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  Transportation of Irish English

Assessing features
Diffusion of Irish English
The Irish in Britain

Main paths of Irish emigration during the colonial period (seventeenth to nineteenth centuries)

The Irish in Britain

   Merseyside       Tyneside   

The Irish in America

   eighteenth century emigration       nineteenth century emigration   

The Irish in Canada

   Newfoundland       Mainland Canada   

       The Caribbean       

The Southern Hemisphere

   Australia       New Zealand   


Assessing features in overseas varieties

Before considering the transportation of historical Irish English to overseas locations it is important to dwell for a moment on what would constitute evidence of Irish influence at such locations. There are at least three possibilities for the source of features in an extraterritorial variety.

Source 1 Irish English input only
Source 2 Irish English input and/or other input (dialects of English or substrate languages at overseas location)
Source 3 Independent developments

The essential difficulty lies in deciding which of the above sources is the most likely for a given feature. In general one can say that Source 1 is only likely where (i) the feature is unique to the variety in question and to Irish English and (ii) the location of the overseas variety has been isolated from outside influences throughout its history. There are not many features which fulfil these conditions, but one good example would be the after-perfective (see section on syntax above) also found in Newfoundland (Clarke 2004). A similar case would be initial voicing attested in traditional dialects in England from Kent across to Devon (Trudgill 1990: 29) and in Newfoundland among the English-based community there (Clarke 2004).

The essential difficulty with parallels between an overseas and an input variety is that Source 3 could constitute the origin. An instance of this would be so-called ‘diphthong flattening’ (Wells 1982: 614), a term used to refer to the lack of an upward glide with the /ai/ and /au/ diphthongs in particular, i.e. wife when realised as [wa:f, wɑ:f]. Such ‘flattening’ is found today in areas as far apart as the southern United States and South Africa.

In such cases additional evidence might help in deciding a matter. For instance, it is known from diaspora varieties of African American English that this flattening is a fairly recent phenomenon (Bailey and Ross 1992) and not characteristic of African American speech before the twentieth century. This fact would support the view that the ‘flattening’ in both the locations is an independent development.

Another factor of importance when considering possible sources is the relative unusualness of features. Two different examples can be cited here to illustrate what is meant here. On the one hand one has forms for the second person plural personal pronoun and on the other what is known as positive anymore. The first feature is virtually ubiquitous in all dialects of English, it is standard English which is unusual in not having a special form form the second person plural personal pronoun. The second feature is very rare and only occurs in Ulster English and parts of the eastern United States. Given this situation and what one knows about emigration from Ulster to the east coast of North America in the eighteenth century, one can safely assume that positive anymore in the United States is a retention from the speech of earlier Ulster immigrants.

Just what consitutes a case of Source 2 has been a matter of dispute among scholars. Essentially, one is dealing here with features which have more than one possible source. For instance, the occurrence of an habitual aspect in forms of English in the Eastern Caribbean, above all in the English of Barbados, is something which has be traced back to input forms of English from either England or Ireland or indeed to the substrate influence of the African languages which forms the linguistic background of early slaves in the region. It may be that the Irish and the English inputs came together in this region. The contact account on the other hand would favour African substrate languages as the most likely source for the habitual aspect (for detailed discussions of various varieties, see the contributions in Hickey (ed.) 2004).

In those cases where a combination of dialect input and contact with substrate languages is plausible one speaks of a ‘convergence’ account.

Diffusion of Irish English

For at least the last 1500 years the Irish have left Ireland to settle abroad more or less permanently. There have been two chief reasons for this. The first applied in the earliest period, between about 500 and 800. This was to establish religious centres on the continent and thus strengthen the fledgling church there. The second type of emigration applies much later, to escape unfavourable circumstances in Ireland. The latter can in turn be broken down into at least four sub-types.

1) The first is where Irish military leaders were defeated and forced to submit to the English crown. The most famous instance of this type of emigration was the so-called Flight of the Earls in 1607 from Lough Swilly in the north of the country, after the defeat of the Irish by the English in 1601, and the subsequent subjugation of Gaelic lords in Ulster. This type of exodus peaked at key periods in Irish history, hence there is another rise after 1690 when the Jacobite rebellion was finally quelled in Ireland. Emigration for essentially military reasons was quite common with the Irish frequently earning their living as mercenaries abroad.

