Ballyscough Bridge.

This five-minute clip is a wonderful bit of dialect conversation from Ireland:

This short film is part of a larger collection of folklore recorded by Michael Fortune featuring two men John Murphy and Ned Kavanagh from Kilmuckridge, Co. Wexford. The recordings are based around sites of folkloric importance, and this particular recording relates to Ballyscough Bridge which borders the villages of Oulart and Kilmuckridge in Co. Wexford. The recording was undertaken by Michael Fortune in July 2015 in John’s yard in the townsland of Morriscastle.

The recording session was unplanned, and the only equipment Michael had with him was a small dslr camera without external microphone or tripod. Regardless of this, the camera captures the natural conversation between two neighbours as they re-count stories from the places around which they live.

Both men have distinctive accents. John’s in particular is an old accent found along the East Coast of County Wexford. John’s accent and dialect is sadly disappearing along this stretch of coast and it’s demise is due to a variety of reasons; primarily tourism, educational development and the influx of people from Dublin. John’s yard is surrounded by holiday homes and mobile home parks. Many of the people in which both men speak of have either passed away or the places have been consumed into the tourist bubble which has engulfed the fields and roads of the area.

Kilmuckridge lies to the south of an area called “The Macamores”, an ancient Gaelic controlled territory which ran from Kilmuckridge, County Wexford to Arklow in County Wicklow. Overlooked by many, the area is steeped in a rich folklore and dialect, and contains many intriguing cultural and linguistic links between neighbouring Wales, West Country England, Cornwall and the North of Ireland.

The casual swearing is great; perhaps the most startling linguistic element to me was the two-syllable pronunciation of the verb in “I seen.” I’m not sure of the subtitle in “going study and all”: shouldn’t it be “steady”? (Thanks, Trevor!)


  1. I heard “study” as “slowly”, but I confess I’d be completely lost without the subtitles.

  2. My ears pricked up at the ingressive yes (e.g. at around 3:30). I’m familiar with ingressive ja/jo in Swedish and Norwegian, but hadn’t noticed it in any variety of English before!

  3. Frank Gibbons says

    Used to live in Wexford as a child, and the ‘íngressive yes’ was pretty common. I remember both of my parents doing it, even though we only lived there about four years (and they were not native to the area). Then we moved to another part of Ireland, and it fell away. Robert Eklund published a study of it

  4. “going sturdy and all”.

  5. My impression is it’s widely distributed in Ireland. I use it myself. Admittedly I had a south-eastern childhood too (not Wexford), but my Dublin-born mother also uses it, and I noticed a Dublin colleague using it a couple of days ago. Ingressive speech previously on LH.

  6. I’ve noticed the ingressive “yes” quite a lot in CanEng speakers. Also, the typical “ayah” of Maine sometimes borders on ingressive.

  7. I think of Ireland’s íngressive yes (or more often ingressive yeah) as a special kind of whispering used to express sympathy/soldarity; akin to gently touching the back of someone’s hand laid on a table or chair arm.

  8. Co. Wexford was the locus of the quite divergent variety of English sometimes known as Yola, which endured into the 19th C. That seems a more likely factor for any now-vanishing unusually-accented varieties of “standard” Hiberno-English than the relative local political power of Gaelic v. Anglo-Norman magnates many centuries prior to that.

  9. One thing that stood out to me was how often John said “Ned” during the conversation. Perhaps this is more a sociological characteristic than a linguistic one. If I were talking to a friend, and there was no one else on the scene, it would be very odd to say “Did you see the game last night, Mike? It was a strange one, wasn’t it Mike? That last goal was a puzzler, Mike.” etc etc

    On the two-syllable ‘seen,’ I wasn’t sure whether he was saying ‘seen’ or ‘seeing.’ In any case, I think Geordies turn a lot of single-syllable words into doubles — eg hayem for home, cayek for cake (apologies for the amateurish eye-dialect). I think they do something similar with ‘seen’ but I can’t swear to it.

  10. A note about the appellation of the field, “Hell’s Kitchen”. Back in the day, throughout Europe, most individual farm fields had names, if only for purely utilitarian reasons. In the rectilinear land division in the US midwest, a farmer could say, “I’m going to be plowing the back forty” and his whereabouts for the day would be understood. But in the generally more random layouts of European fields, following land contours, roads, streams, etc., it became convenient to name them, as in “I’ll be mowing Hell’s Kitchen today.”

