English was first brought to Ireland during the Norman invasion of the late 12th century. Initially it was mainly spoken in an area known as the Pale around Dublin, with Irish spoken througout the rest of the country.
Further English expansion into the country saw an increase in the language, especially during the plantations and the introduction of the Penal Laws, which prohibited the use of the Irish language. By the mid-19th century, English was the majority language spoken in the country;
Modern English as spoken in Ireland today retains some features showing the influence of the Irish language, such as vocabulary, grammatical structure and pronunciation.
- 1 Vocabulary
- 2 Grammar and syntax
- 3 Pronunciation
- 4 See also
- 5 Notes
- 6 Bibliography
- 7 External links
Loan words from the Irish language provide for a large amount of words unique to Hiberno-English, particularly in an official state capacity (e.g. the head of government an Taoiseach, and the parliament itself, the Oireachtas). Less formally, people also use loan words within day-to-day speech, although this been on the decline in recent decades and among younger generations.
Some examples include:
|Word||Part of Speech||Meaning|
|Craic (or crack)||Noun||Fun/good time|
|Garsún / gasúr||Noun||Boy|
|Sláinte||Interjection||[To your] health!|
Another group of vocabulary that is unique to Ireland is that of words derived from the Irish language. These words and phrases are often an Anglicised version of words in Irish, or a direct traslation of these words into English. In the latter case, they often give a meaning to a word or phrase that is generally not found in wider English use.
Some examples include:
|Word/Phrase||Part of Speech||Original Irish||Meaning / Example Use|
|Arra/ yerra||Interjection||Ara / A Dhia||"Yerra, sure if it rains, it rains."|
|Devil||Noun||Diabhal||Curse: e.g. "Devil take him" |
|Devil||Noun||Diabhal||Negation: e.g. None - "Devil a bit"|
|Give out||Verb||Tabhair amach (lit.)||Tell off|
|Soft day||Phrase||Lá bog (lit.)||Overcast day (light drizzle/mist)|
|Whisht||Interjection||Fuist (quiet) or Éist (listen) ||Be quiet|
Held over from Old- and Middle-English
Another class of vocabulary found in Hiberno-English are words and phrases common in Old- and Middle-English, but which have since been lost or forgotten in the modern English language generally.
Some examples include:
|Word||Part of Speech||Meaning||Origin or Notes|
|Childer||Noun||Child||Survives from Old-English, genetive plural of 'child'|
|Sliced pan ||Noun||(Sliced) loaf of bread||Possibly derived from the French word for bread (pain)|
In addition to the three groups above, there are also additional words and phrases found in Hiberno-Irish whose origin is disputed or unknown. While this group may not be unique to Ireland, their usage is not widespread, and could be seen as characteristic of the language in Ireland.
Some examples include:
|Word||Part of Speech||Meaning||Origin/Notes|
|Acting the maggot ||Phrase||Acting the fool, joking.|
|Banjaxed ||Verb||Broken, ruined, or rendered incapable of use.||Originated with British soldiers who brought it from India to Ireland, being an Urdu word originally. |
|Bazzer ||Noun||Man's Haircut.|
|Bucklepper||Noun||An overactive, overconfident person||Used by Patrick Kavanagh and Seamus Heaney |
|Culchie||Noun||Person from the countryside (derogatory)||
|Delph||Noun||Dishware||From the name of the original source of supply, Delft in the Netherlands. See Delftware.|
|Footpath||Noun||Pavement/Sidewalk||Also commonly shortened to path.|
|Jackeen||Noun||Person from Dublin (derogatory)|
|Minerals||Noun||Soft drinks||From mineral Waters |
|Press||Noun||Cupboard||Similarly, hotpress in Ireland means airing-cupboard.|
|Scallion||Noun||Spring Onion/Green Onion|
|Shore||Noun||Stormdrain or Gutter|
|Wet the tea/The tea is wet||Phrase||Make the tea/the tea is made|
Grammar and syntax
The syntax of the Irish language is quite different from that of English. Various aspects of Irish syntax have influenced Hiberno-English, though many of these idiosyncrasies are disappearing in urban areas and among the younger population.
