Sheela-na-Gig aka Jeanne Rathbone

‘Irish’ English

Posted in 'Irish' English by sheelanagigcomedienne on August 23, 2012

I loved Marian Keyes ‘s tribute to Mave Binchy in MY HERO in Guardian Review 4th August.My hero: Maeve Binchy by Marian Keyes | Books | The Guardian 

Marian herself is one of Maeve’s honourable successors. I met Marian in the early nineties in London through one of her friends, Anne Marie, who  was attending a women only comedy course I was running. I recall going to her’ farewell’ do in London as she returned to Ireland after the success of her first novel Watermelon. I knew she was battling with her demons.

It very much resonated with me particularly her take on  ‘Irish’ English and the way many of us Irish girls growing up in Ireland wanted to leave which is, in part, a rejection of Ireland and Irishness as it was back then. But, as I have said before, I now know that much of the blame for Ireland becoming an inward looking, under-developed, narrow minded, begrudging Catholic partitioned state was due to our colonial inheritance and wish to create an Irish identy and to shake of the yoke of British imperialism which had lasted for hundreds a of years.

Indeed, there is a lot more to be said on Irish women’s experiences of life in Ireland and in the diaspora. The parallels between Maeve and Marian’s experiences are obvious as both were married to supportive husbands, childfree and novelists living in Ireland after a soujorn in London. Although wikipedia states  She is regarded as a pioneer of the ‘chick-lit‘  I think this is biased and sexist pigeon-holing. As has been said by others she is the equal of Roddy Doyle but is not so regarded. When he writes about the experiences of Irish women which include domestic violence etc.  He certainly won’t be accused of writing ‘chicklit’. It is a term that we should, of course, boycott. ( Boycott is a word dervied from the Irish experiences of exploitation at the hands of the British!)

However, in all the outpouring of love and praise for Maeve, one thing has been missed: I think she rescued “Irish” English. “Irish” English is very different from “English” English. The words are English (most of the time) but they’ve been attached to the template of the older language we spoke. “Irish” English moves to a unique, euphonious rhythm. As a result our sentences sound different. Not in a way that’s easily identifiable when you’re in casual conversation, but they’re longer, more curlicued, oddly constructed and very beautiful.

Many nations use language simply to convey information, but it’s different in Ireland. With most conversational exchanges you get an “added extra” like the free little biscuit you sometimes get with a cappuccino in a fancy coffee place.

When I was growing up, I despised Irishness. I felt our music, our television and our books were just poor imitations of what came out of Britain and America. I was all set to abandon it entirely. Then Maeve started writing her “Irish” English novels, and as far as I’m concerned she saved an entire language from extinction.

On a personal note about ‘Irish’ English I must add that the night I met Dave at my sister Marie’s flat I was in a discussion with her about this- specifically speaking about the way that we want to use the Irish present continuous when we speak English – we want to say ‘do be doing’ and our frustration with the lack of a distinction between plural and singular for the word you in English.  We don’t have yes and no equivalents and we can easily say Amn’t I.  Apparently, this fascinated and impressed Dave.

We do need a treatise on ‘Irish’ English and why such a small country can produce such great literature and Nobel prizewinners for literature ! Here is a useful link.Hiberno-English – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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