Irish English (language variety)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Irish English sign in an airport
A bilingual sign In English and Irish in an airport. (John Kroetch/Design Pics/Getty Images)


Irish English is a variety of the English language that is used in Ireland. Also known as Hiberno-English or Anglo-Irish.

As illustrated below, Irish English is subject to regional variation, especially between the north and south. "In Ireland," said Terence Dolan, "Hiberno-English means that you have two languages in a kind of unruly shotgun marriage together, fighting all the time" (quoted by Carolina P. Amador Moreno in "How the Irish Speak English," Estudios Irlandeses, 2007).

Examples and Observations

  • "Irish (or Hiberno-English) has distinctive varietal features of pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar, although patterns vary considerably between North and South and East and West. In grammar, for example, . . . I do be is a habitual present tense and the form 'after' is used in Irish English to record a completed act or to express recency: thus, they're after leaving has the meaning of 'they have just left.'"(R. Carter and J. McRae, The Routledge History of Literature in English, 2001)
  • "[A]lthough the knowledge of Irish among the majority is, in general, very poor, there is a curious habit of flavouring one's speech by adding a few words from Irish, what is sometimes called using the cúpla focal (Irish 'couple of words') . . .."Sugaring of one's language with Irish words must be distinguished from genuine loans from Irish. Some of these are long attested such as colleen 'Irish girl,' leprechaun 'garden gnome,' banshee 'fairy woman,' all part of sentimental Irish folklore."
    • (Raymond Hickey, Irish English: History and Present-Day Forms. Cambridge University Press, 2007)

    Northern Irish English

    "I’m afraid rural dialects in the south carry a stigma of being unacceptable to educated people, whereas in the North I have heard doctors, dentists, teachers and lawyers lace their speech with either Ulster Scots or Northern Irish English.

    "Examples of Northern Irish English: Seamus Heaney has written of glar, soft liquid mud, from the Irish glár; glit, meaning ooze or slime (glet is more common in Donegal); and daligone, meaning nightfall, dusk, from 'daylight gone.' I have [heard] daylight-falling, day-fall, dellit fall, duskies and duskit, also from Derry."

    (Diarmaid Ó Muirithe, "Keep Your Ears Open and You'll Have a Sonsy Holiday." The Irish Times, Aug. 26, 2009)

    Southern Irish English

    "Some well know known characteristics of the grammar of southern Irish English include the following: 1) Stative verbs can be used with progressive aspect: I'm seeing it very well; This is belong to me. 2) The adverb after can be used with a progressive where a perfective would be used in other varieties: I'm after seeing him ('I've just seen him'). This is a loan translation from Irish. 3) Clefting is common, and it is extended to use with copular verbs: It was very well that he looked; Is it stupid you are? Again, this shows a substrate effect from Irish."

    (Michael Pearce, The Routledge Dictionary of English Language Studies. Routledge, 2007)

    New Dublin English

    The term Dublin English may refer to any one of the varieties of the English language used in Dublin, Ireland. 

    - "There can be little doubt that the spread of features of new Dublin English has accelerated considerably in the past few years. . . .

    "Apparent time study of Dublin English shows that female speakers over 30 do not always, and those over 40 rarely, have the features which are so indicative of new Dublin English. In the recordings for A Sound Atlas of Irish English nearly all females under 25, whose self-image appeared to be one of urban modernity, showed the new pronunciation. . . . [W]e are dealing here with a fairly unified, structural realignment of the entire accent of southern Irish English and not just one or two minor changes in pronunciation."

    (Raymond Hickey, Dublin English: Evolution and Change. John Benjamins, 2005)

    - "The changes in Dublin English involve both vowels and consonants. While the consonant changes seem to be individual changes, those in the area of vowels represent a coordinated shift which has affected several elements. . . . To all appearances this started about 20 years ago (mid 1980s) and has continued to move along a recognisable trajectory. In essence, the change involves a retraction of diphthongs with a low or back starting point and a raising of low back vowels. Specifically, it affects the diphthongs in the PRICE/PRIDE and CHOICE lexical sets and the monophthongs in the LOT and THOUGHT lexical sets. The vowel in the GOAT lexical set has also shifted, probably as a result of the other vowel movements."

    (Raymond Hickey, Irish English: History and Present-Day Forms. Cambridge University Press, 2007)

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