English as we speak it in Ireland/VII
GRAMMAR AND PRONUNCIATION.
Shall and Will. It has been pretty clearly shown that the somewhat anomalous and complicated niceties in the English use of shall and will have been developed within the last 300 years or so. It is of course well known that our Irish popular manner of using these two particles is not in accordance with the present correct English standard; yet most of our shall-and-will Hibernianisms represent the classical usage of two or three centuries ago: so that this is one of those Irish 'vulgarisms' that are really survivals in Ireland of the correct old English usages, which in England have been superseded by other and often incorrect forms. On this point I received, some years ago, a contribution from an English gentleman who resided long in Ireland, Mr. Marlow Woollett, a man of wide reading, great culture, and sound judgment. He gives several old examples in illustration, of which one is so much to the point—in the use of will—that you might imagine the words were spoken by an Irish peasant of the present day. Hamlet says:
- 'I will win for him an (if) I can; if not I will gain nothing but my shame and the odd hits.' ('Hamlet,' Act v., scene ii.)
This (the second will) exactly corresponds with what many of us in Ireland would say now:—'I will win the race if I can; if not I will get some discredit': 'If I go without my umbrella I am afraid I will get wet.' So also in regard to shall; modern English custom has departed from correct ancient usage and etymology, which in many cases we in Ireland have retained. The old and correct sense of shall indicated obligation or duty (as in Chaucer:—'The faith I shal to God') being derived from A.S. sceal 'I owe' or 'ought': this has been discarded in England, while we still retain it in our usage in Ireland. You say to an attentive Irish waiter, 'Please have breakfast for me at 8 o'clock to-morrow morning'; and he answers, 'I shall sir.' When I was a boy I was present in the chapel of Ardpatrick one Sunday, when Father Dan O'Kennedy, after Mass, called on the two schoolmasters—candidates for a school vacancy—to come forward to him from where they stood at the lower end of the chapel; when one of them, Mat Rea, a good scholar but a terrible pedant, called out magniloquently, 'Yes, doctor, we SHALL go to your reverence,' unconsciously following in the footsteps of Shakespeare.
The language both of the waiter and of Mat Rea is exactly according to the old English usage.
- 'Lady Macbeth (to Macbeth):—Be bright and jovial among your guests to-night.
- 'Macbeth:—So shall I, love.' ('Macbeth,' Act iii. scene ii.)
- 'Second Murderer:—We shall, my lord,
- Perform what you command us.' (Ibid., Act iii. scene i.)
But the Irish waiter's answer would now seem strange to an Englishman. To him, instead of being a dutiful assent, as it is intended to be, and as it would be in England in old times, it would look too emphatic and assertive, something like as if it were an answer to a command not to do it. (Woollett.)
The use of shall in such locutions was however not universal in Shakespearian times, as it would be easy to show; but the above quotations—and others that might be brought forward—prove that this usage then prevailed and was correct, which is sufficient for my purpose. Perhaps it might rather be said that shall and will were used in such cases indifferently:—
- 'Queen:—Say to the king, I would attend his leisure
- For a few words.
- 'Servant: Madam, I will.' ('Macbeth,' Act iii. scene ii.)
Our use of shall and will prevails also in Scotland, where the English change of custom has not obtained any more than it has in Ireland. The Scotch in fact are quite as bad (or as good) in this respect as we are. Like many another Irish idiom this is also found in American society chiefly through the influence of the Irish. In many parts of Ireland they are shy of using shall at all: I know this to be the case in Munster; and a correspondent informs me that shall is hardly ever heard in Derry.
The incorrect use of will in questions in the first person singular ('Will I light the fire ma'am?' 'Will I sing you a song?'—instead of 'Shall I?') appears to have been developed in Ireland independently, and not derived from any former correct usage: in other words we have created this incorrect locution—or vulgarism—for ourselves. It is one of our most general and most characteristic speech errors. Punch represents an Irish waiter with hand on dish-cover, asking:—'Will I sthrip ma'am?'
What is called the regular formation of the past tense (in ed) is commonly known as the weak inflection:—call, called: the irregular formation (by changing the vowel) is the strong inflection:—run, ran. In old English the strong inflection appears to have been almost universal; but for some hundreds of years the English tendency is to replace strong by weak inflection. But our people in Ireland, retaining the old English custom, have a leaning towards the strong inflection, and not only use many of the old-fashioned English strong past tenses, but often form strong ones in their own way:—We use slep and crep, old English; and we coin others. 'He ruz his hand to me,' 'I cotch him stealing the turf,' 'he gother sticks for the fire,' 'he hot me on the head with his stick,' he sot down on the chair' (very common in America). Hyland, the farm manager, is sent with some bullocks to the fair; and returns. 'Well Hyland, are the bullocks sold?'—'Sowld and ped for sir.' Wor is very usual in the south for were: 'tis long since we wor on the road so late as this.' (Knocknagow.)
- 'Wor you at the fair—did you see the wonder—
- Did you see Moll Roe riding on the gander?'
E'er and ne'er are in constant use in Munster:—'Have you e'er a penny to give me sir? No, I have ne'er a penny for you this time.' Both of these are often met with in Shakespeare.
