Pronunciation model: Irish English

View the key for Irish English here.

Irish English, also known as ‘Hiberno-English’, has been studied in a range of locations across the island, finding varying degrees of difference in pronunciation. Hickey (2008) comments on Northern Irish English, which can be split into ‘Rural Northern’, ‘Belfast English’, and ‘Derry English’, and Southern Irish English, addressing two Dublin forms and differences in pronunciation on the East Coast, in the Rural South/South-West, and the Midlands. Hickey also describes in detail a variety he labels as ‘Supraregional Southern’, describing the process observed in various ways across Southern Ireland whereby the more specifically regional features are lost or more restricted, resulting in a variety that is less regionally-bound. The variety is based on middle-class Dublin English during the early and mid 20th century, and forms the basis for much of the OED’s Irish English model. As with all varieties, various publications by a range of scholars have been used to modify, clarify, and bolster particular aspects of the model, but the vowel scheme is largely derived from Hickey’s description.

Irish English Vowels

KEYWORD Symbol KEYWORD Symbol KEYWORD Symbol KEYWORDSymbol
KIT ɪ FLEECENEAR iːr HAPPY i
DRESS ɛ GOOSESQUARE eːr LETTER ər
TRAP æ PALMCURE uːr RABBIT
BATHSTART ɑːr FACEADDED ə
LOT ɑ NURSE əːr VOICE ɒɪ BEAUTIFUL ə
CLOTH ɒː NORTH ɒːr MOUTHPIANO ɪ
STRUT ʌ FORCE ɒːr GOATAGO ə
FOOT ʊ THOUGHT ɒː PRICEBECAUSE ə + i

Irish English is strongly rhotic, with similar distributions of /r/ to U.S. English, while the variety covered by this model has /t/ patterning more similarly to British English (i.e. not flapped).

For many non-Irish speakers a distinctive feature of Irish English is the presence of ‘dental plosive/stop’ sounds in words such as think and breathe, in IPA notation /t̪ d̪/. Hickey notes that these stem from speakers in the West of Ireland, with speakers in the East and South using alveolar /t d/, but have become a supra-regional feature. In the OED, it would be impractical to include an entirely separate diacritic for this one feature of Irish English, but some native Irish English speakers who use these dental forms describe a sense of stigma attached to the /t d/ forms. Consequently, the OED uses the symbols of the dental fricatives /θ ð/ to cover this phenomenon, effectively treating the dental stops as allophones (phonetic variant realizations). This retains the contrast many speakers have between tin-thin, breed-breathe (incidentally, dental fricatives are found in Northern Irish English generally). Crucially, however, variation will be observed in the OED recordings as speakers use the form(s) of their own vernacular.

Lenited (weakened) /t/ between vowels and word-finally before a pause is another widely-known Irish English feature, but it is a purely phonetic feature with no straightforward or necessary representation at the phonemic level. It is therefore not displayed but may be present in recordings.

Following the dictionary of Dolan (2013, ‘DHE’) the OED Irish English model has a wider distribution of word-final /h/ than in many other varieties. In British English, it is usually restricted to interjections, but it is not uncommon to find Irish English words ending /æh/, /ɑh/ or /əh/. Irish English also shares with several other varieties the possibility of a voiceless labial-velar fricative sound at the start of words such as which and where, represented in the OED by the sequence /(h)w/, and the voiceless velar fricative /x/ (as in ochanee) is often present in the only pronunciation of an entry (unlike the British and U.S. varieties, where it is accompanied by a non-/x/ variant).

A DHE-OED conversion table is supplied for editors for OED entries covered in Dolan’s DHE, but in several cases a word will be specifically indicated as being of Ulster English. In these cases, Macafee’s (1996) dictionary may render the pronunciation, or a native Ulster recording may be given by Foras na Gaeilge (2013), which is then phonetically transcribed, anglicized if appropriate and conversion processes applied to give a close representation within the confines of the current model. Consequently, Northern Irish terms may not seem as accurately represented as other Irish English forms, but this is a compromise so as not to necessitate separate models for the varieties.

Sources