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Date: Mon, 11 Jul 2005 14:54:30 +0100 From: Carolina Amador <Carolina.Amador@ul.ie> Subject: A Sound Atlas of Irish English
AUTHOR: Hickey, Raymond TITLE: A Sound Atlas of Irish English SERIES: Topics in English Linguistics 48 PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter YEAR: 2004
Carolina P. Amador Moreno, Department of Languages and Cultural Studies, University of Limerick, Ireland.
This exceptional volume, consisting of a book and a DVD, is an important addition to the work on the English spoken in Ireland.
Studies of this variety have concentrated mainly on vocabulary and syntax. As far as the lexis is concerned, a general look at the large body of dialect word lists in Ireland reveals an interest in Irish English lexicon dating from 1557 onwards. On the other hand, the study of Irish English syntax has given interesting scholarly results in the fields of historical linguistics, second language acquisition and creole studies, to quote but a few theoretical frameworks. In comparison with the domains of grammar and syntax, it can be safely stated that the phonology of Irish English has been much less productive from the academic point of view.
Hickey's Sound Atlas of Irish English contains data gathered from nearly 1,200 speakers. The recordings provide a representative overview of the sound features of the English spoken in contemporary Ireland. It covers both genders and all ages (with particular attention to the younger generation).
The book is structured into eight sections:
Section I deals with the analysis and collection of data, which took place between the mid 1990s and 2002. The origins of the project, as explained by the author in "Background to A Sound Atlas of Irish English", go back to an earlier investigation of Dublin English in the 1980s, which concentrated on the "Dublin vowel shift" (Hickey 1999b). The method employed for data collection in this earlier survey of Dublin English (a variant of Labov's 'rapid and anonymous interview') was then replaced by a more structured system of data collection whereby informants read a set of short sentences, a short paragraph or a list of words anonymously (included in section II). In this section, the author also briefly discusses issues of representativity, organisation of the recordings and minimisation of background noise. In the subsection entitled "Analysing the recording exchanges" the author explains how informants were approached, and emphasises how, in order to provoke cooperation, a especial effort was made to show little social distance, minimise intrusion, and encourage informants to participate in the survey.
Section II provides a general introduction to the history and development of the English language in Ireland. It contains a brief overview of the main dialectal divisions, accompanied by two illustrative maps that can also be found in the DVD. After a short, perhaps oversimplified, description of the linguistic history of Ireland, the author goes on to analyse the most salient pronunciation characteristics of the varieties of Southern Irish English which occur in 1) the transition zone from south to north, 2) the East Coast, 3) the South-West and West, and 4) the Midlands. The subsection dealing with the varieties of Northern Irish English opens with a discussion of the terminology used to refer to the language(s) of Ulster. A contrastive analysis between northern and southern Irish English then concentrates on equivalents of ambidental fricatives, dentalisation of alveolar stops before /r/, allophones of alveolar plosives, pallatisation of velar plosives, off-glides, unstressed vowels and vowel quantity. A table suggesting possible sources for key phonological features of Irish English is also offered after a summary of the different research positions taken by scholars when debating the role of contact in the origin of these features.
The features of urban English in Dublin (with a distinction between local and "fashionable" or "new" Dublin English), Belfast and Derry are discussed here at length, with an emphasis on Dublin English and the spread of the new Dublin accent. To make the data easily comparable to that of other varieties of English, Hickey adapts Wells' system of lexical sets (Wells 1982) to cover not only vowel values but also consonants. He then includes two useful tables containing five columns with a small selection of the most representative varieties: one for vocalic sets, one for consonantal sets. Both tables are followed by a few remarks derived from the data, which arose during classification.
The lexical sets, sample sentences and free text referred to here can be easily accessed on the DVD by means of a Java application which allows users to browse through the data. As explained by the author, the sound files can be recognised thanks to a pattern with specific references indicating the origin of the informant, gender, age, etc. The file names of recordings also contain a reference to the size of the location the informant comes from. The last subsection deals with the most salient features and indicates in which sound files those features can be accessed.
