Anna Asián & James McCullough, “A Student’s Guide to Hiberno-English” (1998)

Abstract: In this paper, we provide a brief historical, linguistic, and literary guide to Hiberno-English, or Irish English, for teachers of English as a Foreign Language who use literature in their classes. We discuss the historical and social development of this dialect and relate it to the works of such authors as Joyce, Synge and Friel. Then we describe certain linguistic and cultural features of it which appear in literary texts and could lead to misinterpretations if they are not taken into account. Finally, we discuss how to use works written in non-standard varieties of English, like Hiberno-English, in the classroom, basing our discussion on a current novel and film, The Snapper. Keywords: Hiberno-English, Irish Literature, Language and Literature, Literary Dialect, Teaching Literature in EFL

Table of Contents
1. Introduction
2. HE: Context and History
3. Features of HE in Irish Literature
    3.1 Phonology
    3.2 Morphology
    3.3 Lexicon
    3.4 Grammatical
        3.4.1 The noun phrase
        3.4.2 The verb phrase
        3.4.3 Subordination
    3.5 Discourse features
    3.6 Rhetorical features
4. HE in the EFL classroom

1. Introduction
In our education and training as teachers of English, we become quite familiar with the best-known and most influential varieties of English, such as British and American English, along with the variety (or varieties) of English we speak in our home country if it is also one in which English is used as a lingua franca. However, we get little exposure to other lesser known varieties of English. Because of this, we may feel comfortable teaching British and American literature as well as our own national literature, but when we face the task of teaching works from countries and regions where a different variety of English is used, we might feel intimidated by the language and pass over it, to concentrate solely on the literary aspects of the works. Obviously, by doing so we are not getting all the meaning we can out of the texts.

The reader of Irish literature will eventually encounter literary works written in Hiberno-English (hereafter, HE), which is the variety of English most widely spoken in the Republic of Ireland and the one we will deal with in this paper. In order to fully understand these works, s/he needs to be aware of the fact that HE is characterized not only by a set of linguistic features but also by the cultural and historical associations deeply embedded in them. In addition, it is also characterized by irony and ambivalence, which are fundamental aspects of discourse, both spoken and literary, in HE. This is brought to the fore by the frequent use of the expression “moryah” in colloquial discourse, meaning “if you believe that.” It is an expression based on the Gaelic “mar dheat”, which means “like double” (Bruce Stewart, personal communication), a hint to look for at least two meanings in what has been said. In this paper we place HE within the context of the other dialects of English spoken in Ireland and give an overview of the historical and sociolinguistic factors which gave rise to it. Then we discuss the linguistic features which characterize it and which find their way into Irish literature. This means that not all the typical features of HE will be discussed in depth, since many of them are difficult to represent in print and therefore do not appear in literature. Finally, we discuss why texts with HE and other varieties of English should be included in EFL classes in which literature is an important component.

We also offer suggestions for classroom activities which would promote students’ awareness and understanding of the linguistic and cultural features found in such texts, using an excerpt from a recent Irish novel and film as an example.

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2. HE: Context and History
The varieties of English spoken in Ireland are divided into two main groups, depending on the socio-historical and linguistic factors that shaped their development. Planter English, which is in turn comprised of Ulster Scots and Anglo-Irish, is the term which categorizes the varieties spoken by the descendants of the Scottish and English settlers sent to Ireland in the 17th century to ensure the island’s loyalty to the English crown. Ulster Scots is mainly spoken in a crescent of land covering a swath of northern and eastern Ulster, where the large numbers of settlers from the Scottish Lowlands concentrated upon their arrival.

Anglo-Irish describes a variety of English which is spoken throughout Ireland and which developed from the different dialects brought over by the English settlers, who established themselves in many areas of the island. HE is the other broad category of English and is also spoken throughout the island. It is the variety of English which arose among the native Gaelic-speakers as they made the language shift from Irish to English, which occurred at an especially fast rate in the 19th century. It is also composed of two dialects, the northern variety and the southern variety, with the dialectal boundary approximately corresponding with the political border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. HE shows further differentiation in both social stratification and rural versus urban dialects. The rural varieties show a greater influence from the Gaelic substratum than the urban varieties. This seems to be due to two factors: urban speakers have less contact with the Gaelic substratum, and speakers in larger cities have more contact with speakers of non-Hiberno- varieties of English, such as British and American English (Filppula, 1991, cited in Gramley and Pätzold, 1992: 324). The most concise general description of the features of HE is probably that of Bliss (1984: 150), who sums them up in the following terms:

In the pronunciation and vocabulary of Hiberno-English it is possible to trace the influence of older strata of the English language and of the Irish language; in grammar, syntax and idiom the peculiarities of southern Hiberno-English depend exclusively on the Irish language. (Cited in Gramley and Pätzold, 1992: 324.)

Northern HE can also be characterized in the same way as above, however with a difference: it is marked phonologically and lexically by its contact with Ulster Scots and therefore shares a number of features with Scots English. However, it is also heavily influenced by the Gaelic substratum language. As Todd (1984: 26) says:

One can [...] make a good case in support of the thesis that Gaelic was not so much replaced by English in rural areas in Northern Ireland, as that Gaelic was probably relexified towards English while the phonology, idioms and sentence patterns of the native people remained Gaelic.

The “influence of older strata of the English language” mentioned in the Bliss quotation makes reference to the fact that many aspects of HE reflect features of Middle English and early Modern English. This is due to the fact that after the massive migration of English and Scottish settlers to Ireland in the 17th century, no further migration of a significant magnitude took place in that direction. Thereafter, the direction of migration was from Ireland to Great Britain. Thus, there was no widespread exposure to more modern forms of English until the advent of audio-visual mass media in the twentieth century.

