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    Recent trends in research

Second-language Irish English
Sociolinguistic investigations
Integration of migrants
Models for analysis
Language, literature and the media
Historical issues


In the past few years a number of scholars have been investigating the pragmatics of Irish English. This work has been carried out at a number of universites such as the Unversities of Limerick, Edinburgh, Bergen, Cáceres (Spain) and Lüneburg (Germany). The first volume of dedicated studies on the pragmatics of Irish English was Barron and Schneider (eds, 2005) and the most recent has been Amador Moreno, McCafferty and Vaughan (eds, 2015), the contributions of which have extended the field considerably. There has also been new data as input for current studies, e.g. the corpus of Irish English correspondence or the ICE-Ireland corpus. New domains have been examined from the point of view of pragmatics, e.g. radio advertising by Joan O’Sullivan (2013; 2015) and the speech of Travellers in Ireland (Clancy 2015).

Within the model of variational pragmatics, a number of studies have been written and corpus work has also been carried out within this framework. For more details, see the contributions in Schneider and Barron (eds, 2008) such as O’Keeffe and Adolphs (2008).

Some traditional issues in Irish English studies have been re-visited from the point of view of pragmatics, see O’Keeffe and Amador-Moreno (2009) on the pragmatics of the immediate perfective (after-perfective). The use of pragmatic markers in literature has been the topic of some studies, see Amador Moreno (2005, 2012, 2015).

Discourse analysis is a further approachwhich can yield insights into the manner in which English is and/or has been employed in Ireland. In this context it is worth mentioning the work of David Mazzi (University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Modena) who has investigated the constitution of Ireland, political movements and letters to the editor in newspapers from this perspective, see Mazzi (2020, 2022, 2023).

Second-language Irish English

Given that almost 10% of the population of present-day Ireland was born outside the country it is natural that the use of English by this section of the population should come under scrutiny by linguists. The language of Polish immigrants to Ireland has been investigated by Kobiałka (2016) as well as Nestor, Ní Chasaide and Regan (2013). Diskin (2013, 2016) offer comparisons of the language situation of Poles and Chinese in Ireland. Migge (2012) is a more general study of the non-Irish born sector of modern Irish society while Migge (2015) is a study of the acquisition of the specifically Irish English use of now.

Relevant articles on pragmatics and on second-language varieties of Irish English can be found in the collections Hickey (ed., 2016) as well as Hickey and Vaughan (eds, 2017).

Sociolinguistic investigations

Gender-determined language use is the subject of Murphy (2010) while Lonergan (2013) is a PhD thesis on English in Dublin, which looks especially at the language of lower strata of society in the capital. Peters (2016) is the published form of his PhD on language variation and change in Galway city; Sell. Pietsch (2015) examines at the language of Irish immigrant letters using data from his Hamburg corpus. The sociolinguistic investigation of corpora is the subject of Vaughan and Clancy (2016). White (2006) considers questions of language identity in relation to more standard forms of English in Ireland. The shape of Irish English in the early twentieth century is the subject of Hickey (2016).

Within the broader remit of sociolinguistics one can include translation studies, see Cronin (2011) and Shields (2016) for overviews of this field in Ireland in recent years.

For further sociolinguistically oriented studies, see the contributions in Hickey (ed., 2016).

Integration of migrants

Like many other European countries, Ireland has seen considerable immigration in the past two to three decades, not least from East European countries, like Poland or Lithuania, which acceded to the European Union in 2004. These migrants to both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have been exposed to diverse varieties of Irish English and their children have been socialised in Ireland with differing results in terms of language acquisition and their use of vernacular English in their community surroundings. The effects these situations have had on the linguistic behaviour of migrants and their families has been the subject of investigtions by linguists such as Chloé Diskin and Vera Regan, but above all by Karen Corrigan who published a detailed monograph on this complex, see Corrigan (2020).

Models for analysis

Retention versus contact

One of the major discussions in Irish English studies since the 1980s has concerned the weight accorded to substratal transfer from Irish and that given to retention of archaic features present in regional English input in the early modern period. The substratist position has a long vintage: Joyce (1979 [1910]) is almost exclusively substratist. Later authors like Henry and Bliss would seem to attribute too much to transfer from Irish during the language switch-over between the seventeenth and twentieth centuries. The retentionist standpoint has received an eloquent proponent in John Harris (Harris 1984a, 1991a).