    — A nice piece on a project to collect Irish field names is here.
    — Here’s a study on Scottish field names.
    A History of English Field Names
    Various other works on English field names
    A treatise on Dutch field names.

  11. Huh. Thanks, Martin Langeveld. There are quite a few examples of Sussex field (meadow, pasture etc.) names in Wilding by Isabella Tree [Is a bell a tree?]. It’s worth reading apart from that too.

  12. David Marjanović says

    What strikes me is how often /k/ turns into [x] – finally and intervocalically, where he come counts as intervocalic. Initial /k/ surfaces as [kx] at least once.

    The alternation of by Jesus and by the fuck reminds me of the Polish alternation of o Jezu and o kurwa.

  13. Crowdsourced projects for Irish field names and other “minor placenames”.

    “how often John said “Ned” during the conversation. Perhaps this is more a sociological characteristic than a linguistic one. If I were talking to a friend, and there was no one else on the scene” — there was a third person, the filmmaker Michael Fortune. My impressions is that such repetition of the name at intervals is a tic a fair few Irish people (mostly men?) have, when talking not with a friend but with a friendly acquaintance; it strikes me as an awkward attempt to reduce social distance.

  14. I think Geordies turn a lot of single-syllable words into doubles

    So do U.S. Southerners, of course. When my mother-in-law called to her daughter as a child, she generally made her name “Gay-le”, and of course Gayle is a variant spelling of Gale (her father was a meteorologist).

  15. Andrej Bjelaković says

    Of course, there’s a difference between a very wide diphthong (still one syllable), and a proper two-syllable, i.e. two vowel sequence.

  16. Of course, there’s a difference between a very wide diphthong (still one syllable), and a proper two-syllable, i.e. two vowel sequence.

    There is? I would think the one shades into the other, as on a spectrum. Is there really a clear distinction?

  17. David Marjanović says

    In languages like English that don’t take syllables all that seriously, it’s a spectrum.

  18. there’s a difference between a very wide diphthong (still one syllable), and a proper two-syllable,

    There’s a characteristic of New Zealand English I’ve always taken to come from Irish. (But Geordie?)

    ‘fill-um’ = film. ‘know-en’ = known.

    It appears where there’s a final consonant cluster in the spelling; but more typically a dipthong+final consonant in BrE RP.

    Gay-le ? Do you mean ‘Gay-el’?

  19. Yes. But the spelling Gayle is conventional.

  20. The spelling is conventional, but not much help as an indication of pronunciation — I was confused too.

  21. I grew up 30 km from Kilmuckridge, further inland in Wexford, and my father (born 1945) and brother (born 1986) speak much as John does. I don’t, more’s the pity; it’s not practical to move the 100 km to Dublin to study with that accent, and there remain contexts where that level of swearing will épater la bourgeoisie. Some thoughts on the accent and dialect, after having been home for Christmas:

    — The vocabulary that is characteristic of it is mostly archaic regional Germanic (mostly English, some old Norse), there’s very little that is Gaelic. This contrasts with what I would have come across with my mother’s family in Kerry. The specific words that occur to me are to yean [jeːn], to lamb; haggard, a back-yard; sprong meaning prong, fork, though I’m sure there are more.

    — Phonology I): /θ/ and /ð/ are completely absent, which absence I thought when I was younger was from Irish. But no, those are completely absent in innner-city Dublin, too, and the English of Dublin is ultimately from L1 settlers. Are there documented accents in England with those phonemes absent?

    — Phonology II): There are lots of pre-great-vowel-shift vowels. ‘Quare’ is just pre-GVS ‘queer’, ‘Jaysus’ is pre-GVS ‘Jesus’, my father says [leːn tu] for ‘lean-to,’ ‘begod’ is a pre-GVS ‘by God,’ and so on.

    — Phonology III): Word-final /t/ is often [h], which is not astonishing, /t/ is an aspirated consonant, but it is something that I haven’t come across anywhere else, so if you hear that, you can place someone to the south-east of Ireland (or specific towns in Newfoundland) with some certainty.