2) The second sub-type has to do with deportation by the English authorities. There are two occasions when significant groups of Irish were deported to overseas locations and exercised an influence on a variety during its formative years. The first was in the south-east Caribbean, notably on Barbados but also Montserrat, where Irish were deported in the 1650s by Oliver Cromwell. The second was in Australia were deportations of Irish took place in the early days of the country, i.e. in the decades immediately following the initial settlement of 1788 in the Sydney area.

3) A third sub-type of emigration has to do with religious intolerance, whether perceived or actual. During the eighteenth century the tension between Presbyterians of Scottish origin in Ulster and the mainstream Anglican church over the demands of the latter that the former take an oath and sacramental test resulted in an increasing desire to emigrate (along with economic pressure), in this case to North America (see below).

4) The fourth sub-type is that which one might most readily imagine to be the cause of emigration, economic necessity. This kind of emigration is what later came to characterise the movement of very large numbers of Irish to Britain, Canada and above all to the United States in the nineteenth century, but it was also a contributory factor with the Ulster-Scots in the eighteenth century.

Emigration from Ireland must have started quite early, long before the beginning of the early modern period around 1600. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries there was seasonal migration to England during harvest time and Irish vagrants were common. Their speech must have been known in rough outline before the second period of English in Ireland (after 1600). After all, Shakespeare was in a position to characterise some of the more prominent features of Irish English in the figure of Captain Macmorris in the ‘Four Nations Scene’ of Henry V and Ben Jonson was able to write a short satirical piece, The Irish Masque (1613/1616), replete with salient features of Irish English at the beginning of the seventeenth century.

The Irish in Britain

There is a long history of Irish emigrants in Britain, reaching back almost as far as that of the English in Ireland (from the late twelfth century onwards). But mass emigration only set in during the nineteenth century. And similar to the pattern of emigration to the United States in the twentieth century the Irish congregated in areas where labour for industries like mining was wanting. It is estimated that by 1841 nearly 2% of the population of England was born in Ireland. In Wales the percentage was much less but there was a concentration in Swansea and Cardiff, cities which have always had connections with counterpart cities on the south coast of Ireland like Cork. In Scotland the figures were much higher: 4.8% of the population there was Irish-born and again these lived chiefly in the large cities — Glasgow and Edinburgh — which have a tradition of accepting migrant labour from Ulster, including Co Donegal in the west of the province.

The key period for the rise in the Irish sector in Britain is the late 1840s. Between the censuses of 1841 and 1851 there was a jump from 49,000 to 734,000 Irish-born in Britain.


The areas of Britain which absorbed most Irish were Merseyside and its hinterland of Cheshire in the south and Lancashire in the north. The reason for this is obvious: the port of Liverpool is directly opposite Dublin and there was, and is, a constant ship service between the two cities.

The local dialect of Liverpool is Scouse and it is characteristic of its speakers to show a degree of fricativisation of /p, t, k/ in weakening environments such as in word-final position (Knowles 1978). Scholars such as Wells (1982) generally ascribe this to an independent development in Scouse. But one could also postulate that this is a relic of a former situation in Irish English. It is agreed that the Scouse fricativisation is typical of that section of the community which is directly derived from Irish immigrants. Furthermore, the Irish immigration into the Merseyside area took place chiefly in the first half of the nineteenth century. This was a period in which Irish in Ireland was relatively strong. Furthermore, the Irish who were forced to emigrate were the economically disadvantaged which is tantamount to saying that they were Irish speakers or poor bilinguals. The latter group would of course have spoken a variety of English which was strongly affected by their native Irish and would thus have been likely to show lenition as a transfer phenomenon.

If this is the case then why is general lenition of all stops not a characteristic of modern Irish English? Recall that in the supraregional variety of present-day Irish English lenition only applies to alveolars (see section on phonology above). The explanation could be as follows. In the course of the nineteenth century the position of English strengthened as that of Irish was weakened. With this increased influence more idiosyncratic features — here: lenition of labials and velars — may have been replaced by more standard pronunciations. Another reason for abandoning this lenition is that the lenition of labials would have caused homophony as in word pairs like cup and cuff. The lenition of velars — with /x/ as output — is highly unusual in English producing a sound which is only found in forms of Scottish English and Afrikaans English so that it too would have been likely to disappear. The retention of t-lenition in Irish English would have also gained support from the considerable allophony of /t/ in varieties of English, e.g. as a glottal stop or flap.

