as close as possible to the original, while still pronounceable by our generally native English speaking broadcasters and understandable to our audience members. We also recommend established anglicisations, codified in English pronunciations dictionaries, when they exist.

The sign of a "good" pronunciation in a programme is when it is unnoticeable and one ingredient of a broadcast. A mispronunciation or an unfamiliar "foreign" pronunciation of a place name that has an established anglicisation may distract listeners and viewers, or in the worst case scenario, make them unable to understand the content.

Geographical and historical factors, as well as the large number of bilingual and native Irish English (also known as Hiberno-English) speakers, have resulted in established anglicisations of native Irish words. So we recommend established anglicisations where they exist for the sake of consistency, even though many different realisations of these words can be heard in every day speech.

The following pronunciations are given in BBC Text Spelling. Stressed syllables are in upper case and "uh" is the sound of "a" in ago. For further details, please see the bottom of this blog.

Taoiseach (or An Taoiseach) is the title for the head of government and the equivalent of prime minister. The established anglicisation for this word is TEE-shock (-ee as in meet, -sh as in ship). The anglicised pronunciation TEE-shuhck is also widely heard. The deputy prime minister is referred to as Tánaiste, pronounced TAW-nuhsh-tyuh (-aw as in law, -sh as in ship, -ty as in tune, est. anglicisation).

We recommend the established anglicisation ERR-uhk-tuhss (-err as in merry) for the Oireachtas, the national parliament. However, the Irish pronunciation and the Irish English pronunciation is closer to irr-OKH-tuhss (-irr as in mirror, -o as in top, -kh as in Scottish loch). The Lower House, Dáil Éireann, is pronounced DOYL AIR-uhn (-oy as in boy, -air as in hair, est. anglicisation) and the Upper House, Seanad Éireann, is pronounced SHAN-uhd AIR-uhn (-sh as in ship, -a as in man, -air as in hair). (Listen on the official Oireachtas introduction video here.)

Two of the major political parties with potentially tricky pronunciations are Fianna Fáil, pronounced FEE-uh-nuh FOYL (-ee as in meet, -oy as in boy, est. anglicisation). (Listen on RTE.) and Fine Gael, pronounced FIN-uh GAYL (-i as in sit, -ay as in say) (Listen on RTE.)

To download the BBC Pronunciation Unit's guide to text spelling, click here.

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