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Prosody of Irish Dialects


Project Details

Prosody of Irish Dialects : the use of intonation, rhythm, voice quality for linguistic and paralinguistic signalling (2003-2006)
Funded by: Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences.

Project aims

The aim is to provide an analysis Irish prosody, providing coverage of the four main dialects of Donegal, Mayo, Connemara and Kerry. The description will encompass intonation and rhythmic/temporal aspects and will also specify some of the voice quality correlates of intonational categories. A cross-dialect comparison will address to what extent and on which levels the dialects are differentiated. The study will enhance our understanding of dialect divergence, and provide insights into the historic evolution of their striking prosodic differences. It will further provide a basis for reconsidering the posited influences of Irish prosody on dialects of English, as well as possible influences in the other direction.

The project addresses the controversial area of prosodic function. It aims to model how the three phonetic dimensions of pitch, temporal and voice quality features are exploited for the two fundamentally different functions which prosody simultaneously serves: (a) linguistic, e.g., the differentiation of declaratives vs. interrogatives, marking of phrase boundaries, etc. and (b) paralinguistic signalling of attitude, mood and emotion. By providing an integrated analysis of the three major prosodic dimensions, this project provides a unique opportunity to model how this dual function is realised.

The analysis will provide a quantitative as well as a qualitative description. Thus, for example, the intonation analysis will be carried out both within the framework of autosegmental-metrical phonology, using the ToBI-type labelling, which is then employed to guide and constrain the quantitative Fujisaki modelling.

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Progress to date


To date we have concentrated particularly on the corpora that will be required to yield the linguistic analysis of the prosodic structure. Two specific corpora have been designed. The first is designed to elicit the linguistically distinct sentence types e.g. declaratives vs. different types of questions, and focus in intonational phrase final and non-final positions.

A second corpus has been designed, specifically to elicit fine-grained information on the time alignment of peaks (H* accents) and valleys (L* accents) in the different dialects.

Intonational analysis

We have produced an initial sketch of the broad intonational structure of the Donegal dialect of Gaoth Dobhair and on the Connaught dialects of Cois Fharraige, Inis Oirr and Mayo (see map).

Map of Ireland

The primary analysis has been carried out within the framework of autosegmental-metrical phonology employing the IViE transcription system [1, 2], which is derived from the ToBI (Tones and Breaks Indices) system [3, 4]. Pitch contours are represented as sequences of H (high) or L (low) tones, associated with intonation boundaries and with pitch accented syllables, where they can occur in simple or complex form (i.e., a sequence of tones). For transcription and annotation we have been using the PRAAT shareware [5] to aid our auditory judgements by providing acoustic displays with time-aligned labelling fields.


The differences between the dialects are quite striking. Our results confirm our earliest explorations and show that in the Donegal dialect both declaratives and questions are most typically realised as sequences of L*+H pitch accents. In Connaught Irish the tunes are very different; declaratives yield sequences of downstepped H* tones or H*+L variants. Wh-questions are typically like to declaratives, and yes/no questions differ in having higher realisations of the H* tone in phrase initial position, and a low-rising final L*+H tone. Rather surprisingly, the Mayo material analysed to date appears to pattern with the Cois Fharraige and Inis Oirr rather than the Donegal, despite its historical links to the latter.

Striking micro-dialect variation has also emerged. Recent pilot work looking at the timing of the melodic material with the segments/syllables of Cois Fharraige and Inis Oirr suggests striking differences within what would be regarded as a single dialect identical at the phonological level. This has led us to consider closely the extent to which detailed quantitative phonetic analysis may be required – in addition to the widely-used phonological analysis – if we are to truly capture the full extent of cross-dialect and indeed, cross-language differentiation. In addition to time-alignment features, phonetic dimensions that may also vary systematically across dialects include pitch range, pitch level, and the steepness of the rise to and fall from pitch peaks associated with pitch accents. Rhythmic and temporal factors also of great importance but are often omitted from prosodic analyses. To facilitate this fine-grained level of description we will need to develop and/or adapt current quantitative methodologies to allow measurement and comparison of these dimensions across our corpora.

