The dialects of Irish: Study of a changing landscape

The dialects of Irish: Study of a changing landscape. By Raymond Hickey. (Trends in linguistics: Studies and monographs 230.) Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton, 2011. Pp. xi, 508. ISBN 9783110238044. $168 (Hb). Includes DVD.

Reviewed by David Elton Gay, Bloomington, IN

In the preface to The dialects of Irish: Study of a changing landscape, Raymond Hickey writes that his book is ‘intended as an overview of present-day dialects of the Irish language for both scholars and students who interested in Irish but do not necessarily have prior experience with the language’ (v).

Irish orthography is notoriously difficult, and thus those unfamiliar with it would do well to read Appendix 2, ‘The orthography of Irish’ (392–404), before reading the rest of the book. This appendix outlines how Irish orthography works, and though it does not remove all difficulty for the newcomer, it will help the newcomer make sense of what seems to be a chaotic orthography.

The book is divided into four parts, with each part divided into further subsections for specific topics. Part 1 (1–26) is a general survey of modern Irish—who speaks it, with whom, when, and how many people now speak Irish. Part 2 (27–104) is a survey of the sound system of Irish. Here H notes that his ‘aim is to make general statements about the dialects of Irish and hence demonstrate overall phonetic patterning across the varieties of the language’ (32).

Part 3 (105–384) is a survey of the dialects themselves. The first subsection in Part 3 examines the decline of the Irish language, the problem of reconstructing the historical distribution of Irish dialects, and the formation of the dialects. This is followed by a brief subsection on the data collection for this book. There is a long subsection on the phonology of the dialects, followed by subsections on grammatical and lexical differences. The fourth subsection covers the prosody of the dialects; the fifth, reconstruction of the dialects; and the final subsection is on the sociolinguistics of the dialects.

Part 4 of the book (385–430) is composed of the appendixes. Subsections here include brief comments on the history of Irish; early studies of Irish (including the bardic tracts); early grammars of Irish; the orthography and transcription of Irish; and samples of spoken Irish, which include information on how to use the DVD that comes with the book. The book also has a very useful glossary as well as an excellent bibliography on Irish dialects.

There are a few misprints in the book, though I only noted one of significance: in example 25 (78), the pronoun sé/sí (he/she) is used in all four sample sentences, but the transcription and translation make it clear that in each of the second sample sentences sé/sí should read muid (we) instead.

The dialects of Irish: Study of a changing landscape is an excellent survey of modern Irish dialects. It will, in fact, become the standard account of the dialects of modern Irish; and it is, in general, accessible to those who do not know Irish.