The Irish schoolmasters knew Irish well, and did their best—generally with success—to master English. This they did partly from their neighbours, but in a large measure from books, including dictionaries. As they were naturally inclined to show forth their learning, they made use, as much as possible, of long and unusual words, mostly taken from dictionaries, but many coined by themselves from Latin. Goldsmith's description of the village master with his 'words of learned length and thundering sound,' applies exactly to a large proportion of the schoolmasters of the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth century all over Ireland. You heard these words often in conversation, but the schoolmasters most commonly used them in song-writing. Here also they made free use of the classical mythology; but I will not touch on this feature, as I have treated of it, and have given specimens, in my 'Old Irish Folk Music and Songs,' pp. 200-202.
As might be expected, the schoolmasters, as well as others, who used these strange words often made mistakes in applying them; which will be seen in some of the following examples. Here is one whole verse of a song about a young lady—'The Phoenix of the Hall.'
- 'I being quite captivated and so infatuated
- I then prognosticated my sad forlorn case;
- But I quickly ruminated—suppose I was defaited,
- I would not be implicated or treated with disgrace;
- So therefore I awaited with my spirits elevated,
- And no more I ponderated let what would me befall;
- I then to her repated how Cupid had me thrated,
- And thus expostulated with The Phoenix of the Hall.'
In another verse of this song the poet tells us what he might do for the Phoenix if he had greater command of language:—
- 'Could I indite like Homer that celebrated pomer.'
One of these schoolmasters, whom I knew, composed a poem in praise of Queen Victoria just after her accession, of which I remember only two lines:—
- 'In England our queen resides with alacrity,
- With civil authority and kind urbanity.'
Another opens his song in this manner:—
- 'One morning serene as I roved in solitude,
- Viewing the magnitude of th' orient ray.
The author of the song in praise of Castlehyde speaks of
- 'The bees perfuming the fields with music';
and the same poet winds up by declaring,
- 'In all my ranging and serenading
- I met no aiquel to Castlehyde.'
Serenading here means wandering about leisurely.
The author of 'The Cottage Maid' speaks of the danger of Mercury abducting the lady, even
- 'Though an organising shepherd be her guardian';
where organising is intended to mean playing on an organ, i.e. a shepherd's reed.
But endless examples of this kind might be given.
Occasionally you will find the peasantry attempting long or unusual words, of which some examples are scattered through this chapter; and here also there are often misapplications: 'What had you for dinner to-day?' 'Oh I had bacon and goose and several other combustibles' (comestibles). I have repeatedly heard this word.
Sometimes the simple past tense is used for one of the subjunctive past forms. 'If they had gone out in their boat that night they were lost men'; i.e. 'they would have been lost men.' 'She is now forty, and 'twas well if she was married' ('it would be well').
- 'Oh Father Murphy, had aid come over, the green flag floated from shore to shore'
(i.e. would have floated). See my 'Old Irish Folk Music and Songs,' p. 242.
- 'A summons from William to Limerick, a summons to open their gate,
- Their fortress and stores to surrender, else the sword and the gun were their fate.'
- (R. D. Joyce: Ballads of Irish Chivalry, p. 15.)
See is very often used for saw:—'Did you ever see a cluricaun Molly?' 'Oh no sir, I never see one myself.' (Crofton Croker.) 'Come here Nelly, and point out the bride to us.' 'I never see her myself Miss' [so I don't know her] replied Nelly. (Knocknagow.) This is a survival from old English, in which it was very common. It is moreover general among the English peasantry at the present day, as may be seen everywhere in Dickens.
The imperative of verbs is often formed by let:—instead of 'go to the right 'or 'go you to the right,' our people say 'let you go to the right': 'let you look after the cows and I will see to the horses.' A fellow is arrested for a crime and dares the police with:—'Let ye prove it.'
In Derry porridge or stirabout always takes the plural: 'Have you dished them yet?'
'I didn't go to the fair cause why, the day was too wet.' This expression cause why, which is very often heard in Ireland, is English at least 500 years old: for we find it in Chaucer.
You often hear us for me: 'Give us a penny sir to buy sweets' (i.e. 'Give me').
In Waterford and South Wexford the people often use such verbal forms as is seen in the following:—'Does your father grow wheat still?' 'He do.' 'Has he the old white horse now?' 'He have.' As to has, Mr. MacCall states that it is unknown in the barony of Forth: there you always hear 'that man have plenty of money'—he have—she have, &c.
The Rev. William Burke tells us that have is found as above (a third person singular) all through the old Waterford Bye-Laws; which would render it pretty certain that both have and do in these applications are survivals from the old English colony in Waterford and Wexford.
In Donegal and thereabout the yon is often shortened to thon, which is used as equivalent to that or those: 'you may take thon book.'
In Donegal 'such a thing' is often made such an a thing.' I have come across this several times: but the following quotation is decisive—'No, Dinny O'Friel, I don't want to make you say any such an a thing.' (Seamus MacManus.)