There is a further aspect to this discussion and that is whether one is right in assuming that the retentionist position should be the default one as long as contact is not proved. In investigations of other varieties of English this stance is sometimes taken, e.g. in Lass and Wright (1986) for South African English and indeed Lass (1990) for Irish English. Certainly languages are self-contained structured systems but they are subject to the diffusion of features from other languages / varieties when they stand in contact with them. Given favourable external conditions, such as the unguided adult language acquisition of English by the Irish, the permeation from source to target language can be considerable.

The linguistic analysis of contact

A contemporary treatment of contact for southern Irish English was established with Bliss’s debut article on Irish English (Bliss 1972). His standpoint was not necessarily shared by other scholars but at least his argumentation was deemed acceptable. Many studies of contact have followed with linguistic arguments for and against being presented with Irish English material as primary data. Harris (1984a) is probably the best known of these with Harris (1991a) as a follow-up to this. See also Filppula (1990), Odlin (1992) and Hickey (1995).

In the past decade or so, renewed interest has arisen about the possibility of general contact influence between English and Celtic. Hickey (1995) is in this vein as is Isaac (2003). Of all scholars in this field, it is Markku Filppula who has devoted most attention to general questions concerning contact, see Filppula, Klemola and Pitkänen (eds 2002). A detailed presentation of their views is contained in Filppula, Klemola and Paulasto (2008).

For general treatments of language contact as well as a study of language contact and language shift, see Hickey (ed., 2009). Areal treatments of language in Ireland can be found in Hickey (ed., 2012) and Hickey (ed., 2017).

The influence of English on Irish

The relationship of English and Irish has always been one of mutual influence. There are English loans in Irish from the earliest phase of English settlement as these have a form which reflects English phonology before the Great Vowel Shift. The influence of English on the present-day language is particularly noticeable as all speakers are bilingual and English is by far the more robust of the two languages.

The question of recent English loans in Irish was taken up initially by Marie-Louise Sjoestedt-Jonval in 1928 and later by Tomás de Bhaldraithe in 1953. More recent treatments of the issue are found in Hickey (1982) and especially in the work of Nancy Stenson who has been particularly active in this area (see Stenson 1990, 1991, 1993).

Contrastive analyses of the structures of Irish and English are available in Mathúna (1980) and Hickey (1984).

The universalist position

Among linguists with a background in typology an approach has been applied to Irish English which strives to account for non-standard features by appealing to the situation in which the language was acquired by the majority of the population during the language shift period. Earlier studies in this vein are Corrigan (1993a) and Hickey (1997). More recently German scholars, notably Peter Siemund and Lukas Pietsch, have applied this approach, see Siemund (2004) and Pietsch (2004a, 2004b, 2004c) as representative examples of this work.

Irish English grammar

For nearly all recent investigations which attempt to view Irish English is a revised light, the consideration of syntax has been central. There are several key phenomena which have been interpreted differently by different scholars and which thus offer subject matter for much debate both within Ireland and in the more general context of extraterritorial varieties.

Tense and aspect in Irish English

Perhaps the most salient feature of Irish English syntax is the set of aspectual distinctions which are possible vis à vis more standard forms of English. These have always received attention by those dealing with Irish English, see Hamel (1912), but moved to the foreground in retentionist treatments such as Harris (1983, 1984). Kallen (1989, 1990) also deals with tense and aspect from a clearly non-substratist stance; his PhD thesis is centrally concerned with the interpretation of Irish syntax, see the summary in English World-Wide 9 (1988), 300-1.

The Irish background to the perfective aspect is discussed in a much quoted article by Greene (1979). Ó Sé (1992, 2004) is also useful for information about tense and aspect in Irish.

A more recent study of the perfect and preterite in Irish English with primary data from corpora is Davydova (2008).

