Irish English

– also known as Anglo-Irish and Hiberno-English – is English as spoken in Ireland, partly the result of the interaction of the English and Irish languages.

Irish English – also known as Anglo-Irish and Hiberno-English – is English as spoken in Ireland, partly the result of the interaction of the English and Irish languages.

Anglo-Irish is an established term in literature to refer to works written in English by authors born in Ireland. It is also found in politics to refer to relations between England and Ireland. The difficulty with the term is its occurrence in these spheres and the fact that, strictly speaking, it implies an English variety of Irish and not vice versa. It should be mentioned that within the context of other varieties – Canadian English, for instance – the term is still used to refer to English in Ireland.

Hiberno-English is a learned term which is derived from the Latin term Hibernia ‘Ireland’. The term enjoyed a certain currency in the 1970s and 1980s, but in the 1990s, many authors ceased to employ it, as it contributes nothing in semantic terms and is unnecessarily obscure, often requiring explanation to a non-Irish audience or readership. However, some authors, such as Dolan and Filppula, continue to employ the term.

Irish English is the simplest and most convenient term. It has the advantage that it is parallel to the designations for other varieties, e.g., American, Australian, Welsh English, and can be further differentiated where necessary. Throughout the present chapter this term will be used.

Those varieties of English are distinct from other varieties of English in that they have their own grammatical structures, vocabularies, sound systems, pronunciations, and patterns of intonation. The most significant varieties are the Northern and the Southern: roughly speaking, those to the north or the south of a line drawn from Bundoran in the west to Dundalk in the east. The dialect of parts of the north and east of Ulster is also, and perhaps more appropriately, termed Ulster Scots.

Modern Irish English derives from the plantations of the 16th and 17th cents. Parts of the north and east of Ulster were settled by lowland Scots (giving rise to Ulster Scots) and the rest of Ulster, Leinster, and Munster were settled by regional dialect speakers of English, many of whom are likely to have come from the north of England. From its introduction Modern Irish English was at a remove from the English of England, and remained conservative by comparison. However, it was in almost continuous contact with Irish, so that the influence of that language was considerable and pervasive. As Modern Irish English progressively superseded Irish it often added (at least temporarily) further elements from that language, but it also lay upon a deep substratum of Irish, which is exposed in the English speech of natural bilinguals. Hiberno-English, like other regional varieties of English, is in general a spoken rather than a literary language. In the late 17th and 18th cents. a number of Irish-born dramatists achieved success in England with plays that made use of the stage-Irishman and his speech to point to the follies and cruelties of English society. Among these plays are George Farquhar's The Twin Rivals (1702) and The Beaux' Stratagem (1707), and Thomas Sheridan's The Brave Irishman (1773). The exaggeration of the characteristics of Irish English is seen in its most extended form in Dion Boucicault's The Shaughraun (1874). Although the stage-Irishman and his language survived into the 20th cent., a new realism in the portrayal of the Irish and their language emerged in the literary revival, notably in the work of Lady Gregory and Synge. Synge's approach is developed to a degree in the Dublin plays of Sean O'Casey. Modern Irish drama is free to handle any subject-matter and any kind of character and will use the appropriate language, whether Hiberno-English or not. Billy Roche's and Marina Carr's plays in the 1990s addressed contemporary issues and used an energetic version of Hiberno-English. In prose fiction, Hiberno-English is generally used only when reporting the speech of peasants.

The standard spelling and grammar of Irish English are largely the same as common British English. However, some unique characteristics exist, especially in the spoken language, owing to the influence of the Irish language on the pronunciation of English.


Irish English Consonants

Speech in the whole of Ireland is rhotic - that is speakers pronounce an /r/ sound after a vowel in words like farm , first and better . The pronunciation of this /r/ sound is, however, much more like the sound we hear in an English West Country accent than the ‘tapped’ or ‘rolled’ /r/ sound we associate with Scottish speakers. On the other hand the vowel system of Northern Irish English more closely resembles that of Scottish English, rather than the English of England, Wales or the Republic of Ireland.

