Learning an Irish Accent
WHAT WILL YOU DOWNLOAD?
The download contains one hundred ten (110) minutes of systematic instruction in MP3 sound files. You’ll also get a printable PDF of the instruction manual. It contains summaries of the audio lessons and full transcripts of the drill words, phrases, and passages.
WHAT WILL YOU LEARN?
You’ll first learn the general Irish accent (aka Hiberno English) heard throughout non-Northern counties of the Irish Republic. You’ll then branch into regional variations including Dublin, Cork, and Northern Irish. Here’s how you’ll proceed.
- Lesson 1 teaches the Irish accent’s resonance or voice placement. In other words, you’ll learn how to move and shape your mouth to create the general Irish sound focus. It further includes proper Irish R pronunciation, since that relates closely to the tongue movement.
- Lesson 2 creates the downward lilt or inflection heard outside the North of Ireland. You then practice intensifying the lilt to stress words and ideas.
- The 3rd Lesson teaches the Irish “slightly-muffled vowels” as outgrowths of the mouth posture from Lesson 1. Why “muffled”? I experience those vowels “muffled” or “squashed” against the palate as a result of the higher tongue position.
- Lesson 4 drills the Irish “heavily lilting” vowels—the sounds (often diphthongs) most susceptible to the Irish pitch glide.
- Lesson 5 teaches several vowel sets that migrate toward the AH sound in much of Irish speech.
- The 6th Lesson drills a few distinctly Irish consonant pronunciations that come and go among different speakers.
- Lesson 7 puts the general Hiberno English accent together with several drill passages. First, it reminds you about the voice placement. It then walks you through the pronunciation phrase by phrase before having you increase your speaking rate.
- Lesson 8 shows you how to tweak the general accent to create the unique impressions of both Dublin and Cork.
- The Final Lesson reverses the direction of the lilt (along with other tweaks), creating the sense of Northern Irish speech. This distinction holds both for the COUNTRY of Northern Ireland and the northern COUNTIES of the Republic.
MORE ABOUT THE IRISH ACCENT
Most people today think of Ireland and Northern Ireland as English-speaking countries with unique Irish-sounding accents/dialects. However, the Irish (Gaelic) language used to dominate the island. Over the years of UK political control, that language lost ground as English became more and more dominant. (See Brian Friel’s Translations, a drama based on the political/military clash of both the cultures and languages.) In recent years, the Irish language has made a significant comeback in some parts of the country.
IRISH FOR TODAY’S ACTORS
Most of today’s English speakers are somewhat familiar with at least the general sound of Irish speech. However, not as many are likely to recognize the Northern variation.
- Some directors (especially in North America) avoid the Northern accent even if the plays are set there. This is an “artistic” rather than a “linguistic” choice. I’ll say more about that below.
- General or Southern Irish can get stereotyped when the lilt is overly used in a repetitive pattern. (Think of the old TV commercials for Irish Spring soap and Lucky Charms cereal.) But actors can avoid this problem by using glides (and changing their duration) to emphasize words and ideas.
- The world of theatre is filled with plays by Irish playwrights and others with Irish characters. Southern Irish characters live in scripts by Brendan Behan, J. M. Synge, Seán O’Casey, and more recently Martin McDonagh.
- Most of Brian Friel’s characters live in County Donegal, which is in the Republic but has Northern speech. In several productions of Friel I’ve coached, directors decided against Northern accents. They preferred to use the version of Irish more familiar to most audience members. Again—such an artistic choice is often justifiable.