What is the ‘best’ English to speak?
Some countries have formal institutions which lay down rules stating what version or dialect of a language is considered the most correct. There are many regional variations of English but there is no one organisation or body that decides what ‘standard English’ is in the way that, for example, the French Academy decides what ‘standard’ French is.
Have you learned more British or American English? Which do you prefer or think is most useful? Is it possible to say that one is better?
Here are some examples of differences between American and British English in vocabulary, spelling and grammar.
Can you think of any other differences?
How did Irish people start speaking English?
For much of the period of English political control in Ireland, stretching back to the twelfth century, Irish or Gaeilge remained the main spoken language in most parts of Ireland. It was not until the mid-nineteenth century that English began replacing Irish as the majority language.
The native Irish language was the most important influence on how English is used in Ireland. Many features of Irish English today, in vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation, which differ from ‘standard’ British English, can be traced to the influences of the native Irish tongue that were carried over into the new language.
Psychologically, the shift from Irish to English, the language of the colonising British force, left the Irish people with a very ambivalent attitude towards the new language. Irish people often sought to adapt English to the culture and identity of Ireland, incorporating Gaelic words, structures and expressions. This inventiveness in engaging with the language can still be seen today in Irish literature and comedy and generally in how Irish people express themselves.
Read the six facts about the Irish language below. Which one surprises you the most?
Six Facts About the Irish Language
- Irish has no words for ‘yes’ and ‘no’. Instead, we repeat the verb used in the question. You will hear often hear Irish people answer questions in this way in English – ‘Are you working hard?’ ‘I am.’
- In Irish we use ‘after + …ing’ for a recently completed action. (‘Tá mé tar éis…’)
- In Irish, there are different words for ‘you singular’ and ‘you plural’. (‘Tu’ & ‘Sibh’)
- There is no verb ‘to have’ in Irish. For possession, we would use ‘to be’ + ‘with me’ or ‘on me’. (‘Tá … agam/orm’)
- The use of ‘bring’ and ‘take’ is decided by the person saying it rather than the direction. (‘Beir’ &‘Tóg’)
- The verb ‘to be’ has two different present tenses, for ‘things that are generally true’ (‘Tá sé’) and for ‘habitual actions’ (‘Bíonn sé’). The ‘habitual action’ tense can be roughly translated as ‘do be doing’.
How many of the colloquial constructions in Irish English below could you link to six features of the Irish language above? Can you change the sentences into ‘standard English’?
- I’m doing it wrong, amn’t I?
- Where’s me mobile? It was on me a minute ago.
- What does he be doing up there in his room?
- Damn! I’m after losing my keys.
- What are ye doing for the weekend?
- Don’t forget to bring your umbrella with you when you leave.‘Is he coming home soon?’ ‘He is.’
- Youse don’t understand anything.
Have you ever heard an Irish person use any of these words of constructions when they’re speaking?
Of course, when I asked you if you preferred British English or American English, I’m sure you realised that the correct answer was ‘Neither!’ Obviously the best form of English is Hiberno or Irish English. But you knew that.
What have you noticed anything about Irish English that makes it different? Usually, one of the first things people notice about Irish English is pronunciation. Three pronunciation characteristics people often pick up on are:
- The Irish ‘u’ sound in the pronunciation of ‘Dublin’ or ‘Thanks very much.’
- The omission of ‘h’ in ‘th’ at the beginning of a word – ‘three’ becomes ‘tree’.
- The soft ‘sh’ pronunciation of the ‘t’ sound at the end of a word – as immortalised in Irish fiction by Ross O’Carroll Kelly pronouncing ‘right’ as ‘roysh’.
What’s your favourite accent or dialect in your own language?