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A Sound Atlas of Irish English

Raymond Hickey

Berlin/NewYork: Mouton de Gruyter, December 2004, 171 pages and DVD.

A Sound Atlas of Irish English offers a unique and comprehensive audio overview of the English language as spoken in present-day Ireland. In all, there are over 1,500 recordings which were made between the mid 1990s and 2002. The recordings cover both genders and all ages (from 11 to over 80). Each county of the 32 in Ireland is represented and there is a proper spread according to population. The capitals, Belfast and Dublin, have large numbers of speakers, making the sound atlas particularly suitable for sociolinguistic work within a variationist framework.

All the data can be accessed easily from the supplied DVD by means of a Java application which allows the user to browse among the data by county and to view and listen to lexical set realisations and free text. The DVD contains much additional information about Irish English — varieties, historical development, current distribution, etc. — as does the accompanying book which offers many details concerning specific features of forms of Irish English and information on the methodology used for the sound atlas. The software will run under any version of Windows as well as on Macintosh computers and under the Linux operating system. It may be, but need not be, installed to the hard disk of a computer.

A Sound Atlas of Irish English has basically a twofold purpose. It is on the one hand a research tool for those scholars who are interested in Irish English from an internal point of view, so to speak, and on the other hand it is a source of reliable and up-to-date information on the kinds of English spoken in Ireland and which can be used for comparative work, e.g. when looking at the sources of features found in varieties around the world, such as US English, Canadian, Australian/New Zealand English and the like. The sound atlas can be used by academics and students alike. The latter group is especially relevant in this context. With the sound atlas, students can gain a much clearer picture of Irish English by listening to the sound files.

The sound atlas is supplemented by A Survey of Irish English Usage which consists of over 1,000 questionnaires from speakers with information on the acceptance of grammatical features specific to Irish English. The data of the survey, along with analytical software, is contained on the DVD and discussed in the book.

Furthermore, the sound atlas DVD contains 80 recordings from the project A Tape Recorded Survey of Hiberno-English Speech which was started in the 1970s by the English Department, Queen’s University, Belfast. Although it was never completed, the available tapes were digitised by the present author and represent an important source of data from older rural speakers from various points around Ireland. An active map is supplied and by clicking on a point you can listen to the speech of the individual recorded at that location.

From the Preface to the book

This sound atlas offers a comprehensive audio overview of the English language as spoken in present-day Ireland. The data for the atlas was collected over several years during which the author travelled throughout the entire Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and collected anonymous samples of speech from representative speakers in both urban and rural settings and across at least three generations. The speakers in the sample are identified by gender, geographical location in Ireland and approximate age. The recordings were made on cassette tapes which were then digitised and compressed using the well-known MPEG Layer-3 method of sound file compression (often abbreviated to just ‘MP3’). The material recorded for each speaker consisted of at least a list of sample sentences all of which illustrate the lexical sets which are of interest in both northern and southern Irish English (see section II 5.1. Lexical sets for Irish English below). In many cases speakers also read a sample text which lasted approximately a minute and a half. This illustrates a more relaxed style as it is a continuous piece of text. Some speakers furthermore read a list of words which contain sounds critical for the present-day distribution of, and ongoing changes in Irish English. In all, there are over 1,500 recordings.

On the DVD accompanying this manual all sound files are to be found as well as appropriate software for listening to the recordings. In addition there is much information about Irish English, an introduction to the phonology of this variety, as well as various items of background information which might be of interest to users of the atlas. Particular attention should be paid to the extracts of sound files in which many of the salient features of Irish English are discussed and illustrated. Together with the overview of Irish English, this offers an appropriate first orientation to the material on the CD and to Irish English in general.

To install A Sound Atlas of Irish English you should run the setup program to be found in the root directory of the DVD. The setup procedure is similar to that for any other program running in a Windows environment. Users of the DVD should be aware that it requires approximately 3.5 GB (3,500 MB) of free space on your hard disk if you choose to install the sound files. However, if you choose not to copy the sound files to your hard disk, then only 160 MB are required. You will then require the DVD to listen to the files. The programs and the data can be removed completely if you wish to do so at some later date. To listen to the recordings you will require a functioning soundcard in your computer with speakers or headphones attached.