The other major influence on Hiberno-English that sets it apart from modern English in general is the retention of words and phrases from Old- and Middle-English.
- the Irish ar bith corresponds to English "at all", so the stronger ar chor ar bith gives rise to the form "at all at all".
- "I've no money at all at all."
- ar eagla go … (lit. "on fear that …") means "in case …". The variant ar eagla na heagla, (lit. "on fear of fear") implies the circumstances are more unlikely. The corresponding Hiberno-English phrases are "to be sure" and "to be sure to be sure". In this context, these are not, as might be thought, disjuncts meaning "certainly"; they could better be translated "in case" and "just in case". Nowadays normally spoken with conscious levity.
- "I brought some cash in case I saw a bargain, and my credit card to be sure to be sure."
Yes and no
Irish lacks words that directly translate as "yes" or "no", and instead repeats the verb in a question, possibly negated, to answer. Hiberno-English uses "yes" and "no" less frequently than other English dialects as speakers can repeat the verb, positively or negatively, instead of (or in redundant addition to) using "yes" or "no".
- "Are you coming home soon?" – "I am."
- "Is your mobile charged?" – "It's not."
The Irish equivalent of the verb "to be" has two present tenses, one (the present tense proper or "aimsir láithreach") for cases which are generally true or are true at the time of speaking and the other (the habitual present or "aimsir gnáth láithreach") for repeated actions. Thus, "you are [now, or generally]" is tá tú, but "you are [repeatedly]" is bíonn tú. Both forms are used with the verbal noun (equivalent to the English present participle) to create compound tenses.
Irish has no pluperfect: instead, "after" is added to the present continuous (a verb ending in "-ing"), a construction known as the "hot news perfect" or "after perfect". The idiom for "I had done X when I did Y" is "I was after doing X when I did Y", modelled on the Irish usage of the compound prepositions i ndiaidh, tar éis, and in éis: bhí mé tar éis/i ndiaidh/in éis X a dhéanamh, nuair a rinne mé Y.
- "Why did you hit him?" – "He was after giving me cheek."
A similar construction is seen where exclamation is used in describing a recent event:
- "I'm after hitting him with the car!" Táim tar éis é a bhualadh leis an gcarr!
- "She's after losing five stone in five weeks!"
When describing less astonishing or significant events, a structure resembling the German perfect can be seen:
- "I have the car fixed." Tá an carr deisithe agam.
- "I have my breakfast eaten." Tá mo bhricfeasta ite agam.
Reflection for emphasis
In rural areas, the reflexive version of pronouns is often used for emphasis or to refer indirectly to a particular person, etc., according to context. Herself, for example, might refer to the speaker's boss or to the woman of the house. Use of herself or himself in this way often indicates that the speaker attributes some degree of arrogance or selfishness to the person in question. Note also the indirectness of this construction relative to, for example, She's coming now
- "'Tis herself that's coming now." Is í féin atá ag teacht anois.
- "Was it all of ye or just yourself?" An raibh sé sibh go léir ná tusa féin?
This is not limited only to the verb to be: it is also used with to have when used as an auxiliary; and, with other verbs, the verb to do is used. This is most commonly used for intensification.
- "This is strong stuff, so it is."
- "We won the game, so we did."
There are some language forms that stem from the fact that there is no verb to have in Irish. Instead, possession is indicated in Irish by using the preposition at, (in Irish, ag.). To be more precise, Irish uses a prepositional pronoun that combines ag "at" and mé "me" to create agam. In English, the verb "to have" is used, along with a "with me" or "on me" that derives from Tá … agam. This gives rise to the frequent
- "Do you have the book?" – "I have it with me."
- "Have you change for the bus on you?"
- "He will not shut up if he has drink taken."
