Irish English

When Patricia and I attended the three-day “Carnivale Christi 2005” at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, we had the pleasure of listening to Francesco de Vito, who played Peter in Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of the Christ”, give an insider’s view of “The Passion” in one of the earlier sessions entitled ‘Inside the Passion’. Not only was what he had to say extremely interesting but also the way he said it in his very expressive and fascinating Italian accent. We didn’t need to know who he was in order to be able to identify his accent. It is a fact that most people learning a foreign language tend to apply the sounds of their native language to the new language. It is this that gives us French, Spanish, German and Russian accents.

The Irish, similarly, have applied the sounds of their native Irish language to English and it is this that gives us an Irish accent. The term ‘brogue’, itself an Irish word, was used in the past to refer to the Irish accent in a connotatively demeaning and belittling sense by the British press and its supporters. To-day, however, because of improved education, it has lost most of this type of connotation.

There are many definitions of language but the one that comes closest to the mark defines language as a system of vocal symbols or sounds stored in the minds of members of a particular speech community. It is conventional and orally based. Each member of the group approximates the system of his fellow members, and communication depends entirely on this agreement established by custom and practice. The spoken word is the primary form of language, and despite claims to the contrary man is the only creature to have a sufficiently varied sound system and the intelligence to modify this system into agreed or conventional patterns of language, and the ability to pass it on to his descendants. We are not born with language - it is not instinctive – but we are born with the mechanism for using it. The variety of languages and indeed the variety within any one language show that man has a great part to play in shaping his speech. For this reason, spoken language is always in a state of flux with changes to all aspects of it taking place. Over a period of time, these changes are quite noticeable and significant and usually go hand and hand with the changes that impact on our way of life.