    — Diachrony I): From the perspective of this video, I am lucky to live and work in the area of the East Donegal plantation, dealing every day with farm labourers and farmers and others who are unlikely to rush to adopt every new way of speaking that might not even last the next two generations. The plantation of Ulster is well-documented and we have good dates; the Germanic-speakers arrived in the 1600s. The vocabulary here is remarkably close to standard English. I’ve come across people who had some surprise that a non-local would be comfortable with ‘jag’ meaning ‘prick, barb’ and Pakistani doctors have trouble with ‘fractious’ from the midwives regarding a baby, which is to be honest the Pakistani doctors’ issue, the word is reasonably standard.

    — Diachrony II): The pre-GVS vowels and the definitely-pre-Ulster-plantation vocabulary suggest the English of the area is Renaissance or earlier. Given that colonised areas tend to end up with a linguistically more-homogenised, more-progressive, more-standardised koiné (cf. Québec speaking standard French long before France did, the homogeneity of Spanish America vs. even Andalucía), I wonder is the English of the area from the time of Strongbow, late 12th century. There’s no other historical event that quite fits.

  22. Comments on the comments;

    — mollymooly is right, ‘going sturdy and all’

    — I notice the ingressive ‘yes’ as a marked feature for the first time today, reading these comments, which I suppose means I have been using it all my adult life without realising it stood out!

    — JW Brewer, yes, likely related to Yola, but the documentation of Yola places it in Forth and Bargy, a long way (at the time, and in the political situation) from Kilmuckridge.

    — Repeating your interlocutor’s name is a good habit in general, speak to anyone who does sales for a living!

    — David Marjanović, no-one except primary school teachers teaching Irish and the occasional Pole, who has probably left, judging by the corresponding population figures in Donegal, troubles themselves too much about [x], more’s the pity.

  23. Yean on LH.

    And just because Yola was recorded in Forth and Bargy doesn’t mean that it was confined to there. Something very like it was probably the home language of the Old English throughout the Pale of Settlement.

    And as for the GVS, it is almost in living memory that Irish people everywhere were saying quare, dacent, tay, mate (for meat, but not meet). The shift was not a point event: it took centuries even in England, much less elsewhere, and has never affected back vowels at all in Scots, hence hoose for house. What is more, break, steak, great have resisted the GVS in all forms of English, and may fairly be called borrowings from Hiberno-English. Thus Boswell’s Life:

    BOSWELL. ‘It may be of use, Sir, to have a Dictionary to ascertain the pronunciation.’

    JOHNSON. ‘Why, Sir, my Dictionary shows you the accents of words, if you can but remember them.’

    BOSWELL. ‘But, Sir, we want marks to ascertain the pronunciation of the vowels. Sheridan, I believe, has finished such a work.’

    JOHNSON. ‘Why, Sir, consider how much easier it is to learn a language by the ear, than by any marks. Sheridan’s Dictionary may do very well; but you cannot always carry it about with you: and, when you want the word, you have not the Dictionary. It is like a man who has a sword that will not draw. It is an admirable sword, to be sure: but while your enemy is cutting your throat, you are unable to use it.

    Besides, Sir, what entitles Sheridan to fix the pronunciation of English? He has, in the first place, the disadvantage of being an Irishman: and if he says he will fix it after the example of the best company, why, they differ among themselves. I remember an instance: when I published the Plan for my Dictionary, Lord Chesterfield told me that the word great should be pronounced so as to rhyme to state; and Sir William Yonge sent me word that it should be pronounced so as to rhyme to seat, and that none but an Irishman would pronounce it grait. Now here were two men of the highest rank, the one, the best speaker in the House of Lords, the other, the best speaker in the House of Commons, differing entirely.’

  24. Chesterfield was from London. Yonge was from Devon.

  25. David Marjanović says

    — Repeating your interlocutor’s name is a good habit in general, speak to anyone who does sales for a living!

    Some audiences find it gets really annoying really soon, as if you were trying to remind people of their names on a constant basis.

    What is more, break, steak, great have resisted the GVS in all forms of English, and may fairly be called borrowings from Hiberno-English.

    Perhaps. But ea, [ɛː] before the GVS, was [eː] for quite some time after the FACE vowel had become [eɪ̯]; for some speakers, these two sounds had apparently merged completely, or maybe there was a near-merger – there are contemporary works that insisted they were pronounced the same. It’s not surprising that three words crossed over and we can now abolish the sale of grated cheese in order to make America grate again.