The anglicization of Ireland began in the 17th century, when Lord Cromwell confiscated large amounts of land throughout the country and gave them to loyal, English-speaking subjects from Scotland and England. In a short time, as the Gaelic-speaking former land-owners were forced to migrate to other areas of the island, English could be heard over large areas of Ireland. In the 18th century, the Penal Laws were enacted, prohibiting any expression of Irish national identity, especially the use of the Gaelic language, and effectively entrenching the native Irish in poverty. This accelerated the abandonment of Gaelic in favour of English, and by the end of that century nobody who had attained, or hoped to attain, a high position in life spoke Gaelic as his first language (Todd, 1989: 14). Gaelic, as Edwards (1989) explains, became associated with the language of poverty, and parents preferred that their children spoke English so that they would have a better chance in the labour market. In the 19th century, two factors further hastened the switch to English and caused the almost total abandonment of Gaelic. First came the establishment of National Schools in 1831, which large numbers of pupils were obligated to attend and which had English as the language of instruction and all communication. The use of Gaelic was strictly punished. Then came the Potato Famine, which halved the population of the island, either through death or emigration, and which especially affected the impoverished Gaelic-speaking population, who ultimately came to feel it was a curse to be Irish and to speak Gaelic (Todd, 1989: 15). Several sociolinguistic factors obtained in 19th century Ireland which would ultimately foster the transfer of Gaelic features from all linguistic levels into the English acquired by the the Gaels and their descendants: high numbers of Gaelic-English bilingual speakers; little or no formal education among them; and a certain perception among them that English and Gaelic were similar in many ways (Odlin, 1991). It is also argued that the variety of English that the Gaelic speakers had exposure to in the 19th century was not the main variety spoken in England at the time but rather an already Gaelic-influenced variety (Bliss, 1972; Sullivan, 1980). This variety had arisen from contact with the Planters and their Early Modern English from the 17th century on. In the 19th century, it would become even more influenced by Gaelic as it acquired greater numbers of bilingual speakers. All of these factors in conjunction probably resulted in extensive transfer of Gaelic features into the bilingual English of Ireland. This variety of English then became the input for future generations. As Bliss (1972: 63) explains:

Because of the social conditions existing in Ireland, Irish speakers rarely had the opportunity of prolonged contact with speakers of Standard English, and learned their English from those whose English was already less than perfect; so that the influence of the Irish language was cumulative, and remains strong even in those parts of Ireland where Irish has long ceased to be spoken.

Lee (1993) argues that the way in which the language shift took place has left the Irish with a sense of lack of dignity and self-respect. As Bernstein (1994) explains, by being forced to speak English, the Irish population internalized the colonizer’s values, according to which they were an inferior race. In this way, the association between the Gaelic language and inferiority referred not only to their economic and social situation but also to something inherent to them, the “mere Irish”, as the British called them (Leerssen, 1996).

Thus the language shift left the Irish in a very ambivalent position:

[O]n the one hand they were ashamed to use Gaelic, since it was associated with poverty and defeat, but on the other hand, their English was not “proper” and they felt insecure with it, a fact that may also have contributed to maintaining their sense of inferiority. As Edwards (1989) points out, in spite of the warmth and nostalgia that Gaelic was supposed to have inspired among the Irish population, the general ambivalence felt towards it is illustrated by the lack of official support given to the Gaelic League in its efforts to revive this language at the end of the 19th century.

Likewise, the Irish also have an ambivalent attitude towards English.

As Lee (1993: 669) points out, in spite or their bitter resentment towards it (and, by extension, everything English), they also show admiration and envy. He quotes Douglas Hyde’s famous remark that “The English are the people we love to hate but never cease to imitate.” In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Joyce (1983: 172) illustrates the uneasiness that Stephen Dedalus feels when speaking his own language, that is, English: “The language in which we are speaking is his before it is mine . . . I cannot speak or write these words without unrest of spirit. His language, so familiar and so foreign, will always be for me an acquired speech.” A number of different strategies have been adopted by Irish writers over the last century to deal with the English language. Synge and other writers in the Literary Revival of the late 19th and early 20th centuries attempted to appropriate the English language and adapt it to the culture of the Irish people, incorporating Gaelic words and expressions into the language (either through direct borrowings or through calques and loan translations) and using the HE speech of the people in their works. Beckett refused to go on writing in English and turned to French instead, while Joyce experimented with language in such a way that he led the critic David Norris to comment on his desire to take revenge on the English language (Bernstein, 1994: 269). Indeed, Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, which is written in HE and actually makes the most sense when read with HE intonation and pronunciation, is perhaps the maximum expression of English turned inside out. Finally, Brian Friel suggests in Dancing at Lughnasa, a play of language, that silence and music are the best means of communication.

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3. Features of HE in Irish Literature
Although linguists tend to reject literary dialect as a reliable source of linguistic evidence, the Irish literary tradition shows many realistic features of HE. Since it is through literature that many people have their main (if not only) contact with HE, it is worthwhile to bring to the fore the features which different authors have tried to recreate. We cannot hope to compile a thorough, accurate description of all the features found in the different varieties of HE, as they do not all find representation in literary works. Furthermore, many excellent descriptions of this kind can be found in linguistics literature (e.g., Barry, 1984; Bliss, 1984; Harris, 1984, 1993; and Gramley and Pätzold, 1992). This section simply provides non-specialist EFL teachers with a rough guide to the linguistic phenomena they can expect to encounter in Irish texts.

