At the phonetic and phonological levels, the Irish dialects of English are easily recognisable: the ‘Irish accent’ (or accents, rather) displays certain features common to most speakers even regardless of their educational, social, or regional backgrounds. Distinctiveness in that respect can hardly be questioned, although scholars may differ on the question of the origins of some of these features.
The grammar of HE presents a much more multifarious picture, because social and regional considerations, alongside time, play a significant role here. While present-day ‘educated speech’ strives towards the StE norm in all essential respects, the speech of those with less formal education in rural settings especially, but also in urban working-class contexts, abounds in grammatical features which are sometimes far removed from the norms and usages of StE grammar. As said in the Introduction (Chapter 1), this study focuses on the latter type of rural and urban speech varieties, which can be subsumed under the heading of ‘traditional vernacular’. At that level, there is a lot of evidence of usages which differentiate HE from other dialects of English, and from what we know of the earlier forms of HE speech we can assume that these differences were even sharper in the past.
Let us first look at how the distinctive character of HE has been captured in the earliest research. Hayden and Hartog outline the three major elements which give HE its special flavour as follows:
I. Survivals of Tudor and Stuart English words that have disappeared from SE [StE], as well as of ancient meanings and constructions, besides such transformations of meaning and metaphor as have arisen from a development isolated from England, and not necessarily due to Gaelic [Irish] influence.
II. Peculiarities due to Gaelic influence. These we may consider under the two heads: (a) borrowings of Gaelic words, often more or less altered in the transfer; (b) borrowings (that is, literal translations) of Gaelic idioms.