In this interpretation, the rise of non-local varieties in Irish English would have masked the lenition of labials and velars leaving that of alveolars, the situation in contemporary Irish English. The generalised lenition in Scouse may well be a remnant of a wider and more regular distribution of lenition from Irish English which has been maintained, albeit recessively, in this transported variety of Irish English (see Hickey 1996 for a fuller discussion).


An area of England which falls outside the common pattern of poor rural immigration from Ireland is Tyneside. Here the Irish belonged to a higher social class and the influence of their speech has been general in Newcastle as opposed to Merseyside where in Liverpool it was largely restricted to the Catholic working-class population. House (1954: 47) in Beal (1993: 189) notes: “In 1851, Newcastle, the most cosmopolitan of the north-eastern towns, had one person in every ten born in Ireland”. The possible convergent influence of Irish English in Tyneside is noticeable in a number of grammatical parallels, for instance, it is the only variety of British English which shows ye (Beal 2004: 118) as the second person pronoun in England (Upton and Widdowson 1996: 66f.) an obvious parallel with Irish English (though conceivably a survival from older forms of English as it is present in Scotland as well). Other parallels are the use of epistemic must in the negative (Beal 1993: 197, 2004: 126f.; see Miller 2004: 53 on the use of this in Scotland). The use of singular inflection with third person plural verbs: Her sisters is quite near (Beal 1993: 194) is both a feature of northern English in general and of colloquial Irish English of the east coast, including Dublin. Failure of negative attraction is also attested for Tyneside English, e.g. Everyone didn’t want to hear them, for Nobody wanted to hear them as is never as a negative with singular time reference (Beal 1993: 198; Beal and Corrigan 2005).

Some of the features are reminiscent of northern Irish English, e.g. the use of double modals (not found in the south of Ireland and only very rarely in the north nowadays), especially in the negative in urban Tyneside, e.g. ... they mustn’t could have made any today (Beal 1993: 195, 2004: 127f.). This is also true of the use of a past participle after need, e.g. My hair needs washed for My hair needs washing (Beal 1993: 200). With these features one may be dealing with a geographical continuum including Tyneside and Scotland north of it (Miller loc. cit.). Indeed the use of a past participle after need would seem to have been taken to northern Ireland by Scots settlers.

Not all the specific features of Tyneside speech point to possible Irish influence, e.g. the use of for to + infinitive is a common dialectal feature in the British Isles as is the use of them as a demonstrative pronoun (I like them books, Beal 1993: 207) and of course the use of singular nouns after numerals (I lived there for ten year, Beal 1993: 209). Items from phonology where convergence with Irish English input may have been operative are the following: (i) retention of word-initial /h-/, (ii) retention of /hw/, [ʍ], e.g. which [ʍɪtʃ].

The Irish in America

Eighteenth century emigration

Where circumstances – religious and/or economic – ostensibly made living so difficult that the only solution was to search for a better way of life abroad, one has emigration from Ireland. The earliest cases of this stem from the period immediately after the Reformation and its adoption by the English crown. Two important landmarks in this context are the Irish Reformation Parliament of 1536 and the proclamation of Henry VIII as King of Ireland in 1541. Immediately after this period many native Irish saught sanctuary on the Catholic continent, for instance in France, Spain and Belgium all of which had centres of learning with Irish Catholic scholars, e.g. Santiago de Compostela in Galicia (Spain) and Louvain/Leuven in Belgium.

The situation in Ulster of the early eighteenth century was characterised by a combination of economic and religious factors. The religious motivation was rooted in such demands as the sacramental test which, according to an Address of Protestant Dissenting Ministers to the King (1729), was found by Ulster Presbyterians to be ‘so very grievious that they have in great numbers transported themselves to the American Plantations for the sake of that liberty and ease which they are denied in their native country’ (Bardon 1996: 94). The desire for the Ulster-Scots Presbyterians, who left in the eighteenth century, to seek more freedom to practice their variety of Protestantism in America has been underlined frequently, see Miller (1985: 137-68). But there is consensus among historians today (Miller loc. cit.; Foster 1988: 215f.; Bardon loc. cit.) that economic reasons were equally, if not more important, the increase in rents and tithes along with the prospect of paying little rent and no tithes or taxes in America. Added to this were food shortages due to failures of crops, resulting in famine in 1728/9 and most severely in 1741. Foster (1988: 216) stresses that the nature of Ulster trade facilitated emigration: the ships which carried flax seed from America were able to carry emigrants on the outward journey. Up to 1720 the prime destination was New England and this then shifted somewhat southwards, to Pennsylvania (from where the Irish frequently pushed further south, Algeo 2001: 13f.; Montgomery 2001: 126) and later to South Carolina. The rate of emigration depended on the situation in Ireland. In the late 1720s, in the 1760s and in the early 1770s there were peaks of emigration which coincided with economic difficulties triggered by crop failure or destruction in Ireland (Montgomery 2000: 244f.).