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3.1 Phonology
In HE, the voiced and voiceless dental fricatives, / / and / /, have merged with the stops /d/ and /t/, respectively. Although native speakers of this variety still make some distinction between the two sound classes, it is so slight that outsiders may not notice it. This phonemic merger is captured in literature in and spellings instead of standard spellings. This can be seen in the following lines from the poem “madmanalive” (Kennelly, 1991: 39), written phonetically to reflect how Dubliners talk.

sumtimes ozzie get dis fierce urge ta go fast true dublin really fast man

In Irish literature aspiration is sometimes alluded to through spelling as well. Although this feature does not figure prominently in descriptions of the dialect, Todd (1989: 37) mentions in passing that HE has a tendency to “use greater aspiration with /p, t, k/ in syllable-initial position and some aspiration in syllable-final position.” The playwright, Sean O’Casey, gives numerous representations of aspiration, even of the voiced plosive /d/:

Irish Nannie. [...] Th’ prison docthor told me th’ oul’ heart was crocked, an’ that I’d dhrop any minute. [...] (O’Casey, 1984: 508-9)

Another distinctive feature of HE involves the sibilants /s/ and / /. These were considered to correspond with similar Gaelic consonants, and therefore Gaelic rules were applied to the pronunciation of words in English. The main result is the use of / / where other varieties would use /s/, specifically in consonant clusters in which the final consonant is palatal, and in many words with initial <si-> spellings. This is reflected in the following extract:

Bessie: “Bessie Burgess is no shinner [sinner], an’ never had no thruck with anything spotted be through’ finders o’ th’ Fenians” (O’Casey, 1980: 212).

In terms of vowels, HE did not raise /e:/ to /i:/ in words that had previously had an / / pronunciation, most notably those with an <ea> spelling, like “tea”, “meat”, and “easy.” They are pronounced with an /eI/ diphthong. Other words are also marked by this phenomenon, like “Jesus”, which is often spelled <Jaysis> to reflect everyday speech.

This feature is represented in the title of the O’Casey play, “Juno and the Paycock.” It is also used to set up a pun in the title “Finnegans Wake”, as “wake” and “weak” sound the same in HE.

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3.2 Morphology
In the area of morphology, it would appear that few features have been transferred from Gaelic to Hiberno-English. Todd (1989), Kiberd (1979) and Gramley and Pätzold (1992) only mention the diminutive ending, ‘-een’. Words ending with this suffix generally refer to unimportant things and usually convey a tone of contempt:

Widow Quin [sic]: “It isn’t fitting”, says the preisteen, “to have his likeness lodging with an orphaned girl” (Synge, 1988: 190).

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3.3 Lexicon
Most words and expressions in HE have the same meaning and usage as in other varieties of English. However there are also important divergences. There are archaisms from Middle English and Early Modern English, loans and calques from the Gaelic substratum, and a wide range of neologisms, semantic shifts, malapropisms and other plays on words created by writers in their literary works or taken from the speech of the people and reflected in these works. Some archaisms are (all from P.W. Joyce (1910), except “bowsey” from Todd (1989: 34):

bowsey (drunk); power (a great deal of); disremember (forget); tundish (funnel); mearing (a well-marked boundary); wit (in the meaning of “one’s mind”); pannikin (a small tin drinking vessel)

Some Gaelic loans are:

asthore (my treasure, my love) < a + stór (vocative + treasure); banshee (fairy woman) < bean sí (woman fairy); colleen (young girl) < cailín (same meaning); creel (a strong, square frame used alone or on a cart for holding turf or taking goods to market); < críol (same meaning) cruiskeen (a small container for liquor) < cruiscín (pitcher); fooster (hurry, great fuss) < fústar (same meaning); gombeen man (usurer) < goimbín (usury); gra, grah (love, fondness) < grádh (same meaning); pottheen (illicit whiskey) < poitín (little pot); shebeen (unlicensed public-house) < sibín (same meaning); whisht (be quiet) < tost, pronounced /host/ or /hwist/ (same meaning); wirra (exclamation of surprise, sorrow, or vexation) < a + Mhuire (vocative + Mary, i.e., Virgin Mary).

Some calques are (first two from Todd. 1989, last one from Garvin (1977: 105):

devil’s needle (dragonfly) < snathad an diabhail (needle of the devil); to put something on the long finger (to postpone something) < cuir é ar an mear fhada (to+put it on the finger long) have a right to do something (should do it) < coír (proper or permissible thing to do, translated as “right”).

Some semantic shifts are (all from P.W. Joyce 1910, except “backward”, “destroyed”, “drowned”, and “doubt”, from Todd 1989: 34-5, 40):

backward (shy); elegant (excellent); bothered (deaf); fear (danger) curate (grocer’s assistant); gaffer (boy, young chap); senior curate (priest)great (intimate, closely acquainted); dark (blind); likely (good-looking); Dear (God); lone (unmarried); destroyed (spoiled, ruined); redden (to light a match, pipe, etc.); ditch (dyke); scalded (annoyed; mortified); dyke (ditch); soft day (rainy day); doubt (strongly believe); venom (energy) dresser, a kitchen cabinet for dishes, silverware, etc.); whisper (listen ); wish (esteem, friendship, respect) drowned (very wet).

One set of words exhibiting semantic shifts deserves special attention. There are a number of HE deictic expressions which can lead to misinterpretations by speakers of other Englishes (from Barry, 1984: 109; and Gramley and Pätzold, 1992: 326).

up/above (northwards, in the north); over (eastwards, in the east); below (southwards, in the south); back (westwards, in the west).

Also, the word “end” can mean the back part of a building, rather than any lateral extreme or it:

”If this pig is not put out of the house at once’, said she feebly from the bed in the end of the house, ‘I’ll set these rushes on fire and then an end will be put to the hard life in this house of ours [...]” (O’Brien, 1988: 24)

Other commonly used HE words are:

eejit (idiot, though with milder connotations); chiselur (child); bollix (testicles, often used as an exclamation); snapper (baby); queer (many meanings, from strange to quaint or funny).

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3.4 Grammatical
featuresThe grammar of HE follows most of the same rules and patterns as other varieties of English. However, it also has its own special characteristics. We will follow a modified form of the organizational pattern of Harris (1993), as this will help teachers quickly find the facts and examples they might need for class. First we will present features concerning the noun phrase, then the verb phrase, and finally subordination.

