Talk:British English

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 Definition Any of the spoken and written variants of the English language originating in the United Kingdom; widely used around the world, especially in current and former countries of the Commonwealth of Nations. [d] [e]
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 Talk Archive none  English language variant British English

Northern Irish English: British or Irish?

The section on Northern Irish English suggests "whether Northern Irish English is also British English is a matter of perspective."

I am uncomfortable with this statement. To me, it smacks of the old political debate with regard to labelling of things in Northern Ireland as Irish or British, which isn't really relevant. It also ignores the fact that English, as spoken in Northern Ireland, is both British AND Irish. English here is influenced heavily by Gaelic, by Victorian and pre-Victorian English, by modern English and modern American-English through culture media and contact, and by English as spoken in Scotland some centuries ago.

It should also be pointed out that, like Scots, Ullans or Ulster-Scots has a similar dispute with regard to its status as a language or a dialect.

Yes, linguistically, English in Northern Ireland has roots that are both Irish and British, but 'British English' is also a political concept, referring to any varieties of English spoken in the UK. ('Jafaikan', as it's disparagingly known, is also British English, despite being unfamiliar to many Britons.) We need to distinguish between cultural/political definitions and linguistic ones. Politically, how do people in Northern Ireland think of English? I suppose it depends on politics. Would they go with NI English as a form of 'Hiberno-English'? Probably not. John Stephenson 16:05, 9 January 2011 (UTC)


Also, I would question the wisdom of excluding English as spoken in the Republic of Ireland (in the form of 'Hiberno-English') from 'Commonwealth English'. Hiberno-English continues to be spoken in Northern Ireland and one part of Ireland simply leaving the political institution of the Commonwealth does not render its influence and similarities invalid, or make Hiberno-English suddenly have no influence from or connection with Commonwealth English.

Hiberno-English cannot be considered, in one political jurisdiction, part of Commonwealth English while the very same dialect, as spoken in another political jurisdiction, not part of Commonwealth English. Of course, I understand that there may be some people who might not like to be associated with the Commonwealth, but that is not necessarily this encyclopaedia's concern.

This last question is relevant obviously to the article on Commonwealth English also. --Mal McKee 15:05, 9 January 2011 (UTC)

We can't label English in the Republic of Ireland as 'Commonwealth English' because the term is basically political, covering many varieties of English that are used in the countries of the Commonwealth. The fact that varieties of English either side of the border are near-identical merely reflects the fact that what linguistically would be the same language or dialect is often labelled differently by different groups (e.g. Norwegian and Swedish are largely mutually intelligible, but are regarded as different languages through having different cultures and histories). Another example: there are U.S. English dialects which are much closer to British and Irish English than the mainstream (especially in New England and, believe it or not, African-American Vernacular English or 'Ebonics'), but we would never label them 'Commonwealth English' or 'British English'. The article does point out that the UK and Ireland share spellings, for example, and that 'Commonwealth English' is an inadequate term in this respect. John Stephenson 16:05, 9 January 2011 (UTC)

Above copied to Talk:Commonwealth English. John Stephenson 16:05, 9 January 2011 (UTC)

