Irish accent


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Ben Lemmon

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As many of the experts here know (as I have annoyed them endlessly
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) I am writing a novel, and I want to accurately depict an Irish accent, though I don't know how to phrase the words. I was wondering if I could have a little assistance with this. I am looking for assistance in this from any posters who are Irish. This means you, Senan.
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Ben Lemmon

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quote:

Ta hell with ye!
Well that's not very nice. What if I said the same to you? No, I'm kidding. Are you Irish, Ryan? I don't care if you're not, but I was just wondering all the same. I've learned somewhat of an "Airish" accent from Old Senan Molony himself, but I wanted to set aside another thread for further knowledge on the subject. Maybe I should have done a French accent. Five years of French has taught me something of it. Nah, I like the Irish lads and colleens a lot better.​
 

Bob Godfrey

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Is Senan Irish? I had no idea - he doesn't write with an accent! Sure and I'm only half Irish, but bejasus, it shows in me postings, so it does. Seriously, you should read the works of Irish novelists and playwrights writing in or near the period that interests you. The dialogue they create isn't full of broad dialect or attempts to phonetically depict an accent. That's because they're not trying to make their characters sound Irish. That's a given, so they need only to convey their words, with whatever local variations in vocabulary and syntax are natural and appropriate. Here, for instance, is a snatch of conversation abstracted from James Joyce's Dubliners (first published in 1914). Do these people 'sound' Irish? Note that while the clues are there (and not just in the place names) most of these lines appear in print as perfectly standard English. If you want to read them in an Irish accent you don't really need much help from the writer.

"I am thinking about a person long ago who used to sing that song."
"And who was the person long ago?"
"It was a person I used to know in Galway when I was living with my grandmother."
"Someone you were in love with?"
"It was a young boy I used to know, named Michael Furey. He used to sing that song, The Lass of Aughrim. He was very delicate. I can see him so plainly. Such eyes as he had: big, dark eyes! And such an expression in them -- an expression!"
"O, then, you are in love with him?"
"I used to go out walking with him when I was in Galway."
"Perhaps that was why you wanted to go to Galway with that Ivors girl?"
"What for?"
"How do I know? To see him, perhaps."
"He is dead. He died when he was only seventeen. Isn't it a terrible thing to die so young as that?"
"What was he?"
"He was in the gasworks."
"I suppose you were in love with this Michael Furey, Gretta."
"I was great with him at that time."
"And what did he die of so young, Gretta? Consumption, was it?"
"I think he died for me."
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Inger Sheil

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Great points, Bob. Trying to phonetically reproduce an accent is a great challenge, as nuances of spoken language can easily tip over into caricature when hardened into the written word. If I were writing about Australian characters I wouldn't be trying to reproduce an "Orstrayan Eggzin", and I wouldn't be Oirishing it up if my protagonist was a Dubliner, either. Such efforts can be used to comic effect, but it's harder to adapt it to dramatic ends. I'd do more research on local phrases and the cadences of language - the speech patterns so well represented by the Joyce passage above, which would differ regionally as well - than seek to reproduce the sounds of their voices.

There's a wonderful scene in one of the Jeeves and Wooster novels (I'll have to find it and quote it here) in which an Englishman is having grumble at the whole "Mick and Paddy" routine to be included in a village skit. This character rightfully points out that the general Irish population does not sound of the "To be shure, to be shure" parody, but have a distinctively different use of language and imagery.
 

Ben Lemmon

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Here's the thing. I'm referring to an Irish child. I want to show that it has not been long at all since this child and his family moved from Ireland. Do you think I should simply mention that this certain child speaks with a heavy Irish accent, or, since he is quite young, do you think I should show the audience that he is speaking in an Irish accent. I'm not sure who my target audience is in the book. There is some advanced vocabulary that a twelve-year old might not recognize, but I'm not sure. Regarding the Irish accent, what do you think that I should do?