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3.4.1 The noun phrase
In relation to the noun phrase, the definite article, “the”, is sometimes used differently than in standard English. For instance, it can appear with non-count nouns used for general reference (where standard English would have no article at all) and with nouns making reference to a non-specific entity (where standard English would use “a/an”). These uses are illustrated below:

”I never did hear that anyone’s shadow was effective as a shelter against the hunger.” (O’Brien, 1988: 62)

”Martin, isn’t it the bad sign that the ducks are in the nettles?

(O’Brien, 1988: 13) Pronoun use in HE is interesting in a number of respects. HE differentiates between second-person singular and plural reference, using “you/ye/yeh” to address one person and “youse/yez/yiz/yis” to address more than one. With the loss of the “thou” paradigm and the loss of separate singular and plural verb forms in the Early Modern English period, many dialects adopted new ways to mark number distinctions in second-person address. In the case of HE, this was reinforced by the fact that Gaelic has both a singular and plural form of the second person pronoun. The following conversation opening, from The Snapper (Doyle: 1990: 50), illustrates this usage:

Sharon [..] went across to [...] her friends -Hiyis, she said when she got there. -Oh, howyeh, Sharon. -Hiyeh, Sharon. -Hiyis, said Sharon. [...] -Hiyeh, Jackie. Haven’t seen yeh in ages.

Another interesting area of HE pronoun usage is that of reflexive pronouns, which in HE can refer to a noun phrase outside of the clause, or can even be used as the first reference to a noun in discourse. Often, assigning the referent to the pronoun depends entirely on the discourse context and the shared knowledge between the interlocutors.

In the case of “himself”/”herself”, the pronoun often has the meaning of “the man/lady of the house.” The use of reflexives for extra-clausal referents also occurred in the English of Shakespeare (Harris, 1993: 147), but one can argue that it has been reinforced in HE by Gaelic pronoun usage. Gaelic has emphatic as well as non-emphatic pronouns, while English uses reflexive pronouns to perform this function. Gaelic can also make both the emphatic and non-emphatic pronouns reflexive by adding the marker “féin”, which also corresponds to “self”. These extra-clausal and emphatic uses are illustrated below.

Shawn Keogh (a fat and fair man, comes in as she signs, looks around awkwardly, when he sees she is alone): ‘Where’s himself?’ [i.e., where’s your father?] (Synge, 1988: 176)

- But only for ten minutes, Molly, said Mrs Conroy. That won’t delay you. - To take a pick itself, said Mary Jane, after all your dancing. [i.e., to take a little pick at the meal only] (J. Joyce, 1973: 223)

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3.4.2 The verb phrase
Regarding the verb phrase, HE offers some simplifications with respect to standard English, while also adding some complexities. The strong verb paradigm is simplified, with many three-member paradigms being reduced to two. For instance, the three forms, “go”, “went”, “gone” become just “go” and “went” in HE, while “do”, “did”, “done”, becomes “do” and “done.” However, this latter case only applies if “do” is used as a main verb. If it is used as an auxiliary, the form “did” appears in the past tense, a distinction which is made in many non-standard dialects (Harris, 1993: 151-4):

-You’re absolutely sure now? Positive? -Yeah, I am. I done-- -Did, said Veronica. -I did the test.

-The test? said Jimmy Sr. -Oh. -Did yeh go in by yourself? (Doyle, 1990: 2-3)

While the system of verb forms may be simplified in HE, the tense-aspect system is more complex. HE has five different kinds of contructions equivalent to the use of the present or past perfect in standard English. Of these, one is worth discussing here, as it occurs frequently in texts and could easily be misinterpreted by students. It is what many linguists have termed the “hot news” perfect, which is used for events occurring immediately prior to the time of speaking or time of reference. It typically has the structure, be + after + verb (-ing form), athough it can also be used in combination with a noun phrase, as in “He’s after his dinner”, meaning “He’s just had dinner” (Harris, 1993).

Juno: He wore out the Health Insurance long ago, he’s after wearin’ out the Unemployment Dole, an’ now he’s thrying to wear out me! [... he has just worn out the Unemployment Dole, ...](O’Casey, 1980: 7).

These usages are based on Gaelic structures with “indiaidh” or “eis”, both of which mean “after.” Readers unfamiliar with HE tend to give these structures a “future-of-intention” interpretation much like “she’s only after your money”, meaning “she’s only trying to get at your money.” In the area of habitual aspect, HE explicitly indicates habitual states or actions through the use of “be” or “do”, respectively. A punctual “He is not sick” is distinguished from a habitual “He never be’s sick” (Harris, 1993: 162) by the word “be/be’s” to indicate a habitual state. Habitual actions are signalled through the use of “do” plus a progressive construction or a bare infinitive, as in “He does plough the field for me” (Harris, 1993: 163), which in standard English could be misinterpreted as a use of emphatic “do”.

Saint: Men who are dark a long while and thinking over queer thoughts in their heads, aren’t the like of simple men, who do be working every day, and praying, and living like ourselves. (Synge, 1988: 169)

This feature is also due to the influence of Gaelic, which marks habitual aspect through the use of different forms of the verb “tá “ (”be”), attached morphologically to the main verb. Another feature of HE is that it uses nominal structures with a greater frequency than in standard English. Todd (1989: 40) attributes this tendency to the fact that Gaelic is a “noun-centered language”, and this has influenced HE. Ideas that would be expressed by a verb phrase or an adjective phrase in standard English can be expressed in a nominalized form in HE, as seen in these two examples:

He made a great run out of the house without a cloth-stitch to the sheltering of his naked nudity, [...] [i.e., “he ran quickly”/ “to shelter his naked nudity”] (O’Brien, 1967: 64)

It’s only right to bring the full of your pockets when you’re going to a hooley. [i.e., “to bring your pockets full”, or “to bring full pockets”] (O’Brien, 1967: 117)