There is a tendency to put o at the end of some words, such as boy-o, lad-o. A fellow was tried for sheep-stealing before the late Judge Monahan, and the jury acquitted him, very much against the evidence. 'You may go now,' said the judge, 'as you are acquitted; but you stole the sheep all the same, my buck-o.'
- 'I would hush my lovely laddo
- In the green arbutus shadow.'
- (A. P. Graves: 'Irish Songs and Ballads.')
This is found in Irish also, as in a vick-o ('my boy,' or more exactly 'my son,' where vick is mhic, vocative of mac, son) heard universally in Munster: 'Well Billy a vick-o, how is your mother this morning?' I suppose the English practice is borrowed from the Irish.
In Irish there is only one article, an, which is equivalent to the English definite article the. This article (an) is much more freely used in Irish than the is in English, a practice which we are inclined to imitate in our Anglo-Irish speech. Our use of the often adds a sort of emphasis to the noun or adjective:—'Ah John was the man,' i.e. the real man, a man pre-eminent for some quality—bravery, generosity, &c. 'Ah that was the trouble in earnest.' The Irish chiefs of long ago 'were the men in the gap' (Thomas Davis):—i.e. the real men and no mistake. We often use the article in our speech where it would not be used in correct English:—'I am perished with the cold.' 'I don't know much Greek, but I am good at the Latin.'
'That was the dear journey to me.' A very common form of expression, signifying that 'I paid dearly for it'—'it cost me dear.' Hugh Reynolds when about to be hanged for attempting the abduction of Catherine McCabe composes (or is supposed to compose) his 'Lamentation,' of which the verses end in 'She's the dear maid to me.' (See my 'Old Irish Folk Music and Songs,' p. 135.) A steamer was in danger of running down a boat rowed by one small boy on the Shannon. 'Get out of the way you young rascal or we'll run over you and drown you!' Little Jacky looks up defiantly and cries out:—'Ye'll drownd me, will ye: if ye do, I'll make it the dear drownding to ye!' In such expressions it is however to be observed that the indefinite article a is often used—perhaps as often as the:—'That was a dear transaction for me.' 'Oh, green-hilled pleasant Erin you're a dear land to me!' (Robert Dwyer Joyce's 'Ballads of Irish Chivalry,' p. 206.)
In Ulster they say:—'When are you going?' 'Oh I am going the day,' i.e. to-day. I am much better the day than I was yesterday. In this the day is merely a translation of the Irish word for to-day—andiu, where an is 'the' and diu a form of the Irish for 'day.'
The use of the singular of nouns instead of the plural after a numeral is found all through Ireland. Tom Cassidy our office porter—a Westmeath man—once said to me 'I'm in this place now forty-four year': and we always use such expressions as nine head of cattle. A friend of mine, a cultivated and scholarly clergyman, always used phrases like 'that bookcase cost thirteen pound.' This is an old English survival. Thus in Macbeth we find 'this three mile.' But I think this phraseology has also come partly under the influence of our Gaelic in which ten and numerals that are multiples of ten always take the singular of nouns, as tri-caogad laoch, 'thrice fifty heroes'—lit. 'thrice fifty hero.'
In the south of Ireland may is often incorrectly used for might, even among educated people:—'Last week when setting out on my long train journey, I brought a book that I may read as I travelled along.' I have heard and read, scores of times, expressions of which this is a type—not only among the peasantry, but from newspaper correspondents, professors, &c.—and you can hear and read them from Munstermen to this day in Dublin.
In Ulster till is commonly used instead of to:—'I am going till Belfast to-morrow': in like manner until is used for unto.
There are two tenses in English to which there is nothing corresponding in Irish:—what is sometimes called the perfect—'I have finished my work'; and the pluperfect—'I had finished my work' [before you arrived]. The Irish people in general do not use—or know how to use—these in their English speech; but they feel the want of them, and use various expedients to supply their places. The most common of these is the use of the word after (commonly with a participle) following the verb to be. Thus instead of the perfect, as expressed above, they will say 'I am after finishing my work,' 'I am after my supper.' ('Knocknagow.') 'I'm after getting the lend of an American paper' (ibid.); and instead of the pluperfect (as above) they will say 'I was after finishing my work' [before you arrived]. Neither of these two expressions would be understood by an Englishman, although they are universal in Ireland, even among the higher and educated classes.
This word after in such constructions is merely a translation of the Irish iar or a n-diaigh—for both are used in corresponding expressions in Irish.
But this is only one of the expedients for expressing the perfect tense. Sometimes they use the simple past tense, which is ungrammatical, as our little newsboy in Kilkee used to do: 'Why haven't you brought me the paper?' 'The paper didn't come from the station yet sir.' Sometimes the present progressive is used, which also is bad grammar: 'I am sitting here waiting for you for the last hour' (instead of 'I have been sitting'). Occasionally the have or has of the perfect (or the had of the pluperfect) is taken very much in its primary sense of having or possessing. Instead of 'You have quite distracted me with your talk,' the people will say 'You have me quite distracted,' &c.: 'I have you found out at last.' 'The children had me vexed.' (Jane Barlow.)
- 'And she is a comely maid
- That has my heart betrayed.'
- (Old Irish Folk-Song.)