Somebody who can speak a language "has" a language, in which Hiberno-English has borrowed the grammatical form used in Irish.
- She does not have Irish. Níl Gaeilge aici. literally "There is no Irish at her".
When describing something, rural Hiberno-English speakers may use the term "in it" where "there" would usually be used. This is due to the Irish word ann (pronounced "oun") fulfilling both meanings.
- "Is it yourself that is in it?" An tú féin atá ann?
- "Is there any milk in it?" An bhfuil bainne ann?
- "This man here." An fear seo. (cf. the related anseo = here)
- "That man there." An fear sin. (cf. the related ansin = there)
Conditionals have a greater presence in Hiberno-English due to the tendency to replace the simple present tense with the conditional (would) and the simple past tense with the conditional perfect (would have).
- "John asked me would I buy a loaf of bread." (John asked me to buy a loaf of bread.)
- "How do you know him? We would have been in school together." (We went to school together.)
Bring and take: Irish use of these words differs from that of British English because it follows the Gaelic grammar for beir and tóg. English usage is determined by direction; person determines Irish usage. So, in English, one takes "from here to there", and brings it "to here from there". In Irish, a person takes only when accepting a transfer of possession of the object from someone else – and a person brings at all other times, irrespective of direction (to or from).
- Don't forget to bring your umbrella with you when you leave.
- (To a child) Hold my hand: I don't want someone to take you.
From Old- and Middle-English
In old-fashioned usage, "it is" can be freely abbreviated ’tis, even as a standalone sentence. This also allows the double contraction ’tisn’t, for "it is not".
Retention of second-person plural
Irish has separate forms for the second person singular (tú) and the second person plural (sibh). Mirroring Irish, and almost every other Indo European language, the plural you is also distinguished from the singular in Hiberno-English, normally by use of the otherwise archaic English word ye [ji]; the word yous (sometimes written as youse) also occurs, but primarily only in Dublin and across Ulster. In addition, in some areas in Leinster, north Connacht and parts of Ulster, the hybrid word ye-s, pronounced "yis", may be used. The pronunciation differs with that of the northwestern being [jiːz] and the Leinster pronunciation being [jɪz].
- "Did ye all go to see it?" Ar imigh sibh go léir chun é a fheicint?
- "None of youse have a clue!" Níl ciall/leid ar bith agaibh!
- "Are ye not finished yet?" Nach bhfuil sibh críochnaithe fós?
- "Yis are after destroying it!" Tá sibh tar éis é a scriosadh!
The word ye, yis or yous, otherwise archaic, is still used in place of "you" for the second-person plural. Ye'r, Yisser or Yousser are the possessive forms, e.g. "Where are yous going?"
The verb mitch is very common in Ireland, indicating being truant from school. This word appears in Shakespeare, but is seldom heard these days in British English, although pockets of usage persist in some areas (notably South Wales, Devon, and Cornwall). In parts of Connacht and Ulster the mitch is often replaced by the verb scheme.
Another usage familiar from Shakespeare is the inclusion of the second person pronoun after the imperative form of a verb, as in "Wife, go you to her ere you go to bed" (Romeo and Juliet, Act III, Scene IV). This is still common in Ulster: "Get youse your homework done or you're no goin' out!" In Munster, you will still hear children being told, "Up to bed, let ye" [lɛˈtʃi]
Other grammatical influences
Now is often used at the end of sentences or phrases as a semantically empty word, completing an utterance without contributing any apparent meaning. Examples include "Bye now" (= "Goodbye"), "There you go now" (when giving someone something), "Ah now!" (expressing dismay), "Hold on now" (= "wait a minute"), "Now then" as a mild attention-getter, etc. This usage is universal among English dialects, but occurs more frequently in Hiberno-English.
