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LINGUIST List 25.2527

Wed Jun 11 2014

Review: Sociolinguistics: Migge (2012)

Editor for this issue: Mateja Schuck <mschuckwisc.edu>

Date: 09-Jan-2014
From: Terence Odlin <odlin.1osu.edu>
Subject: New Perspectives on Irish English
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/23/23-5138.html

EDITOR: Bettina Migge
EDITOR: Máire Ní Chiosáin
TITLE: New Perspectives on Irish English
SERIES TITLE: Varieties of English Around the World G44
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Terence Odlin, Ohio State University

“New Perspectives” brings together several papers presented at a conference
in Dublin in 2010, and it constitutes the second book on Irish English
published by Benjamins in its series Varieties of English around the World. In
the preface the co-editors Migge and Ní Chiosáin explicitly compare the
contents of “New Perspectives” with the earlier volume, “Focus on Ireland”
(edited by Jeffrey Kallen and published in 1997), noting that the new volume
makes more use of corpora and more comparisons of Irish English with other
varieties. Both of these observations are accurate, as is another concerning
terminology: “Irish English” is the routine term used in the volume to refer
to the variety, which has also gone by other names including “Anglo-Irish” and
“Hiberno-English,” the latter term often appearing in the 1997 volume.
Whatever the designation, Irish English remains a prominent topic in research
on global varieties of English, and indeed another characteristic of the
volume seems significant: 16 chapters in contrast to the 12 in Kallen’s
volume, a difference that suggests that linguists’ interest in the variety is
robustly growing.

Migge and Ní Chiosáin have organized the volume into five areas as they
describe in the preface: social variation, syntax and semantics, pragmatics,
corpus research, and identity issues. The four chapters on social variation
all focus on urban settings but look at diverse topics: phonology and syntax
in relation to age and gender in Dublin English (Karen Corrigan, Richard Edge,
John Lonergan), segmental phonology and generational change in Galway City
(Anne Peters), schwa epenthesis and generational change in Galway City (Karin
Sell), and rising intonation patterns in Belfast (Jennifer Sullivan). Corrigan
et al. look at several morphosyntactic structures such as the complementation
pattern having both “for” and “to” as in “I went to the shop for to get
bread,” along with certain phonological rules such as the phonetic realization
of /t/ as [r], as when “what” is pronounced [war]. Analyzing results from both
production and judgment tasks given to several working-class informants,
Corrigan et al. found less variation by age or gender than some recent
research has claimed. Even so, as the authors note, the “for-to” pattern
showed a real generational difference, with older informants using it more and
believing it to be more common in Dublin than younger informants did. The
chapter by Peters makes a stronger claim about inter-generational change. For
example, older interviewees showed greater use of a high front lax vowel in
pre-nasal environments when pronouncing words that the younger speakers
pronounced with a mid front lax vowel in “French” and “them,” although Peters
acknowledges that the sample size (four individuals) urges caution about the
conclusions. The corpus used by Sell, with 35 participants, presents a clearer
picture of generational change in the frequency of epenthetic schwas, as where
“film,” for instance, is pronounced as a two-syllable word. Younger speakers
in Sells’ corpus did show some use of epenthetic schwas but less than older
speakers did. In contrast to the other three chapters in this section,
Sullivan’s study does not address variation in social groups but rather the
ontogeny of the structural pattern: the rising intonation found so often in
Belfast English. Not surprisingly, then, Sullivan’s chapter is the only one to
present evidence from instrumental phonetics. Her conclusion is that Belfast
rising intonation is motivated more by pragmatic than by phonetic factors.

Two of the four chapters on mophosyntax involve modals: one a study of modal
progressive constructions in Irish and British English (Markku Filppula), the
other a study of time reference in modal constructions (Marje van Hattum).
Another chapter in the section also considers verbal structures, in this case
the range of perfect constructions used in Newfoundland, where many Irish
settled (Sandra Clarke). The fourth chapter compares the use of “it”-cleft
sentences in Irish English and other varieties (Kalynda Beal). Fippula’s study
of four corpora (two of British and two of Irish English) considers the
frequency of modal progressive constructions as in “... they’d be trying you”
(in the particular context, the “they” refers to church authorities). The
results indicate that while modal progressives are not absent from any of the
corpora, they are more frequent in Irish English, especially in a corpus of
traditional speech. Somewhat similarly, Clarke’s study compares corpora of
separate communities whose founders were speakers of British, on the one hand,
and Irish English on the other. As in Filppula’s study, there were sizeable
differences in the use of certain structures, most notably the “after”
perfect, a well-known marker of Irish English speech (e.g., “She’s after
mowing four times this week” = “She has mown four times this week”). Even so,
there was not a remarkable inter-communal difference in the use of another
well-known Irish English construction, the medial perfect (e.g., “I haves the
old curtains closed” = “I have closed the old curtains”). A sentence in the
title of van Hattum’s chapter illustrates well the kind of structure her study
focuses on: “A cannot get a loan for more than six years now” (= “I have not
been able to get a loan for six years”). Van Hattum uses Reichenbach’s
approach to tense to analyze such instances, but she also considers instances
such as “… when you might done it” (= “when you might have done it”), which
she analyzes as a case of a deleted “have” auxiliary. Beal’s chapter on
“it”-cleft constructions uses sub-corpora from India, Singapore, Jamaica, and
Canada as well as one from Ireland, all part of the International Corpus of
English. The frequencies of clefts in the so-called colonial English varieties
are similar enough, Beal argues, to suggest a convergence process which can
explain the productivity of “it”-clefts not only in Irish but in the other