- '... I fear,
- That some cruel goddess has him captivated,
- And has left here in mourning his dear Irish maid.'
- (See my Old Irish Folk Music and Songs, p. 208.)
Corresponding devices are resorted to for the pluperfect. Sometimes the simple past is used where the pluperfect ought to come in:—'An hour before you came yesterday I finished my work': where it should be 'I had finished.' Anything to avoid the pluperfect, which the people cannot manage.
In the Irish language (but not in English) there is what is called the consuetudinal tense, i.e. denoting habitual action or existence. It is a very convenient tense, so much so that the Irish, feeling the want of it in their English, have created one by the use of the word do with be: 'I do be at my lessons every evening from 8 to 9 o'clock.' 'There does be a meeting of the company every Tuesday.' Tis humbuggin' me they do be.' ('Knocknagow.')
Sometimes this is expressed by be alone without the do; but here the be is also often used in the ordinary sense of is without any consuetudinal meaning. 'My father bees always at home in the morning': 'At night while I bees reading my wife bees knitting.' (Consuetudinal.) 'You had better not wait till it bees night.' (Indicative.)
- 'I'll seek out my Blackbird wherever he be.' (Indicative.)
- (Old Folk Song—'The Blackbird.')
This use of be for is is common in the eastern half of Ireland from Wexford to Antrim.
Such old forms as anear, adown, afeard, apast, afore, &c., are heard everywhere in Ireland, and are all of old English origin, as it would be easy to show by quotations from English classical writers. 'If my child was standing anear that stone.' (Gerald Griffin: 'Collegians.') 'She was never a-shy or ashamed to show' [her respect for me]. ('Knocknagow.') The above words are considered vulgar by our educated people: yet many others remain still in correct English, such as aboard, afoot, amidst, &c.
I think it likely that the Irish language has had some influence in the adoption and retention of those old English words; for we have in Irish a group of words identical with them both in meaning and structure: such as a-n-aice (a-near), where aice is 'near.' (The n comes in for a grammatical reason.)
'I be to do it' in Ulster is used to express 'I have to do it': 'I am bound to do it'; 'it is destined that I shall do it.' 'I be to remain here till he calls,' I am bound to remain. 'The only comfort I have [regarding some loss sure to come on] is that it be to be,' i.e. that 'it is fated to be'—'it is unavoidable.' 'What bees to be maun be' (must be).
Father William Burke points out that we use 'every other' in two different senses. He remains at home always on Monday, but goes to town 'every other' day—meaning every day of the week except Monday: which is the most usual application among us. 'My father goes to town every other day,' i.e. every alternate day. This last is rarely used by our people, who prefer to express it 'My father goes to town every second day.' Of two persons it is stated:
- 'You'd like to see them drinking from one cup,
- They took so loving every second sup.'
- (Old Irish Folk Song.)
The simple phrase 'the other day' means a few days ago. 'When did you see your brother John?' 'Oh I saw him the other day.'
- 'The other day he sailed away and parted his dear Nancy.'
- (Old Folk Song.)
The dropping of thou was a distinct loss to the English language: for now you has to do double duty—for both singular and plural—which sometimes leads to obscurity. The Irish try to avoid this obscurity by various devices. They always use ye in the plural whenever possible: both as a nominative and as an objective: 'Where are ye going to-day?' 'I'm afeard that will be a dear journey to ye.' Accepting the you as singular, they have created new forms for the plural such as yous, yez, yiz, which do not sound pleasant to a correct speaker, but are very clear in sense. In like manner they form a possessive case direct on ye. Some English soldiers are singing 'Lillibulero'—
- 'And our skeans we'll make good at de Englishman's throat,'
on which Cus Russed (one of the ambush) says—'That's true for ye at any rate. I'm laughing at the way we'll carry out yeer song afore the day is over.' ('The House of Lisbloom,' by Robert D. Joyce.) Similarly 'weer own' is sometimes used for 'our own.'
The distributive every requires to be followed by pronouns in the singular: but this rule is broken even by well-known English writers:—'Every one for themselves' occurs in Robinson Crusoe; and in Ireland plurals are almost universally used. 'Let every one mind themselves as the ass said when he leaped into a flock of chickens.'
Father Burke has shown—a matter that had escaped me—that we often use the verbs rest and perish in an active sense. The first is seen in the very general Irish prayer 'God rest his soul.' Mangan uses the word in this sense in the Testament of Cathaeir Mór:—
- 'Here is the Will of Cathaeir Mór,
- God rest him.'
And John Keegan in 'Caoch O'Leary':—
- 'And there he sleeps his last sweet sleep—
- God rest you, Caoch O'Leary.'
Perish is quoted below in the saying—'That breeze would perish the Danes.'