So is often used for emphasis ("I can speak Irish, so I can"), or it may be tacked on to the end of a sentence to indicate agreement, where "then" would often be used in Standard English ("Bye so", "Let's go so", "That's fine so", "We'll do that so"). The word is also used to contradict a negative statement ("You're not pushing hard enough" – "I am so!"). (This contradiction of a negative is also seen in American English, though not as often as "I am too", or "Yes, I am".) The practice of indicating emphasis with so and including reduplicating the sentence's subject pronoun and auxiliary verb (is, are, have, has, can, etc.) such as in the initial example, is particularly prevalent in more northern dialects such as those of Sligo, Mayo, Cavan, Monaghan and other neighbouring counties.
Sure is often used as a tag word, emphasising the obviousness of the statement, roughly translating as but/and/well. Can be used as "to be sure", the famous Irish stereotype phrase. (But note that the other stereotype of "Sure and …" is not actually used in Ireland.) Or "Sure, I can just go on Wednesday", "I will not, to be sure." "Sure Jaysus [Jesus]" is often used as a very mild expletive to express dismay. The word is also used at the end of sentences (primarily in Munster), for instance "I was only here five minutes ago, sure!" and can express emphasis or indignation. To is often omitted from sentences where it would exist in British English. For example, "I'm not allowed go out tonight", instead of "I'm not allowed to go out tonight". Will is often used where English English would use "shall" ("Will I make us a cup of tea?"). The distinction between "shall" (for first-person simple future, and second- and third-person emphatic future) and "will" (second- and third-person simple future, first-person emphatic future), maintained by many in England, does not exist in Hiberno-English, with "will" generally used in all cases.
Some Irish speakers of English, especially in rural areas, especially Mayo/Sligo in the West of Ireland, use the verb "to be" in English similarly to how they would in Irish, using a "does be/do be" (or "bees", although less frequently) construction to indicate this latter continuous present:
- "He does be working every day." Bíonn sé ag obair gach lá.
- "They do be talking on their mobiles a lot." Bíonn siad ag caint go leor ar a fóin póca.
- "He does be doing a lot of work at school." Bíonn sé ag déanamh go leor oibre ar scoil.
- "It's him I do be thinking of." Is air a bhíonn mé ag smaoineamh.
Hiberno-English retains many phonemic differentiations, which have merged in other English accents.
- With some local exceptions, /r/ occurs postvocally, making most Hiberno-English dialects rhotic. The exceptions to this are most notable in Drogheda and some other eastern towns, whose accent is distinctly non-rhotic. In Dublin English, a retroflex [ɻ] is used (much as in American English). This has no precedent in varieties of southern Irish English and is a genuine innovation of the past two decades. Mainstream varieties still use a non-retroflex [ɹ] (as in word-initial position). A uvular [ʁ] is found in north-east Leinster. /r/ is pronounced as a postalveolar tap [ɾ] in conservative accents. Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh and Jackie Healy-Rae are both good examples of this.
- /t/ is not pronounced as a plosive where it does not occur word-initially in some Irish accents; instead, it is often pronounced as a slit fricative [θ̠]. or sibilant fricative.
- The distinction between w /w/ and wh /hw/, as in wine vs. whine, is preserved.
- There is some variation with the consonants that are dental fricatives in other varieties (/θ/ and /ð/); after a vowel, they may be dental fricatives or dental stops ([t̪ʰ] and [d̪] respectively) depending on speaker. Some dialects of Irish have a "slender" (palatalised) d as /ðʲ/ and this may transfer over to English pronunciation. In still others, both dental fricatives are present since slender dental stops are lenited to [θʲ] and [ðʲ].
- The distinction between /ɒː/ and /oː/ in horse and hoarse is preserved, though not usually in Dublin or Belfast.
- A distinction between [ɛɹ]-[ɪɹ]-[ʌɹ] in herd-bird-curd may be found.
- /l/ is never velarised, except in (relatively recent) South Dublin English, often derisively termed D4 English, after the area where the accent predominates.
- The vowels in words such as boat and cane are usually monophthongs outside of Dublin: [boːt], and [keːn].