Irish isn't the only accent that is spelled out like this, though. Just as a matter of fact, My accent sounds a bit like the stereotypical western accent. The dialect I speak is humorously referred to as the "Snake River dialect." Instead of a glove compartment, I would refer to it as a jockey box. In regards to the circular motions commonly done on a snowy parking lot, most of the time they are called "donuts." However, in my dialect it is called a "cookie." A video game controller is referred to up here as a paddle. Sorry if I bored you with my anecdote, I just though that it was just really interesting.

Inger, I just read your message. Just so everyone knows, I am not necessarily trying to reproduce the phonetics of the Irish language, I'm simply trying to add a little bit of an Irish touch, using such words as "me" in place of "my" and "ye" in place of "you." The kid who is Irish is 8 years old, and he is only in the first little bit of the story, leading up to the departure of the M.C. on the Titanic.
 

John Lynott

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Ben, to pick up the nuances of Irish/English you can do no better than get out Twenty Years A'Growing by Maurice O'Sullivan at your library or visit Amazon.co.uk athttp://www.amazon.co.uk/Twenty-Years-Growing-Oxford-Paperbacks/dp/0192813250/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1205926986&sr=8-2

Written in the late 1920s, it is the autobiography of the childhood and teen years of Maurice who was brought up on the Great Blasket island off the coast of Kerry. The book was originally published in Irish but the English translation captures that gloss that the Irish have put on the English language - and I am not talking about Wilde, Sheridan or Shaw, but ordinary countryfolk. As an aside, when I last say my one surviving aunt in Co Mayo two years ago I asked her how old she now was (and she didn't take offence). She replied: "I'll be 75 in June". She didn't say "I'm 74"...note the difference.
Anyway, Maurice would have been about 8 when the Titanic sank so he is a vocal contemporary to your novel's young character. Don't worry, there are no begorrahs or bejaysuses...just a classic of western (or weshtern) literature!
 

Ben Lemmon

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I found the book, John. Thanks. One thing I noticed when I grabbed it was that there was a large span of time where this book hadn't been checked out from the library. If you want to know, that span of time happens to have been 68 years!! This book is a little older than I thought. It's almost as old as Bob
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. Anyway, thanks again for the referral. I may not be able to read the whole thing, but it seems to have what I'm looking for.

By the way, did you know Senan is going to be lecturing at the BTS Convention this year? If I had enough money, I'd book a flight and head over there to attend it. Bob, you don't happen to have $2500 dollars lying around . . .
 

Bob Godfrey

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Ben, I'll have you know that there are many books older than me. The Domesday Book, for instance. The Book of Kells. The Gutenberg Bible. :)
 
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I don’t really understand the question posed at the start of this thread. Perusal of books by Irish authors such as Molly Keane, James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Maeve Binchy and Edna O’Brian shows few specific “Irish” influences. It is conceivable that, when writing dialogue, a few Irish touches might be introduced (such as the occasional use of “I will not” instead of “no”) but how can one write in an accent?

In any case, the standard of education among ordinary people in the United Kingdom was probably better in 1912 than it is today — in part because education was very formal, and concentrated on basics such as grammar and punctuation. Hardy’s novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891), for example, says that Tess — an ordinary countrywoman - spoke more or less perfect English, but used dialect when talking to her immediate family. The main characteristic of her West-of-England accent were attenuated vowel sounds such as “argh” and “urr”, but Hardy made no attempt to reproduce these in his novel.

I do, however, have an idea — why not make the Irish characters converse in Gaelic?
 

Jim Kalafus

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Ben- Listen to Stanley and Inger and Bob. Study the cadence of Irish dialect~ sentence structure, internal rhythm, etc. THAT'S the important part.

Do not, under any circumstances, try to write in dialect. It will impart a...prewar...feel to your work, and not in a good way. The vast majority of readers KNOW, in a broad sense, what an Irish accent sounds like, and will endow your character with one as they read. Just as most readers have a general sense of what an American Southern Black accent sounds like. If you attempted to write a book with an American Southern Black character, and resorted to Margaret Mitchell "Yas'm I sho nuf 'preciates dat" dialect-reconstruction, your manuscript would come back with REJECTED embossed on its cover. With Irish dialect you run the same risk of offending, and the same risk of making your book seem decades out dated.