Section III contains detailed, user-friendly instructions and information about the software for the atlas data. At the outset, two options are offered to access the sound files, maps, images, additional data and different programmes: by using the Java version on the DVD (which requires no installation), or by installing the Windows software from the DVD and then launching it from the hard disk of a PC (which can be a bit more complex to use than the Java version if installation is not carried out properly). Instructions are offered to both PC and Apple Macintosh users. The contents of the DVD are explained in this section, which helps users make the most of the data available in the Sound Atlas.
The remainder of the book is dedicated to technical notes (Section V), a glossary of computer terms (Section VI), a timeline for Irish English (Section VII) which takes the Kildare Poems as a starting point and ends at Terence P. Dolan's new edition of the Dictionary of Hiberno- English (2005), and a list of terms related to Irish English (Section VIII).
The DVD contains useful information about the varieties of Irish English, historical development, current distribution, etc. It abounds with data that can be compared and analysed in many different ways. The "map with transcriptions" node from the "Sound Atlas first approach" branch, which is displayed in the Java version of the DVD, for instance, allows users to listen to the lexical sets explained in Section II of the book. This option gives users the opportunity, for example, to compare the realisation of the WATER set with the GET set across regions. The lexical set realisations can also be heard by locality: the node "lexical sets" in the "Sound Atlas - recordings" branch shows a map of the localities where recordings were made; by clicking on the number shown in the map, one can hear a representative speaker from this area reading a sentence with the different lexical items. Additional material on Dublin English from different parts of the city also shows different pronunciation patterns of relevance to linguistic change in present-day Dublin.
Also available in the DVD is an option that shows statistics for different parameters of the recordings. The charts and tables provided in the last option of the "Sound Atlas - information" branch of the Java atlas software contains information on speakers by province, location sizes, gender and age spread, recording type and files by province.
Of particular interest to researchers and students of Irish English is the node "Survey of Irish English Usage", a survey which shows speakers' acceptance or rejection of certain sentences. The survey, carried out by the author parallel to the collection of sound recordings, covers the areas of morphology and syntax. Information on the methodology used, the processing software and morphosyntactic features of Irish English contained in the questionnaire is discussed by Hickey in Section IV of the book as well.
System Requirements: Windows PC: Pentium PC, Windows 2000/2003/XP, at least 128MB RAM, DVD-ROM Drive, 16 Bit Soundcard, XVGA (1024 x 768 resolution). Apple MAC: OS 9 or higher, 16 Bit Soundcard, at least 128MB RAM.
This book, written by a well-respected and certainly prolific expert in the field, constitutes an exhaustive study of the English spoken in contemporary Ireland. Both the content and its format, with multimedia support and audio data, represent an invaluable resource for those of us with research and teaching interests on Irish English.
One of the main merits of the volume is the thorough investigation carried out by the author in trying to capture variation. The author should certainly be praised for the fieldwork that has gone into the production of this Sound Atlas.
At the phononological level, it describes and explores features so genuinely Irish such as rhotic /r/, the voiceless labio-velar /hw/, often heard in words starting with an initial wh- (whale, why, etc.), epenthetic /ə/ in the pronunciation of words such as "farm" or "Colm", the realisation of medial T as H, as in the pronunciation of the word "Saturday", or the realisation of apico-alveolar fricative [ţ] of the GET lexical set.
The Survey of Irish English Usage is an excellent introduction to the morphology and syntax of Irish English, and it also provides researchers with interesting results regarding the current degree of acceptability of certain Irish English structures. The digital processing of Barry's Tape-Recorded Survey of Hiberno-English Speech, a project which started in the 1970s in Belfast and remains incomplete, also deserves praise, given that it makes this survey available to the research community. The digitisation of the tapes recorded by Barry's team nicely complements Hickey's work and allows for a comparison of methods.
