Move back one step  Move forward one step  List of themes  Map of themes
Larger font Smaller font Default font

   Glossary for Irish English

The following glossary only contains items which are specific to Irish usage. General terms which are found in variety studies are not included for reasons of space. For these please consult Hickey (2014).

Ascendancy Originally a reference to the Protestant ruling class in eighteenth century Ireland. It came to refer particularly the ruling gentry and later as a vague term for a putative Protestant elite in Ireland.

Belfast The capital of Ulster at the estuary of the river Lagan in the north east of the country. It was founded in the seventeenth century and expanded greatly with industrial development of such industries as ship-building in the nineteenth century. Linguistically, it is an amalgam of Ulster-Scots and Mid-Ulster English inputs along with independent developments of its own, especially in the last century. It is largely Protestant though certain parts, like west Belfast, have Catholic majorities.

Blarney An impressionistic term for flattering, cloying speech which is supposed to be typical of the Irish. The term is known in this sense since the time of Elizabethan I (who is reputed to have used the term in this sense). The term derives from a stone on the top side of Blarney Castle near Cork city which is supposed to give the person who kisses it ‘the gift of the gab’.

Breifny A historic region in the north-west of Ireland (roughly the area of present-day Sligo and north Roscommon).

Brogue A term stemming from the Irish word either for ‘shoe’ or ‘a knot in the tongue’. Its actual origin cannot be ascertained anymore. The label was already known to Shakespeare and has been used indiscriminately in the past four centuries for any strongly local accent of Irish English. Occasionally the term is used outside of Ireland as in ‘Ocracoke Brogue’ to refer to the local accent of offshore islands in North Carolina.

Cant A term for vernacular speech. Its use varies from instance to instance and has been used, for example, to refer to the speech of Irish gypsies. The term is taken by Irish scholars to stem from Irish caint ‘talk’ but the use in the New World can in fact be derived from French.

Celtic A branch of the Indo-European family which spread from the continent to the British Isles sometime during the first millennium BC. The split into two branches, a Q-branch, maintaining the inherited /kw/, and a P-Celtic in which this sound was shifted to /p/, took place on the continent. Today there are six surviving languages (strictly speaking four with native speakers), Q-Celtic Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Manx and P-Celtic Welsh, Cornish and Breton.

Connacht The western-most of the four provinces of Ireland.

Connemara An area of flat land immediately west of the city of Galway extending out to the mountains towards the west coast. It contains one of the few remaining Irish-speaking areas.

Cork The second largest city in the south of Ireland. It has an easily recognisable accent with distinctive intonational patterns (with great variations in pitch) not found in the rest of the south.

Deise A former Irish-speaking area of north-west Waterford and south Tipperary.

Derry The second largest city in Ulster on the banks of the river Foyle near where it enters the sea. It has always had a special status in west Ulster and in the context of Northern Ireland it is remarkable in having a Catholic majority. The form ‘Londonderry’ stems from the seventeenth century when London undertaker companies were commissioned to plant the city with English settlers.

Dublin The capital of the Republic of Ireland and by far and away the largest city in the entire island with nearly one third (well over 1 million) people living in its metropolitan area.

Forth and Bargy Two baronies in the extreme south-east of Ireland, in Co Wexford, where a particularly archaic form of English, from the medieval period of settlement in Ireland, was spoken up to the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Gaelic A generic term for the Q-Celtic branch of the Insular Celtic languages consisting of Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Manx. In a Scottish context the bare term ‘Gaelic’ or ‘Gallick’ (reflecting the local pronunciation) is taken to refer to Scottish Gaelic.

Gaeltacht An Irish term meaning ‘Irish-speaking area’. Such areas are officially recognised by the Irish government and the European Union and receive financial support. In instances like the Gaeltacht immediately west of Galway this has led to negative effects, for instance with non-Irish speakers moving into the area in order to be eligible for grants, this leading to a dilution and marginalisation of the native population. There are two types of Irish-speaking area which are given official status, Fíor-Gaeltacht, the true Gaeltacht with a high density of Irish speakers, and Breach-Gaeltacht, those areas in which the number of native speakers in considerably less.

Hibernia The Latin word for Ireland, possibly deriving from the word for ‘winter’ but more likely from the name of an ancient tribe associated with Ireland.

Irish The name for either the people of Ireland or the Celtic language still spoken by a small minority chiefly on the western seaboard.

Jackeen A colloquial term for a Dubliner.

Leinster One of the four provinces of Ireland in the east, south-east of the island.

