Initial High Front Vowels or Where the j in eòrna comes from

O Goireasan Akerbeltz
Am mùthadh mar a bha e 03:10, 29 dhen Ògmhios 2013 le Susanharris (deasbaireachd | mùthaidhean)
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Actually this isn't so much about where an initial glide, the [j], comes from but rather how you can tell when it's there and when it isn't.

In a nutshell, it appears when you have a word with an initial high front vowel followed by a back vowel. Which means what exactly?

High front vowels are [i] and [e] in Gaelic, back vowels are [a] [o] [ɤ] [ɔ] [u] and [ɯ]. So if you get any combination of those two (in the said order), you get an initial glide, the [j]. Don't confuse this [j] with the [ʝ] sound (slender gh and dh). The [j] has much less friction and it's a sound you actually get in English words - year, yarn, yen etc.

A few examples:

eòrna [jɔːRNə]
iolaire [juLɪrʲə]
Eòghann [jɔː.əN]
iubhar [ju.əɾ]
eallach [jaLəx]
eòin [jɔː.Nʲ]
ionnsaich [jũːNsɪç]
earrach [jaRəx]
eòlas [jɔːLəs]

Unfortunately, this rule doesn't always work and you get words like iorram [iRəm]. The short answer to this problem is related to Old Irish. So the best way of dealing with this is to expect a [j] glide when you get e or i before a back vowel, especially if the first syllable contains a long vowel, and learn when the exceptions apply.

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