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UNIVERSITATEA DIN CRAIOVA

FACULTATEA DE LITERE

Hiberno-English

Ana-Maria Amza
Master- Studii de limb englez i literaturi anglo-americane
Modul limb
Anul II

Coordinating Professor:
Alina Resceanu
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The history of the English language in Ireland is long and complex; one which, until recently
at least, was tied up with the history of Anglo-Norman, English and then British domination.
English has been spoken in Ireland for at least five hundred years. Today Ireland, and
principally that part comprising the Republic of Ireland (which covers all but six of the nine
counties that make up the ancient province of Ulster), constitutes linguistically one of the
central hubs of the English language worldwide, both through the fame of Irish literary figures
and through the Irish Diaspora, it having had influence on many other varieties of English
around the globe. It has achieved this status within the English-speaking world without
renouncing its deeper Celtic roots, as shown by the continued of use both in private and public
life of Irish or Gaelic / Gaeilge (and we will follow current practice and use the former term
as the latter often has connotations of a language with historical not contemporary relevance).
There are a number of languages used in Ireland. Irish is the only language to have originated
from within the island, while others have been introduced through foreign settlements. Since
the late nineteenth century, English has been the predominant first language. A large minority
claims some ability to use Irish, but it is the first language for a small percentage of the
population. Within the Republic of Ireland, under the Constitution of Ireland, both languages
have official status, with Irish being the national and first official language. Northern Ireland
has no official language, however English is the official language of the United Kingdom and
Irish and Ulster-Scots are recognised regional languages.
Middle English was first introduced by the Cambro-Norman settlers in the 12th century. It did
not initially take hold as a widely spoken language, as the Norman lite spoke Anglo-Norman.
In time, many Norman settlers intermarried and assimilated to the Irish cultures and some
even became "more Irish than the Irish themselves". Following the Tudor conquest of Ireland
and the 161015 Ulster Plantation, particularly in the old Pale, Elizabethan English became
the language of court, justice, administration, business, trade and of the landed gentry.
Monolingual Irish speakers were generally of the poorer and less educated classes with no
land. Irish was accepted as a vernacular language, but then as now, fluency in English was an
essential element for those who wanted social mobility and personal advancement. After the
legislative Union of Great Britain and Ireland's succession of Irish Education Acts that
sponsored the Irish national schools and provided free public primary education, HibernoEnglish replaced the Irish language. Since the 1850s, English medium education was
promoted by both the UK administration and the Roman Catholic Church. This greatly
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assisted the waves of immigrants forced to seek new lives in the US and throughout the
Empire after the Famine. Since then the various local Hiberno-English dialects comprise the
vernacular language throughout the island.
A brief outline of the pronunciation and lexico-grammar of Hiberno-English
The Irish influence is felt in both IE and HE at the level of pronunciation and is a major
element of the so called Irish brogue: the accent typical of speakers of English from Ireland.
Among the main features, is the fact that the r is rhotic (i.e. pronounced after a vowel); to a
greater or lesser degree, there is a merging of // and /th/, and of // and /d/, making thin and
tin and then and den near-homophones; and some consonant clusters have come to resemble
those in the Irish sound system, for example /s/ may become // before /l/, /n/ or /t/, for
example slip: /lIp/.
On the level of intonation, stress tends to come later than in standard BE (a feature shared by
Scots, Caribbean and Indian Englishes); for example intresting for interesting, educate for
educate, safeguard for safeguard, algebra for algebra. It has been suggested that part of
such postponement of stress in unfamiliar polysyllabic words might be due to locallyrecruited schoolmasters in the 19th century who were themselves unsure of pronunciation.
Generally an Irish accent is well regarded by other speakers of other varieties of English. Not
surprisingly, there are many words of Irish origin that refer to Irish culture boxty (from
bacstaidh - a potato dish), and to institutions of the Republic of Ireland, e.g. Taoiseach (the
prime minister) Tnaiste (deputy prime minister), the Dil and Seanad (the lower house
and Senate, respectively), or Garda12 (the national police service) and these are used even in
varieties outside Ireland, such as BE or USE, when referring to the specific context of Ireland
(though often with some explanatory gloss). Other terms refer to more universal concepts, for
which equivalents in BE and other varieties do exist; examples are: ommadhawn (a fool), a
kitter (a left-handed person), mass (respect / faith in something), smig (chin), backy
(lame), and sleeven (sly person) even the diminutive suffix een as in girleen
(small/young girl).
Apart from Irish sources, it has long been noted that the lexis of English in Ireland also shows
influence of vernacular Early Modern English, including contractions such as tis and tisnt
for its and isnt even when used non-clitically or in isolation (i.e. when normal
contractions cannot occur): e.g Is that a new car? Tis.
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The grammar and syntax of IE is close to that of standard BE while that of HE has
characteristics which are clearly Irish in origin. It should be noted at this point that, while
Irish and English are both from the Indo-European family of languages, they are found in
quite separate branches: English in the Germanic (West); Irish in the Celtic (Goidelic). The
Indo-European family is a large grouping of languages divided into such diverse branches as
Italic, Slavic, Anatolian, Indo-Iranian and Armenian. Despite the geographical proximity of
their traditional respective speech communities, the grammar and lexis of Standard BE and
Irish are no more similar than are other Indo-European languages from different branches
(e.g. Portuguese, Albanian or Kasmiri).
The dissimilarity between English and Irish is apparent comparing, for example, the first line
of the Lords prayer: Our father, who art in heaven; r n-athair, at ar neamh . Many of
the main distinctive grammatical and syntactical features of HE can be traced primarily to
Irish. Originally, this must have been much like the L1 interference experienced by the typical
L2 or foreign-language learner. Later, as speakers became gradually bi-lingual, the more
dominant of the codes obviously Irish for many years will have imposed its norms on the
less dominant one in the mind of the speaker. The fact that speakers probably had little
exposure to more standard models of English and would have been speaking it mainly to other
speakers with similar verbal repertoires, and who were thus subject to the same subliminal
linguistic forces, must have meant that idiosyncrasies would have become the unmarked
forms and thus entrenched.
Among the most obvious distinctive features of HE is a greater use of the continuous /
progressive phase e.g. What is it that you are wanting? (coincidentally, something also
found in Indian English). There is also, as in many languages including the Romance ones use of the simple present tense instead of the present tense perfect aspect: Hes dead these
twelve years for Hes been dead for twelve years.