The chapters on pragmatics consider a wide range of topics: the use of “like”
as a discourse marker (Martin Schweinberger), vocative expressions (Bróna
Murphy and Fionna Farr), the use of “now” as a discourse marker (Brian Clancy
and Elaine Vaughn), and the Irish English responsive system, including the use
or non-use of “yes” and “no” (Gili Diamant). The investigation of vocatives by
Murphy and Farr relies on the Limerick Corpus of English and three smaller
corpora; their results indicate sizeable variation in the use of vocatives by
younger versus older speakers and by males versus females. The address form
“lads,” for example, was used the most by younger males although young and
middle-aged women also employed the term rather frequently. Informal contexts
proved especially conducive to using this and certain other address forms. Age
differences also figure prominently in Schweinberger’s analysis of the use of
“like”; in general, younger people used the form as a discourse particle much
more than older people did. However, differences in use according to gender
were not so remarkable, and the variation between younger and older speakers
proved much greater in some syntactic environments than others. For instance,
there was less of a frequency gap between older and younger speakers in the
use of “like” in clause-final environments in comparison with the gap between
older and younger speakers in their use of “like” in clause-initial contexts,
where younger speakers employed the form far more. Clancy and Vaughn also
focus on a discourse marker, in this case “now,” and they detail a sizeable
difference between Irish and British English. In effect, uses such as “It’s
lunacy now” prove far more frequent in Ireland than in Britain. The difference
is all the more remarkable, since Clancy and Vaughn also compared the two
regional varieties for use of “now” in temporal and presentative contexts, yet
they found no major frequency difference between the varieties in such
contexts. Irish English has long been considered to be a variety in which
“yes” and “no” occur relatively infrequently, and Dimant’s study looks closely
at this characteristic and its putative source in the Celtic substrate. In
cases such as the response to the question “Were you ever on a wake?” “I was”
(without a “yes”), there is a close parallel in the Irish examples that
Diamant gives. Even though responsives such as “yes” and “yeah” do appear in
some of the corpus material that Diamant studied, traditional speech often
relies simply on a response using the subject and verb given in the question.

As summaries of several chapters above indicate, corpus studies are the norm
in this volume. Even so, two other chapters give special attention to the
corpora themselves: one with a focus on methodological issues involving a
diachronic corpus of letters (Kevin McCafferty and Carolina Amador-Moreno) and
the other on a new corpus of Irish English in Argentina (Carolina
Amador-Moreno). The diachronic corpus has material spanning over two centuries
from about 1700 to the early twentieth century. However, the largest
concentration of letters comes from a narrower time range, from the late
eighteenth century onwards. McCafferty and Amador-Moreno show the usefulness
of the corpus for tracing the increasing frequency of progressive
constructions over decades. Amador-Moreno’s chapter on immigrant letters from
Argentina is exploratory, looking at general structural characteristics of
Irish English to be found without a statistical analysis. Traditional forms
such as the habitual verb phrase in “There does be a mixture” appear in the
corpus, and Amador-Moreno surmises that the rural environment where many
immigrants lived tended to conserve traditional forms.

Of the two chapters on identity issues, one is arguably the most different
from all the others in the volume, considering as it does attitudes, not
structures, and the attitudes analyzed are those of immigrants to Ireland from
other countries (Bettina Migge). The immigrants whom Migge surveyed came from
many places including the U.K., continental Europe, Nigeria, India, the USA,
and Australia. Different immigrants faced different degrees of linguistic
adjustment with non-native speakers reporting, not surprisingly, initial
difficulties in understanding the English of Irish people. On the other hand,
immigrants from the UK showed the most ambivalence about using decidedly Irish
characteristics in their speaking, in contrast to native speakers from other
regions. The final chapter resembles Schweinberger’s study (summarized above)
in that it offers a sociolinguistic analysis of the discourse marker “like”
(Niamh Nestor, Catríona. Ní Chasaide, and Vera Regan), but in this case, the
individuals whose speech was studied had all immigrated to Ireland from
Poland. Despite their common national origin, however, the individuals varied
considerably in their uses of “like.” Although every individual used the word
in some ways, not all employed it as a discourse marker; moreover, older
immigrants did not use it very much, while some--but not all--younger
immigrants used it a great deal. As in Schweinberger’s study, the use of
discourse “like” also varied by syntactic environment: clause-medial instances
of the form proved less frequent than clause-initial and clause-final
instances. Nestor et al. see the distributional differences as possible
correlates of social identity, especially whether the frequency of “like” in
specific environments marks an individual as integrated within the local