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3.4.3 Subordination
In the area of subordination, HE has three ways of forming relative clauses: using a relative pronoun while also leaving a trace of the pronoun’s referent (”... the man who I saw him in Dublin”); omitting the relative pronoun completely; or forming a “quasi-relative” clause using “and”. The following excerpt gives examples of these latter two constructions:

Pegeen (with scorn): As good is it? Where now will you meet the like of Daneen Sullivan knocked the eye from a peeler; or Marcus Quin, God rest him, got six months for maiming ewes, and he a great warrant to tell stories of holy Ireland till he’d have the old women shedding down tears about their feet. (Synge, 1988: 177)

The first two examples are of instances in which the relative pronoun “who” has been omitted, while the last one shows the use of “and” plus a subject pronoun in a context in which a speaker of standard English probably would have used “and who was ...”. A number of subordinators could cause difficulties for speakers or learners of standard English as well. “And” is often used to indicate simulatneity, and in these cases it is the equivalent of “while” or “with” in standard English. “Till” is often used to mean “so, so that;” “the way, in a way, the ways” and other similar expressions involving “way” mean “thus”, “so”, or “in that;” and “whenever” can be used to refer to a single event or situation as well as a recurring one:

Shawn (uneasily): I didn’t see him on the road. Pegeen: How would you see him and it dark night this half hour gone by? [i.e., ... with it being dark since half an hour ago?] (Synge, 1988: 176)

Verger: Are youse comin’ in till I shut the door? (O’Casey, 1984: 266)

Christy: Ten thousand blessings upon all that’s here, for you’ve turned me a likely gaffer in the end of all, the way I’ll go romancing through a romping lifetime from this hour to the dawning of the Judgment Day. (Synge, 1988: 229)

In indirect questions, the verb-subject question order is usually not undone. Furthermore, if it is a yes-no question that is embedded, it is not normally introduced by “whether” or “if”. (Answers to yes-no questions will dealt with in the section on discourse features.)

Shawn (turning towards the door again): I stood outside wondering would I have a right to pass on or to walk in and see you, Pegeen Mike, [...][i.e., ... if I should pass on or walk in and see you ...] (Synge, 1988: 176)

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3.5 Discourse features
At the level of discourse and pragmatics, the answer to a yes-no question is seldom a simple “yes” or “no”, as this is considered impolite by many HE speakers. There are a wide variety of responses available for giving an affirmative or negative answer. This is probably due to influence from Gaelic, which has no single word for either “yes” or “no.” In Gaelic, the speaker responds with “tá” or “níl” for affirmation or negation, respectively, plus the appropriate form of the verb in the question.

And isn’t it a shameful, bad and improper state that ye’re in here tonight? ‘Tis true for you, I replied to the gentleman, but sure we can’t help the bad state you’ve mentioned. The weather is bitter and everyone of us must be inside from it, whether he has two legs or four under him. If that’s the way it is, says the gentleman, wouldn’t it be easy for you to put up a little hut at the side of the yard and it a bit out from the house? Sure and ’twould be easy, says I. I was full of wonder at all he said [...] (O’Brien, 1988: 20)

In response to the first question, the speaker supplies an elaborate answer, and to the second question he gives a simple affirmative, following the Gaelic pattern described above. HE also has some typical discourse markers, which appear frequently in texts. They include “sure/surely”, which can occur at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of an utterance, and “but”, “so”, and “wha’”, which come at the end of an utterance. In addition to these single-word devices, HE also makes use of sentence-final tags, such as “so it is” and “so I did.” They all seem to put focus on some aspect of the speaker’s message, such as the veracity of it, or the contrast it provides to what has preceded it in the conversation. However, “wha’” (which represents the pronunciation of “what”) focuses on the hearer, inviting him/her to react to what has just been said. In addition, HE makes extensive use of fronting as a means of focalizing information. Although fronting is also a common device in standard English, in HE it occurs more frequently and in a wider range of contexts. This seems to be due to influence from Gaelic. The two most common methods are left-dislocation and it-clefting. In left-dislocation, a sentence constituent is placed at the beginning of the sentence, as occurs in this example:

Irish Nannie: [...] They’re not bringin’ a chiselur to school when they’re bringin’ Nannie to the Polis Station. Five o’ them it took, an’ she sthrapped on a stretcher, th’ last time to bring her in! (O’Casey, 1984: 509) In it-clefting, the highlighted part of the utterance is embedded in an “it is . . . “ construction, which begins the sentence. This is illustrated by the next example:

Pegeen: [...] It’s above at the crossroads he is, meeting Philly Cullen [...] (Synge, 1988: 176)

Finally, HE speakers make ample use of expressions dealing with the Catholic religion. As exclamations there are “Jaysus, Mary, an’ Joseph”, “God love him/her”, “for God’s sake”, and as sentence tags, one can find “God help him/her” and “with the help of God.” Although most of these expressions are used in other varieties of English, they are used with a high frequency in HE, along with many other references to the devil, the saints, the pope, and other aspects of religious life. In the poem “skool”, Kennelly (1991: 42) mocks the ubiquitous use of “Jesus” in everyday speech while also satirizing the people’s ignorance in religious matters:

dis jesus fella sez ozzie who was he / how de fuck do I know sez I / you went ta skool forra bit sez ozzie / didn’t learn much dayre sez I / [...] / but everywun sez jesus dis and jesus dat / pay de jesus rent by us a jesus pint / till i get de jesus dole / but who de jesus hell was he sez ozzie / [...]

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3.6 Rhetorical features
Poetry is deeply rooted in oral traditions, and Gaelic poetry, which shapes modern Irish poetry, was mainly oral. The rhetorical strategies found in Irish writing reflect the orality of traditional storytelling and poetry. In addition they reflect the sheer delight the Irish find in talking, in humour, and in being creative. Kennelly (1995: 14-5) describes Dublin as “probably the most garrulous city in Christendom”, and describes Dubliners’ use of English in the following terms:

Dubliners don’t just speak English, their own brand of it, they wear it [...] They show off in it, preen and strut in it, [...] wave it like a football flag. [...] This is all fair enough. Language shouldn’t just be an instrument of so-called rational and/or irrational communication.