Best tip I can give, is talk with Irish people, study HOW they phrase things, and construct the sentences authentically. You need not introduce dialect- PLEASE!
 
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Ben,

When I was completing my graduate studies in Creative Writing, my professor told me that the best way to write a dialect or accent is to write the dialogue straight out and either precede or follow that by something such as "he spoke in a thick, rich Irish dialect." This will let the reader know that the character is Irish, it would put the sound in the reader's head, and it won't cause your text to appear offensively and unoriginally stereotypical or culturally biased. As a creative writer myself, I agree. I also agree with what has been said. Stay away from cheesy simulations and stick with descriptions.

As for the word structure, that alone might be enough to create a voice for the character(s) in question.
 

Ben Lemmon

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So . . . do you think that I could use "ye" for "you" and "me" for "my?" Or do you think that I should just stay away totally? In Cameron's Titanic, he uses some Irish words. Do you think that is stretching it? In her Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling's Irish student, Seamus Finnigan, uses "me" and "mam" in place of "mom." I wouldn't venture any further than that, I think. I may use some phrase nuances that are in Twenty Years A-Growing, but nothing like "Are ye Airish? Ta the ends of the earth wit' ye!"

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You blokes are just jealous because you can only read about ancient history. I was there!
Yep. That's it, Bob. I'm completely jealous!
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Who is going to go see Senan at the British Titanic Society's Convention in Liverpool?​
 

Jim Kalafus

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>. . . do you think that I could use "ye" for "you" and "me" for "my?"

If your character was black, would you attempt to get away with "Yas'm" for "Yes ma'am" or "Dat" for "that?" If so, then certainly use those terms for flavoring. If not, then don't.

>In Cameron's Titanic, he uses some Irish words.

He also chains a character to a pipe to build suspense AFTER the ship strikes the iceberg. You are better off using Dr. Seuss for literary inspiration than him. Don't go there.

> Rowling's Irish student, Seamus

Can be viewed on two different levels. On the one hand, her target audience may well contain members who cannot yet endow a character with an Irish accent through personal knowledge. On the other, all the cautions regarding dialect apply to her, as well, and one wonders what the result would be if she attempted to use mild examples of such in characters of other races or ethnicities.
 

John Lynott

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In her Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling's Irish student, Seamus Finnigan, uses "me" and "mam" in place of "mom."

Definitely go with "mam" or "mammy" which is the familiar term most Irish children would use for their mother. It is not stage Oirish and is the copper-bottomed term. I once read an English translation from Irish of one of the Blasket Island books which used the term "mom". It grated. There used to be a TV comedy in the UK in the late 60s called Me Mammy about an Irish businessman living in London with his suffocating mother. It starred Milo O'Shea whom one ET member reckons featured as an extra in ANTR! I digress but am delighted that I've got one more person to start reading Tweny Years A-Growing!
 

Bob Godfrey

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Certainly Mam and mammy are perfectly respectable words, as are ma, mama, mum, mummy, mom and probably a few other variants too. You should find them in any dictionary of the English language, so there's no need to transcribe them as different words when writing dialogue. The same applies to words like 'ye' and 'thee'. Archaic, but legitimate. So none of these are words to be avoided at all cost. The question is whether their use is appropriate and acceptable for a particular fictional character. If I were writing about my South London childhood there's no way I would sanitise the speech patterns to the extent of having one child tell another: "Your mother is calling you for your dinner". I would write "Your mum's calling you for your dinner". But I wouldn't go so far as to deliver: "Yore mum's callin' you fer yore dinna", which would be not only patronising but also hard work for the reader. it's all a matter of degree - just a pinch of flavouring goes a long way. But with no flavouring the menu can be very bland. Would O'Sullivan's book be improved by using the title Twenty Years of Growth?
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