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 Relevance of Irish English to other areas

Phonetic features
Sociolinguistic processes
Input to overseas varieties

The purpose of this section of the website is to mention certain features of Irish English which may well be of interest to scholars outside Ireland who are looking at features and processes in different varieties. I have often found in discussions with colleagues that they were investigating aspects of English which were also attested in Irish English, unbeknown to them. The situation in Ireland may help to throw light on developments in their own neck of the woods, so to speak.

Phonetic features

The history of glottalisation

In studies of British English, glottalisation – typically a glottal stop in intervocalic position, as in butter [bʌʔə], but also elsewhere – is taken to be a vernacular feature of London which spread out from the capital (Przedlacka 2001), first to encompass the Home Counties and later larger areas of England. Glottalisation is by no means confined to this source. It is found in vernacular Dublin English where it is part of the lenition of /t/. In supraregional Irish English, /t/ can be lenited to an apico-alveolar fricative but in the vernacular the lenition can be taken further to /h/, /ʔ/ or zero. It is typically found intervocalically and word-finally (in open position): pity [pɪhi], [pɪʔi], [pɪi]; foot [fʊh], [fʊʔ], [fʊ].

Uvular R: A unique feature?

It is commonly assumed that a uvular R – i.e. [ʁ] – is a feature peculiar to traditional rural dialect in the extreme north-east of England, where it is known as the Northumbrian Burr (Påhlsson 1972). However, there is ample evidence that a uvular R has a long history in Ireland. Nowadays, this realisation of /r/ is found in north Leinster, in an area from just north of Dublin to the town of Dundalk, just below the border to Northern Ireland. But there are traces of uvular R in varieties across to the north midlands where labialisation (lip-rounding) is a remnant of the now recessive uvular R. The interpretation of lip-rounding with an apical /r/ as a reflex of a previous uvular pronunciation is especially interesting in the context of labialisation in the Tyneside area where the same assumption has been made. This would mean that there is at least one other suggestion for the origin of the labio-dental /r/ which has been noted in present-day British and which has been found to be spreading (Foulkes and Docherty 2000).
     You can hear a speaker with a uvular /r/ in the sound file LOU_Drogheda_U2_M_18.wav in the section Excerpts from Sound Atlas in the branch Surveys / data in the tree on the left. A further twist to uvular R in Ireland is provided by the recordings for the author’s project Sample of Spoken Irish (see section Sample sound files of Irish under the branch Languages in Ireland): uvular R was found as a realisation of non-palatal /r/ among older speakers of Irish in two of the main Irish-speaking areas, on the Dingle peninsula (Co. Kerry) and in Connemara (Co. Galway).

The history of /r/ in English

The occurrence or absence of syllable-final /r/ is one of the main demarcating features among varieties of English. Certain locations, such as New York, are known to have values which are opposed to more standard varieties in the USA. Dublin is interesting in this respect: the traditional vernacular is only very weakly rhotic, if at all. This r-lessness must have a long tradition, given that it is an established trait of the vernacular, which would place Dublin English among the oldest varieties to exhibit this feature.


The shift of dental fricatives to a labio-dental articulation, i.e. [θ] > [f] and/or [ð] to [v], is found in colloquial London English and is a feature which has been spreading rapidly to other urban varieties in Britain. In Ireland this TH-fronting is not found today but historically there are cases of the fronting. These are recorded in the dialect glossaries for Forth and Bargy in the south-east corner of the country in Co. Wexford, e.g. brover ~ brower ‘brother’ and aulaveer ‘altogether’.

Sociolinguistic processes


It has been observed repeatedly, especially in the context of the regions of England, e.g. the north versus the south, that non-localised forms of English can be observed, which are not the same as the standard pronunciation but rather a ‘diluted’ version of the local vernacular (Kerswill 2003; Kerswill and Williams 2002). It would seem that certain salient features of a locality may be removed from the speech of those people in a region who do not have a strong local identity. For instance, many speakers in the far north of England do not have /u:/ in a word like town but they would have the high short /u/ in a word like but. In past publications I have used the term supraregionalisation to denote the process by which local vernaculars are purged of their more salient features and then used by speakers with only weak ties with their locality.
     Supraregionalisation can be observed in the history of late modern Irish English. The following features have been lost from the de facto standard of English in Ireland (excluding Northern Ireland), i.e. the speech of middle-class Dubliners. These features were probably removed with the rise of general education for the native Catholic Irish during the nineteenth century. The pronunciation in parentheses indicates what came to replace the former vernacular feature.