The use of habitual ‘do’

For whatever reason and from whatever source, one can see in present-day Irish English that an earlier unstressed, declarative do was re-functionalised and is now found widely, though socially stigmatised, as a means of expressing habitual aspect. Kallen (1986) deals directly with this matter as does Guilfoyle (1983). Other authors have dealt with the matter in a larger context, see Hickey (1995, 1997), for example.

Poussa (1990) and Visser (1965) consider the possibility of Celtic influence on the verbal system in mainland English.

Topicalisation strategies

This is an area which has been investigated in depth by Markku Filppula. His PhD thesis (Filppula 1986) deals with topicalisation within the framework of functional sentence perspective.

The major syntactic strategy for clefting in Irish English is clefting whereby the element to be topicalised is raised to a main clause with an ‘it’ subject and the remainder of the sentence is embedded in a subordinated clause as in It's to Galway she's gone today for She has gone to /Galway today. The amount of leeway permissible with this structure in Irish English is taken to be due to Irish influence (Filppula, various publications) although Odlin (1991) contests his findings.

Subordinating ‘and’

A particular use of ‘and’ in Irish English is to introduce a subordinate clause with a temporal or concessive meaning as in She went out and it raining (i.e. ‘although it was raining’). The origin of this structure is taken to be Irish as this has a formal analogue to it, see Filppula (1991) and Klemola and Filppula (1992) for treatments of this question.


The use of modals in Irish English has been studied in detail by the Dutch scholar Marije van Hattum, both from a diachronic and a synchronic perspective, see van Hattum (2012, 2015) as representative examples.
Double modals. This is a phenomenon which is confined to the north of Ireland is the use of two modals in the one clause as in He might could come this evening, i.e. ‘He might be able to come this evening’. It is assumed by scholars in the field that this was originally a Scottish feature (it is still found there to a limited extent) and was taken to Ulster during the seventeenth century emigration. But the structure has come into its own so to speak in the United States where it is common in the south and south-eastern part of the country. The matter has been investigated especially by Michael Montgomery and Stephen Nagle in various publications, see Montgomery (1989), Montgomery and Nagle (1993), Nagle (1993), Mishoe and Montgomery (1994), Nagle (1994).

Embedded inverted questions

The use of inverted word order for embedded questions is a matter which shows a large degree of acceptability in Irish English, e.g. He wondered had she enough money for the journey. There are restrictions on when exactly this inversion is permissible and the conditions for it are examined in Henry (1995, 1997). See also Filppula (1999) for a discussion of the possible origin of the phenomenon, which he sees as Irish which does not make a distinction between word order in main and subordinate clauses in these cases.

Language, literature and the media

The sources for seventeenth century Irish English are largely literary. The material is difficult to assess in terms of genuineness as the portrayals of Irish characters — for instance in Restoration comedy — are frequently parodies with all that this entails in terms of exaggerations and stereotypes. Nonetheless, attempts have been made to analyse this material linguistically. James Sullivan in his New York PhD thesis (Sullivan 1976) presented a monograph on the subject; Sullivan (1980) is a good summary of his ideas on the matter and the insights he claims to have reached. Bliss (1979) is the other major work in this field. The major author who has worked in this field recently is Carolina Amador Moreno (Cáceres, Spaiu) whose PhD was published as Amador Moreno (2006). She has also looked at the language of contemporary authors such as Paul Howard, see Amador Moreno (2015.)

Language of individual authors

Apart from general studies on the use of Irish English in literature there are also articles on the language of specific authors. Four figures in the history of Irish literature have been studied in this manner. The first is Swift whose inventiveness in language has provoked quite a range of studies, literary and linguistic alike, see Blake (1986), Clark (1953), Croghan (1990), Douglass Leyburn (1951-2), Kniezsa (1985), Milic (1967), Smith (1954), Strang (1967). For similar reasons the language of Joyce has been examined, see Dolan (1990, 1991), Filppula (1989), Visser (1942). Given the complexity of Joyce’s language and the mass of veiled references contained in his later works, above all Finnegans Wake, many guides to specific sets of allusions have been published, for instance O’Hehir (1967) which is a guide to Irish allusions.

