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Ah English, you have such a wide range of dialects that can cause many hilarious confusions!
I nearly got fired once for innocently suggesting that my 13 year old Mathematics students in New York “openly share rubbers without asking permission” (Rubber to me is an eraser to them, but in USA it's a condom). And, at first, I couldn't for the life of me figure out what my blogger friends were talking about when they said they wanted to dominate a “nitch”. Rather than being a really bad itch, it was actually a niche (“neesh” for me). And that's just American vs non-American English differences!
In Ireland we are lucky enough to be exposed to quite a lot of different versions of English thanks to television/cinema/literature. As well as our own TV channels, we have BBC, lots of American series, Australian soap operas and loads more. However, the opposite just doesn't seem to be as true (although Irish literature has indeed had a huge impact on the English speaking world).
Other than poorly imitated Irish accents in films, the Irish dialect of English seems to elude a lot of people. So today, I'm going to break it down for you! Maybe then you'll understand us better, or at least not do such a terrible job when you try to mimic us 😛
Why do the Irish speak like that?
Firstly, there's no such thing as an Irish accent. Ireland may be a small island with a modest population, but the differences between regions and even within parts of cities like Dublin are vast and easy to pick up on. Of course, other countries also have the same phenomenon with dozens of English dialects within London alone and huge differences across America, but I'll just focus on Ireland in this wee article 😉
Despite there not being a ‘single' accent, there are commonalities that stem from a combination of factors, the most important of which being that just a few generations ago, Irish (Gaeilge) was the dominant language of the country. Even though less people use it now in comparison, and there are even some people who don't have any Irish, the influence of the language on their English is huge.
For example, you'll notice that I've just written have any Irish – it is more common in Ireland to say that you have a language rather than you speak it. This is originally due to Irish's phrasing of Tá Gaeilge/Fraincis agam (“I have Irish/French”)
As well as this, there are some traits of old English (due to earlier English colonisation attempts than elsewhere) that we have maintained that have pretty much died out in other parts of the world. Shakespeare himself used the word mitch, a word still common in Ireland that the rest of the English speaking world would be confused to hear (it means to skip classes or “play hooky”).
However, the main differences are definitely due to influences from our own language, and they are what make Irish (or Hiberno) English so much more colourful!
English grammar is pretty consistent, but the standard spoken form in Ireland takes on a life of its own.
For example, rather than rely on “to have just done” for a recently completed action, we would say “to be after doing”. I'm after finding a euro on the road! You're after stepping in dog sh*t! (This is due to tá mé tar éis / i ndiaidh… in Irish)
Another interesting influence from Irish is its absolute lack of the words yes or no, so when our ancestors were speaking English as a second language, they would translate how they would use such words originally in Irish.
Although international English influences mean young people do this way less nowadays, a lot of us Irish still simply don't use these words. In the Irish language (and in other languages like Thai for example), this issue is resolved by simply repeating the verb of the question. Can you swim? I can! Do you like tomato juice? I don't. Are you coming? I amn't.
Yes you read that right: amn't. This is one I'm surprised other English speakers don't use! You say isn't, don't, aren't… It's logical if you ask me!
Also, come on rest-of-the-English-speaking-world. A single word for both singular and plural you?? What were yee thinking?? We can say yee, yez, or even yous (depending on the part of the country). Of course, Irish has tú and sibh… like pretty much every other language in the world! I'm pointing the finger at vi too, Esperanto!! 😛
Some strange turns of phrase
Story? Don't give out about your man! Where's the yoke?
These are very common things you would hear from an Irish person, but sadly I've had to water down my English over the years to be understood when abroad and avoid such interesting words.
Story? or What's the story? Is a translation of the Irish Aon scéal? / Cad é an scéal? – where “story” means “news”, i.e. What's going on? / What's up? Usually used as a greeting. The more rural of us prefer “How's she cuttin?” (‘she' being used in Ireland more than in other places for inanimate objects).