  26. Another version of the story puts Chesterfield on the greet side and William “Single Speech” Hamilton, an “Irishman born in London” (as George Canning called himself), on the grait side. That’s rather more plausible than Johnson’s (or Boswell’s).

    “Hearing the Great Vowel Shift”.

    In the North of England there are a couple of varieties where where ME /ɛː/ has split. Sometimes the diphthong appears only before lost /x/, so that weight is /weɪ̯t/ but wait is /weːt/. But in other places words with original long vowels like team < OE tēam and cream < OF creme have /ɪə/, while those which had an original short vowel that underwent open syllable lengthening in Middle English like eat and meat have /ɛɪ/.

  27. Final -ea is usually FACE in Irish proper names, e.g. Loughrea, Roscrea, Castlerea[gh], Coolea, O’Shea, O’Hea.

  28. David Marjanović says

    …Good to know. I had no idea.

  29. As my father used to sing:

    She’s got rings on her fingers, bells on her toes
    Elephants to ride upon those little old Irish roads
    Go to your neighbor next St. Paddy’s day
    Be Mr. Jeebo-Jittybo-Jumbo-Jay

    This has been substantially altered by the folk process: the original lyrics were copyrighted in 1909, when my father was five years old. At least they explain what elephants are doing in the Emerald Isle (they aren’t).

    Harold Shea, a 1950s American psychologist and alternate-universe traveler in a series of stories by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt (and other authors later), finds himself one day in the world of the Orlando Furioso. He’s looking for his kidnapped wife Belphoebe from the Faerie Queene, and the two worlds are congruent — she’s Belphegor there. When one of the Saracens asks Shea what his name is, he replies “Sir Harold Shea” (he was knighted by Queen Gloriana), which is heard as “Sir Harr al-Sheikh”. Says the Muslim lord (a renegade, actually): “Hear now a wonder, he bears both Muslim and Nazarene titles!” Shea replies, “I inherited it. Border family, you know.” So he eats bread and salt with the Muslims and is called “Harr” after that.

    (Not linking to TVTropes, but Harold Shea is there.)

  30. You can hear Ada Jones in a 1909 recording of “I’ve Got Rings On My Fingers” here.

  31. January First-of-May says

    Harold Shea

    The Russian translators must not have been aware of this peculiarity of Irish names, since he is, predictably, Гарольд Ши.

  32. Raymond Chandler had characters named Duryea, Vermilyea, and maybe others. He must have liked the sound of them. I do too.

  33. The Russian translators must not have been aware of this peculiarity of Irish names, since he is, predictably, Гарольд Ши.

    I remember having a bit of an argument on about the proper rendering of Jamie Shea sometime in the mid-2000s. I’d heard it from the horse’s mouth (“I’m is Jamie Shea of …”) and so said it must be Шей, but I’m not sure I was able to convince the other party.

  34. John Cowan: “And as for the GVS, it is almost in living memory that Irish people everywhere were saying quare, dacent, tay, mate (for meat, but not meet).”

    Almost? I should introduce you to my mother-in-law. And much of the rest of my husband’s family, some younger than myself. We are moving to Lifford next year (as soon as the paperwork is sorted) to be just across the border from them.

  35. speedwell, JC said Irish people everywhere, which isn’t to deny there are communities where it’s still current. And he’ll correct me if I’m wrong, but I guess he means “at least some people in every part of the country”, not “everyone everywhere” as I first read it. It’s plausible under the first interpretation, not really the second.

  36. Breffni: Exactly, and thanks to you and Speedwell for pointing out the ambiguities in what I wrote.

  37. Are, eg, /’miəz/ for ‘maze’ and /’jiəl/ for ‘jail’ exclusively Ulster speech?

  38. I think “quare” and “queer” have diverged in meaning by now, or at least they’ve become confined to different senses. Nobody would talk about getting a PhD in Quare Studies, even when reverting to the vernacular back home at Christmas. Then there’s the fixed phrase “auld dacency”, which I always thought meant old-school courtesy, generosity, etc. But apparently it specifically refers to the trappings of the Anglo-Irish gentry, especially in the expression “relics of auld dacency”. (“Auld” has the MOUTH vowel, incidentally.)

