Episode 267: March 15, 2012
Happy St. Patrick's Day! To help you get closer to your Irish heritage or simply celebrate as if you were Irish, I’ve asked Benny Lewis to help us speak English like the Irish.
How to Speak English Like the Irish
Benny is an Irish polyglot I met at BlogWorld who travels the globe while helping people learn new languages.
Why Do the Irish Speak Like That?
Despite there not really being a single Irish accent, there are commonalities that stem from a combination of factors, the most important being that just a few generations ago, “Irish Gaelic” (Gaeilge) was the dominant language of the country. Even though fewer people use Gaelic these days, its influence on their English is huge.
How to Sound Irish
English grammar is pretty consistent, but the standard spoken form in Ireland takes on a life of its own.
For example, rather than rely on "to have just done" for a recently completed action, we would say "to be after doing." For example, instead of saying “I’ve just found a Euro on the road!” an Irish speaker would say “I'm after finding a Euro on the road!”
Why Don’t the Irish Use “Yes” and “No”?
Another interesting influence from Irish Gaelic is its absolute lack of the words “yes” and “no,” so when our ancestors were speaking English as a second language, they would speak English as they would speak Gaelic--without these words!
Although international English influences mean young people do this less nowadays, a lot of us Irish still simply don't use these words. In the Irish language (and in other languages, like Thai, for example), the issue is resolved by simply repeating the verb of the question. Can you swim? I can! Do you like tomato juice? I don't. Are you coming? I amn't.
Yes you read that right: amn't. It’s a contraction of “am not.” This is one I'm surprised other English speakers don't use! You say “isn't,” “don't,” and “aren't.” “Amn’t” is logical if you ask me!
Singular and Plural “You”
Also, come on rest-of-the-English-speaking-world. One word word for both singular and plural “you”? What were ye (pronounced “yee”) thinking? Like pretty much every other language in the world, Irish Gaelic has a word for addressing one person (“tú”) [too] and a word for addressing a group of people (“sibh”) [shiv]. So when we speak English, we keep the handy separation. “We say “ye,” “yis,” or even “yous” (depending on the part of the country) to speak to a group of people, and “ya” to speak to one person.
What Are Some Irish Phrases?
How about some fun phrases?
Story? Don't give out about your man! Where's the yoke?
These are very common things you would hear from an Irish person, but sadly I've had to water down my English over the years to be understood when abroad and avoid such interesting words.
“Story?” or “What's the story?” Is a translation of the Irish “Aon scéal?” or “Cad é an scéal?”--where "story" means "news." In other words, “What's going on?” or “What's up?” It’s usually used as a greeting. The more rural of us prefer "How's she cuttin’?" (“She” being used in Ireland more than in other places for inanimate objects.)
“To give out” has nothing to do with distributing leaflets. This is from the Irish “tabhairt amach” and means “to complain.” This is another phrase that Irish people are always surprised to hear isn't international!
"Your man" is a nice avoidance technique for not using someone's name. It is usually clear from the context who you're taking about, and the "your" definitely can't be taken literally, he may have no connection whatsoever to you and even be a complete stranger (although a close friend is just as likely). If we’re talking about a woman, she’s “your one.” “Don’t give out about your one,” for example, if you’re telling someone to stop complaining about Lady Gaga.
“Yoke” is a synonym for "thing" and usually refers to something that we may not be too familiar with and don’t know the actual name of. It’s like “thingamajig” and “watchamacallit,” but we use it way more often.
Then, of course, there are Irish words that we use even when speaking English. The most famous of these is “craic,” which means "fun" or “enjoyment,” but is also used to ask how things are: “How's the craic?” “Any craic?”
The Lovely Accent
Our Irish accent is what really sets us apart from the pack though!
Other English speakers have this strange thing they do where they put their tongue between their teeth and blow a buff of air over the tongue. They call it the “th” sound.
We do away with that unpleasant noise in Ireland! To us, the “th” sound is simply replaced with a “t” (unvoiced) or a “d” (voiced). So do ya see de tirty tree and a tird trees over dere? Dat's roy! Sounds way better, doesn't it?
My friends across the pond (both the Atlantic and the Irish Sea) seem to love putting consonants together that never belonged next to one another in the first place--l and m, for example. How can you say these so quickly at the end of a word? It's totally unnecessary! So to us Irish, a film is pronounced “fill-um.” The Irish name Colm has two syllables, “Coll-um.”
Further, you end words in hard consonants! It's like an abrupt and unexpected car crash! Let's take things easy shall we? The “t” at the end of the word “right” is softened almost to a “sh” sound in the Emerald Isle, or even done away with altogether in North Dublin, and pronounced “roy.”
We also "ch" up our t's and "j" up our d's in certain words. So the second day of the week is “Chooseday”; a tube is a “choob.” “Due” (d-u-e) is pronounced just like “jew” (j-e-w).
And if you are spelling words for us, instead of imitating a pirate when you get to the 18th letter (aaaarrrrgh!), just say it like “or” please.
This article is only a small summary of the many differences between Irish English and other brands of English, but hopefully it explains why we Irish sound so charming when we speak. So, soften your consonants, "trow" away your 'th's, and stop giving out that you don't understand us.
Fluent in 3 Months
Benny Lewis runs the Fluent in 3 Months website where you can learn more about Irish, follow his travels, watch his videos, and buy his Language Hacking Guide to help you quickly learn any of 21 different languages.
Mignon Fogarty is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips podcast network and the author of Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing and The Grammar Devotional.