It should be aired, steered through pollution, allowed to swallow pubsmoke, trawl through Internet, [...] The Irish delight in creativity, especially linguistic creativity.

Kiely (1977: 95) quotes a controversial passage of Braidwood’s Ulster & Elizabethan English in which he asserts that the writers of Elizabethan English and HE owe their literary creativity and uninhibitedness to the fact their languages are not standardized:

Today probably only the Irishman, especially the Southern Irishman, and some Welshmen, work in the Elizabethan linguistic, mastering the language, where the rest of us, with pusillanimous notions of correctness and good taste hammered into us at school, let the language master us.

Here is a sampling of some of the rhetorical strategies employed by Irish writers. The first one is wordplay. There is an Irish game of rendering “sophisticated” words in their “Irish” form. This rhetorical device was very much used by Gaelic writers. Flann O’Brien was an expert at this game, and filled his columns with characters like Des Demona, and Mose Art. Wordplay includes a tendency to sesquipadalianism (an appropriate term for “the use of long words”), which both Joyce and Kennelly employ to comic and ironic effects. Secondly, puns occur frequently in Hiberno-English, for comical effect, although there is a serious vein to them as well. In the following example Angela and Lizzie are discussing how the “Blesseds” have to work hard at answering people’s prayers if they want to make sainthood. Angela is tired of having to hear a band practicing a funeral march, hence her remark, and Beoman is a communist who does not like how the Catholic hierarchy oppresses the people of the town:

Lizzie: Don’t I know it! Th’ Blesseds has to keep on their toes to get notice, if they wants to be hoisted up into higher places. Angela: Yis, among th’ cymbals an’ th’ dhrums. Beoman (with a snort of scorn): Th’ harps an’ th’ hoboes --- a Phil th’ Fluther’s Ball! (O’Casey, 1984: 257)

Beoman makes a pun with oboes/hoboes and reinforces it with a reference to a rag-tag gathering (notice that “fluther” is really “fluter” with an aspirated “t”). Later in the play we see how the church officials of the town cause economic ruin to those who stray from the established line. Finnegan’s Wake, Joyce’s well-known novel, is written in HE. “Wake” here means the traditional wake for the dead but also the HE pronunciation of “weak”, as noted in section 3.1. Therefore the title itself is a pun on the mythical Gaelic hero Finn. In fact, it could be interpreted as “Finn Again is Weak”, indicating that the heroic, epic, moral fibre of Ireland is not what it should be. A third strategy is the formation of portmanteau words. In the poem “A workable clarity” Kennelly (1995: 75), blends words that traditionally have defined opposed and mutually exclusive identities and, in doing so,deconstructs them:

[...] / Sorth and Nouth, territories occupied / in his wordscape by / Protholics and Catestants / as they live and die / in the shat-on beauty of their island. / Noyalists and Lashionalists picnic together / in all kinds of weather, / chewing tarpition [partition] sandwiches with sugto [gusto] / [...]

Another rhetorical feature is the use of appropriate nicknames, which is used extensively in traditional Gaelic literature. In Behind the Green Curtains (O’Casey, 1984), Dennis Chatastray (“cat astray”) is a Catholic industrialist who almost breaks free begins to act on his own rather than following the dictates of the religious hierarchy. In Finnegans Wake, the protagonist, Mr. Porter runs a pub, thus his name is appropriate because he carries crates of ale up and down the stairs all day. The novel revolves around a dream he is having, in which, among other episodes produced by his guilty conscience, he commits an immoral act in Phoenix Park, which becomes Fiendish Park.

Finally, exaggeration and humour in general, as we have already mentioned, are essential features of both Hiberno-English and Gaelic literature. However, it is not a facile type of humour, that only seeks to make people laugh. It is a humour that stems from taking on the language and cultural associations of an imperial power and bending and moulding them to fit one’s own culture and personal identity. According to Bernstein (1994: 275), it is founded on “the ability to take serious matters and see the humour in them, to undermine their potentially devastating effects through a sense of humour that distances the immediacy and the impact. [... It is a two faced-mask, and] if there is a skull beneath this mask of Janus, it has the ‘risus sardonicus’, the grim smile of the death mask.”

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4. HE in the EFL classroom
some pedagogical considerations Over the past two decades there has been a steadily growing interest in the use of literary texts in the foreign language classroom, as can be seen from the numbers of courses and workshops offered on this subject and from the wide variety of books published in this field (Carter and Long, 1987; Collie and Slater, 1987; Maley and Duff, 1989; McRae, 1991; Lazar, 1993; etc.). For a more complete bibliography on the subject, see Trenchs (1997: 52). However, most texts which make their way into the EFL classroom are written in a standard variety of language. Thus, the use of texts written in non-standard language could provide a worthwhile complement to course content. From a linguistic point of view, the exposure of students to different types of expression can give them new insights into uses of literary and colloquial language (which are not opposite terms, as the extract we deal with later demonstrates) as well as into standard and dialectal uses of language. Also, a wider variety of literary texts is likely to arouse students’ interest in language and its multiple uses and shades of meaning, since they help them realize that language is not transparent.

From a cultural point of view, literary texts in general introduce other worlds to those students who want to know more about foreign countries and their particular forms of life. Texts written in non-standard language complement insights into the cultures of a country or region and present alternative ways of viewing such aspects as beliefs, myths, history, customs, social, political and religious problems, or even climatic and geographic conditions. Students might enjoy comparing different points of view on the same cultural issue(s) presented by standard and non-standard texts. Before introducing literary works written in non-standard varieties of English, teachers should sensitize students to the fact that non-standard vernaculars, which are generally perceived as low, easy, often comical kinds of language, are in fact as complex and systematic as standard languages (Harris, 1993: 181). Furthermore, vernacular languages are also symbols of local identity and, therefore, their use involves cultural and political implications.

