In this section, I will summarise and discuss the main findings of the corpus study of the four HE dialects. Principal problems addressed include the controversial notion of the uniformity of (southern) HE dialects, the extent of dialect levelling, the probable direction of development, and variation between dialectal and standard or other forms.
The view which holds southern HE to be relatively uniform (see, e.g. Hogan 1927/1970; Bliss 1977a; Adams 1977; Barry 1982) receives some support from my findings: most of the features investigated occur (to varying degrees, though) in all rural varieties examined here and even in Dublin speech, although they are not so common there as in the rural varieties, and especially in the two (south)western varieties. Perhaps the most obvious exception to this general rule was the higher rate of occurrence of the after perfect in the Dublin subcorpus than in those from the rural varieties (see section 6.2.2). The relatively high frequencies of some of the Irish-derived features (such as some aspects of article usage, the after perfect, subordinating and, embedded inversion) in Wicklow speech is another noteworthy result, bearing in mind the early withdrawal of Irish from that area. One plausible explanation for the observed uniformity may well be, as is argued in Bliss (1977a: 19), the naturalistic mode of transmission of English in the period of the most intense language shift, which led to cumulative and continuing influence of the grammatical systems of Irish on HE (see the discussion in section 3.4). Comparisons between HE, both rural and urban, on the one hand, and BrE dialects, on the other, revealed clear qualitative and quantitative differences which lend further support to this view. One should also remember the strikingly similar qualitative evidence from other HE dialects than those investigated here: these included, among others, North Roscommon (Henry 1957; see also Henry 1958 on other dialects), Kilkenny (Moylan 1996), Ballyvourney (Lunny 1981), Cork and other southern dialects (Ó hÚrdail 1997), and the northern dialects (Harris 1984b; Henry 1995; Corrigan 1997b).
There is another factor at work here which also helps to explain the relative uniformity of present-day HE vernacular and fairly persistent use of most of the distinctive features even in the urban speech of Dublin: large-scale migration from the countryside to the Dublin area and other urban centres during the greater part of this century. Describing the patterns of population movement in the Ireland of the 1920s to the 1940s, Foster (1988: 539) pays attention to ‘a pronounced rural-urban drift’; a similar process of depopulation of rural Ireland then continued in the first decade or so after the war (Foster 1988: 578). According to the geographer Arnold Horner, the population of Dublin has more than doubled during the twentieth century, and the city’s population, which in 1926 represented less than 15 per cent of the state population, accounted for almost 30 per cent in 1986 (Horner 1992: 327). As explained in section 4.2.2, a similar expansion of the population especially in the North Inner City had already taken place in the latter part of the nineteenth century. The influx of people from all parts of the country into Dublin made it what Horner (1992: 348) describes as a ‘melting pot for jackeens [Dubliners] and culchies [country people]’. From a linguistic perspective, the outcome must have been dialect mixture and diffusion of rural dialect features into Dublin speech and vice versa.