Varieties of English. Northern Irish English

Located between Hiberno-English and Ulster Scots!?

Term Paper, 2013

21 Pages, Grade: 1,7



Table of Contents

2 Introduction

3 Features of Northern Irish English
3.1 Phonetics and Phonology
3.1.1 Vowels
3.1.2 Consonants
3.2 Morphosyntax
3.3 Lexis

4 Conclusion

5 Appendix

6 References

2 Introduction

Northern Ireland, which is a part of the United Kingdom today, is located in the former province of Ulster on the northern portion of Ireland. Though it is a small state with only 1.811 million inhabitants (NISRA 2011), it is a region of high linguistic diversity, which is due to the historical contact of indigenous Irish peoples and newer English and Scottish settlers. (cf. Corrigan 2010: 196) Further factors such as politics, geography and religion, have separated the prevalent languages and dialects into smaller varieties making, it hard to establish general properties of the dialects in Northern Ireland. There are therefore many cases of miscommunication even amongst local inhabitants, which is illustrated in the following amusing example. There are many families with the surname ‘Campbell’ in a housing estate in Armagh City called ‘Desert Lane’, which the residents shorten to ‘The Desert’. In the local accent the medial /b/ in the second syllable of this surname is usually elided, which caused great confusion at an army checkpoint that stopped a son of the Campbell family. When the soldier asked for his name and address he kept responding [kæmǝl ǝv ðǝ dɛzǝɹt]. (cf. Corrigan 2010: 29)

Nevertheless three major varieties of English can be identified in Northern Ireland as illustrated in Map 1. The first variety is called Ulster Scots, which is spoken in the north and stems from Scottish immigrants of the 17th century. It is still discussed, whether it is a variety of English or a distinctive language. (cf. McColl Millar 2007: 14-15) Hereafter I will refer to it as the dialect of English that the speakers of Ulster Scots produce. The second variety, located along the border of the Republic of Ireland, is a dialect called South Ulster English which consists of transitional varieties between Hiberno-English and Mid Ulster English. (cf. Hickey 2007: 442) The third variety is Mid Ulster English, which together with South Ulster English, are the main objects of my investigation. Together these two varieties constitute Northern Irish English. I will examine Northern Irish English as it is spoken today with the aid of recent research by Hickey and Corrigan, taking into account the historical immigration of mostly Scottish and Northern English people, and the influence of Irish Gaelic as the substrate language in this particular contact setting. (cf. Corrigan 2010: 31) Further I want to explore, whether Northern Irish English is not only geographically, but also linguistically located between Ulster Scots and Hiberno-English, allowing the degree of convergence between the three varieties to be ascertained. Where it is necessary a distinction will be drawn between the more Scots-influenced Mid Ulster English (MUE) and the Hiberno-influenced South Ulster English (SUE). The focus of the first chapter is the phonetics and phonology of Northern Irish English (NIE) vowels and consonants. The subsequent chapters will briefly examine the morphology and syntax as well as the lexis in this unique area in light of the impact of Ulster Scots, Hiberno-English, Scottish and Northern English and Irish Gaelic.

3 Features of Northern Irish English

3.1 Phonetics and Phonology

3.1.1 Vowels

The realisation of vowels is one of the most prominent feature of dialects and accents of English. In the first part of this chapter the vowel quantity and quality of Northern Irish English (NIE) is going to be examined with the assistance of the findings of the interviews alongside the research by Corrigan and Hickey. Vowel quantity investigates in what length the vowels of a word are realized. A first distinction can be made by means of vowel quantity between Mid Ulster English and South Ulster English. While SUE retains the phonemic vowel length of West Germanic like Irish English (IE), MUE uses a mixture of the latter and the “Scottish Vowel Length Rule” (SVLR) pattern. (cf. Corrigan 2010: 31) The SVLR was brought to Northern Ireland from the Lowland regions of Scotland where it had evolved from the West Germanic system since the Older Scots period of the 15th century. (cf. McColl Millar 2007: 18-19) “This new system entailed that the length of a vowel was not intrinsic but was determined by the phonetic characteristics of the segment that followed it.” (Corrigan 2010: 17) Also known as Aitkin’s law, SVLR has been adopted to the greatest extent by all varieties of Scottish English and Scots. Thus in Ulster Scots (US), when a vowel occurs morpheme finally, as for example in <brew> [brʉː], it is long, while it is short in <brood> [brʉd]. Vowels followed by /r, v, ð, z, ʒ / and in front of inflectional suffixes are long as well. This process allows [brʉd] <brood> and [brʉːd] for <brewed> to become a minimal pair in Ulster Scots while they are homophonous in SUE, which is more RP-like in this particular respect. (cf. Corrigan 2010: 31) “MUE, being a mixed version of these two is slightly more complicated…” (Corrigan 2010: 31) Table 1.1 illustrates the differences of all three dialect zones concerning vowel quantity with the aid of the /ɛ, e, i / vowels.

Table 1.1 Vowel quantity in Northern Irish English and Ulster Scots (McCafferty 2007: 125)

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Thus, it can be said, that in MUE the /i/ vowels coincide with the SVLR, so that the keywords highlighted in red are short like in US. Moreover, the FACE vowels, which are often monophthongized to /e/, surprisingly seem to undergo SVLR processes even more in MUE than in US. Unlike in the latter, /e/ vowels are short in MUE if they precede fortis unvoiced fricatives and stops, as highlighted in green. This state of affairs appears somewhat irregular, since one might expect US to be more related to Scottish English (ScotE) than MUE, which it is not in this particular respect. One could assume that US, which is more of a distinctive language, has taken its own direction of development, whereas MUE stayed allied to the contiguous varieties of English. Nevertheless, /e/ vowels are always long before sonorants like /n/, as in <rain> [reːn] and lenis voiced stops like /d/, as in <fade> [feːd] (cf. Corrigan 2010: 32). The vowel /ɛ/ seems to follow the same pattern as /e/, with the exception that it is long in front of voiceless fricatives, as in <mess> [mɛːs]. The short [ɛ] in <pet> [pɛt] though indicates an impact of the more Standard English-like SUE. The vowel length pattern of MUE therefore, is already a good example for the various influences on this variety, as it is affected by US, ScotE and SUE.


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Varieties of English. Northern Irish English
Located between Hiberno-English and Ulster Scots!?
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