Table of Contents
2. The arrival of English in Ireland
3. The Grammar of Irish English
3.1 The Noun Phrase
3.1.1 The definite article
3.1.2 Personal Pronouns
3.1.3 Reflexive Pronouns
3.2 The verb phrase
3.2.1 The present
3.2.2 The Past
4. The diffusion of Irish English
Today, it is common knowledge that the English language is not only located on the British Isles and the United states. In fact, it spread like wildfire all around the world and produced over 15 different varieties of English, each of them being able to exhibit its own vocabulary, pronunciation and grammar. In the following, I will provide an insight into a variety that is geographically the nearest one to the initial English language: Irish English. First of all, I will give an overview about the arrival of English in Ireland, then I will focus on a detailed analysis about the peculiarities of Irish English grammar and at the end I will draw attention to the diffusion of Irish English.
2. The arrival of English in Ireland
Today, the Republic of Ireland has got two official languages: Irish Gaelic and English. One of them is a native language, the other one is something like a belatedly established language. Nevertheless, “both languages are derived from the hypothetical Proto-Indo-European language; one belongs to the Germanic branch of languages and the other to the Celtic branch” (Amador-Moreno 2010:16). Being from the West Germanic branch, English has a lot of features in common with German, Dutch or Frisian, „whereas Irish Gaelic developed from the Goidelic family, to which Scots [and] Gaelic (…) belong“ (Amador-Moreno 2010:16). Furthermore, the arrival of English in Ireland is attended by the coexistence of these two languages, which had a very close relationship in the Irish context. The origin of the history of the English language in Ireland “starts with the first arrival of English-speaking invaders in the twelfth century” (Amador-Moreno 2010:16). English was brought to the island with the Invasion of the Anglo-Normans in 1169. Due to the results of a surname analysis the first settlers who set the stage for dialect mixing and therefore the birth of Irish English are suggested to have had their origins in South-Wales and the south-west and south-west midlands of England. (see Burchfield: 148-151)
The first Anglo-Norman settlers established themselves mostly among the east coast, the west remaining substantially Irish-speaking. These Anglo-Norman people later expanded through Leinster, parts of Munster, and Ulster, too.
Recent analysis of the linguistic situation of Anglo-Norman Ireland point to a stage of bilingualism between French and English, with French occupying the role of the cultural and political language and English being the vernacular tongue within this community (Amador-Moreno 2010:17).
Around the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries English gradually went into decline. The decrease of the English language is attributed to “the assimilation into the native community that caused many people of Anglo-Norman origin to acquire the language of the natives” (Amador-Moreno 2010: 17). Consequently, the Anglo-Normans and their English followers were absorbed by the Irish in rural areas and only remained as a distinctive group in the fortified towns” (Amador-Moreno 2010:17). As an attempt to proscribe the use of Irish among the English or Norman colonists living in Ireland, the statues of Kilkenny were passed in 1366. They are often cited as official evidence of the threat that such assimilation into the Irish culture presented for the Anglo-Norman settlers.
The Text reads as follows:
it is ordained and established, that every Englishman do use the English language, and be named by an English name, leaving off entirely the manner of naming used by the Irish; and that every Englishman use the English custom, fashion, mode of riding and apparel, according to his estate; and if any English, or Irish living amongst the English, use the Irish language amongst themselves, contrary to the ordinance, and therof be attainted, his lands and tenements, if he have any, shall be seized into the hands of his immediate lord, until he shall come to one of the places of our lord the king, and find sufficient surety to adopt and use the English language, and then he shall have restitution of his said lands, by writ issued out of said places (Amador-Moreno 2010:17).
Nevertheless, Irish prospered continuously through the fifteenth century. During the Reformation of the sixteenth century, “the Irish language [even] became a symbol of Catholicism and managed to unite the Irish native population and the old Catholic English settlers who opposed the new Protestant English Planters” (Amador-Moreno 2010:19). English nearly completely disappeared in many parts of Ireland. However, the English language managed to gain a foothold in the main towns and baronies of Ireland as new waves of English speaking settlers arrived. The resurgence of the English language in Ireland at the beginning of the seventeenth century is the result of forced settlements, labelled as “plantations”, which already started in 1549 (Hickey 2006: 82-88). These settlers are also responsible for the influence concerning the linguistic pattern of Irish English. “Through isolation from the English of England these early Anglo-Irish dialects (…) had developed certain features of their own.” (Amador-Moreno 2010: 18) Linguists often talk of “a transitional period in which modern Irish English developed in a situation of interdialectal, as well as interlinguistic contact” (Amador-Moreno 2010: 19).
This (..) English was acquired gradually and with difficulty by speakers of Irish; and in the process of their acquisition of it they modified it, both pronunciation and in syntax, towards conformity with their own linguistic habits. Because of the social conditions existing in Ireland, Irish speakers rarely had the opportunity of prolonged contact with speakers of Standard English, and learned their English from those whose English was already less than perfect; so that the influence of the Irish language was cumulative, and remains strong even in those parts of Ireland where Irish has long ceased to be spoken (Amador-Moreno 2010:20).
The fact that the plurality of the Irish population learned English as adults in an unguided way and the long lasting period of the language shift led to consequences in the nature of Irish English which makes it worthwhile to analyse the features of it in a more concrete way (see Hickey 2006: 89-92).
3. The Grammar of Irish English
The grammar of Irish English has got a lot of differences to the grammar of “normal” English. It was heavily influenced by the language-contact that lasted several hundred years. In this section the grammar of Irish English is to be considered in detail.