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. Hickey (2008) comments on Northern Irish English (sidestepping the more variable and contradictory uses of the alternative term ‘Ulster 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 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 more salient regional features have been substituted out in favour of more standard ones. The variety is based on middle-class Dublin English during the early and mid 20th century, and forms the basis for 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 model but the vowel scheme remains a close representation of Hickey’s description. Note that the PRIDE vowel is split in this variety.

The OED reflects a phonetic difference noted in many speakers between the vowels of PRIDE and PRICE. Before voiced consonants and word boundaries, the starting point of the vowel is further back than when it occurs before voiceless consonants.

Aside from Irish English being strongly rhotic (with similar distributions of /r/ to U.S. English) but having no flapped /t/ sounds (similar to British English), there are three ways in which consonants are uniquely represented in Irish English. Firstly, 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 being /t̪ d̪/. Hickey notes that these stem from speakers in the West of Ireland, with speakers in the East and South using /t d/, but have become a supraregional 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 realisations). This retains the contrast many speakers have between tin-thin, breed-breathe (incidentally, dental fricatives are used in the Rural Northern variety). Crucially, however, the speakers of the spoken pronunciations recorded on the website will use whatever variant is appropriate and natural within their own pronunciations.

Secondly, lenited (weakened) /t/ between vowels 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. Thirdly, Irish English 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 shares with several other varieties a voiceless labial-velar fricative sound at the start of words such as which and where, represented in the OED by the sequence /hw/, and the voiceless velar fricative /x/ (as in spleuchan) is often present in the only pronunciation of an entry (unlike the British and U.S. varieties, where it is always accompanied by a non-/x/ variant).

A significant source for pronunciations of Irish English words being added to the OED is the dictionary of Dolan (2013, ‘DHE’) and a DHE-OED conversion table is supplied for editors, 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 where the term is directly and recently from Gaelic 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.


Dolan, T.P. 2013. A Dictionary of Hiberno-English. 3rd ed. Dublin: Gill & Macmillan

Foras na Gaeilge. 2013. Pronunciation database [online]. Dublin: Available at [Accessed 11 May 2016].

Hickey, R. 2008. Irish English: phonology. In: B. Kortmann & C. Upton, eds. Varieties of English 1: the British Isles. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, pp.71-104.

Macafee, C.I. 1996. A Concise Ulster Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press.