The option of emigration in the eighteenth century was open more to Protestants than to Catholics. The latter would equally have had substantial motivation for emigrating, after all the Penal Laws, which discriminated against Catholics in public life, were in force from at least the mid seventeenth to the end of the eighteenth century. But emigration did not take place to the same extent with Catholics (the overwhelming majority for the eighteenth century were Protestants). It could be postulated that the Catholics lacked the financial means for a move to the New World. However, the Protestants who left were not necessarily in a financially better position, indeed many were indentured labourers who thus obtained a free passage. Foster (1988 loc. cit.) assumes that the Protestants were more ready to move and subdue new land (as their forefathers, who came from Scotland, had done in Ulster to begin with). The Protestant communities were separate from the Catholics and more closely knit. They were furthermore involved in linen production so that the cargo boats used for emigration would have been in Protestant hands.

The Ulster-Scots emigration (Wood and Blethen (eds) 1997) is not only important because of its early date but because it established a pattern of exodus to America which, apart from Merseyside and to a much lesser extent Tyneside, became the chief destination of Irish emigration in the northern hemisphere (Miller and Wagner 1994). Estimates suggest that throughout the eighteenth century emigration ran at about 4,000 a year and totalled over a quarter of a million in this century alone (Duffy (ed.) 1997: 90f.). See Montgomery and Robinson (1996) and Montgomery (2004) for a consideration of features which may stem from this Ulster-Scots immigrant population.

Nineteenth century emigration

Although the reasons for Irish people to leave the country became more economic after the seventeenth century, the role of the church in the Irish diaspora should not be underestimated. The Catholic church had a definite stance vis-à-vis emigration and used to send clergy to cater for Irish emigrants and attempted furthermore to regulate such essential social services as education. This was frequently interpreted as meddling in the internal affairs of the host country: the matter of Catholic education for Catholic emigrants was of central importance for Irish, Italian and Polish emigrants to the United States and the clash of interest which this concern of the church evoked was not resolved until the twentieth century in some instances, for example in New Zealand.

The deportation of Irish convicts to Australia began in 1791 (Edwards 1973: 143) and within a decade there were over 2,000 of them. By 1836 there were over 21,000 Catholics and only half of them were convicts by this stage. In 1835 a Catholic bishop was appointed. During the rest of the century the orientation of the Catholic church in Australia towards a homeland, of which immigrants had no direct experience, diminished.

Catholic emigration began in earnest after the Napoleonic wars. During this period Ireland had benefited from heightened economic activity (Edwards 1973: 139, 203) but the agricultural depression which followed struck the country severely. An estimated 20,000 left the country in 1818 alone. Economic factors were significant here. The North Atlantic timber trade meant that ships plying across the ocean could take immigrants on the 6 to 8 week outward journey at a reasonable price (with wood as cargo on the return journey). Again an estimate gives an approximate picture: between 1831 and 1841 some 200,000 Irish left for America (via Britain) as is known from the figures kept at British ports. By this time — early nineteenth century — the immigration was also taking place to destinations in the southern hemisphere, i.e. to Australia. Figures from the colonial administration from 1861 show that in Australia just under 20% of the population was Irish.

Of all countries which absorbed Irish immigrants it was the United States which bore the lion’s share. The figure for the entire period of emigration to America is likely to be something in the region of 6-7 million (Montgomery 2001: 90) with two peaks, one in the eighteenth century with Ulster-Scots settlers (see above) and the second in the mid nineteenth century, the latter continuing at least to the end of that century. The greatest numbers of Irish emigrants went in the years of the Great Famine (at its height in 1848-9) and immediately afterwards with a reduction towards the end of the century. For the years 1847 to 1854 there were more than 100,000 immigrants per year. Comparative figures for immigrants from different European countries are available from 1870 onwards and give the following picture for native-born settlers in America.