The two remaining authors have been looked at linguistically for somewhat different reasons: Synge because he himself claimed that he used the colloquial speech of people in the rural west and O'Casey because he attempted to reconstruct local Dublin speech in his plays. For Synge’s language, see Barnett (1967), Bliss (1972), Casey (1938), Henry (1965), Kelly (1988). For O’Casey’s language, see Dolan (1985), Snowden (1972).

Irish English and stage dialect

There have always been guides for actors when performing plays with regional speech. Such works often contain sections on Irish English. Blunt (1967), Blunt (1980), Darrow (1937), Herman and Herman (1996 [1958]), Machlin (1975), Molin (1984) are good examples of this tradition.

A study of the figure of stage Irishman, as he occurs in plays with Irish subject matter, is available in Duggan 1969 [1937], Truninger (1976), Waters (1984) and Winkler (1977). Bartley (1954) and Bartley and Sims (1949) are more philological studies into the development of plays with Irish characters.

Irish English in film

Language in the medium of film has been the focus of research by Shane Walshe whose PhD was on the use of varieties of Irish English in film (Walshe 2009) with a view to establishing how genuine the scripted representations of language in Irish films can be regarded (see also Walshe 2016). He has also extended this analysis technique to the language of comics, see Walshe (2013).

The prescriptivist tradition: Elocution

The eighteenth century (Hickey 2010) saw a steep rise in prescriptivism which was not without effect in Ireland. Indeed there is a curious connection here: Bishop Lowth considered Swift as a paragon of English style (Tieken-Boon van Ostade 1990). During this century the concern with standards in language led to the Irishman Thomas Sheridan (father of the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan, see Kelly 1997) travelling widely in the British Isles advising others on what correct English usage was and how to attain it (Sheridan 1970 [1762], 1781; for assessments, see the contributions in Howell 1971 and Beal 1996, 2004 for linguistic comments). Sheridan had a considerable influence on other writers in the prescriptivist tradition, notably John Walker (see Walker 1791).

Archaic survivals: Forth and Bargy

A special case of largely antiquarian interest in Ireland is the south-east corner of the country where the dialect of Forth and Bargy was spoken up to the beginning of the nineteenth century. There are glossaries for this dialect: Vallancey (1788) is the first attempt at registering lexical idiosyncrasies. Poole’s glossary, edited by Barnes (1867), is more comprehensive. Dolan and Ó Muirithe 1996 [1979] is a reprint of this but without any analysis of the material. For the latter, see Hickey (1988).

The nineteenth century

English in nineteenth century Ireland is not given separate treatment in the literature. A good reason for this is the lack of appropriate data and secondary literature. It is not until the close of the century that comments begin to appear on English spoken in the north and the south. An exception to this is perhaps Patterson’s prescriptive comments on Belfast English (Patterson 1860).
By contrast considerable attention has been devoted to the external history of the language, especially because of the demographic upheavals which are to be found in the period during and immediately after the Great Famine (1845-9), though emigration is also a factor in the first half of the century. De Fréine (1965) is the major statement on this complex. His 1977 article in Ó Muirithe (ed. 1977) summarises his position. For more information, specifically on nineteenth century emigration, see Corrigan (1996).
A book-length examination of Irish English during the nineteenth century is available in Cesiri (2012).

The colonial position of Ireland

Reflection on the colonial position of Ireland has been an occupation of writers for a considerable time, especially in the field of literary and political studies. In linguistic studies light has been shed more on the interconnections between groups within Ireland rather than on the relationship with the external colonial power. Nonetheless comments from this perspective are available, see Crowley (1989, 2005), Leith (1992 [1983]) and Palmer (2000).

The decline of Irish

The demise of the native language in Ireland goes back several centuries but the severest decline is to be observed in the nineteenth century, largely but not wholly, due to the decimation of rural districts during the Great Famine and the ensuing emigration, both factors resulting in a loss of over 2 million in population, most of whom were rural Irish speakers. The best treatment of the decline of Irish is Hindley (1990); De Fréine (1965) also treats the matter, of course. The relationship of Irish to English in contemporary Ireland is discussed in Edwards (1984). Linguistic aspects of this relationship are treated in Stenson (1990, 1991).


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