    Juha: that seems about right, though some Ulster accents, Cavan and Monaghan for example, are quite different. I’d associate the pronunciations you give mainly with Belfast, maybe Derry. Or maybe those are just the ones I hear most.

  39. Thanks!

  40. I never thought that the misconception that armagnac is a contraction of armyanskiy konyak was so widespread. I’ve heard it from a few people.

    BTW, is Chateau Du Tariquet 1993 Bas Armagnac any good?

  41. I can’t find any specific confirmation, but surely this is one of those Gaulish words in -acum that became -ac in the South, -y in the North.

  42. And -ey or -ay in the middle.

  43. So Armani is the northern version of Armagnac?

  44. David Marjanović says

    And -ch in the east.

  45. Irish people everywhere

    I also meant to include those in Amerikay and other such places. But not every one, of course not, even if you exclude the English people born in Ireland over the centuries.

  46. “Are, eg, /’miəz/ for ‘maze’ and /’jiəl/ for ‘jail’ exclusively Ulster speech?”

    They’re also West Coast Scots. “Jie” (rhymes with “why”) for the letter J, as well. Also “ile” for “oil”.

  47. PlasticPaddy says

    I think the phonetic transcription is for a pronunciation closer to meeze than mize (that is the one I recognise from NI). The ile/oil is one that annoys Dubliners in suboptimal takeoffs of their accent. They don’t say oil for I’ll☺ the initial sound is more like a schwa ending in a glottal stop.

  48. The traditional non-rhotic NYC accent merges not only CHOICE but NURSE into [ʌi̯], causing most other anglophones to hear CHOICE as NURSE (erster ‘oyster’), and NURSE as CHOICE (toid ‘third’).

  49. Similarly, Canadians are annoyed by the “aboot” imitation.

  50. John Cowan says

    Nobody would talk about getting a PhD in Quare Studies

    Well, one can now, ever since the publication of E. Patrick Johnson’s 2010 paper (he is a black American, not Irish except perhaps very remotely) “Quare” studies, or (almost) everything I know about queer studies I learned from my grandmother. It begins with some quotations and what purports to be a dictionary definition, but the paper proper begins as follows:

    I am going out on a limb. This is a precarious position, but the stakes are high
    enough to warrant risky business. The business to which I refer is reconceptualizing the still incubating discipline called queer studies. Now, what’s in a name? This is an important question when, as James Baldwin proclaims in the titles of two of his works, I have ‘‘no name in the street’’ or, worse still, ‘‘nobody knows my name’’ (emphasis added). I used to answer to ‘‘queer,’’ but when I was hailed by that naming, interpellated in that moment, I felt as if I was being called ‘‘out of my name.’’ [by a name I don’t acknowledge, general Southern and AAVE usage]/ I needed something with more ‘‘soul,’’ more ‘‘bang,’’ something closer to ‘‘home.’’ It is my name after all!

    Then I remembered how ‘‘queer’’ is used in my family. My grandmother, for example, used it often when I was a child and still uses it today. When she says the word, she does so in a thick, black, southern dialect: ‘‘That sho’ll is a quare chile.’’ Her use of ‘‘queer’’ is almost always nuanced. Still, one might wonder, what, if anything, could a poor, black, eighty-something, southern, homophobic woman teach her educated, middle-class, thirty-something, gay grandson about queer studies? Everything. Or almost everything.

    On the one hand, my grandmother uses ‘‘quare’’ to denote something or someone who is odd, irregular, or slightly off kilter—definitions in keeping with traditional understandings and uses of ‘‘queer.’’ On the other hand, she also deploys ‘‘quare’’ to connote something excessive— something that might philosophically translate into an excess of discursive and epistemological meanings grounded in African American cultural rituals and lived experience. Her knowing or not knowing vis-a`-vis ‘‘quare’’ is predicated on her own ‘‘multiple and complex social, historical, and cultural positionality’’ (Henderson 147). It is this culture-specific positionality that I find absent from the dominant and more conventional usage of ‘‘queer,’’ particularly in its most recent theoretical reappropriation in the academy.

