Monday, July 31, 2006

You speak English?

The regional variations of accents and pronouncing of words can be both interesting and entertaining.

Here in Ireland notice how the Belfast accent is very flat and bassy. Further west in Derry it's higher pitched and when you get to West Donegal it's often like a high pitched scream. It's as if people's voices are increasingly competing with the screech of winds as you approach the Altantic seaboard!

My mother had a strong Derry accent and in Dublin when I was small our neighbouring family's parents had strong Cork accents. They had plenty of challenges in the early years trying to communicate with each other!

Regional accents come out stronger the more excitable or passionate the conversation becomes. Once in Tralee, Kerry I had occasion to be sitting beside two local businessmen. They were having a very intense talk about some serious matter. I'm convinced that they were talking in English, but their passion, speed of delivery and Kerry accents were so strong that I did not have a clue what they were saying. I could make out the odd "yerra" and "jaysus" but it was truly the only sustained time I can recall where I couldn't understand people in my own country! I think a degree of local understanding and body language was also kicking in as I've normally no problem understanding the Kerry accent.

The Dublin accent has it's own variations. In extreme cases the unique pronunciations of words get very ingrained. Recently I was reading a work related e-mail from a woman I had spoken to earlier that day. One sentence included something like "....air services to air customer". It puzzled me for a minute. Then I tried to imagine her speaking the sentence out loud and it suddenly made sense. Her strong Dublin accent pronouncing of "our" as "air" was so ingrained that she was even spelling it that way!

You expect TV news people to be accurate and neutral at pronouncing things, but there are many exceptions - including a Dublin TV reporter who says keeps saying "Are T E" for RTE. Then there are the other variations within Dublin - e.g. the newsreader accent would pronounce Lorry as Laurie and the stronger accent would say Lurry.

There are great English pronunciation and accent variations throughout Ireland, around the UK and all over USA and eleswhere. Once a gym coach was helping me and ran some tests and discussed ranges of exercises and diet etc. He kept mentioning how certain things would help me with my tinis. I was getting increasingly nervous as tinis sounded like some medical condition he thought I had. I then swallowed and bravely consulted him on what tinis was. Turned out it was just tennis with his Australian accent!

Americans often love their Irish roots but its fun watching them trying to cope with Irish words and names. I visited a supplier in Minneapolis some years ago. I brought a present of a traditional Irish doll for the small daughter of my regular contact. The packaging box named the doll as Róisín. I was back with the supplier 5 years later and the guy raved about how much his daughter still loved the Irish doll. For the past 5 years she had been calling the doll Rose-in (e.g. there is a rose in the garden). There was shock and horror on his face when I laughed and told him the correct pronunciation was "Rosheen". Too late for the child, it was Rose-in forever.

Speaking of Americans, I can't resist one last quick story, not too related to accents. Not long ago my sister-in-law brought some American friends to the 14th century Bunratty Castle, which is beside the motorway linking Limerick and Shannon. One of the American ladies said on exiting - "Gee, it's a lovely castle, but why did they build it so close to the freeway?" I suppose to some Americans Billy the Kid is their idea of ancient history!

Glad to hear any tales or views others have on accents and pronunciations.


Cailleach said...

I know what you mean about the Kerry brogue when theya re talking amongst themselves. I notice this two years ago when we were staying in Cahirciveen.
I went into the local butchers, where one local was talking to the butcher. When I approached and asked for my order, they interrupted their conversation and the butcher took my order in a slowed down version of how he had been talking. I could understand him no problem. But the two resumed their conversation and I was almost convinced that they were speaking Irish to one another, except that I could catch the occasional word. It must be simply the speed at which they talk.
Another time when I was going to France on the ferry, I met a group of Corkonions talking away. I was convinced that they were French, and only found out that they were Irish when they slowed down for me!

John of Dublin said...

Hi Cailleach. Yes, that must be it, the speed that locals talk to each other as they get animated makes it much harder to understand.

Paul Moore said...

Hello again, John.

