The Irish English 'after' perfect

An example of Celtic influence on the English language

Seminar Paper, 2009

9 Pages, Grade: 1,0



1. Introduction

2. Terminology
2.1. The perfect
2.2. The Hiberno-English perfects
2.3. The after perfect
2.3.1. Formation
2.3.2. Usage

3. The origins of the after perfect
3.1. Contact situation – language shift
3.1.1. Historical background
3.1.2. The transfer of the after perfect construction
3.2. Reduction of the functional range of the after perfect

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

1.) Introduction

The development of different regional varieties of English is an important field of research in historical linguistics. A multitude of theories explain the innumerable differences in pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar that exist within the English speaking world. An important external reason for the great linguistic variation making English a ‘world language’ are the influences from foreign languages that the English language absorbed in language contact situations.

The only language contact which had been for a long time regarded as quite ‘unproductive’, except from some marginal loan words, is that of English and Celtic in the British Isles. Therefore, it was excluded from serious linguistic research up to the 20th century. Modern investigations finally unveiled that the long and close coexistence had, of course, a remarkable impact on all British varieties in the areas of syntax and phonology, too (Filppula et al. 2008: 1f.).

The aim of my paper is to reconstruct the linguistic development during the contact situation between Irish Gaelic (one variety of Celtic) and English on the basis of one selected grammatical feature, namely the after perfect construction in their generated contact variety: Irish English (also Hiberno-English, Anglo-Irish).

After giving some general information on formation and usage of the rare grammatical construction, I will prove the after perfect construction being a result of the English-Celtic contact situation in Ireland. In that respect, I will look at interesting aspects of scholarly debates concerning the language shift, resulting in the Irish English variety as it is spoken today.

2.) Terminology

2.1.) The perfect aspect

The terminology used by different scholars concerning tense and aspect is quite inconsistent and confusing. I will use the term ‘perfect’ in the following according to the linguist Bernard Comrie, defining the term as referring to “continuing relevance of a previous situation” (Comrie 1976: 56). Consequently, I will consider ‘perfect’ an aspect, because it clarifies the “internal temporal constituency of a situation” (Comrie 1976: 3), although this is a controversy issue and other scholars like for example Raymond Hickey prefer the term ‘perfective’ in their essays (Hickey 2001).

1.2.) Hiberno-English perfects

The tense-aspect-modality in the Irish English variety is far more complex than it is in Standard British English. On the one hand, the Irish often use present or past tense where we would find the have-periphrasis expressing perfect in Standard British English, e.g. “Were you ever in Kenmare?” instead of “Have you ever been to Kenmare?” (Filpulla 1999: p. 90f.).

On the other hand, Irish English has a number of separate perfect forms, not used in any other English variety. Different models suggest various classifications of perfect-types in Irish English (Hickey 2000: 97ff.), but what is important and common of various theories is the subdivision between resultative perfect and immediate perfect which are mutually exclusive in certain situations (Hickey 2000: 108). The former is used when “the state which is envisaged as the end point of an action has indeed been reached” (Hickey 2001: 156), whereas the latter carries “the implication that the action is very recent” (Hickey 2001: 157).

In contrast to Standard British English, Irish English offers the opportunity to express this difference in meaning linguistically: Accomplishment can be expressed by the medial-object perfect, e.g. “He has it written.” (Henry 1957: 177) or the be perfect, e.g. “He is gone a week.” (Ó Sé 1992: 49). The after perfect, which will be dealt with in the following, is the realisation of the immediate perfect.

1.3.) The after perfect

1.3.1.) Formation

The Irish after perfect is a grammatical construction consisting of a form of (to) be, the preposition after and the present participle (Verb + -ing) (Winford 2003: 240).

It may be used in a present perfect as well as in a past perfect context, as the copula (to) be can be used either in present or past tense form, e.g. “you’re after passin’” instead of “you have just passed”; “I was after buyin’” instead of “I had just bought” (Filppula 1999: 99).

1.3.2. Usage

The construction is also labelled ‘ hot news perfect ’ (Harris 1983), as it “emphasises the aspect of immediate recentness of the event or activity” (Filppula 1999: 99). So its usage is restricted to a certain temporal context.


Excerpt out of 9 pages


The Irish English 'after' perfect
An example of Celtic influence on the English language
Free University of Berlin  (Englische Philologie)
Seminar "History and Varieties of English"
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
352 KB
History of English, Past perfect
Quote paper
Anja Hempel (Author), 2009, The Irish English 'after' perfect, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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