We have many intensive words, some used locally, some generally:—'This is a cruel wet day'; 'that old fellow is cruel rich': that's a cruel good man (where cruel in all means very: Ulster). 'That girl is fine and fat: her cheeks are fine and red.' 'I was dead fond of her' (very fond): but dead certain occurs in 'Bleak House.' 'That tree has a mighty great load of apples.' 'I want a drink badly; my throat is powerful dry.' ('Shanahan's Ould Shebeen,' New York.) 'John Cusack is the finest dancer at all.' 'This day is mortal cold.' 'I'm black out with you.' 'I'm very glad entirely to hear it.' 'He is very sick entirely.' This word entirely is one of our most general and characteristic intensives. 'He is a very good man all out.' 'This day is guy and wet': 'that boy is guy and fat' (Ulster). A half fool of a fellow looking at a four-wheeled carriage in motion: 'Aren't the little wheels damn good not to let the big wheels overtake them.' In the early days of cycling a young friend of mine was riding on a five-foot wheel past two countrymen; when one remarked to the other:—'Tim, that's a gallows way of travelling.' 'I was up murdering late last night.' (Crofton Croker.)
In the Irish language there are many diminutive terminations, all giving the idea of 'little,' which will be found fully enumerated and illustrated in my 'Irish Names of Places,' vol. ii, chap. ii. Of these it may be said that only one—ín or een—has found its way into Ireland's English speech, carrying with it its full sense of smallness. There are others—án or aun, and óg or oge; but these have in great measure lost their original signification; and although we use them in our Irish-English, they hardly convey any separate meaning. But een is used everywhere: it is even constantly tacked on to Christian names (especially of boys and girls):—Mickeen (little Mick), Noreen, Billeen, Jackeen (a word applied to the conceited little Dublin citizen). So also you hear Birdeen, Robineen-redbreast, bonniveen, &c. A boy who apes to be a man—puts on airs like a man—is called a manneen in contempt (exactly equivalent to the English mannikin). I knew a boy named Tommeen Trassy: and the name stuck to him even when he was a great big whacker of a fellow six feet high. In the south this diminutive is long (een) and takes the accent: in the north it is made short (in) and is unaccented.
It is well known that three hundred years ago, and even much later, the correct English sound of the diphthong ea was the same as long a in fate: sea pronounced say, &c. Any number of instances could be brought together from the English poets in illustration of this:—
- 'God moves in a mysterious way,
- His wonders to perform;
- He plants His footsteps in the sea,
- And rides upon the storm.'
- (Cowper (18th century).)
This sound has long since been abandoned in England, but is still preserved among the Irish people. You will hear everywhere in Ireland, 'a pound of mate,' 'a cup of tay,' 'you're as deep as the say,' &c.
- 'Kind sir be aisy and do not taize me with your false praises most jestingly.'—(Old Irish Folk Song.)
(In this last line easy and teaze must be sounded so as to rhyme—assonantally—with praises).
Many years ago I was travelling on the long car from Macroom to Killarney. On the other side—at my back—sat a young gentleman—a 'superior person,' as anyone could gather from his dandified speech. The car stopped where he was to get off: a tall fine-looking old gentleman was waiting for him, and nothing could exceed the dignity and kindness with which he received him. Pointing to his car he said 'Come now and they'll get you a nice refreshing cup of tay.' 'Yes,' says the dandy, 'I shall be very glad to get a cup of tee'—laying a particular stress on tee. I confess I felt a shrinking of shame for our humanity. Now which of these two was the vulgarian?
The old sound of ea is still retained—even in England—in the word great; but there was a long contest in the English Parliament over this word. Lord Chesterfield adopted the affected pronunciation (greet), saying that only an Irishman would call it grate. 'Single-speech Hamilton'—a Dublin man—who was considered, in the English House of Commons, a high authority on such matters, stoutly supported grate, and the influence of the Irish orators finally turned the scale. (Woollett.)
A similar statement may be made regarding the diphthong ei and long e, that is to say, they were both formerly sounded like long a in fate.
- 'Boast the pure blood of an illustrious race,
- In quiet flow from Lucrece to Lucrece.'
- (Pope: 'Essay on Man.')
In the same essay Pope rhymes sphere with fair, showing that he pronounced it sphaire. Our hedge schoolmaster did the same thing in his song:—
- Of all the maids on this terrestrial sphaire
- Young Molly is the fairest of the fair.
- 'The plots are fruitless which my foe
- Unjustly did conceive;
- The pit he digg'd for me has proved
- His own untimely grave.'
- (Tate and Brady.)
Our people generally retain the old sounds of long e and ei; for they say persaive for perceive, and sevare for severe.
- 'The pardon he gave me was hard and sevare;
- 'Twas bind him, confine him, he's the rambler from Clare.'
Our Irish way of sounding both ea and long e is exemplified in what I heard a man say—a man who had some knowledge of Shakespeare—about a girl who was becoming somewhat of an old maid: 'She's now getting into the sair and yallow laif.'
Observe, the correct old English sound of ie and ee has not changed: it is the same at present in England as it was formerly; and accordingly the Irish people always sound these correctly. They never say praste for priest, belave for believe, indade for indeed, or kape for keep, as some ignorant writers set down.
Ate is pronounced et by the educated English. In Munster the educated people pronounce it ait: 'Yesterday I ait a good dinner'; and when et is heard among the uneducated—as it generally is—it is considered very vulgar.
