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PhD Research School in Linguistics and Philology

Persijn Marius de Rijke

An empirical diachronic study of the evolution of Irish English phonology: Phonetic representation in personal correspondence between 1700 and 1940

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The aim of my project is to use the nearly complete Corpus of Irish English Correspondence (CORIECOR) to document diachronic phonological changes in Irish English (IrE) by examining phonetic representations in over 4,100 letters written by Irish emigrants between 1700 and 1940. The project will not only chart the phonological evolution of IrE over more than 200 years, but it will also be able to show how earlier British English (BrE) and IrE varieties influenced each other and how these in turn might have been influenced by the native Irish language.

Given the high degree of orality displayed in the letters CORIECOR can be used to document phonetic representation. Letters were very much regarded as ‘substitute speech’ in the past, so they potentially offer the most realistic source for charting historical phonological change of any written material excepting perhaps contemporary linguistic commentary or the comparative method. 

My project will provide a clearer, comprehensive picture of the history of IrE phonology, tie current knowledge of historical phonetic developments together and greatly add to the fragmentary knowledge of the evolution of IrE. It will attempt to answer how BrE settlers speaking different varieties might have had an influence on phonology in different areas of Ireland, how these varieties might have koinéised, and to what extent substrate Irish influence might have played a role in this process. Connected to this, it will chart the language shift from Irish to English that happened between 1750 and 1900.

Answering these questions will provide a much broader and more complete overview of why IrE sounds the way it does in different areas, both at present and during the previous 300 years. The project is significant for further studies of IrE as well, in that it will make available data with which to study IrE phonological influence on other World Englishes. As we know, Irishmen have been well represented amongst immigrants to e.g. America, Australia, and New Zealand in the past.

de Rijke works at the Department of Foreign Languages.