- The /aɪ/ in "night" may be pronounced in a wide variety of ways, e.g. [əɪ], [ɔɪ], [ʌɪ] and [ɑɪ], the latter two being the most common in middle class speech, the former two, in popular speech.
- The /ɔɪ/ in "boy" may be pronounced [ɑːɪ] (i.e. the vowel of thought plus a y) in conservative accents (Henry 1957 for Co. Roscommon, Nally 1973 for Co. Westmeath).
- In some varieties, speakers make no distinction between the [ʌ] in putt and the [ʊ] in put, pronouncing both as the latter. Bertz (1975) found this merger in working-class Dublin speech, and a fluctuation between merger and distinction in General Dublin English (quoted in Wells 1982). Nevertheless, even for those Irish people who, say, have a different vowel sound in put and cut, pairs such as putt and put, look and luck may be pronounced identically.
- In some highly conservative varieties, words spelled with ea and pronounced with [iː] in RP are pronounced with [eː], for example meat, beat.
- In words like took where "oo" usually represents /ʊ/, speakers may use /uː/. This is most common in working-class Dublin accents and the speech of North-East Leinster.
- Any and many is pronounced to rhyme with nanny, Danny by very many speakers, i.e. with /a/.
- /eɪ/ often becomes /ɛ/ in words such as gave and came (becoming "gev" and "kem")
- Consonant clusters ending in /j/ often change.
- /dj/ becomes /dʒ/, e.g. dew/due, duke and duty sound like "jew", "jook" and "jooty".
- /tj/ becomes /tʃ/, e.g. tube is "choob", tune is "choon"
- The following show neither dropping nor coalescence:
Irish English also always uses the alveolar or "light" L sound, as opposed to other English dialects which use a velar or "dark" L in word-final position. The naming of the letter H as "haitch" is standard, while the letter R is called "or", the letter A is often pronounced "ah", and the letter Z is often referred to as "e-zed" in working-class Dublin accents or parodies of same. Some words like the English word for movie "film" become "fillum" in Irish speech.
Leinster & Greater Dublin
As with London and New York, Dublin has a number of dialects which differ significantly based on class and age group. These are roughly divided into three categories: "local Dublin", or the broad-working class dialect (sometimes referred to as the "working-class", or "inner city" accent); "mainstream Dublin", the typical accent spoken by middle-class or suburban speakers; and "new Dublin", an accent among younger people (born after 1970). Features include:
- /ɒ/ as in lot has a variety of realizations. In Local, this vowel is often quite front and unrounded, ranging to [a]. In Mainstream, the sound varies between [ɑ] and [ɒ]. New Dublin speakers often realize this phoneme even higher, as [ɔ].
- /ɔ/ as in thought: In Local and Mainstream accents, this vowel is usually a lengthened variant of the corresponding LOT set (i.e. [aː] in Local and [ɒː] in Mainstream.) In New Dublin accents, this sound can be as high as [oː].
- /ʌ/ as in strut: in Local Dublin, this sound merges with the sound in foot, so that strut is pronounced [strʊt]. In Mainstream, a slight distinction is made between the two, with the vowel for strut varying greatly from [ʌ] to [ɤ]. In New Dublin this vowel can shift forward, toward [ɪ].
- /oʊ/ as in goat: in Dublin English, unlike other Hiberno-Englishes, this vowel is almost always dipthongized. Local Dublin features a low inglide, rendering this sound as [ʌo], where as Mainstream features a tighter diphthong: [oʊ]. New Dublin has a slightly fronter realization, ranging to [əʊ].
- /uː/ as in goose. Local Dublin features a (highly) unique, palatized realization of this vowel, [ʲu], so that food sounds quite similar to feud. In Mainstream and New Dublin, this sound ranges to a more central vowel, [ʉ].
- /aɪ/ as in price: Traditionally this vowel ranges in pronunciation from [əi] in Local Dublin speech to [ai] in Mainstream Dublin. Among speakers born after 1970, the pronunciation [ɑɪ] often occurs before voiced consonants and word-finally.