If one had to find something to criticise, the conflations and simplifications concerning the historical background and past research done on the study of Irish English are somehow disappointing. Whilst the brief description of the History of Irish English (both in the book and DVD) is very useful as way of introduction for anyone unfamiliar with Irish English, I feel this could have been expanded even for the benefit of those new to this variety. Although the author makes reference to other work also published by him (e.g. Hickey 2002, 2003) where other bibliographical references and a more comprehensive account of the formation of Irish English are offered, it would have seemed appropriate to deal with the historical background of this variety in more detail. Some debatable omissions in the use of sources concern Odlin's work on the mechanisms of language transfer, which, together with Filppula's important research (e.g. Filppula 1999), has also contributed to a better understanding of transferability in the context of Irish English (see Odlin 1989, 1991, 1992, etc.). The work of Fenton (1995/2000) or Robinson (1997) is not mentioned either in the section dealing with Ulster Scots. It must also be noted that the reference to Labov's work on page 1 should read 1966, as in the references at the end of the book, and not 1996.
While the term Hiberno-English, sometimes used as a synonym of Irish English in studies dealing with this variety, would be familiar to researchers in the field, its inclusion in the glossary would have been helpful to those without prior knowledge, especially since it appears in the book and the DVD when referring to the work of other authors such as Dolan.
The restrictions imposed on the methodology used for the collection of data in the initial Dublin survey are mentioned by the author at the start of the book. However, letting informants know that they are being recorded also entails the restriction of the observer's paradox, whereby the very act of recording data creates a situation in which those data can be falsified by the fact that the participants are conscious that they are being recorded. The fact that they were asked to read as well might have caused some speakers (who we presume are all natives from the area tested) to change their accent into what they may think is a more clear way of speaking English, but, of course, there are ethical concerns involved in the gathering of audio recordings which destroy the spontaneity of speech, and this is inevitable.
To sum up, the book constitutes an excellent tool not only for the scholars or students interested in Irish English, but also for the study and the analysis of some of the fundamental issues that are still being discussed in Dialectology and Language Variation and Change. It is also a useful tool not only for those involved in the teaching of varieties of English around the world, Sociolinguistics, and Language contact, but also for drama students who may be interested in working on the speech of an Irish character.
Dolan, T. P. (1998/2005) A Dictionary of Hiberno-English. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan.
Fenton, J. (1995/2000) The Hamely Tongue: A Personal Record of Ulster-Scots in County Antrim. Newtonwards: Ulster-Scots Academy Press.
Filppula, M. (1999) The Grammar of Irish English. Language in Hibernian Style. London and New York: Routledge.
Hickey, R. (1999) Dublin English: Current changes and their motivation, in Foulkes, P. and G. Docherty (eds.) Urban voices. London: Edward Arnold.
Hickey, R. (2002) A Source Book of Irish English, Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
Hickey, R. (2003) Corpus Presenter: Software for Language Analysis with a Manual and A Corpus of Irish English as Sample Data. Amsterdam, Netherlands: John Benjamins.
Labov, W. (1966) The social stratification of English in New York City. Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.
Odlin, T. (1989) Language Transfer: Cross-linguistic influence in language learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Odlin, T. (1991) 'Irish English Idioms and Language Transfer', English World Wide 12:2, 175-193.
Odlin, T. (1992) 'Transferability and Linguistic Substrates', Second Language Research 8: 3, 171-202.
Robinson, P. (1997) Ulster-Scots. A Grammar of the Traditional Written and Spoken Language. Northern Ireland: The Ullans Press.
Wells, J. C. (1982) Accents of English. 3 vols. Cambridge: University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Carolina P. Amador Moreno is a graduate from the University of
Extremadura (Spain), and the University of Ulster (Northern Ireland).
She holds a European Doctorate in English Studies. She was Vice-
President of the Spanish Young Linguists Association (AJL) from 1998
to 1999, and she currently lectures in the Department of Languages
and Cultural Studies in the University of Limerick (Ireland). Her
research and teaching interests include sociolinguistics, dialectology,
bilingualism, stylistics, discourse analysis, second language
acquisition, and corpus linguistics. She has several publications
related to the English spoken in Ireland.