Native-born settlers in America divided by ethnicity in the late nineteenth century

Irish 1,856,000 English 551,000
Germans 1,690,000 Scots 141,000

These Irish show a markedly different settlement pattern compared to their northern compatriots who left in the previous century. Whereas the Ulster-Scots often settled in western Pennsylvania and South Carolina, the Catholic Irish, from the mid nineteenth century onwards, stayed in the urban centres of the eastern United Status accounting for the sizeable Irish populations in cities like New York and Boston (Algeo 2001: 27; Montgomery 2000: 245). The reason for this switch from a rural way of life in the homeland to an urban one abroad is obvious: the memories of rural poverty and deprivation, the fear of a repetition of famine, were so strong as to deter the Irish from pushing further into the rural mid west as opposed to, say, the Scandinavian or Ukrainian immigrants of the nineteenth century or the Germans in Pennsylvania in the eighteenth century.

The desire to break with a background of poverty also explains why the Irish abandoned their native language. It was associated with backwardness and distress and even in Ireland, the leaders of the Catholics — such as Daniel O’Connell — were advocating, by the beginning of the nineteenth century, that the Irish switch to English as only with this language was there any hope of social betterment.

It cannot be overemphasised that there was a major difference between the medium numbers of able-bodied Ulster Protestants in the eighteenth century on the one hand and the enormous numbers of weak, poverty-stricken Catholics fleeing from famine-ridden Ireland in the mid nineteenth century. The Ulster-Scots were welcome on the then frontier in order to keep the native Americans in check. In southern states like South Carolina they additionally helped to dilute the high proportion of African Americans in the population (Edwards 1973: 149).

Diminished tolerance and their own desire to assimilate rapidly meant that virtually no trace of nineteenth century Irish English was left in the English spoken in the eastern United States where the later Irish immigrants settled (but see Laferriere 1986 for possible traces in Boston English). In addition this emigration was quite late, and further removed from the formative years of American English, than the earlier Ulster-Scots movement to the New World. Nonetheless, there may be some lexical elements from Irish in American English, such as dig ‘grasp’ < Irish tuigim ‘understand’, phoney ‘bogus’ < Irish fáinne ‘ring’ (putatively traced to the Irish practice of selling false jewellery) or so long ‘goodbye’ < Irish slán ditto where the transition from alveolar [s] to a velarised [ɫ] would suggest an extra syllable to English speakers. A phonological feature which may be connected to the Irish in New York is the fortition of voiced interdental fricatives to a stop, but this could equally be traced to Italian, Polish or Yiddish sections of the city’s population.

The Irish in Canada

The Irish emigration to Canada must be divided into two sections. The first concerns those Irish who settled in Newfoundland and the second those who moved to mainland Canada, chiefly to the province of Ontario, the southern part of which was contained in what was then called Upper Canada.

The oldest emigration is that to Newfoundland which goes back to seasonal migration for fishing with later settlement in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The second layer is that of nineteenth century immigrants who travelled up the St Lawrence river to reach inland Canada. There was further diffusion from there into the northern United States. The numbers of these immigrants is much less for Canada, only a fifth of the numbers which went to the United States (upwards of 300,000 for the entire nineteenth century). But in relatively terms this is still significant and some scholars maintain that elements of Irish speech are still discernible in the English of the Ottawa Valley (Pringle and Padolsky 1981, 1983).


The Newfoundland settlement of Canada is unique in the history of extraterritorial English. The initial impetus was the discovery of the abundant fishing grounds off the shores of Newfoundland, the continental shelf known as the Great Banks. Irish and West Country English fisherman began plying across the Atlantic in the seventeenth century in a pattern of seasonal migration which took them to Newfoundland to fish in the summer months. The English ships traditionally put in at southern Irish ports such Waterford, Dungarvan, Youghal and Cork to collect supplies for the long transatlantic journey. Knowledge of this movement led to the Irish participating in the seasonal migration. Later in the eighteenth century, and up to the third decade of the nineteenth century, several thousand Irish, chiefly from the city and county of Waterford (Mannion (ed.) 1997), settled permanently in Newfoundland, thus founded the Irish community (Clarke 1997) there which together with the West Country community forms the two anglophone sections of Newfoundland to this day (these two groups are still distinguishable linguistically). Newfoundland became a largely self-governing colony in 1855 and as late as 1949 joined Canada as its tenth province.