With some local exceptions, /r/ is pronounced wherever it occurs in the word, making Irish English a generally rhotic dialect . The exceptions to this are most notable in Drogheda and some other eastern towns, whose accent is distinctly non-rhotic. R is pronounced as a postalveolar tap/fricative [ɾ] in conservative accents.

/t/ is not usually pronounced as a plosive where it does not occur word-initially. Instead, it is pronounced as a slit fricative /t̞/, between [s] and [ʃ].

The distinction between w /w/ and wh / ʍ / , as in wine vs. whine is preserved.

In some varieties, the dental fricatives /θ/ and /ð/ become dental stops [t̪ʰ] and [d̪] respectively, making thin and tin, and then and den, near-homophones, where the pair tin and den employs alveolar pronunciation (as in other varieties of English). In other varieties, this occurs only to /θ/ while /ð/ is left unchanged. Some dialects of Irish have a "slender" (palatalized) 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].

In such words as pine , time , come , the opening consonant is aspirated, the /t/ in time sounding like a cross between t and the th in three : aspiration of syllable - initial /p, t, k/ .

/l/ is mainly clear.

Consonant clusters ending in /j/ often change:

· /dj/ becomes /d ʒ / , e.g. dew /due , duke and duty sound like "jew", "jook" and "jooty";

· /tj/ becomes /t ʃ / , e.g. tube is "choob", tune is "choon";

· /sj/ becomes / ʃ / , e.g. sexual becomes "sekshual";

· /nj/ becomes /n/ , e.g. new becomes "noo";

· /kj/ , /hj/ , /mj/ remain as in Standard English.

Irish English Vowels

The distinction between / ɑ / and / O; / in horse and hoarse is preserved, though not usually in Dublin.

The vowels in words as boat and cane are monophthongs: [bO;t], and [kE;n] respectively, though not in Dublin.

The / aI / in night may be pronounced /OI / or / JI / .

In some varieties, speakers make no distinction between the / V / in putt and the / ʊ / in put , pronouncing both as the latter.

In some old-fashioned varieties, words spelled with "ea" and pronounced with / I; / in RP are pronounced with / e; / , for example meat , beat .

In words like took where "oo" usually represents / ʊ /, speakers may use /u ; /.

The / ʌ / of words such as cut tends to be rounded to [ ɔ ] in most varieties.

The "a" in any and many is sometimes pronounced as /V /.

/e I / often becomes / ɛ / in words such as gave and came (becoming "gev" and "kem").

Dublin English

As with London and New York, Dublin has several dialects that differ significantly based on class and age group. Some features include:

· Traditionally the /ai/ vowel in words like price and ride ranges in pronunciation from /əi/ in working-class speech to /ai/ in middle-class dialects. However, among speakers born after 1970, the pronunciation / ɑ I / (more typical of other Hiberno-English dialects) has become more frequent;

· The /au/ diphthong in around and south is fronted to /æu/ or / J u /. Upper middle-class speech tends to preserve this as /au/ ;

· Low-back vowels are typically lengthened, hence dog becomes [dɑ;ɡ], lost becomes [lɑ;st], etc.

· Working-class dialects are weakly rhotic, with some historically non-rhotic pronunciations (e.g. [pVUtJ] for 'porter'). Rhotic speakers pronounce written /r/ in all positions, while non-rhotic speakers pronounce /r/ only if it is followed by a vowel sound, and not always even then.

· In upper-middle class speech, however, final 'r' is often retroflex , a feature which creates a strongly rhotic auditory effect, and as such a clear means of disassociation from the city's weakly-rhotic vernacular.

· Final 't' is heavily lenited in working-class Dublin English so that sit can be pronounced [sɪh] or even [sɪ].

· Intervocalic /t/ is often voiced flap /d/: city [sIdi;]

Irish English vary substantially with rises on many statements in urban Belfast, and falls on most questions in urban Leeds.Northern Irish English also has a very distinctive intonation pattern and a broad Northern Irish accent is characterised by a very noticeable tendency to raise the pitch towards the end of an utterance, even if the speaker is not asking a question.