In the case of “other Englishes”, it is necessary to sensitize students to the complexities faced by the author in writing in the language of the former colonial power. As seen in the case of Ireland, the complexity of attitudes involved in the use of English led many writers to adopt special measures. The issue of language loyalty is deeply felt by writers in lands in which English is in tough competition with the local language or languages. In addition, the weight of at least two cultural traditions is felt by such writers. They must mould the English language to the task of expressing meanings important to them or their culture. As Kachru (1986/1990: 164) says:

A characteristic of [the bilingual or multilingual (or multi-dialectal!) writer’s linguistic or communicative competence] is the faculty and ease of mixing and switching, and the adoption of stylistic and discoursal strategies from the total verbal repertoire available to a bilingual. One has to consider not only the blend of the formal features, but also the assumptions derived from various cultural norms, and the blending of these norms into a new linguistic configuration with a culture-specific meaning system.

He goes on to say that it puts the reader in a much more demanding role: ‘it almost demands an identification with the literary sensibility of the bilingual in tune with the ways of saying and the levels of new meaning [his italics]’ (p. 165).

We have chosen the opening scene of The Snapper (1990), a novel by Roddy Doyle, to develop a lesson plan and suggest guidelines and activities for helping students get into non-standard literature by developing their awareness of the presence of HE, its stylistic uses and cultural associations. Doyle is the author of a popular trilogy (The Commitments, 1978, The Snapper, 1990, and The Van, which was shortlisted for the 1991 Booker Prize) about the lives of the Rabbittes, a typically large, working-class family in Barrytown, a fictional neighbourhood in Northern Dublin. The set formed by Doyle’s trilogy and its three respective film versions (the scripts of which Doyle wrote, and which are very faithful to the texts) is an especially suitable tool for introducing students to contemporary Irish literature, both in its written and audio-visual forms. They are funny, entertaining, interesting, and up-to-date. They address many hard issues in the lives of modern working-class Dubliners without trying to soften or sugar-coat anything, especially the language. Doyle’s use of HE responds to his desire to portray his characters as vividly as possible in terms of speech and also in accordance with their ideological, social, cultural and historical determinants.

This is undoubtedly linked to issues of ideology and national identity, since, by refusing to use the standard, Doyle, as Synge and the Literary Revivalists did a century ago, shows that HE is as valid a literary dialect as the standard. Moreover, by using HE rather than a more standard English, he aligns himself with the values embedded in the sociolect of the working classes and undercuts and subverts official ideology and the ideas and mores on which it is sustained. As Doyle overtly claims, in his novels,

“the attachment to the Church isn’t there, neither is the attachment to the State and certainly the attachment to the language isn’t there, although I think that’s an awful pity. [...] I think also because we had a language before having another superimposed on us, we actually ended up with a language and a half. There’s a healthy contempt for grammar that makes talking that little bit more interesting.” (McArdle, 1995: 116).

The use of HE may at first hinder the students’ understanding of texts. However, when they realize that it contributes to contextualizing the works (in geographic, historical and social terms) and gives an added immediacy to the characters, these “foreign” words acquire new, revealing meanings which give cohesion and reinforce the novel’s thematic interests. Therefore, in spite of, or rather, because of, the marked “local touch” of Doyle’s works, both in linguistic and cultural terms, students from all over the world are likely to identify with his characters and feel involved with the issues and themes raised in the works, and they may even become interested in the contemporary situation of the Irish and the cultural changes they are undergoing. The following is an abridged version of the first scene (pp. 1-6):

- You’re wha’? Said Jimmy Rabbitte Sr. He said it loudly.
- You heard me, said Sharon.
Jimmy Jr was upstairs in the boys’ room doing his D.J. practice. Darren was in the front room watching Police Academy II on the video. Les was out. Tracy and Linda, the twins, were in the front room annoying Darren. Veronica, Mrs Rabbitte, was sitting opposite Jimmy Sr at the kitchen table.
Sharon was pregnant and she’d just told her father that she thought she was. She’d told her mother earlier, before the dinner.
- Oh my Jaysis, said Jimmy Sr. He looked at Veronica.
She looked tired. He looked at Sharon again.
- That’s shockin’, he said. Sharon said nothing.
- Are yeh sure? Said Jimmy Sr. - Yeah. Sort of.
- It’s shockin’, said Jimmy Sr again,
- so it is. Wha’ do you think o’ this? He was talking to Veronica.
- I don’t know, said Veronica. - Is tha’ the best yeh can do, Veronica?
- Well, what do YOU think? Jimmy Sr creased his face and held it that way for a second.
- I don’t know, he said.
- I should give ou’, I suppose. An’ throw a wobbler or somethin’. But - what’s the point? [...]
- You should’ve come to us earlier - before, yeh know - an’ said you were goin’ to get pregnant. The three of them tried to laugh.
- Then we could’ve done somethin’ abou’ it. - My God, though.
No one said anything.
Then Jimmy Sr spoke to Sharon again.
- You’re absolutely sure now? Positive?
- Yeah, I am I done -
- Did, said Veronica.
- I did the test. ...
- Who was it? - Wha’?
- Oh. I don’t know.
- Ah now, Jaysis!
- Well, then?
- I’m not tellin’.
Jimmy Sr could feel himself getting a bit angry now. That was better. ...
- Is he married? Jimmy Sr asked.
- Oh my God, said Veronica.
- No, he’s not! Said Sharon.
- Well, that’s somethin’, I suppose, said Jimmy Sr.
-Then why -
Veronica started crying.
- Ah Veronica, stop tha’.
Jimmy Sr looked at the two women. The crying had stopped.
- Will he marry you? Jimmy Sr asked her.
- No. I don’t think so.
- The louser. That’s cheatin’, tha’ is.
- It’s not a game! Said Veronica.
- I know, I know tha’, Veronica. But it’s his fault as much as Sharon’s. Whoever he is.
- It was his flute tha’ -
- Daddy! [...]
- He’s taking it well, said Veronica.
- Yeah, said Sharon.
- So are you.
- Ah sure
- I was afraid you’d throw me ou’.
- I never thought of that, mind you.
- It’s not right though, said Veronica. She looked straight at Sharon.
- I suppose it’s not, said Sharon.
Jimmy Sr now said something he’d heard a good few times on the telly.
- D’yeh want to keep it?
- Wha’ d’yeh mean?
- D’yeh - d’you want to keep it, like?
- He wants to know if you want to have an abortion, said Veronica.
- The eejit.
- I do not! Said Jimmy Sr. This was true. He was sorry now he’d said it.
- There’s no way I’d have an abortion, said Sharon.
- Good. You’re right.
- Abortion’s murder.
- It is o’course.