Newfoundland illustrates best the scenario of seasonal migration for work. Its fishing grounds were quickly recognised by the English and Irish and in the eighteenth century an active link between Ireland and Newfoundland developed whereby Irish men travelled for the summer months to engage in fishing (consider the Irish name for Newfoundland Talamh an Éisc which literally means ‘Ground of Fish’). The fact that the work was seasonal meant that a large portion of these people returned to Ireland for the winter months. In linguistic terms this resulted in continuous and active exposure of the Newfoundland population to Irish English. Later in the nineteenth century the links subsided with many of the workers remaining in Newfoundland.

Among the features found in the English of this area which can be traced to Ireland is the use of ye for ‘you’-plural (which could be a case of convergence with dialectal English), the perfective construction with after and present participle, as in He’s after spilling the beer, and the use of an habitual with an uninflected form of do plus be. Although Clarke (1997: 287) notes that the positive use of this is unusual in general Newfoundland English today — her example is That place do be really busy — it is found in areas settled by southeastern Irish. This observation correlates with usage in conservative vernacular forms of southeastern Irish English today (Hickey 2001: 13) and is clearly suggestive of an historical link.

There are also phonological items from Irish-based Newfoundland English which parallel features in southeastern Irish English such as the use of stops for dental fricatives, syllable-final /r/, the weakening of word-final, post-vocalic t, the low degree of distinctiveness between /ai/ and /ɑi/ (cf. bile vs. boil), if present at all, and the use of an epenthetic vowel to break a cluster of liquid and nasal as in film [fɪləm]. There are also reports of lexical items of putative Irish origin such as sleeveen ‘rascal’, pishogue ‘superstition’, crubeen ‘cooked pig’s foot’, etc. (Kirwin 1993: 76f.; 2001).

Mainland Canada

Mainland Canada was also settled by Irish. Here the Irish were among the earliest immigrants and so formed a ‘charter group’ and hence enjoyed a relatively privileged status in early Canadian society. By the 1860s the Irish were the largest section of the English-speaking population in Canada and constituted some 40% of the British Isles immigrants in the newly founded Canadian Confederation. In mainland Canada the Irish came both from the north and south of the country but there was a preponderance of Protestants (some two thirds in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries) as opposed to the situation in Newfoundland where the Irish community was almost entirely Catholic.

The Protestants in Canada had a considerable impact on public life. They bolstered the loyalist tradition which formed the base of anglophone Canada. In the Canadian context, the term ‘loyalist’ refers to that section of the American population which left the Thirteen Colonies after the American Revolution of 1776, moving northwards to Canadian territory outside American influence where they were free to demonstrate their loyalty to the English crown. As these Irish Protestants were of Ulster origin they also maintained their tradition of organisation in the Orange Order which was an important voluntary organisation in Canada.

In Ontario there were sizeable numbers of Catholics and they in turn mounted pressure on the government to grant them separate Catholic schools and funding to support these, much as the Catholics in New Zealand had campaigned for the same goal in their society.

In mainland Canada the Irish dispersed fairly evenly throughout the country, even if there is a preponderence in Ontario and in the Ottawa Valley. But there is nothing like the heavy concentration of Scotch-Irish in Appalachia (Montgomery 1989) or that of later, post-Famine Irish in the urban centres of the north-eastern United States such as New York and Boston.

The drive west through Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta across to British Columbia followed a pattern of internal migration westwards as in the United States in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Canada, like the United States, was continually fed in this newer period of population growth by a continuous stream of English-speaking immigrants via Grosse Île at the entrance to the St. Lawrence river estuary, the Ellis Island of Canada so to speak. The influence of this later wave of immigration on Canadian English is not as evident as in Newfoundland. Nonetheless, one should mention one feature which Canadian English has in common with the English in the north of Ireland (Gregg 1973), what is known in linguistic literature as ‘Canadian Raising’ (Chambers 1973). The essence of this phenomenon is a more central starting point for the diphthongs /ai/ and /au/ before a voiceless consonant than before the corresponding voiced one: house, lout [həus, ləut] but houses, loud [hauzɪz, laud].

The Caribbean

Although the Caribbean is an area which is not immediately associated with Irish influence, the initial anglophone settlement of the area – during the so-called Homestead Phase – did involve considerable Irish input. The island of Barbados was the earliest to be settled by the British (Holm 1994), as of 1627, and Cromwell in the early 1650s had a sizeable number of Irish deported as indentured labourers in order to rid Ireland of those he considered politically undesirable. This input to Barbados is important to Caribbean English for two reasons. The first is that it was very early and so there was Irish input during the formative years of English there (before the large-scale importation of slaves from West Africa). The second reason is that the island of Barbados quickly became overpopulated and speakers of Barbadian English moved from there to other locations in the Caribbean and indeed to coastal South Carolina and Georgia, i.e. to the region where Gullah (Mufwene 2004) was later spoken.

