History: English As The Irish Speak It

History of english and how it i sspoken by the Irish. The article provides some insights into why and how english as spoken in Ireland is different to other english-speaking areas.

Maybe it's the Blarney stone, or maybe it's the drink, but for whatever reason the Irish have always had a way with words. It has been said that the Irish speak English better than any other race, better even than the British. But the English spoken in Ireland is different to what they speak in Britain or elsewhere. In some areas you might not notice. If you are speaking to a native, chances are they will speak in a "˜mid-atlantic' accent and use words that are common across the English-speaking world. When they speak amongst themselves, however, you might have more difficulty.


The accent is only part of the story. Accents vary from place to place in any country and Ireland is no different. You say "˜tomayto' and they say "˜tomahto', but you can still understand what they say. However, some of the Irish accents are quite difficult. Part of the problem is speed. The Irish generally speak quickly and it can be difficult to keep up. In Dublin it is very common to drop the final "˜t' in words such as what, at, brat, sweet and treat. This peculiarity, combined with the speed, makes comprehension even more tricky. In parts of the south of the country, they seem to stretch some words and also change the tone in the middle of a phrase, so that it appears to be the end of a sentence. It almost sounds like three or four short sentences in one. In the North, they raise the tone after a few words and then continue to the end of the sentence in the higher tone. It gives a lovely lit to what they say, but it can also be difficult to attune yourself to the accent.


The Irish version of English has two significant differences to the British version. The most significant is probably the influence of the Gaelic language (which is called "˜Irish' by all Irish people). Very few words went from this language into international English (leprechaun and colleen are two that spring to mind), but in Ireland there are several more which people use without even realising it. This is more common in rural areas, where words like "˜lúdramán', "˜amadán', "˜giobail', and "˜sceilp' could very easily creep into a conversation. One of the most frequently used Irish words gives sends many Americans into howls of laughter. The word is "˜craic' pronounced exactly like the English word "˜crack'. It is a peculiarly Irish word culturally as well as linguistically. A rough translation would be "˜having a good time' but it is much deeper than that. For Americans, of course, crack is a drug, and they simply can't get used to being told that "˜we had great craic' or even "˜the craic was ninety' which I suppose translates roughly but lamely as "˜the entertainment was brilliant'. Imagine the consternation in American customs at La Guardia airport when the young Irishman was asked why he was entering America and he answered "˜for the craic'!

Another peculiarity cause by the link with Irish is the way people seem reluctant to say yes or no. Instead they answer using the verb that was used in the question. For ezample, if you ask someone "˜do you go shopping every Thursday', they will reply "˜I do' or "˜I don't' instead of yes or no. This is far more common in rural areas, where Irish was the dominant language for centuries, and there is a simple explanation for it. There are no words for yes and no in Irish. Many people think that "ta" and "nil" are the words for yes and no, but in fact these are parts of the verb "to be".


The other big difference between British and Irish English is a religious one. Ireland was a profoundly catholic country until the 1970's (it is still nominally catholic but the all-pervasive influence has waned). The Irish often use phrases such as "˜God Bless' or "˜safe home' when parting company. This habit is actually far more common in Irish (Gaelic) but the practice has continued even after the language has changed. You might even hear some people saying "˜the blessings of God on you' which is almost a direct translation from Irish. Other examples would include "˜God help us', "˜with the help of God, or "˜where in God's name did you get that'. Religion was so much a part of life that God gets mentioned very regularly. However, they say that the Irish language has as many curses as it has blessings, and that is another significant difference in the language that you will hear in Ireland.


The Lord's name, Jesus, is probably the most common word in daily use in Ireland. In many areas it is pronounced "˜Jayzizz', but you will be in no doubt when you hear it. The word is used in many conversations, by all age groups and amongst all social classes. It is said so casually that most people don't even realise that they've said it. Sometimes "˜Christ' is added for effect. It can be quite disconcerting for a foreigner when they hear this for the first time.

Cursing and swearing are far more common in daily conversation in Ireland than most other places. If you remember the film "˜The Commitments' you might have thought that the conversation was deliberately vulgar to blend in with the context of the film. Not so. The language was perfectly normal amongst Dubliners. In fact the film was based on a book written be a schoolteacher from Dublin who used phrases and situations from his daily observations as a teacher to create his stories.

Generally there is no harm meant by the vulgar language used. The "˜F' word is almost as common as the "˜J' word, It is used amongst friends as casually as they would use hello or goodbye, so don't be upset by it.

To conclude, here's a sample of a typical conversation between two friends who happen to meet in the street, with a translation in parenthesis beside each expression

How's she cuttin? (How are things?)

Ah Howya, how's the form? (Oh! hello. How are things with you?)

No probs. (Fine thanks.)

What's the story? (Have you any news for me?)

Saymo saymo. Are ya goin for a pint? (I have no news. Would you like to go to the pub for a drink?)

Na, I'm knackered. (No, I'm really tired).

Okay, I'm off. Take it handy (Okay, I'm going now. Cheerio).

Mind yerself (Bye).

Don't worry. Most of them speak English as well!

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