Teachers may work with a longer or a shorter extract from the opening scene depending on the students’ linguistic competence. Whatever their level may be, however, teaching language through literature should be, according to Carter (1994, 6), a “student-centered, activity-based and process-oriented” activity, and one in which linguistic, stylistic, thematic and cultural issues should be discussed.

The lesson plan we propose is divided into three stages: pre-reading, while-reading and post-reading. In the first stage, students may be introduced, by way of different exercises, such as brain-storming, to non-standard varieties of English or to a particular theme that is relevant in the extract, in this case, for example, teenagers’ problems or their relationship with their family. By giving students cultural and historical background information, such as the popular rejection of divorce and abortion in Ireland, teachers may succeed in raising the students’ interest in the work that is to be studied in class. Other issues related to Doyle’s novel, as can be seen from the extract above, and which could be discussed in a pre-reading session, are sexual behaviour, the generation gap, the role of Catholicism in contemporary Irish society and the institution of the family. In the while-reading stage, students should try to deduce the meanings of any expressions or words they do not know from the context. Teachers could help them cope with difficult vocabulary by means of various sorts of exercises, such as multiple choice or matching definitions with lexical items.

Students could also underline non-standard features of speech and discuss whether or not they are exclusively HE. Classifying HE features according to the areas that have been dealt with in this paper could help them consolidate an overview of the linguistic characteristics of HE. From a literary point of view, teachers should make sure that students perceive the humour and irony which pervade the scene, and which are recurrent in Irish literature. In a longer extract it becomes apparent that the narrator’s voice echoes the speech and consciousness of the characters, on whom he does not pass moral judgement. This reflects the changing cultural and ideological climate in contemporary Ireland.

In the post-reading stage, teachers could help students to interpret the text by emphasizing especially significant uses of language or stylistic features, and students could summarize the theme and plot of the extract, or write an extension of it, detailing what will happen next. As language work, choosing non-standard uses of syntactic structures from the text and having students rewrite them in a standard linguistic form, or having them write a reported-speech version of the dialogue in the extract, could help them with grammar and style.

Finally, we suggest a comparison between the written and film version of The Snapper as a further post-reading activity, since the film provides contextual information not given in the book. For instance, the opening scene captures the family atmosphere that pervades the novel. According to Thompson (1993: 65): The smallness of the Curleys’ [as they are called in the film] house is integral to their chaotic sense of community - the constant distractions of warring family members furnish vital perspective as well as extra stress in moments of crisis, but Frears [the director] does well not to overplay the closeness of their domestic environment.

Objections might be raised over the use of swear words throughout the text and the film. However, this reflects the speech of working-class North Dubliners. By being exposed to such realistic uses of HE, the students’ picture of the language is more complete, although how much “completeness” teachers want to, or can, give their students depends entirely upon their own criteria as well as the type of students they have and the type of institution they are teaching in. Doyle has often been accused of overusing bad language in his novels, yet, he claims that

That’s the way the characters talk, it’s plain and simple, what more can I say? Not all the characters use bad language. Pound for pound, The Van has more bad language than the rest, because it’s largely Jimmy Sr’s story, and he’s a man who laces his language continually with four-letter words of various shapes and sizes, and I don’t make an apology for that. I have no problem justifying the bad language.

There’s very little violence in it and it’s not there for shock value.

In a culture where many films are created purely to shock people, trying to shock people by a choice of words doesn’t work anymore (McArdle, 1995: 113).

Similarly, Thompson (1993: 65) comments:

One of the main problems with today’s TV drama is that it doesn’t have enough swearing in it. Doyle’s ‘bad’ language - the musical ‘feck’s and ‘bollix’s which score his characters’ every move- is transparently good language, and credit is due to whoever decided it shouldn’t be toned down.

In an EFL context, a language-based approach to Irish literary texts written in HE would necessarily focus on non-standard lexical and grammatical items and culturally determined discourse patterns and rhetorical strategies, as well as other more general cultural references, with the aim of helping the students understand the literal meaning of words and texts and their cultural and historical associations and implications.

This paper presents a description of HE through literary texts, which is of special interest to EFL teachers who make use of literary texts in the language classroom. Using HE texts would be best for upper intermediate or advanced students, as they have enough command of the standard language to appreciate the novelties and nuances presented by the non-standard forms. The incorporation of non-standard literatures into the curriculum exposes students to “new ways of saying and meaning” and also broadens their cultural horizons. They gain new cultural referents and perspectives as they come to fully understand the text they are reading. One final benefit offered by this approach is that it promotes students’ reading strategies and listening skills. As they are exposed to more and more non-standard varieties of English, they become better able to understand them, which is an increasingly important skill in this age of international English, in which more people speak non-standard varieties of English worldwide than standard varieties.

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Contact Address: Anna Asián & James McCullough, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona C/. Trias i Fargas, 25-27; Edifici B 08005 Barcelona, 08193 Bellaterra (Cerdanyola del Vallès)

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