Mid Ulster English A linguistic term referring to that section of the population of Ulster which is derived from English settlers of the seventeenth century and is one of the two major linguistic groupings in Northern Ireland, the other being Ulster-Scots. Also referred to as Ulster Anglo-Irish.

Munster One of the four provinces of Ireland in the south, south-west of the island.

Northern Ireland Since 1921 a state within the United Kingdom. It consists of six of the nine counties of the province of Ulster and was created as an option for the Protestant majority in the north-east of Ireland, descended from original Scottish and English settlers, to remain within the British union.

Old English A reference to the English settlers in pre-Reformation Ireland, i.e. the descendants of the late medieval settlers who came at the end of the twelfth century. This group was mostly assimilated to the native Irish. Those who were left had the option of changing to Protestantism with the adoption of this as state religion under the Tudors.

Pale A term for the area of Dublin, its immediate hinterland and a stretch of the east coast down to the south-east corner which was fairly successful in resisting increasing Gaelicisation up to the sixteenth century. The varieties of English in this area still show features which stem from late medieval Irish English whereas those further west in the country show greater evidence of influence from Irish, the native language before the switch-over to English.

Presbyterian A group of non-conformist Protestants which are particularly strong in Scotland and who came from there to Ulster where they show an equally strong presence.

Republic of Ireland Since 1949 the official name for the south of Ireland (excluding Northern Ireland). With the declaration of a republic Ireland left the Commonwealth and achieved formally a greater degree of independence from the United Kingdom.

Retentionist view A vantage point in Irish English studies where considerable weight is accorded to regional English input to Ireland in the genesis of the specific forms of English in Ireland. This stance implies that the role of Irish is not assumed to have played a central role.

Scouse The city dialect of Liverpool which, due to heavy immigration to the Merseyside region in the nineteenth century, shows not insignificant traces of Irish English, for example in the lenition of stops.

Shelta The assumed language of the Irish travelling people of which only a little is known (vocabulary and some grammatical features). The language is scarcely accessible today and not assumed to be the robust native speech of gypsies, even if this was in fact once the case.

‘slit’ t A reference to the pronunciation of /t/ as an apico-alveolar fricative in weak positions (intervocalically or word-finally after a vowel and before a pause). This articulation shares all features with the stop /t/ but is a continuant. The symbol introduced by the present author (Hickey 1984) for the sound is [ṱ] where the subscript caret iconically indicates the lack of closure by the tongue apex. This realisation of /t/ is ubiquitous in the south of Ireland and common in the north as well. It is also found, as a transferred feature, in the speech of the Irish-derived community in Newfoundland.

Stage Irish A stereotype Irishman who began to make an appearance in English drama at the beginning of the seventeenth century and who remained well into the nineteenth century. The term does not have any precise linguistic reference but is used popularly to denote any individual who is assumed to display supposedly Irish characteristics, such as flattering, flowery language and melodramatic behaviour to an exaggerated extent.

substratist view A vantage point in Irish English studies where considerable weight is accorded to structural transfer from Irish into English during the genesis of the specific forms of English in Ireland. This stance implies that the role of regional English input is not assumed to have played a central role.

Ullans A term for Ulster-Scots which has been formed on analogy with Lallans, the Lowland Scots term for itself. It is also the name of a journal.

Ulster-Scots The language of the Scottish settlers, in the coast regions in the north and north-east of Ulster, and of their descendants. Much assimilation and mixing have taken place in the past few centuries especially in cities like Belfast.

Ulster A province of Ireland in the north of the country. It consists of nine counties, six of which now form the state of Northern Ireland. Co Donegal in the extreme north-west is part of the Republic of Ireland but has more linguistic features in common with speech in Northern Ireland, both with Ulster-Scots and Mid-Ulster English.

Universalist view A kind of ‘third way’ in Irish English studies which is seen as complementing both the substratist and retentionist views. In essence it assumes that there are universals of uncontrolled adult second language acquisition which are similar in many ways to creolisation, but not identical of course. These are assumed to be responsible for many of the specific structures, such as verbal aspect distinctions, which arose during the language switch-over from Irish to English.

West Brit A somewhat derogatory term for those Irish people which have strong English leanings and tend to regard the native Irish as rustic and naive.

Yola The form of the word ‘old’ in the dialect of Forth and Bargy which came to be used as a reference to the dialect itself.


Hickey, Raymond 1984. ‘Coronal segments in Irish English’, Journal of Linguistics 20.2: 233-251.

Hickey, Raymond 2014. A Dictionary of Varieties of English. Malden, MA: Wiley- Blackwell.