It appears that in correct old English er was sounded ar—Dryden rhymes certain with parting—and this is still retained in correct English in a few words, like sergeant, clerk, &c. Our people retain the old sound in most such words, as sarvant, marchant, sartin. But sometimes in their anxiety to avoid this vulgarity, they overdo the refinement: so that you will hear girls talk mincingly about derning a stocking. This is like what happened in the case of one of our servant girls who took it into her head that mutton was a vulgar way of pronouncing the word, like pudden' for pudding; so she set out with her new grand pronunciation; and one day rather astonished our butcher by telling him she wanted a small leg of mutting. I think this vulgarism is heard among the English peasantry too: though we have the honour and glory of evolving it independently.
All over Ireland you will hear the words vault and fault sounded vaut and faut. 'If I don't be able to shine it will be none of my faut.' (Carleton, as cited by Hume.) We have retained this sound from old English:
- Let him not dare to vent his dangerous thought:
- A noble fool was never in a fault [faut].
- (Pope, cited by Hume.)
Goldsmith uses this pronunciation more than once; but whether he brought it from Ireland or took it from classical English writers, by whom it was used (as by Pope) almost down to his time, it is hard to say. For instance in 'The Deserted Village' he says of the Village Master:—
- 'Yet he was kind, or if severe in aught
- The love he bore to learning was in fault' [faut].
I remember reading many years ago a criticism of Goldsmith by a well-known Irish professor of English literature, in which the professor makes great fun, as a 'superior person,' of the Hibernicism in the above couplet, evidently ignorant of the fact, which Dr. Hume has well brought out, that it is classical English.
In many parts of Munster there is a tendency to give the long a the sound of a in car, father:—
- Were I Paris whose deeds are vaarious
- And arbithraather on Ida's hill.
- (Old Folk Song—'The Colleen Rue.')
- The gladiaathers both bold and darling,
- Each night and morning to watch the flowers.
- (Old Folk Song—'Castlehyde.')
So, an intelligent peasant,—a born orator, but illiterate in so far as he could neither read nor write,—told me that he was a spectaathor at one of O'Connell's Repeal meetings: and the same man, in reply to a strange gentleman's inquiry as to who planted a certain wood up the hill, replied that the trees were not planted—they grew spontaan-yus.
I think this is a remnant of the old classical teaching of Munster: though indeed I ought to mention that the same tendency is found in Monaghan, where on every possible occasion the people give this sound to long a.
D before long u is generally sounded like j; as in projuce for produce: the Juke of Wellington, &c. Many years ago I knew a fine old gentleman from Galway. He wished to make people believe that in the old fighting times, when he was a young man, he was a desperate gladiaathor; but he really was a gentle creature who never in all his born days hurt man or mortal. Talking one day to some workmen in Kildare, and recounting his exploits, he told them that he was now harrished every night by the ghosts of all the min he killed in juels.
So s before long u is sounded sh: Dan Kiely, a well-to-do young farmer, told the people of our neighbourhood that he was now looking out for a wife that would shoot him. This pronunciation is however still sometimes heard in words of correct English, as in sure.
There are some consonants of the Irish language which when they come together do not coalesce in sound, as they would in an English word, so that when they are uttered a very short obscure vowel sound is heard between them: and a native Irish speaker cannot avoid this. By a sort of hereditary custom this peculiarity finds its way into our pronunciation of English. Thus firm is sounded in Ireland ferrum—two distinct syllables: 'that bird is looking for a wurrum.' Form (a seat) we call a furrum.
- 'His sire he'd seek no more nor descend to Mammon's shore,
- Nor venture on the tyrant's dire alaa-rums,
- But daily place his care on that emblematic fair,
- Till he'd barter coronations for her chaa-rums.'
- (Old Folk Song.)
Herb is sounded errub: and we make two syllables of the name Charles [Char-less]. At the time of the Bulgarian massacres, I knew a Dublin doctor, a Tipperary man, who felt very strongly on the subject and was constantly talking about the poor Bullugarians.
In the County Monaghan and indeed elsewhere in Ireland, us is sounded huz, which might seem a Cockney vulgarism, but I think it is not. In Roscommon and in the Munster counties a thong is called a fong.
Chaw for chew, oncet [wonst] for once, twiced for twice, and heighth, sighth, for height, sight, which are common in Ireland, are all old English survivals. Thus in the 'Faerie Queene' (Bk. I., Canto IV., XXX.):—
- 'And next to him malicious Envy rode
- Upon a ravenous wolfe and still did chaw
- Between his cankred teeth a venomous tode.'
Chaw is also much used in America. 'Onst for once, is in the Chester Plays' (Lowell); and highth for height is found all through 'Paradise Lost.' So also we have drooth for drought:—
- 'Like other historians I'll stick to the truth
- While I sing of the monarch who died of the drooth.'
- (Sam Lover.)
Joist is sounded joice in Limerick; and catch is everywhere pronounced ketch.
The word hither is pronounced in Ireland hether, which is the correct old English usage, but long since abandoned in England. Thus in a State Paper of 1598, we read that two captains returned hether: and in Spenser's 'View,' he mentions a 'colony [sent] hether out of Spaine.'
