Friday, October 13, 2017

English 101 from our Irish friends

Richard Mellor

The beauty of dialect, particularly Irish English. This is the Dublin dialect. I remember being in Galway once and we went in to this bar that was an Irish spoken only bar. I didn't speak it or nor did my Irish friend. I thought it might be a bit uncomfortable for me having a strong English accent and all but it was fine and I was spoken to in English by the bartender. I don't mean any offense to my Irish friends but when I hear Irish people speaking Irish it is just not the same. I worked for some time with Irish immigrants in the 1960's. We worked laying sewer mains throughout Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire. There were men for all over Ireland on those crews. And the stories, expressions and dialects I will never forget. How can you Irish humor in any other way but Irish English. I just can't picture it.

In England, our accent identified one's class background strongly, particularly if you were from the North, the traditional home of the English industrial working class, coal, cotton mills etc. But if your buddies started "talking proper" and that sort of stuff, they were really ridiculed and scorned as hypocrites and such. Me and one of my best friends were in a pub one time that was populated by a large number of rural petite bourgeois, young women, the folk club type.

We stood behind my friend's brother sipping our pints and we hear him say to this young woman, "What social circumferences have you been frequenting lately?" in an accent not his own. We worked laying sewers in the countryside after all. We knew he was a lost cause after that.

Like the Scots or the Welsh, the Irish spoke English but it wasn't their language. Their language was discouraged and often forbidden.  I can understand how an Irish person would want to speak Irish and fluently but to lose Irish English would be a great loss to the world and like England and the US, there are many accents there.My friends in Derry are sometimes hard to understand but I wouldn't want it any other way. See Ken Loach's movie Riff Raff, it is in English with English subtitles

Working class dialects or language are rich and colorful, full of expressions about life that can only arise from certain conditions. The Yorkshire and Cockney dialects are all very expressive like the rhyming slang so popular with great lyricists like Ian Drury.  The northern accent has become almost fashionable now just like Irish English has. When I was young the Irish were ridiculed because they couldn't speak properly, they said "dis" for this and "dat" for that, for example. They would say "Tatcher" instead of Thatcher.

This is true of any working class accent of course, looked down on from the middle and upper classes. The difference with being a non English person was the racism that would accompany the class prejudice.

Here in the US some years ago there was this huge debate over what I would call, black urban dialects. They even gave it a name, "Ebonics". There was all sorts of chatter about it as if there were no such equivalents in other cultures, it was not some sort of bizarre abberation. It's frustrating at times when I hear someone say of a black person that she is "talking white". How can you talk white?  They will say this in either a positive  or negative light. But what is actually meant is they are using the English dialect (with proper gramamr of course) acceptable to the US ruling and middle classes, is would be a middle class educated black person. They're not talking in a way the white workers I know do and certainly not with the same dialect of a white rural worker.

But I must remind myself that here in the US there are no classes, we live in a classless society apparently.

Anyway, enough rambling.  Hope you enjoy the beautiful expressive English in the video.

1 comment:

Sean said...

In a way related. James Joyce wrote Finnegans Wake. His "book of the night". In it he uses language as if he was in a dream. Words trailling into each other, half words, long strings of letters making sounds which are his new words, words of the dreams, sounds words that half seem to make sense. The first time I tried to read it I was in a library in New Orleans where a ship I was on was tied up. I was 20 years old. I had had a number of concussions by that time from sports injuries. When I tried to read Finnegans Wake I thought I had concussion again. Only many years later would I realize that Joyce would have been proud that a "half educated" Irish country boy would think he had concussion when reading his "book of the night". On June 16th every year there is Blooms Day. Celebrating the day on which Joyce met his companion Nora and on which he set his epic novel Ulysses. People gather in cities all over the world on that day. Many people from other countries come to Dublin and visit the pubs and spots where Bloom wandered in Ulysses. There is Davy Byrne's pub. Okay Okay I am getting to it. The Dublin accent. A group of Japanese Joyce fans had come for Bloomsday. They were gathered outside Davy Byrne's. They had translated two pages of Finnegans Wake into Japanese. One of them stood on a raised piece of pavement and proceeded to read it in Japanese. Two Dublin as they might say "bowsers" siddled up close to hang out. They thought there might be a cigarette in it, even a drink. But in spite of themselves they got drawn into the music of Finnegans Wake in Japanese. And in a beautiful Dunlin working class accent one said to the other: "Bay thde Jaysus Liam I understand it better in the Japanese". Sean O'Torain.