Again, to come back to graduation, I went to Edinburgh for my first job. I suppose that my accent in those days must've been typically Dub Irish and at the requisite speed, because my boss couldn't understand. To make it worse, he was from an obscure part of Fife or somewhere and I couldn't understand him. We had to call in an interpreter to help out, who was from ... West Belfast, an accent that can stand with the best of them.

Since then it seems to have turned half circle. I seem to have lost the Northside Dub rough edge. When I tell Irish people I've been living in Belgium for most of the past 20 years, the usual reaction these days is that "I've gone native".

Omaniblog said...

What a marvellous first paragraph. As I was reading it, I thought 'this is the start of a novel...'

You have opened a rich vein here. I must have something to add.

I was on a cross-channel ferry from France to England. Sitting across a table from a couple who talked all the way, I did my usual listening. (I eavesdrop all the time on the conversation of strangers.) I couldn't make out what language they were speaking.

I went through all the languages I knew or could recognise: French, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Swedish, Danish, Portugese ...

And some others I could eliminate: SerboCroat, Basque.

Not a word could I make out or place. I was totally perplexed.

Only when we came to passport control, and I watched to see which way they went, did the penny drop. Glaswegians...

Which reminds me how hard I find it these days to work in Scotland without an interpreter.

A small question about Dublin accents: how many are there?

John of Dublin said...

Hi Paul and Omani. You both seem to have found strong Scottish accents tricky!

Omani, that's an interesting and deep question on the variations within Dublin. I've spent roughly half my life on each of north Dublin and south Dublin. There are definite variations from inner city accent and it changes slightly as you go north and you can distinguish north county accents up towards Donabate etc. In the south there are slight variations also. Especially with the female voice I think I can tell the difference between south east Dublin where I live and other parts.

To be truthful though I think I've noticed more variations in the Cork city accent when I've visited there, but I'll bow to your expertise on that one!

Omaniblog said...

You see I don't think there's a Dublin accent. There are many Dublin accents. Maybe it's just my way of thinking about it? But, there the Ballyfermot accent. It's different from Ringsend. Blackrock from Rathgar...

I'm too long gone from Dublin, but I love the cadences you find there.

It would be fun to compile a list of distinct accents in urban spacees, Cork as well.

Anyone feel like having a go at an initial categorisation of Dublin acccents, or Cork ones?

John of Dublin said...

Hi Omani,

Gosh, I'm really not totally sure of all the variations in Dublin, people move around the city a lot. There are differences but but it's complex pinpointing all the variations to locations I think. Others may be better at commenting than myself.

Paul Moore said...

When I'm back in Dublin, one thing I love to do is to drop into a pub and, as you said Omani, eavesdrop on people, mainly to tune back into the accent.

I remember once listening into two young lads chatting away about the previous night's Late Late Show. It seems that the show's theme had been about losing weight, and one of the lads mentioned that one of the panel who was grossly overweight, mentioned that if he wanted to, he could drop about one stone by not going out on a Friday night! Whatever it was, the combination of the story and the Dub accent, both cracked me up and I just couldn't stop laughing, and had to leave the pub.

I think it is Insight, the travel publisher series, which has a Dublin version. In there amongst all the glossy photos is a printed transcript of a conversation between two Dubs, with helpful English clarification. I don't have the book, but I remember such beauties as
"de oul fella": my father
"an oul wan": an elderly lady
"yer man with the knee": the other person in the room who had a bad knee

When I lived in Cork, there was a Corl-English dictionary published, maybe it's time for some literary enterprising soul to bring out a Dub version.

ferry said...

I love traveling, so I get to meet people with different background accents. I travel mostly by ferry to France and love interacting with people on board. The people from France & Portugal have different accents than English.

Anonymous said...

I 've always found accents fascinating. When I was a child in Tallaght my friends would always call me posch because my mother would correct me day -in and day -out. She was from Sandymount and my dad was from Crumlin. So you could see how confused I felt in Tallaght, especially when I was the only one talking properly. Well now we are in Atlanta , GA. usa. and my fiance can't understand my dad, but she can make out what my mother's saying.

Ashley said...

Ferries to France – channel crossings between Dover and Dunkirk


ferry said...

Its true that local speak fast then others. Once i was traveling in a
ferry i heard a conversation that was really fast.