- 'An errant knight or any other wight
- That hether turns his steps.' ('Faerie Queene.')
Hence we have coined the word comether, for come-hether, to denote a sort of spell brought about by coaxing, wheedling, making love, &c.—as in the phrase 'she put her comether on him, so that he married her up at once.' 'There'll not be six girls in the fair he'll not be putting the comether on.' (Seumas MacManus.)
The family name 'Bermingham' is always made Brimmigem in Ireland, which is a very old English corruption. In Friar Clyn's Annals (Latin) written in the fourteenth century, the death is recorded in 1329 of Johannes de Brimegham, i.e., the celebrated Sir John Bermingham who defeated Edward Bruce at Faughart.
Leap is pronounced lep by our people; and in racing circles it is still so pronounced by all classes. The little village of Leap in the County Cork is always called Lep.
There is a curious tendency among us to reverse the sounds of certain letters, as for instance sh and ch. 'When you're coming home to-morrow bring the spade and chovel, and a pound of butter fresh from the shurn.' 'That shimney doesn't draw the smoke well.' So with the letters u and i. 'When I was crossing the brudge I dropped the sweeping brish into the ruvver.' 'I never saw sich a sight.' But such words are used only by the very uneducated. Brudge for bridge and the like are however of old English origin. 'Margaret, mother of Henry VII, writes seche for such' (Lowell). So in Ireland:—Jestice is all I ax,' says Mosy in the story ('Ir. Pen. Mag.); and churries for cherries ('Knocknagow'). This tendency corresponds with the vulgar use of h in London and elsewhere in England. 'The 'en has just laid a hegg: 'he was singing My 'art's in the 'ighlands or The Brave Old Hoak.' (Washington Irving.)
Squeeze is pronounced squeedge and crush scroodge in Donegal and elsewhere; but corruptions like these are found among the English peasantry—as may be seen in Dickens.
'You had better rinsh that glass' is heard everywhere in Ireland: an old English survival; for Shakespeare and Lovelace have renched for rinced (Lowell): which with the Irish sound of short e before n gives us our word rinshed.
Such words as old, cold, hold are pronounced by the Irish people ould, cowld, hould (or howlt); gold is sounded goold and ford foord. I once heard an old Wicklow woman say of some very rich people 'why these people could ait goold.' These are all survivals of the old English way of pronouncing such words. In the State Papers of Elizabeth's time you will constantly meet with such words as hoult and stronghowlt (hold and stronghold.) In my boyhood days I knew a great large sinewy active woman who lived up in the mountain gap, and who was universally known as 'Thunder the cowlt from Poulaflaikeen' (cowlt for colt); Poulaflaikeen, the high pass between Glenosheen and Glenanaar, Co. Limerick, for which see Dr. R. D. Joyce's 'Ballads of Irish Chivalry,' pp. 102, 103, 120.
Old Tom Howlett, a Dublin job gardener, speaking to me of the management of fruit trees, recommended the use of butchers' waste. 'Ah sir'—said he, with a luscious roll in his voice as if he had been licking his lips—'Ah sir, there's nothing for the roots of an apple tree like a big tub of fine rotten ould guts,'
Final d is often omitted after l and n: you will see this everywhere in Seumas MacManus's books for Donegal. Recently we were told by the attendant boy at one of the Dublin seaside baths that the prices were—'a shilling for the hot and sixpence for the cowl.' So we constantly use an for and: in a Waterford folk song we have 'Here's to the swan that sails on the pon (the 'swan' being the poet's sweetheart): and I once heard a man say to another in a fair:—'That horse is sound in win' and limb.'
Short e is always sounded before n and m, and sometimes in other positions, like short i: 'How many arrived?' 'Tin min and five women': 'He always smoked a pipe with a long stim.' If you ask a person for a pin, he will inquire 'Is it a brass pin or a writing pin you want?'
Again is sounded by the Irish people agin, which is an old English survival. 'Donne rhymes again with sin, and Quarles repeatedly with in.' (Lowell.) An Irishman was once landed on the coast of some unknown country where they spoke English. Some violent political dispute happened to be going on there at the time, and the people eagerly asked the stranger about his political views; on which—instinctively giving expression to the feelings he brought with him from the 'ould sod'—he promptly replied before making any inquiry—'I'm agin the Government.' This story, which is pretty well known, is a faked one; but it affords us a good illustration.
Onion is among our people always pronounced ingion: constantly heard in Dublin. 'Go out Mike for the ingions,' as I once heard a woman say in Limerick.
- 'Men are of different opinions,
- Some like leeks and some like ingions.'
This is old English; 'in one of Dodsley's plays we have onions rhyming with minions' (Lowell.)
The general English tendency is to put back the accent as far from the end of the word as possible. But among our people there is a contrary tendency—to throw forward the accent; as in ex-cel´lent, his Ex-cel´-lency—Nas-sau´ Street (Dublin), Ar-bu´-tus, commit-tee´, her-e-dit´tary.
- 'Tele-mach´us though so grand ere the sceptre reached his hand.'
- (Old Irish Folk Song.)
