The Influence of Scots, Irish and English on Northern Irish English

Term Paper, 2018

16 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Content

1. Introduction

2. History of the English Language in Northern Ireland
2.1 Prior to the 12th century
2.2 Late 12th century -Early 17th century
2.3 Since early 17th century

3. The Different Dialectsin Northern Ireland

4. The Main Linguistic Features of Northern Irish English
4.1 Phonetics and Phonology
4.2 The Lexicon
4.2.1 History of Lexicography in Northern Ireland
4.2.2 Origin of Lexis in Northern Irish English

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography/References

7. Appendix

1. Introduction

First, the main idea of this paper was to show up the characteristics of Northern Irish English (NIE) in comparison to Standard English. The focus of that research should lay on special linguistic features of Northern Irish English - particularly regarding lexicology.

However, during my research and from the evaluation of numerous literature one aspect of Northern Irish English subtly emerged. There is an undeniable connection between modern Northern Irish English and the history of the northern part of Ireland and its different languages. And so, the focus of this paper shifted from a comparison of Northern Irish English and Standard English towards analysing and finding out how important the historical languages of Scots, Irish and Old English were for the shaping of what is now also called ‘Ulster English'.

On the following pages we will examine how important the interactions between Scots, Irish and English were for modern Northern Irish English with a focus of analysing the Northern Irish lexicon and the origin of lexis it contains. A slight reference will also be made to Phonetics and Phonology to additionally confirm the thesis that all the three historical languages have a crucial impact on modern Northern Irish English. An insight in Northern Irish history will lay the foundation of why there is such an importance of a linguistic exchange in that special part of the country.

Combining these different aspects will give an answer to the question if the influence of the language exchange in Northern Ireland can still be noticed today. Furthermore, this paper will explain how Scots, Irish and Old English interactions make themselves noticeable in Northern Irish English and to what extent.

2. History of the English Language in Northern Ireland

To analyse to what extend Scots, Irish and Old English influenced modern day Northern Irish English it must be known how the English language reached the Island of Ireland, also called “Hibernia”.

Until the 17th century there was no majority of English-speaking people in the entirety of Ireland, especially the northern parts of the island. A constant struggle between the old Irish language and the expanding language of English is to be seen since its first appearance in the late 12th century and so the entire history of English and its interaction with other languages in Ireland can be divided into three major periods of history that will be roughly summed up in the following chapter (Hickey 2007: 30).

2.1 Prior to the 12th century

Before the arrival of the first English-speaking settlers in the late 12th century the whole Island of Hibernia was dominated by the Irish language that was of Celtic origin and formed a single speech community together with Scottish Gaelic and Manx (O Riagan 2007: 218).

While the Old Irish (500-900 AD) adopted a form of writing - influenced by the Latin alphabet brought by the Romans - called Ogham, the Middle Irish language (900­1200) was affected by Norse due to Viking invasions on Scotland and Ireland (O Riagan 2007: 219). Additionally, important morphological changes appeared that influenced Irish up to its modern variation (ibid.).

2.2 Late 12th century - Early 17th century

During the late 12th century the Normans under King Henry II asked the reigning pope Adrian IV for permission to invade the Irish island and after getting papal authorization Henry carried out the invasion 14 years later (Hickey 2007: 30). The invasion succeeded and so the English gained control over the entire island of Hibernia while having strong footholds in Dublin, Waterford and Wexford (ibid.).

With that followed the arrival of the first settlers from Wales and with them Anglo-Norman, medieval English and Welsh (Hickey 2007: 31). During the period following the invasion, English was never the dominant language in Ireland. One reason for that is that the Normans never fully populated Ireland in an extent that would have quickly assimilated the Irish-speaking inhabitants of the island. The English only settled in the east and south-east of Hibernia, mainly around Dublin where the English controlled area was called the Pale (ibid., 31-32).

During the next couple of hundred years Dublin quickly grew to be the capital of power and administration in Ireland and so the English language never lost its importance in areas of strong English political influence. The size of the Pale though varied over the time with periods of growth and decline, but in the long term - up to the 16th century and outside of Dublin - the English-speaking settlers were more and more assimilated by the Irish (Hickey 2007: 32). One reason for that was a lack of identification with England due to the adoption of Protestantism by the English government in the 16th century while English settlers in Ireland remained Catholics - like the natives. Another reason was the general loose connection between England and the settlers which ended up gaining land and property in Ireland and an associated feeling of independence without a strong solidarity to the English crown (ibid.). The result of that was a low point of English language influence in Ireland at the end of the 16th century (ibid., 33).

2.3 Since early 17th century

The English crown under Tudor reign in the early 17th century was aware of the staggering decline of English influence on Ireland in both departments of language and political power. What followed was rapid and radical founding of settlements (called plantations) by English-speaking settlers in the entirety of Ireland (Hickey 2007: 137). The first successes were to be seen in the north of Ireland by settlements of Lowland Scottish and English settlers. The “linguistic balance” (ibid.) shifted in favour of English in the north and after more successful plantations in the south of Ireland by the end of the 17th century the English language became the dominant one in the entire country (ibid.). It was a development Irish would never ever recover from again (ibid.).

During the next century, more and more different varieties of English reached the Irish island and so began the development of different Irish accents that are still known today (Hickey 2007: 137).

3. The Different Dialects in Northern Ireland

Today there is a bright variety of different dialects spoken in Northern Ireland. As most dialects in other languages these also depend highly on their geographical appearance and history of contact with other languages, so it must be clear that Northern Irish English is not just a single iteration of English that suddenly came up after English settlers established themselves in the north of the island (Map 1 of Northern Ireland and dialects in appendix).