A distinctly Irish feature found

particularly in Dublin, and which has few equivalents elsewhere in the world, is the use of the
preposition after with a gerund instead of a perfect aspect: e.g. You look like youre after
seeing a ghost for You look like you have just seen a ghost. Auxiliary usage in HE differs
from that in Standard BE: for example, will for shall in offers (Will I get you another cup
of tea?); used for used to; amnt for arent; and, as in many languages including the
Romance, the use of the verb to be with so-called unaccusative verbs (an intransitive verb
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whose syntactic subject is not a semantic agent) in the perfect aspect: he is fallen for he has
fallen. The verb to be especially in varieties of North Mayo and Sligo also behaves in a way
which mirrors its equivalent in Irish e.g. It does be cold at nights and in some areas bees
substitutes for is, as in She bees walking. The later is also a feature of English Caribbean
Creole and is cited as evidence of influence from Irish.
Some standard BE terms are used in the same way as their counterparts in Irish, one of the
most notable examples of this being bring and take. In HE, their use follows the Irish
grammar for beir and tg respectively. Whereas BE usage is governed by the concept of
direction (towards versus away from); Irish usage is determined by whether there is a transfer
of possession or not: Don't forget to bring your coat with you when you leave or Watch my
bag: I don't want someone to take it.
A further noticeable characteristic of HE is the existence of emphatic reflexive pronouns: Is
it yourself who is in that photo? Another distinctive use of pronouns is retention of Middle
and Early Modern English ye (also as a subject form). In Shakespeare both you and ye
are found as subject and object forms, sometimes interchangeably: Hang ye, gorbellied
knaves, are ye undone? No, ye fat chuffs; I would your store were here! On, bacons, on!
What, ye knaves! - Young men must live. You are grandjurors, are ye? Well jure ye, faith.
(Henry IV pt 1). A modern development is the form yous (spelt also youse) or the variants
ye-s / yis in some areas in Leinster, and also north Mayo and Sligo. This has obviously
evolved to answer the need for an unambiguous second person plural caused by the loss of
singular thou and thee and the absorption of the second person singular into you
(originally plural and a V-form - i.e. a polite / respectful form of address).
In standard BE, you has taken over the function of thou. In a process resembling some
backformation in that it is based on a misconception, HE has reanalysed you as a singular
form and added the suffix s to create the apparently regular plural form yous. In less
radical ways, other varieties of English have achieved similar results through various means:
Southern and Middle USE have you all or yall and, even in standard BE, plural you is
often clarified by use of modification (e.g. you two, you lot). However, like most
backformations, yous has a simple logic and is immediately comprehensible even on first
acquaintance. It is gaining in currency even outside Ireland in such places as Liverpool,
Glasgow, Australia and many parts of the USA and Canada. As in Irish, reduplication is fairly
common in HE in such frequently used tags as so it does / is / has etc.; at all at all or the
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now lesser used to be sure to be sure used in expressions like: It rains a lot at this time of
year, so it does, They have no money at all at all or Bring a camera with you on your trip,
to be sure, to be sure.
Finally, both Irish and Middle English are inflected languages and consequently have flexible
word orders. This trait is carried over into HE, which thus has a more flexible word order than
standard BE. This trait is carried over into HE. For example, in cleft sentences, the word order
reflects that in Irish: It is after money you are? However, due to the fact, that like modern
English, HE has few inflections19, there can be ambiguity: e.g. I have my house painted
could, in the absence of further clarification, be taken either as a causative: I get someone to
paint my house or as a straight perfect I have painted my house.

References:
Amador-Moreno, Carolina P (1 Jan. 2007) How the Irish speak English: a conversation with
T. P. Dolan. Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies. Retrieved 21 Dec. 2008.
http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-31237466_ITM.
Europeans and their Languages. (Feb. 2006). Eurobarometer Special Surveys. European
Commission: Public Opinion. Retrieved 9 March 2009.
http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/ebs/ebs_243_en.pdf.
Filppula, Markku (1997) The Influence of Irish on Perfect Marking in Hiberno-English: The
Case of the Extended-now Perfect. In Kallen Jeffrey (ed.) Focus on Ireland.
Amsterdam: Benjamins. 51-69.
Fritz, Clemens (2006) Features of Irish English syntax and aspect in early Australia. In
Nevalainen Terttu, Juhani Klemola, Mikko Laitinen (eds.)Types of variation:
diachronic, dialectical and typological interfaces. Amsterdam: Benjamins. 281-301.
Henry, Patrick Leo (1977) Anglo-Irish and its Irish background. In O Muirithe Dairmaid
(ed.) The English Language in Ireland. Dublin: Mercier Press. 20-36.
Hickey, Raymond (2007) Irish English: history and present-day forms. Cambridge:
Cambridge Univ. Press.
Hickey, Raymond. The Syntax of Irish English. Irish English Resource Centre. Universitt
Duisburg Essen. Retrieved 19 March 2009. http://www.uni-due.de/IERC/syntax.htm.