Even while a number of chapters show overlapping interests (e.g., modal verb
phrases), “New Perspectives” achieves a good balance between longstanding
concerns such as the origins of Irish English and new ones such as the
significance of recent immigration for ongoing changes in the dialect. That
said, there remains much in various chapters that researchers will ponder and,
in some cases, probably challenge for years to come. The widespread reliance
on corpus analyses no doubt shows a methodological advance in the quantity of
data that can be analyzed, yet at the same time, the exact significance of the
masses of data remains as problematic as evidence from earlier, less extensive
sources. Filppula thoughtfully addresses such concerns in the case of his
study of modal progressives. He acknowledges three possibilities for why those
structures proved especially frequent in Irish, as opposed to British,
English: 1) simple chance in the particular data samples; 2) the outcome of
processes in contact Englishes not restricted to the Irish context but rather
seen also in other colonial varieties such as American or Australian English;
3) a more specific outcome due to Celtic substrate influence during the
intensive contact between speakers of Irish and speakers of English in the
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Filppula offers arguments against both
the first and second explanations although the latter seems to him more
plausible than the former, if not as credible as the third.

Whether or not other researchers agree with Filppula’s conclusion in his
analysis of the modal progressive, they too have to address the concern that
the data sample collected in any corpus really does result in an accurate
picture of the variety. Beal’s chapter on “it”-cleft constructions, for
example, has to assume that that the pragmatic contexts are roughly the same
both qualitatively and quantitatively in all the corpora which she compares;
without such similarity across corpora, the figures on “it”-cleft uses in any
variety may reflect a frequency or infrequency of the pattern that does not
really characterize the particular dialect as a whole.

Other methodological concerns also advise caution in taking some authors’
conclusions at face value. Clarke, for example, contends that her evidence
offers no reason to view the medial perfect as a result of Irish substrate
influence. It may well be, as she argues, that superstrate influence offers a
more credible explanation for the medial perfect in Irish English either in
Ireland or Newfoundland. Yet however much a vernacular from Britain may have
contributed to the growth of the medial perfect, there remains the possibility
of substrate influence as well. That is, early bilinguals whether in Ireland
or Canada may have made what Weinreich (1953) called interlingual
identifications between the Irish medial perfect and an English vernacular
pattern common among monolinguals. Such identifications would constitute
convergence, a.k.a. positive transfer. While there are methods in the study of
second language acquisition to identify convergences (e.g., Jarvis 2000), they
normally require comparing how two different native language groups, one
having a structure similar to the target, the other not having that structure.
Such comparisons have sometimes succeeded in demonstrating the likelihood of
positive transfer, but, unfortunately, a comparison of bilingual populations
having different native languages is not possible in the Irish English
context. On the other hand, it is conceivable that some future SLA study would
will be able to make such a comparison, if a non-Celtic language could be
found having a structure similar to Irish. Unlike in Germanic and Romance
languages, there is no lexical equivalent in Irish to English “have;” rather,
there is a possessive construction in which the possessed is the subject and
the possessor is marked by a prepositional phrase and in which there is a
perfective verb co-occurring with an auxiliary somewhat similar to Spanish
“estar”). This type of possessive construction is not typologically rare, but
the challenge will be find a contact situation involving a language with the
construction as well as languages with a verb like “have.” Unless such a study
is done, the controversy over the medial perfect seems likely to remain

Whatever the uncertainties over specific empirical issues, there can little
doubt that the vast majority of studies in “New Perspectives” will contribute
significantly to future work on Irish English. The volume has much to offer
students of language contact, pragmatics, urban varieties, and corpus

Jarvis, Scott. 2000. Methodological rigor in the study of transfer:
Identifying L1 influence in the interlanguage lexicon. Language Learning 50.

Weinreich, Uriel.1953. Languages in contact. The Hague: Mouton.

Terence Odlin is the author of several studies of language contact, including
contact in the Celtic lands. He is an emeritus faculty member at Ohio State
University, Columbus, Ohio.
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