An introduction to Irish English

An introduction to Irish English. By Carolina P. Amador-Moreno. (Equinox textbooks and surveys in linguistics.) London: Equinox, 2010. Pp. xi, 191. ISBN 9781845533717. $28.

Reviewed by Mark J. Elson, University of Virginia

This textbook comprises nine chapters, which may be grouped thematically as background (Ch. 1, ‘Some key notions’; Ch. 2, ‘The history of the English language in Ireland’), structure (Ch. 3, ‘The grammar of Irish English’; Ch. 5, ‘The sounds of Irish English’), lexicon and usage (Ch. 4, ‘The vocabulary of Irish English’; Ch. 6, ‘Fictional representations of Irish English’; Ch. 7, ‘Meaning what they say: The pragmatics of Irish English’), and applied (Ch. 8, ‘Searching corpora for data’; Ch. 9, ‘Implications for EFL teachers and learners’). The chapters are followed by a list of references and an index. Many will like the interpolation of the author’s personal experiences with Irish English, but others may find it disruptive, viewing footnotes as a more appropriate location for anecdotal information of a personal nature.

Carolina P. Amador-Moreno describes her book as a starting point for those interested in the subject matter (viii), pointing out that the features she presents as characteristic of Irish English may be attested in other varieties. This seems especially true in the chapter on pragmatics, where virtually all of the features will be familiar, at least for optional use, to speakers of other varieties. The discussion throughout is clear and uncomplicated, generally devoid of issues of theory, and amply supplemented by relevant interactive activities. Throughout, the narrative presents a good introductory survey of the source material. The discussion of fictional representations is especially good. The weak point of the book is the discussion of structure, divided between the chapters on grammar and sound. The chapter on grammar is stronger, combining aspects of history and synchrony. The chapter on sounds is less structured, proceeding as if the reader had background in English phonology and phonetics (i.e. knowledge of the system of phones and phonemes). The author relates Irish English phones to those of Standard English (e.g. Received Pronunciation) and other varieties as they are attested in spellings. Thus, Irish English is not treated as a system in its own right, but as a set of deviations from Standard English. For example, we read that Irish English has no h dropping (77), a quasi-historical statement meaning that we find /h/ among the consonant phonemes of Irish English, although not always among those of other varieties. A more system-oriented approach relying on phonetics rather than phonemes would have been preferable.

In connection with Received Pronunciation, the author takes the questionable position (especially apparent in the concluding chapter) that it provides the phonological standard of English. She comments on difficulties encountered by those who want to learn Irish English and other varieties, which she views as phonologically non-standard. However, she notes correctly that some of the so-called non-standard varieties have become important (152). This is not the place to pursue the point in detail, but some varieties indisputably have their own standard, rendering comparison to Received Pronunciation little more than an exercise. In the case of Irish English, this comparison is perhaps motivated due to the geographical proximity of the two varieties. However, the choice in today’s world is not whether to learn Received Pronunciation or a non-standard phonology, but which of the various standard phonologies and grammars to learn.