for-irish

Doo Bee Dooby Doo

The Irish language has influenced how Irish people speak English in a number of famous ways.

1.

In rural areas, people say “I do be going to the shops of a Wednesday”, meaning “I go to the shops every Wednesday”. In Irish, there are two present tenses, one meaning something that’s happening right now, and another meaning something that’s happening in an ongoing sense.

If you say “I’m happy”, no one knows if this is an anomaly or an enviable life situation. In Irish, you have to choose. There is no way to express this in English, so they break it down into “I do be happy” (regularly) and “I’m happy” (for the moment but don’t get comfortable). 

Something that has happened in the very recent past is indicated by using the form: present tense of “to be” + “after” + verb. “I’m after hurting myself” means “I’ve just hurt myself”. 

2.

Irish people often have a hard time giving simple “Yes” or “No” answers, not because they are congenitally shifty, but because there is no simple “Yes” or “No” in the Irish language. There are only positive and negative forms of the verb. The question “Are you happy?” is as likely to be answered with “I am” as the otherwise more common “Yes”.

3.

Irish people of a certain stripe have a famous difficulty with pronouncing the th sound so beloved of the English. There are two th sounds in English: the soft th, such as you might find in words like “the” or “breathe”; and the hard th, such as you might find in words like “thought” and “breath”.

For an English soft th, these Irish people will pronounce a d instead, giving “de” and “breede” in the above examples, and for an English hard th, Irish people will pronounce a t instead, giving “tawt” and “bret” in the above examples.

The Irish language does not have a th sound at all. However, it does have a messy half-way-between sound in words like taoiseach, which would be pronounced “DTHEE-shockh”, where the initial consonant is closer to what English people might say in “width” to distinguish it from “with”. English efforts to pronounce this sound are a consistent source of amusement to any Irish person who listens to BBC Radio 4.

There are many other examples, but t(h)ree is enough for the moment, I should t(h)ink. The next time I do a post like this, I’ll talk about the prodigious swearing of my people. Until then, feck off.