The syntax of the Irish language is quite different from that of English. Various aspects of Irish syntax have influenced Hiberno-English, though it should be noted that many of these idiosyncrasies are disappearing in urban areas and among the younger population.

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."

There is no indefinite article in Irish (fear means "a man", whereas an fear means "the man"), and the use of the definite article in Hiberno-English has some distinctive functions, which mark it out from Standard English by following and sometimes extending the usage of the definite article in Irish.

She had the flu so he brought her to the hospital. (This construction is normal in American English, but not in most British dialects).

She came home for the Christmas.

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.

Some Irish speakers of English, especially in rural areas, especially Mayo/Sligo, 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."

"They do be talking on their mobiles a lot."

"He bees doing a lot of work at school." (Rare)

"It's him I do be thinking of."

Irish has no pluperfect tense: 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 showing me cheek."

Using a- and -ing as a passive :

"Where were you? You were a-looking (being looked for) this last hour and more."

A similar construction is seen where exclamation is used in describing a recent event:

"I'm after hitting him with the car!"

"She's after losing five stone in five weeks!"

When describing less astonishing or significant events, a structure resembling the German spoken perfect can be seen:

"I have the car fixed."

"I have my breakfast eaten."

Irish has separate forms for the second person singular (tú) and the second person plural (sibh). Mirroring Irish, and almost every other 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 does differ however, with that of the northwestern being [ji;z] and the Leinster pronunciation being [jɪz].

"Did ye all go to see it?"

"None of youse have a clue!"

"Are yis not finished yet?"

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?"

It is also common to end sentences with 'no?' or 'yeah?' :

"He isn't coming today, no?" Níl sé ag teacht inniu, nach bhfuil?

"The bank's closed now, yeah?" Tá an banc dúnta anois, an bhfuil?

Though because of the particularly insubstantive "yes" and "no" in Irish, (the nach bhfuil? and an bhfuil? being the interrogative positive and negative of the verb 'to be') the above may also find expression as:

"He isn't coming today, sure he isn't?" Níl sé ag teacht inniú, nach bhfuil?

"The bank's closed now, isn't it?" Tá an banc dúnta anois, nach bhfuil?

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."

"She is a right lash, so she is."

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 me "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.

"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? "

Another idiom is this thing or that thing described as 'this man here' or 'that man there' , which also features in Newfoundland English in Canada.

"This man here. An fear seo." (anseo = here)

"That man there. An fear sin." (ansin = there)

Conditionals have a greater presence in Irish 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 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". Nevertheless, 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).

"Do not forget to bring your umbrella with you when you go."

(To a child) "Hold my hand: I do not want someone to take you."

Turns of phrase

Amn't is used as an abbreviation of "am not" , by analogy with "isn't" and "aren't". This can be used as a tag question ("I'm making a mistake, amn't I?" ), or as an alternative to "I'm not" ("I amn't joking" ), and the double negative is also used ("I'm not late, amn't I not?" ). This construction occurs also in Scottish English.

Arra is used also. Arra tends to be used after something bad has happened, when someone is looking on the bright side ("Arra, we'll go next week", "Arra, 'tis not the end of the world" ). Arra comes from the Irish word "dhera" (pronounced "yerra"). As a result, the words yerra and erra are also used in different parts of the country.

Come here to me now , Come here and I'll tell ya something or (in Limerick) Come here I wan' cha is used to mean "Listen to this" or "I have something to tell you" and can be used as "Come here and tell me" . The phrase "Tell me this", short for "Tell me this and tell me no more", is also common. These phrases tend to imply a secretiveness or revelatory importance to the upcoming piece of information.

Reduplication is an alleged trait of Hiberno-English strongly associated with stage-Irish and Hollywood films (to be sure, to be sure). It is virtually never used in reality.

"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."

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" .

"I brought some cash in case I saw a bargain, and my credit card 'to be sure to be sure'."

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!" ).

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" .