    Then there is a discussion of Irish quare with a suggestion that black Americans picked it up from Irish immigrants, which I omit, and the Lacanian’s Lament:

    ‘Quare,’’ on the other hand, not only speaks across identities, it articulates identities as well. ‘‘Quare’’ offers a way to critique stable notions of identity and, at the same time, to locate racialized and class knowledges. My project is one of recapitulation and recuperation. I want to maintain the inclusivity and playful spirit of ‘‘queer’’ that animates much of queer theory, but I also want to jettison its homogenizing tendencies. As a disciplinary expansion, then, I wish to ‘‘quare’’ ‘‘queer’’ such that ways of knowing are viewed both as discursively mediated and as historically situated and materially conditioned. This reconceptualization foregrounds the ways in which lesbians, bisexuals, gays, and transgendered people of color come to sexual and racial knowledge. Moreover, quare studies acknowledges the different ‘‘standpoints’’ found among lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgendered people of color—differences that are also conditioned by class and gender.

    Sheesh, the three laws of academia at work (poverty, bibliography, and jargon). I do like the fifth definition, however: “quare is to queer as reading [in the academic sense, I suppose] is to throwing shade“. The concept has become semi-popular, I think; the Urban Dictionary entry for it is “A formulation of queer theory with attention given to race and class. Most current formulations of queer theory either ignore the categories of race and class altogether or theorize their effects in discursive rather than material terms. To suture that gap, “quare” studies as a vernacular rearticulation and deployment of queer theory accommodates racialized sexual knowledge”, which seems to be on all fours with Johnson.

  51. David Eddyshaw says

    There’s nothing like a bit of intersectionality on a rainy evening, I find.

  52. I wish to ‘‘quare’’ ‘‘queer’’

    I approve of this succinctly formulated ambition, though I deprecate the jargon-sogged pudding in which it is embedded.

  53. John Cowan says

    A proper boudin rouge a la Louisianne, perhaps.

  54. David Marjanović says

    C’est pour nous que le boudin grille !
    C’est pour nous qu’on l’a conservé !
    C’est pour nous qu’on l’a conservé !

  55. It was only recently that I discovered the shea of “shea butter” is (often) not pronounced /ʃeɪ/ like the Irish name “Shea”. This was when I heard /ʃi/, which cursory research suggests is closer to the Bambara etymon. I see Collins gives /ˈʃɪə/ (like “sheer” and unlike “idea”, in Collins’ nonrhotic RP). All of which would have been avoided if it had been spelt “shee butter”.

  56. Yes, that’s one of the more annoying spellings in a language full of annoying spellings.

  57. David Marjanović says

    Unlike “idea” in RP?

  58. John Cowan says

    That depends on whether by “RP” you mean a fixed (ca. 1850) or a moving-with-the-times accent. The OED2 specifies aɪˈdiːə, which is a trisyllable; the OED3 and other BrE dictionaries use aɪˈdiə, with a centering diphthong, but Collins is still trisyllabic. (In AmE dictionaries it is given as trisyllabic, which agrees with my own accent.)

    Wikt’s entry for shea (butter) lists all of /ʃi/, /ʃeɪ/, /ʃi.ə/, /ʃɪə/, and AHD5 lists the first two; /ʃeɪ/ is presumably a spelling pronunciation. Interestingly, the earliest citation from the OED (and the only one in Wikt) from 1799 both spell it Shea, as if a proper noun. I wonder what Mungo Park was thinking. (One thing he was thinking was that the Niger was the upstream portion of the Congo, a view now abandoned by geographers but still held by many linguists.)

    Speaking of trisyllabism, the Wiktionary logo tells us that Wiktionary is trisyllabic, but I defiantly [sic] pronounce it as a quadrisyllable. (I write “[sic]” because nowadays most instances of defiantly are miscorrections of definately [sic].)

  59. I’d feel like a poseur if I tried to use trisyllabic “Wiktionary.”

  60. I beg your pardon. It’s pentasyllabic. Wick-ti-o-nary.

  61. David Marjanović says

    One thing he was thinking was that the Niger was the upstream portion of the Congo, a view now abandoned by geographers but still held by many linguists.

    You win 1 (one) internets made of cookies.

  62. John Cowan says

    I see that I have made this joke before. The question of whether the Japanese believed in the late 19C that the Niger-Congo is in Asia or that tigers are in Africa remains open.

Speak Your Mind