- /aʊ/ as in mouth is usually fronted, to [æu] in Mainstream and New Dublin and more typically [ɛu] in Local.
- /ɔɪ/ as in choice: This sound ranges greatly, from [aɪ] in Local Dublin to a high-back realization [oɪ] in New Dublin. Mainstream Dublin more typically tends toward [ɒɪ].
Rhoticity and rhotic consonants vary greatly in Dublin English. In Local Dublin, "r" can often be pronounced with an alveolar tap ([ɾ]), whereas Mainstream and New Dublin almost always feature the more "standard" alveolar approximant, [ɹ].
Post-vocalically, Dublin English maintains three different standards. Local Dublin is often non-rhotic (giving lie to the repeated claim that Hiberno-English is universally rhotic), although some variants may be variably or very lightly rhotic. In non-rhotic varieties, the /ər/ in "lettER" is either lowered to [ɐ(ɹ)] or in some speakers may be backed and raised to [ɤ(ɹ)]. In Mainstream Dublin, this sound is gently rhotic ([əɹ], while New Dublin features a retroflex approximant [əɻ]. Other rhotic vowels are as follows:
- /ɑɹ/ as in start: This vowel has a uniquely high realization in Local Dublin, ranging to [ɛː]. In Mainstream Dublin, this sound is more typically [aːɹ], whereas New Dublin can feature a more back vowel, [ɑːɻ]
- The "horse-hoarse" distinction in other Irish dialects is heavily preserved in Local Dublin, but only slightly maintained in Mainstream and New varieties. In Local, "force" words are pronounced with a strong diphthong, [ʌo], while "north" words feature a low monophthong, [aː]. Mainstream Dublin contrasts these two vowels slightly, as [ɒːɹ] and [oːɹ], while in New Dublin, these two phonemes are merged to [oːɻ].
- /ɜɹ/ as in nurse. In local Dublin, this phoneme is split, either pronounced as [ɛː] or [ʊː]. In this accent, words written as "-ur" are always pronounced as [ʊː], while words written as either "-er" or "-ir" are pronounced as [ɛː], unless "-er" or "-ir" follows a labial consonant (e.g. bird or first), when this sound has the [ʊː] realization. In Mainstream and New Dublin this distinction is seldom preserved, with both phonemes typically merging to [ɚ].
Dublin Vowel Lengthening
In Local Dublin, long monophthongs are often dipthongized, and while some diphthongs are tripthongized. This process can be summarized with these examples:
- School [skuːl] = [skʲuwəl]
- Mean [miːn] = [mɪjən]
- Five [faɪv] = [fəjəv]
- Final "t" is heavily lenited in Local Dublin English so that "sit" can be pronounced [sɪh], [sɪʔ] or even [sɪ].
- Intervocalically, "t" can become an alveolar approximate in Local Dublin (e.g. "not only" = [na ɹ ʌonli], while in New and Mainstream varieties it can become an alveolar tap [ɾ], similar to American and Australian English.
- θ and ð, as in "think" and "this", usually become alveolar stops [t] and [d] in Local Dublin English, while Mainstream and New Dublin maintains the more standard dentalized stops common in other varieties of Hiberno-English.
- In Local Dublin, stops are often elided after sonorants, so that, for example sound is pronounced [sɛʊn].
Northern Hiberno-English (also called Ulster English) is an umbrella term for the dialects of Hiberno-English spoken by most people in the province of Ulster. The dialect has been greatly influenced by Ulster Irish, but also by the Scots language, which was brought over by Scottish settlers during the plantations.
It has three main subdivisions: South Ulster English, Mid Ulster English and Ulster Scots. South Ulster English is spoken in south Armagh, south Monaghan, south Fermanagh, south Donegal and north Cavan. Ulster Scots is spoken in parts of north County Antrim and northeast County Londonderry. Mid Ulster English is used in the area between these (including the main cities of Belfast and Derry) and has the most speakers.
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- Regional accents of English
- English language in Europe
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