Monday, April 19, 2010

English of Northern Ireland

The English of Northern Ireland is different from the English of Ireland. Many of the English speakers who settled in Northern Ireland in the seventeenth century were from Scotland. Thus the English of Northern Ireland is quite similar to that of Scotland, especially in the northern areas. In the south, the English bears many similarities to the English of the midlands of England, an area settled by many speakers from this area.

The accent of Northern Ireland is rhotic. In this respect it is similar to Scottish English, but the rhotic of Northern Ireland is never trilled.

The distinction between "which" and "witch" is maintained. This is also the case in the English of Scotland, but not in the case of most varieties of English spoken in England.

In most of Northern Ireland the alveolar lateral is never velarized. This is often called a clear "l" unlike the dark "l" heard in many other varieties of English. This pronunciation of the lateral is also common in Ireland.

The voiceless alveolar plosive is often voiced or flapped as in Canada and the United States. The result is that words such as "medal" and "metal" as well as "ladder" and "latter" sound the same.

The words "hay", "may" and "say" are pronounced with a monophthong, similar to the monophthong of "let". The diphthong of many other varieties of English is not produced in these words.

In the English of Belfast, however, a phonemic contrast between the monophthong in the word "let" and the diphthong in the word "phase" exists. The diphthong is not the one heard in other varieties of English. It is rather a mid front unrounded lax vowel which is followed by a central unrounded vowel commonly referred to as a schwa.

The words "day", "stay" and "bay" are pronounced with a monophthong. When the plural marker -s or the third person singular -s is added, the vowel remains a monophthong. Thus the vowel is the same in "days", "stays" and "bays". However, in words which have no inflectional -s added to the base, the vowel is a diphthong. The word pairs "days" and "daze", "rays" and "raise" and prays" and "praise" are distinctive. In other varieties of English, they are pronounced identically.

The English of Northern Ireland has many features of Scottish English but also features from other varieties of English. In contrast to the English of most of England, the English of Northern Ireland is rhotic. A phenomenon of the English of Belfast is the phonemic contrast between the monophthong of "let" and the diphthong of "make". This contrast allows the distinction between words such as "days" and "daze", a distinction which other varieties of English do not make.

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