The views of linguists on possible Irish influence on the genesis of English varieties in the Caribbean vary considerably. Wells (1980) is dimissive of Irish influence on the pronunciation of English on Montserrat. Rickford (1986) is a well-known article in which he postulates that southern Irish input to the Caribbean had an influence on the expression of habitual aspect in varieties of English there (Aceto 2004: 442f.), especially because do + be is the preferred mode for the habitual in the south of Ireland. This matter is actually quite complex and Rickford’s view has been challenged recently by Montgomery and Kirk (1996) and a detailed consideration of it is given in the chapter on the Caribbean in Hickey (ed., 2004).


Demographically Australia today is 75% Anglo-Celtic, by which is meant it consists of people of English, Scottish or Irish extraction (the remaining 25% is composed of more recent immigrant groups and a very small number of native Australians). White settlement in Australia began in 1788 and in the eighty years up to 1868 various individuals were deported there from both Britain and Ireland. The Irish section of the population ranged somewhere between 20% and 30%. Given the sizeable number of Irish among the original settlers of Australia one would expect an influence on the formation of Australian English commensurate with their numbers. However, this is not the case. The features traceable to Irish input are few and tenuous, for instance the use of schwa for a short unstressed vowel in inflectional endings, e.g. naked British Eng: [ˡneikɪd], Australian Eng: [ˡneikəd] or the use of epistemic must in the negative, e.g. He mustn’t be in the office today ‘He can’t be in the office today’ (possibly due to Scottish influence as well). Another possible case of Irish influence is the retention of initial /h/, e.g. hat, humour, home all with [h-]. This sound has disappeared in urban vernaculars in Britain and its continuing existence in Australian English may well have been supported by the Irish population who would always have had initial [h-].

The features just listed do not amount to much so the comparative lack of influence of Irish English on Australian English is something which requires explanation. The low prestige of the Irish sector of the early Australian community is probably the chief reason. A lack of influence presupposes that the Irish community was easily identifiable and so easily avoidable in speech. It can be assumed that the language of rural immigrants from Ireland in the later eighteenth and during the nineteenth century was a clearly identifiable contact variety of Irish English and so its features would have been avoided by the remainder of the English-speaking Australian population.

The view that salient Irish features were rejected — consciously or unconsciously by other English speakers — is in fact supported when one considers what features may be of Irish origin in Australian English. Consider the use of negative epistemic must again. Prescriptive consciousness of modals in English is slight, most probably because of the irregularity in the system, all of the verbs of which lack an infinitive and are defective in other ways, e.g. in lacking a past form. It would have been easiest for a form from Irish English to enter the speech of those the Irish were in contact with in Australia in an area of English usage which displays little or no paradigmatic regularity. Another fact which may be indicative of the status of early Irish settlers in Australia is that the inflected form of you for the plural, youse, is found in vernacular usage in Australia. This form is definitely of Irish origin (see Hickey 2003a for a detailed discussion, see further Pawley 2004: 636 who concedes a possible Irish origin) and was probably adopted by the English in Australia through contact with the Irish, but on a level, outside formal usage, which was characteristic of Irish English in the early years of this country.

New Zealand

The remarks just made about possible Irish influence on Australian English apply in equally to New Zealand English. The formative period for this variety post-dates that for Australian English somewhat. It was not until after the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 that anglophone settlement of New Zealand began in earnest. In the latter half of the nineteenth century many people from England, Scotland and Ireland moved to New Zealand to settle permanently. Certainly part of the country had concentrations of settlers from distinct regions of the British Isles. The Scottish settled largely in Otago in the south of the South Island. The Irish were found in large concentrations in Hawke’s Bay on the east coast of the North Island and in the Auckland region. But as opposed to the Scots they did not maintain a separate identity, let alone a separate variety of English in the new country. One reason for this maybe that the Irish who emigrated to New Zealand were often young unmarried men who would have married in New Zealand, possibly non-Irish women so that the influence on the formation of later New Zealand society – linguistic and otherwise – would have been slight despite the fact that more than 20% of the initial anglophone population of New Zealand was Irish. For a detailed discussion of early New Zealand English, see Gordon et al (eds, 2004) and Hickey (2003b).


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