The English language reached the north of Ireland through the plantation of Ulster in the late 16th century (McCafferty 2007: 122). Therefore, the general term for the wide variety of Northern Irish dialects is referred to as Ulster English. Most of the settlers originated from “central and southern Scotland and the north, north-west Midlands and south-west of England” (ibid.) thus there were Irish, Scots and English as the mainly spoken languages in that area (Map 2 in appendix). Those three languages stood in constant contact with each other resulting in what is now known as Northern Irish English or Ulster English (ibid.). Kevin McCafferty (2007: 122) states that [m]ost of its phonology, syntax, morphology and lexicon are shared with other varieties of English, [...], but Northern Irish English retains Early Modern English features now defunct or marginal in Great Britain.

The Ulster English accent nowadays can be divided into multiple dialects that are strongly connected to their geographical occurrence and where the plantation settlers originated from (McCafferty 2007: 123-124). According to McCafferty (ibid.) a distinction can be made between the following dialects:

a. Ulster Scots (US) dialects are the traditional speech of three coastal areas of Ulster - north and east Down, most of Antrim and north-east Derry, and the Laggan district of north-east Donegal.
b. Mid Ulster English (MUE) is the most widespread variety of Northern Irish English. It is spoken in the largest urban centres, Belfast and Derry and the smaller town of Lurgan.
c. South Ulster English (SUE) occupies an east-west band across Ireland.

4. The Linguistic Features of Northern Irish English

Now that we know where the origins of the English language in Northern Ireland lay and what different dialects exist in this area of Hibernia, we will take a look at the linguistic characteristics of Northern Irish English - especially its lexis and certain phonological features that are results of a history of exchange between the different languages in Northern Ireland. The conclusion of that analysis will be the answer to the question to what extend the influence of these three languages on Northern Irish English can still be seen today.

4.1 Phonetics and Phonology

Though there many special phonetic and phonological features that discriminate Northern Irish English from other varieties of English, in this exhibition only the most important and most distinguishable characteristics of Northern Irish English that have its origins in other historical Northern Irish languages will be dealt with.

The major differences between Northern Irish English and RP and Southern Irish English (SIE) for example concern vowel quantity and vowel quality. Here the interactions between the different languages mentioned in 3. can be clearly seen through that all major dialects differ from each other to a certain extend (McCafferty 2007: 124).

Table 4.1 Vowel quantity in NIE (after Corrigan 2010: 32)

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

The vowel quantity distinctions as seen in table 4.1 show both the regional differences between all Northern Irish dialects after Corrigan (2010: 32) and the Received Pronunciation (mine). The reason for these different pronunciations is the result of the language exchange in the north of Hibernia and the question if the dialects make usage of the Scottish Vowel Length Rule (SVLR) - used mainly in Ulster Scots - , the historical phonemical vowel length of West Germanic - used in Southern Ulster English - or a mixture of vowel length rules which contain certain patterns of SVLR (ibid., 31). The Scottish Vowel Length rule describes that the vowel quantity is affected by the phonetic environment it appears in (McCafferty 2007: 125). The Received Pronunciation of Standard English uses the vowel length of West Germanic - traced back to the Anglo-Saxons influence on modern English - which ends up in the similarities with Southern Ulster English.

The vowel quality of Northern Irish English as shown in table 4.2 describes the distinctions between all dialects and RP. According to recent discussions about the origins of the different vowel qualities some researchers (e.g. Gregg 1972) state that the differences in vowel quality can be traced back to the Gaelic language that he regards as the predecessor of the Ulster Scots in the regions of Glenoe and Larne (McCafferty 2007: 124). Nevertheless, studies show that the conservation of Early Modern English features are the reason for the mentioned differences - like the Northern Irish English rounded pronunciation of the “strut vowel” that goes back to the 17th century. Additionally, in general there are no “phonemically distinct centring diphthongs” in Northern Irish English like [19, ea, us ] in RP (Wells 1982: 449).

Table 4.2 The vowel quality of RP/NIE (Corrigan 2010: 34)

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

In the end the preceding analysis of some phonological features of Northern Irish English show clearly that the exchange of Scots, Irish and English resulted in dialectal differences in pronunciation of modern day Northern Irish English.

4.2 The Lexicon

To begin with there are of course distinct phrases and sentences that are typical when speaking Northern Irish English like those listed in the following chart after Corrigan (2010: 79):

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

But to analyse where the roots of the Northern Irish English vocabulary lay and what it is still composed of today we will systematically run down the history of lexicography and dictionaries in Northern Ireland and the different sources of vocabulary and semantic fields related to that - based on Karren Corrigan's (2010) exhibition of that same topic.

4.2.1 History of Lexicography in Northern Ireland

To give a broad summery of the history of lexicography in Northern Ireland we can divide the development of lexica and dictionaries into two fields, namely amateur collections of vocabulary and scholarly collections (Corrigan 2010: 81-82). Both categories are important to look at, because we need to extract all information about the influence of Scots, Irish and Old English on nowadays Northern Irish English from these dictionaries and therefore it must be known how reliable both sources are.


Excerpt out of 16 pages


The Influence of Scots, Irish and English on Northern Irish English
University of Duisburg-Essen  (Institut für Anglophone Studien)
English Lexicology
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
influence, scots, irish, english, northern, northern irish english, linguistics, lexicology, accent, dialect, received pronounciation, standard, historical languages, historic, language, lexicon, phonetics, phonology, modern, linguistic exchange, exchange, northern ireland, ireland, old english
Quote paper
Dominik Kruczinski (Author), 2018, The Influence of Scots, Irish and English on Northern Irish English, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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