I'll just continue this discussion here.
To be honest John, I think you're confusing politics and linguistics. You also seem confused, with respect, about Loyalism and Unionism in Northern Ireland. It wasn't really that long ago, for example, that the Irish Unionist Party (now known as the Ulster Unionist Party) used Gaelic mottoes. The motto of the Royal Irish Regiment is 'Faugh A Ballagh'. The mural that you pointed to includes the shamrock.
The ancient name for the island was 'Hibernia' and, although that word is now often identified with a politico-historical ethnicity (for example with Hibs FC in Scotland and the AoH throughout the world), the wiser Loyalists here probably know something of the word's origin and would have absolutely no objection to the use of its variation being used to describe or label the particular dialect of English that they may speak. In fact, I have had occasion to look through many census records from 1901 and 1911, as well as identifying some of these people as signatories of the Ulster Covenant. One thing I noticed quite frequently was the amount of people of a Presbyterian, Quaker, Anglican, Methodist (etc) background who wrote "Irish" in the languages spoken column. Now many of them are crossed out as an afterthought, and I assume that it had perhaps been explained to them that by "Irish" what was actually meant was Gaelic. But these same people, many of whom signed the Covenant in 1912, obviously had absolutely no trouble with the word Irish.
The next time you think about Unionists, or even Loyalists, bear in mind that it isn't always concerned with a rejection of All Things Irish! I am sorry if this text sounds a little lecturing, by the way. I suggested that maybe you had some confusion and I have to say that you're not alone - many people actually from Northern Ireland are also confused! ;)
I agree with you when you say, "We need to distinguish between cultural/political definitions and linguistic ones." That was my point. I think we need to stop being so over-sensitive and stop thinking too much about perhaps offending some extremists here or there. Hiberno-English did not develop in the Republic of Ireland in isolation from the British peoples. Quite the contrary. Nor did it develop in isolation of the rest of the island. It developed, in fact, as a consequence of our relationship with the other British peoples and English would have been taught to us in exactly the same way as it had been originally taught to the 'English' back in the day, or the Scots or Welsh. It didn't develop in a similar way as American-English, which used a conscious effort, for example. But it would have been taught in Ireland based on the same teaching methods as was taught in contemporary England and Scotland.
I suspect that even today, there is no difference in the way English is taught in schools in the Republic, and that taught anywhere in the UK, both formally and informally.
If we can't use the term "Commonwealth English" to describe or label English as spoken across the island of Ireland because "Commonwealth" is a political notion, then I would suggest to you that the term "Commonwealth English" isn't adequate. It becomes a nonsense to describe something in one country as, in this example, Commonwealth English, yet describe that very same thing as spoken in the Republic as not belonging to this group. Hiberno-English in County Donegal is the same as Hiberno-English in County Tyrone. It's not quite the same as your example of Norwegian and Swedish, or as Mexican and Spanish even, I would go as far as to say. The differences in the use of Hiberno-English varies geographically, subtly, as one travels north-, east-, west- or southward. But only as much as, say, Scots would vary between different parts of Scotland.
I suspect one of the principle reasons we wouldn't label US-English as Commonwealth English or British English in your examples is because of the spelling differences. They adopted the Webster spellings uniformly across the USA, didn't they?
But the Republic, the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands and the other outer islands are all pretty much a core group, are they not, who are all taught this particular strain of modern English with the same rules, as opposed to the way the are taught in the USA with their differences in common word usage ("mail" instead of "post"), spelling (colour/color) and grammar ("one hundred twenty"/"one hundred and twenty").
I have to bow to your knowledge of linguistic, of course. Having just looked at your profile, it seems considerable. Perhaps though, you could kick this idea around for a bit and see if we can come up with some better wording and explanation in the articles, given the political angle. Personally, I'd prefer politics were not a part of it and I think it's a sorry state to be in to be offended by being included in a geographical region known as the British Isles. Or, indeed, to be offended by any inclusion in an 'Irish X, Y or Z'.
Anyway, I hope this discussion is useful and/or interesting to you in some way, and perhaps we can find some way between us to address my particular concerns with the article(s). I'm happy to hear any suggestions. I'm also happy to be referred to any discussions or papers both for and against my standpoint from colleagues in your field of expertise. --Mal McKee 19:23, 9 January 2011 (UTC)
Firstly, your explanations about Irish identity in Northern Ireland were illuminating; thanks. I confess that, having only been to NI once, it is difficult to see beyond the Unionist/Nationalist split.
Secondly, I have subsequently changed some things, and would welcome edits or suggestions as to what to say in the article. Perhaps Politically and culturally, while many Northern Irish speakers may refer to their overall dialect as one variety of British English, others would prefer to describe it as a form of Irish English could just be cut.
Though the standard forms of British and Irish English (or Hiberno-English) are very similar, the history of Northern Ireland makes identifying the varieties of English spoken there with the UK slightly controversial. Politically and culturally, while many Northern Irish speakers may refer to their overall dialect as one variety of British English, others would prefer to describe it as a form of Irish English. Therefore, whether Northern Irish English is also British English or Irish English is a matter of political perspective. Linguistically, the dialects of Northern Ireland share roots with both the English of elsewhere on the island of Ireland and those spoken on the island of Great Britain.
Thirdly, linguistics. I think we are arguing with different definitions of 'linguistics'. It seems to me that you think we should just look at the linguistic facts, i.e. English throughout Ireland comprises similar dialects which are also similar to those elsewhere in the British Isles, so we should have no fear of using 'Commonwealth English' to refer to it. But linguistics as a whole also takes into account social data; linguists do not prescribe how varieties should be labelled, but describe the intuitions of the speakers regarding how they speak as well as the actual grammatical properties. For example, we do not declare that because the standard variety of English in Ireland is virtually the same as that in Britain, that we should be able to refer to it as 'Commonwealth English', which is a loaded term. Actually, before the CZ article started I wrote on the Talk-page-to-be my doubts about even having a page on it. It's not a nonsense to describe what is linguistically exactly the same variety as different depending on what side of a border people live on because the term is social and political in the first place. Rather like on the Netherlands-Germany border, where the same Germanic variety (Limburgish) is spoken but is often regarded as 'Dutch' on one side and 'German' on the other (albeit now being somewhat driven apart by politics). In contrast, if the Americans were to adopt 'British' spellings and vocabulary tomorrow, they would still be using American English, and we would not start to call it either 'Commonwealth English' or 'British English' because the U.S. is not part of the Commonwealth or the UK, and has been developing very much independently of the British Empire and its successor since the 18th century. Likewise, Standard English in India is virtually the same as Standard English in Britain, but we do not insist that Indians use British English for formal purposes and their own variety of non-standard Indian English otherwise: it's all Indian English.
I think it is necessary to distinguish standard from non-standard. It is certainly true that the standard, usually written, form of English that it taught in schools is pretty much identical throughout the British Isles and virtually the same as that taught in many countries, particularly members of the Commonwealth. There are a few differences in vocabulary, spellings, etc., but not many. If we take the properties of standard and particularly written English as the priority, then we could indeed say that Irish English is a form of Commonwealth English. In fact, as you say, in Northern Ireland it is both British and Irish, if we look at the grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary of the varieties of English on the island of Ireland as a whole. We could write that Standard English in Ireland uses the same conventions as Commonwealth English, without actually labelling it as such. John Stephenson 05:35, 10 January 2011 (UTC)
Just to confuse things further, it seems to me that British and American varieties of standard, educated English differ from each other much less than either of them differs from dialects like Cockney, Geordie, Glaswegian, Hillbilly, Strine and Zummerzett. To put it another way, British and American standard, educated English are subdialects of standard, educated English, which is one dialect alongside the others. Peter Jackson 10:44, 10 January 2011 (UTC)