A number of articles, book chapters and conference papers have been published or are under preparation.


  • [1] Grabe, E., Post, B. and Nolan, F. (2001) “Modelling intonational Variation in English. The IViE system”. In Puppel, S. and Demenko, G. (eds). Proceedings of Prosody 2000, 51-57, Adam Mickiewitz University , Poznan , Poland .
  • [2] Grabe, Esther and Brechtje Post 2002 Intonational Variation in English. In: Proceedings of the 1 st International Conference on Speech Prosody , 343-346. Aix-en-Provence , France .
  • [3] Silverman, K., M. Beckman, J. Pitrelli, M. Ostendorf, C. Wightman, P. Price, J. Pierrehumbert and J. Hirschberg (1992). “ ToBI: A standard for labelling English prosody ” . Proceedings of the 1992 International Conference on Spoken Language Processing , 867-870.
  • [4] Beckman, M. and Elam , G.A. (1997). “ Guidelines for ToBI labelling, version 3 ” , Linguistics Department , Ohio State University.
  • [5] Boersma, Paul (2001) PRAAT: phonetics by computer . Institute of Phonetic Sciences, University of Amsterdam .

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Publications and presentations

  • Dalton , Martha and Ailbhe Ní Chasaide (forthcoming). Tonal Alignment in Irish Dialects (PDF, 740kb). To appear in Language and Speech, Kingston Press.
  • Dalton , Martha and Ailbhe Ní Chasaide (forthcoming). Alignment and Micro-Dialect Variation in Connaught Irish (PDF, 455kb). To appear in Carlos Gussenhoven, C. & Tomas Riad (eds.) Tone and Intonation in Europe. Mouton de Gruyter , Berlin .
  • Ní Chasaide, Ailbhe and Christer Gobl (forthcoming). Towards a holistic account of prosody: the voice quality dimension. Paper submitted to Phonetica.
  • Dalton , Martha and Ailbhe Ní Chasaide (2005). Peak Timing in Two Dialects of Connaught Irish (PDF, 88kb). In Proceedings of Interspeech: the 9 th European Conference on Speech Communication and Technology, Lisbon .
  • Yanushevskaya, Irena, Christer Gobl and Ailbhe Ní Chasaide (2005). Voice Quality and f 0 Cues for Affect Expression: Implications for Synthesis. Proceedings of Interspeech: the 9 th European Conference on Speech Communication and Technology , Lisbon.
  • Ní Chasaide, Ailbhe and Christer Gobl (2005) On the relationship between phonatory quality and affect.” In Hardcastle, William J. and Janet Mackenzie Beck (eds.) A Figure of Speech: Festschrift in honor of John Laver. Laurence Erlbaum Associates.
  • Ní Chasaide, Ailbhe, Martha Dalton, Mika Ito and Christer Gobl (2004). Analysing Irish prosody: A dual linguistic/quantitative approach (PDF, 320kb). In Proceedings of the SALTMIL Workshop: First Steps in Language Documentation for Minority Languages, LREC, Lisbon 2004, 60-63.
  • Ní Chasaide, Ailbhe and Christer Gobl (2004). Voice quality and f0 in prosody: towards a holistic account. Keynote Talk. Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on Speech Prosody, Nara , Japan , pp. 189-196.
  • Dalton , Martha and Ailbhe Ní Chasaide (2003). Modelling intonation in three Irish dialects (PDF, 197kb). In Proceedings of the XVth International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, Barcelona .
  • “Prosóid Chanúintí na Gaeilge”. Paper presented at An Chomhdháil do Theangeolaíocht na Gaeilge, St. Patrick's College, Drumcondra, April 2004.
  • “The ups and downs of Irish intonation.” Paper presented at the Colloquium of British Association of Academic Phoneticians, March 2004.
  • “Tonal alignment in Irish dialects.” Paper presented at the International Conference on Tone and Intonation, Santorini , Greece , September 2004
  • “ Prosóid na Gaeilge”. Paper presented at An Chomhdháil do Theangeolaíocht na Gaeilge, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, April 2005.

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