HE is rich in turns of expression which involve uses of prepositions not found in StE or other dialects. At the same time, prepositional usage is an area which is particularly difficult to study, not least because a large part of it is determined by the properties of the individual lexical items used. Indeed, in his book on English dialects Martyn F. Wakelin remarks that the dialectal uses of prepositions (and conjunctions) are a ‘lexical matter’ (Wakelin 1977: 118). On the other hand, HE prepositions display features which have their roots in certain types of clausal patterns, and it is those aspects of prepositional usage that I will focus on in this chapter. I will also discuss the wider implications of some of these uses for what I would like to call the ‘thematic organisation’ of the HE clause, although that is a topic which will receive a fuller treatment in the next chapter.
The distinctive nature of HE prepositional usage has been widely recognised in previous studies. There is also general consensus among HE scholars that the prepositional system of HE reflects to a great extent the corresponding Irish usages (see, e.g. Joyce 1910/1988; van Hamel 1912; Henry 1957; Bliss 1984a; Harris 1993; Ó hÚrdail 1997). The heavy leaning on Irish is explained by the special role that prepositions play in Irish syntax. As van Hamel puts it, ‘in Irish syntax prepositions take a much more prominent place than in that of any other language’ (van Hamel 1912: 281). Harris (1993: 172) specifies this by saying that prepositional phrases are used in Irish to convey meanings which in other languages, including StE, are expressed by verbs, adjectives, or adverbs. Why this should be so - and its consequences to HE grammar - is aptly summarised by Henry as follows:
A conspiring fact of the first magnitude in Ir. is that there is no specific verb for to have. Thus possession, as well as a host of other relations are expressed by bheith ‘to be’ + prepositional group: Possession: tá airgead agam literally money is at me ‘I have money’; Presence: cé tá ann? literally and current A. I. [Anglo-Irish] who’s in it? ‘who’s there?’; Physical or psychical sensation: céard tá ort? literally, and current A. I. what’s on