On the accompanying DVD there is also a so-called Java version of the sound atlas. Basically, this consists of software written in the programming language used for files in the internet. The great advantage here is that this program will run under Windows and also on an Apple Macintosh computer (as well as under the Linux operating system and older versions of Windows). To start the Java version double click on the file 000_Sound_Atlas.htm (the first file in the root directory of the DVD) from within your file manager (on the desktop of the Macintosh or in the Windows Explorer). A program will start showing a tree with options on the left of the screen and a window with information on the right corresponding to the currently active node. The opening screen shows a map of Ireland on the right with a list of the 32 counties. Choose a county from a list of sound files from speakers of that county and click on the ear symbol to listen to a recording. Users of the sound atlas should bear in mind that the Java version does not contain all the options present in the dedicated software written as a gateway to the atlas and which can be accessed by going through the setup procedure as described in the previous paragraph. But there are advantages to the Java version, not only that it is independent of computer type, as just mentioned, but also that it will run without installing any software or copying files from the supplied DVD to your computer.


I Data collection and analysis

1. Background to A Sound Atlas of Irish English

1.1.The beginnings with Dublin English

1.2. Conducting the interviews

1.3. Results of the data collection

2. Recordings for A Sound Atlas of Irish English

2.1. Aim of the recordings

2.1.1. Capturing variation

2.2. Organisation of the recordings

2.2.1. Getting low noise recordings

3. Analysing the recording exchanges

3.1. Minimising social distance for recordings

3.2. Effort and intrusion

3.3. Asking permission

3.4. Appeals for participant help

3.5. Righteous indignation and survey fatigue

3.6. Face of the informants

4. Background to A Survey of Irish English Usage

II The English language in Ireland

1. Introduction

1.1. Dialect divisions

1.2. Historical background

1.3. The medieval period

1.4. The early and late modern period

1.5. Language shift in early modern Ireland

1.6. Contact Irish English

1.7. Supraregionalisation

1.8. Vernacularisation

2. Varieties of Southern Irish English

2.1. The East Coast

2.2. The South-West and West

2.3. The Midlands

3. Varieties of Northern Irish English

3.1. Terminology

3.2. Ulster Scots

3.3. Delimiting Ulster Scots

3.4. Contrasting northern and southern Irish English

3.5. Interpreting features of Irish English

3.6. Ireland as a linguistic area

4. Urban English in Ireland

4.1. English in Dublin

4.1.1. Features of local Dublin English

4.1.2. Recent developments

4.1.3. The spread of the new Dublin accent

4.2. English in Belfast

4.2.1. Sources of Belfast English

4.3. English in Derry

5. Data categories for Irish English

5.1. Lexical sets for Irish English

5.2. Sample sentences used for A Sound Atlas of Irish English

5.3. Free text used for recordings

5.4. Word list for critical pronunciations in Dublin English

6. Extracts from sound files

6.1. The structure of file names

6.2. Statistics for sound files

6.3. Listening to sound files while reading

6.4. Vowels

6.4.1. Specific features of northern Irish English

6.5. Sonorants and approximants

6.5.1. Realisations of /l/

6.5.2. Realisations of /r/

6.5.3. Approximants

6.6. Obstruents [stops and fricatives]

6.7. Phonological processes

6.8. Intonation and stress patterns

III Processing software for atlas data

1. A Sound Atlas of Irish English

1.1. Java version

1.1.1. Statistics for the sound atlas

1.1.2. Lexical sets in the sound atlas

1.1.3. Listening to selected sound files

1.1.4. Additional material

1.1.5. Using other processing software

1.2. Windows version

1.2.1. Main programme

1.2.2. Command description

2. Further programmes

2.1. File Manager

2.2. Word Processor

2.3. Database Editor

2.4. Make Database

2.5. Report Form Generator

IV A Survey of Irish English Usage

1. Introduction

2. Processing software

3. The survey and Irish English

3.1. Analysis of questionnaire

3.2. Possible sources for features of Irish English

3.3. Questionnaire for A Survey of Irish English Usage

4. Java version of survey software

5. Tape-Recorded Survey of Hiberno-English Speech – Digital

V Technical notes

VI Glossary of computer terms

VII Timeline for Irish English

VIII Glossary for Irish English