Irish English - a brief introduction
A description of English spoken in Ireland is almost as complicated as a historical and political description of the Irish people. Four main varieties can be found:
- A more-or-less Standard form of English, close to that of south east England
common in the Dublin establishment, the hierarchy of both Protestant and Catholic Churches, schools and universities and the media; a distinction can be made between a pure Received Pronunciation, a Received Irish Pronunciation, the latter being used officially by Irish television and radio, and a Received Ulster Pronunciation;
the variety spoken by Protestants in Eire; it has developed little from the English brought across by settlers in the 17th century; this variety is now of very small significance numerically;
the variety used by Protestants in northern Ireland though this linguistic division does not correspond precisely with the political division; it has derived from the language used by the Scottish settlers of Ulster and has many features similar to Scottish English (for example the marked 'r' sound);
used by Catholics throughout Ireland, therefore by around 70% of the population of Ireland; it shows many influences of Irish Gaelic (Erse) and can be divided into two sub-varieties that of the north (influenced by Ulster-Scots) and that of the south.
Main Features of Hiberno-English
- Irish English is rhotic (ie. the 'r' sound is heard in words like 'car'), though Hiberno-English does not stress the 'r' particularly, not like in Scottish English;
- the 'h' is sounded in "where" (sounding more like 'h-were') and "when" ('h-wen'), as in Scottish and Welsh English;
- the 'a' sound is an open and short 'ah', so "bath" and "bad" have the same vowel sound;
- unvoiced 'th' (as in "three") is pronounced 't' and voiced 'th' (as in "them") is pronounced 'd', therefore "three" sounds like 'tree', and "them" sounds like 'dem';
- most words written with an 'oo', such as "book" and "look" are usually pronounced like "do", therefore "book" is 'boo-uk' and "look" is 'loo-uk' (rhyming with "souk");
- words with the 'ow' vowel sound in RP, such as "down", "about" and "mouth" are pronounced with a low flat typically Irish sound, sounding something like the proununciation of the capital letter 'O', hence 'dOwn', 'abOut' and 'mOut';
- words like "many" and "any"' may be pronounced more like 'meny' and 'eny';
- some words such as "leave" or "tea" may replace the long 'ee' vowel sound with 'ey', giving 'leyv' or 'tey'.
- the auxiliary 'shall' is rarely used;
- progressive forms of the verb are very common, eg. It's belonging to me. I won't be wanting anything to drink, now.
- habitual forms are often marked by 'do', eg. He does be acting (= He acts.)
- 'after' is often used to indicate a recent event (a loan translation from Erse) eg. I'm after seeing her (= I've just seen her.)
- the perfect tense is often avoided, eg. How long are you here?
- cleft sentences are widely used, even in informal contexts eg. It was very ill that he seemed. (He seemed very ill.) There's everybody. (Everybody was there.)
- 'yes' and 'no' are used infrequently, being replaced with phrases, eg. Are you going out? - I am. / To be sure I am.
- Irish English is very repetitive, eg. I do, I do. I don't mind at all, at all, at all.
© Nigel J. Ross, 2003