To give out has nothing to do with distributing leaflets. This is from the Irish tabhairt amach and means to complain. This is another one that Irish people are always surprised to hear isn't international!!
Your man is a nice avoidance technique for not using someone's name. It is usually clear from the context who you're taking about, and the “your” definitely can't be taken literally, he may have no connection whatsoever to you and even be a complete stranger (although close friend is just as likely). Your one is for women.
Yoke is a synonym for “thing” and usually refers to something that we may not be too familiar with and not know the actual name of. Think of thingamajig/watchamacallit, although it's used way more often.
This is just a small sampling! There are a host of other words like Deadly, Desperate, Fair Play, Gas, Press, Shift that you may think you know the meaning of, but we would use them for things that are completely different, unrelated and unexpected. You can see loads of them (and a lot of things in this article) explained pretty well in the Wikipedia article on Hiberno English. Let's see if I can give a few examples just to really confuse you…
Fair play to ya! You shifted your one, that was deadly! – The turnout was desperate last night. – I went to the press and found the yoke I had been looking for! … That's gas!
Then, of course, there are originally Irish words that we use even when speaking English. The most famous of these is craic [Edit: this is an Irish word, but is actually borrowed from English], “fun” or enjoyment, but also used to ask how things are How's the craic? Any craic?
The lovely Irish accent
Once again, I have to say that I'm a bit disappointed in the rest of the Anglosphere. Frankly the way you form words just doesn't sound nice! South Africans are pretty much the only ones that could keep me in my chair without squirming uncomfortably and constantly glancing at the exit; non-Irish English has actually driven me to avoid the language entirely for much of the last few years!!
For example, other English speakers have this strange thing they do where they put their tongue between their teeth and blow a buff of air over the tongue. They call it the th sound.
We do away with that hideous noise in Ireland! [Edit: less likely in the north] To us, the th sound is simply replaced with a t (unvoiced) or a d (voiced). So do ya see the tirty tree and a tird trees over dere? Dat's right! Sounds way better, doesn't it!
My friends across the pond (both the Atlantic and the Irish sea) seem to love putting consonants together that never belonged next to one another in the first place. l & m for example – how can you say these so quickly at the end of a word? It's totally unnecessary! So to us Irish, a film is pronounced fill-um. The Irish name Colm has two syllables. This is because Irish, like Latin languages, gives vowels the glorious importance they deserve, while Germanic and Slavic languages seem to have a thing for squeezing as many consonants together as possible…
And continuing from this, you end words in hard consonants! It's like an abrupt and unexpected car crash! Let's take things easy shall we? The ‘t' at the end of right is softened almost to a sh sound in the Emerald Isle (or even done away with altogether in North Dublin, and pronounced roy).
We also “ch” up our t's and “j” up our d's if they would have a ‘y' incorporated in them in British English. So the second day of the week is Chooseday, a tube is a choob, and ‘due' and ‘jew' are pronounced the same. And if you are spelling words for us, instead of imitating a pirate when you get to the 18th letter (aaaarrrrgh!!), just say it like ‘or' please 😉
This post is only a small summary of the many differences, but hopefully it explains why us Irish sound so charming when we speak. 🙂 So, soften up your consonants, “trow” away your ‘th's, and stop giving out that you don't understand us 😉
If I've missed anything, feel free to add it in the comments! Next time some eejit says “Top of the morning to ya” or “Stay away from my lucky charms”, to try to imitate us, I'll either punch them in the face… or link them to this article 😉 If you think someone else might enjoy this, share it through facebook or twitter!
I hope you've enjoyed my brief series of posts related to Irish and Irish English while I was back home!
Cheers! (That means thank you or bye by the way; not drinks necessary! Although, that's not just in Ireland! 😉 )
And finally... One of the best ways to learn a new language is with podcasts. Read more about how to use podcasts to learn a language.