In Gough's Arithmetic there was a short section on the laws of radiation and of pendulums. When I was a boy I once heard one of the old schoolmasters reading out, in his grandiloquent way, for the people grouped round Ardpatrick chapel gate after Mass, his formidable prospectus of the subjects he could teach, among which were 'the raddiation of light and heat and the vibrations of swinging pen-joo´lums.' The same fine old scholarly pedant once remarked that our neighbourhood was a very moun-taan´-yus locality. A little later on in my life, when I had written some pieces in high-flown English—as young writers will often do—one of these schoolmasters—a much lower class of man than the last—said to me by way of compliment: 'Ah! Mr. Joyce, you have a fine voca-bull´ery.'
Mischievous is in the south accented on the second syllable—Mis-chee´-vous: but I have come across this in Spenser's Faerie Queene. We accent character on the second syllable:—
- 'Said he in a whisper to my benefactor,
- Though good your charac´ter has been of that lad.'
- (Song by Mr. Patrick Murray of Kilfinane,
- a schoolmaster of great ability: about 1840).
One of my school companions once wrote an ode in praise of Algebra, of which unfortunately I remember only the opening line: but this fragment shows how we pronounced the word in our old schools in the days of yore:—
- 'Hail sweet al-jib´era, you're my heart's delight.'
There is an Irish ballad about the people of Tipperary that I cannot lay my hands on, which speaks of the
- 'Tipperary boys,
- Although we are cross and contrairy boys';
and this word 'contrairy' is universal in Munster.
In Tipperary the vowel i is generally sounded oi. Mick Hogan a Tipperary boy—he was a man indeed—was a pupil in Mr. Condon's school in Mitchelstown, with the full rich typical accent. One morning as he walked in, a fellow pupil, Tom Burke—a big fellow too—with face down on desk over a book, said, without lifting his head—to make fun of him—foine day, Mick.' 'Yes,' said Mick as he walked past, at the same time laying his hand on Tom's poll and punching his nose down hard against the desk. Tom let Mick alone after that 'foine day.' Farther south, and in many places all over Ireland, they do the reverse:—'The kettle is biling;
- 'She smiled on me like the morning sky,
- And she won the heart of the prentice bye.'
- (Old Irish Folk Song.)
The old English pronunciation of oblige was obleege:—
- 'Dreaded by fools, by flatterers besieged,
- And so obliging that he ne'er obliged.'
Among the old-fashioned and better-educated of our peasantry you will still hear this old pronunciation preserved:—I am very much obleeged to you. It is now generally heard in Kildare among all classes. A similar tendency is in the sound of whine, which in Munster is always made wheen: 'What's that poor child wheening for?' also everywhere heard:—'All danger [of the fever] is now past: he is over his creesis.'
Metathesis, or the changing of the place of a letter or syllable in a word, is very common among the Irish people, as cruds for curds, girn for grin, purty for pretty. I heard a man quoting from Shakespeare about Puck—from hearsay: he said he must have been a wonderful fellow, for he could put a griddle round about the earth in forty minutes.' I knew a fellow that could never say traveller: it was always throlliver.
There is a tendency here as elsewhere to shorten many words: You will hear garner for gardener, ornary for ordinary. The late Cardinal Cullen was always spoken of by a friend of mine who revered him, as The Carnal.
My and by are pronounced me and be all over Ireland: Now me boy I expect you home be six o'clock.
The obscure sound of e and i heard in her and fir is hardly known in Ireland, at least among the general run of people. Her is made either herr or hur. They sound sir either surr (to rhyme with cur), or serr; but in this latter case they always give the r or rr what is called the slender sound in Irish, which there is no means of indicating by English letters. Fir is also sounded either fur or ferr (a fur tree or a ferr tree). Furze is pronounced rightly; but they take it to be a plural, and so you will often hear the people say a fur bush instead of a furze bush.
In other classes of words i before r is mispronounced. A young fellow, Johnny Brien, objected to go by night on a message that would oblige him to pass by an empty old house that had the reputation of being haunted, because, as he said, he was afeard of the sperrit.
In like manner, miracle is pronounced merricle. Jack Finn—a little busybody noted for perpetually jibing at sacred things—Jack one day, with innocence in his face, says to Father Tom, 'Wisha I'd be terrible thankful entirely to your reverence to tell me what a merricle is, for I could never understand it.' 'Oh yes Jack,' says the big priest good-naturedly, as he stood ready equipped for a long ride to a sick call—poor old Widow Dwan up in the mountain gap: 'Just tell me exactly how many cows are grazing in that field there behind you.' Jack, chuckling at the fun that was coming on, turned round to count, on which Father Tom dealt him a hearty kick that sent him sprawling about three yards. He gathered himself up as best he could; but before he had time to open his mouth the priest asked, 'Did you feel that Jack?' 'Oh Blood-an ... Yerra of course I did your reverence, why the blazes wouldn't I!' 'Well Jack,' replied Father Tom, benignly, 'If you didn't feel it—that would be a merricle.'
1 ^ For both of these songs see my 'Old Irish Folk Music and Songs.'
2 ^ See my 'Old Irish Folk Music and Songs,' p. 202.