Read more:

   How Supraregional Varieties_Arise

   Features of nineteenth century Irish English and their later loss


The story of supraregionalisation does not end with the disappearance of strongly local features. There is another pathway which such features can take. This is the relegation to vernacular varieties. For instance, the unraised pronunciation of ME /ɛ:/ (see (3) above) is now confined to strongly local varieties where supraregionalisation has not taken place. But non-local speakers often style-shift downwards to achieve a vernacular effect. It is part of the competence of all speakers of Irish English that they know what features can be donned to impart a popular touch to their speech. Another example of this would be the use of youse or yez for the second person plural. This is shunned by non-local speakers but can be employed when deliberately switching to a vernacular mode.

The process of vernacularisation has in some instances resulted in a lexical split. Consider the reflex of velarised [ɫ] before [d] in Irish English: this led the diphthong [au] as in the words old [aul] and bold [baul] with post-sonorant stop deletion. These forms are available alongside /o:ld/ and /bo:ld/ to non-local speakers but the meanings are somewhat different as the original forms with [au] have gained additional meaning components: [aul] ‘old + affectionate attachment’, e.g. His [aul] car has finally given up the ghost, [baul] ‘daring + sneaking admiration’, e.g. The [baul] Charlie is back on top again.


Readers will be aware of the phenomenon of accommodation, by which speakers make their speech more like that of a group with whom they are in contact. Such behaviour has been analysed and its importance in the development of varieties of English has been stressed by authors like Peter Trudgill (see Trudgill 1986). But the converse of accommodation is also attested: dissociation. In Dublin English during the 1990s a variety of English arose whose specific profile can be best explained as a reaction to vernacular forms of English in the capital. The features of the New Pronunciation of Dublin English are diametrically opposed to those of traditional conservative Dublin English (see section on Dublin English in the tree on the left for further details). The reason dissociation is particularly evident in Dublin is because speakers moving away from the vernacular cannot simply adopt RP (this is just not an option in Ireland) and so one can observe a new variety which in key respects is a mirror image of the vernacular (see detailed discussion in Hickey 2005).

Read more:

   Supraregionalisation and Dissociation

Input to overseas varieties

There are a number of features of pronunciation and grammar which point to Irish influence in the history of overseas varieties of English or in a few cases in Britain (through nineteenth century immigration from Ireland). Most are listed and discussed elsewhere in this website. See the section Transportation abroad under the branch Irish English – connections for details. However, some of the more prominent features are mentioned here.

Second person plural pronouns Virtually all dialects of English have some means of formally expressing the second personal plural pronominally. Such different forms as ye, youse, yez, y’uns, y’all or unu are found across the anglophone world (Hickey 2003). The form youse is definitely of Irish origin and would seem to be a regular plural formation from you + {S} which was made by adult Irish speakers switching to English during the language shift period (largely the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries). The form yez (spelling vary: yeez, yiz are also found) illustrates the same process, this time by appending the plural suffix to the archaic ye (inherited plural of you in English).
  The occurrence of youse outside of Ireland is a good indication of Irish influence, however far removed in time nowadays. The form is found in North America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, in all cases in colloquial forms of English.

Negative concord The use of more than one negated element in a clause is a common areal feature of language in Ireland, i.e. He is not interested in no cars.

Lack of negative attraction In standard English a negative quantifier relinquishes its negation to the lexical verb of its clause and is replaced by an indefinite quantifier. In Irish English this often fails to occur, e.g. They’re giving out no loans at the moment ‘They aren’t giving out any loans at the moment’.

Verbal inflection The use of the present-tense verbal -s ending outside of the third person singular is a prominent feature of Irish English (this is a manifestation of the so-called Northern Subject Rule, Ihalainen 1994), e.g. But the years flies, don´t they? Here one can see that verbal -s is favoured with a nominal subject, pronouns do not trigger its use. On the situation in (southern) Irish English, see McCafferty (2004).

Copula deletion A typical feature of African American English and forms of Caribbean English, this is also found in the south-east of Ireland (Hickey 2001), e.g. She Ø a teacher in the tech. This deletion is also found in existential sentences, e.g. There Ø no hurry on you. See Hickey (2007, Chapter 4) and McCafferty (2014)

Positive ‘anymore’ This refers to the use of anymore, approximately in the sense of ‘nowadays’, e.g. They watch a lot of videos anymore (Wolfram and Schilling-Estes, 1998: 142).

Double modals This usage can be seen in sentences like He might could come after all. It is only found in the north of Ireland and is shared by forms of Scottish English which is probably the source of this feature in Appalachian English (Montgomery 1989, 2001).


Algeo, John (ed.) 2001. English in North America. Cambridge History of the English Language, Vol. 6. Cambridge: University Press.

Britain, David and Jenny Cheshire (eds) 2003. Social Dialectology. In honour of Peter Trudgill. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Foulkes, Paul and Gerry Docherty 2000. ‘Another chapter in the story of /r/: “Labiodental” variants in British English’ Journal of Sociolinguistics 4.1: 30-59.

Gordon, Elizabeth, Lyle Campbell, Jennifer Hay, Margaret MacLagan, Andrea Sudbury and Peter Trudgill. 2004. New Zealand English: Its Origins and Evolution. Cambridge: University Press.

Hickey, Raymond 1999. ‘Dublin English: Current changes and their motivation’, in Paul Foulkes and Gerry Docherty (eds) Urban voices. London: Edward Arnold, pp. 265-81.

Hickey, Raymond 2001. ‘The South-East of Ireland. A neglected region of dialect study’, in Kirk, John and Dónall Ó Baoill (eds) Language links: the languages of Scotland and Ireland. Belfast Studies in Language, Culture and Politics, 2. Belfast: Queen’s University, pp. 1-22.

Hickey, Raymond 2003a. ‘How do dialects get the features they have? On the process of new dialect formation’, in Raymond Hickey (ed.) Motives for language change. Cambridge: University Press, pp. 213-39.

Hickey, Raymond 2003b. ‘Rectifying a standard deficiency. Pronominal distinctions in varieties of English’, in Taavitsainen and Jucker (eds), pp. 345-74.

Hickey, Raymond 2005. Dublin English. Evolution and Change. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

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Kerswill, Paul 2003. ‘Dialect levelling and geographical diffusion in British English’, in Britain and Cheshire (eds), pp. 223-44.

Kerswill, Paul and Ann Williams 2002. ‘“Salience” as an explanatory factor in language change: evidence from dialect levelling in urban England’ in Jones and Esch (eds), pp. 81-110.

Labov, William 1991. ‘The boundaries of a grammar: Inter-dialectal reactions to positive any more’, in Trudgill and Chambers (eds), pp. 273-88.

McCafferty, Kevin. 2004. „‘[T]hunder storms is verry dangese in this countrey they come in less than a minnits notice...’: The Northern Subject Rule in Southern Irish English“, in English World-Wide 25: 51-79.

McCafferty, Kevin 2014. ‘“I dont care one cent what [] goying on in Great Britten”: Be-deletion in Irish English’, American Speech 89.4: 441-469.

Montgomery, Michael 1989. ‘Exploring the roots of Appalachian English’, English World-Wide 10: 227-78.

Montgomery, Michael 2001. ‘British and Irish antecedents’, in Algeo (ed.), pp. 86-153.

Påhlsson, Christer 1972. The Northumbrian Burr. Lund: C.W.K. Gleerup.

Przedlacka, Joanna 2001. ‘Estuary English and RP: some recent findings’, Studia Anglica Posneniansa 36: 35-50.

Trudgill, Peter 1986. Dialects in Contact. Oxford: Blackwell.

Trudgill, Peter 2004. New Dialect Formation: The inevitability of colonial Englishes. Oxford: Blackwell.

Trudgill, Peter and J. K. Chambers (eds) 1991. Dialects of English. Studies in Grammatical Variation. London: Longman.

Watt, Dominic and Lesley Milroy 1999. ‘Patterns of variation and change in three Newcastle vowels: is this dialect levelling?’ In Paul Foulkes and Gerry Docherty (eds.) Urban Voices London: Arnold, pp. 25-46.

Wolfram, Walt and Natalie Schilling-Estes 1998. American English. Dialects and Variation. Oxford: Blackwell.