Research areas




   Varieties of English   


   Late Modern English   


   Irish English   


   Dublin English   


   The Irish Language   


   Other linguistic issues   



The following sections seek to give an impression of my main research interests. To see what is currently in the pipeline, please consult the section Book Project.

You will notice that I have edited many volumes on varieties of English. This editing was done because to cover a large cross-section of varieties it was necessary to engage scholars who are experts in a particular area of this field. The resulting volumes are collaborative efforts which have been realised because of the engagement of teams of scholars.

I have also written several monographs in the areas where I feel I have sufficient expertise, e.g. various aspects of Irish English and the phonology of Irish.


   Varieties of English


             

The spread of English during the colonial period, roughly from 1600 to 1900, is the major focus of my research on varieties of English. The major book publication in this area is Legacies of Colonial English. Studies in Transported Dialects. (Cambridge University Press, 2004). The best overviews of my work in this field are A Dictionary of Varieties of English. (Wiley-Blackwell, 2014) and Sounds of English Worldwide. (Wiley-Blackwell, 2023).

In addition I have written a large number of articles on various aspects of this complex, see the relevant section of Articles and Chapters. Many of these articles deal with the spread of English from Irish through the significant quantitative emigration from Ireland to practically all parts of the anglophone world during the colonial period.



   Late Modern English


   

The English language in the past few centuries has been gained the increasing attention of linguists in recent years. The eighteenth century in particular has been closely examined, especially with regard to the rise of a written standard for English and the appearance of socially driven prescriptivism in language. The best publication to consult on these matters is Eighteenth-Century English. Ideology and Change. (Cambridge University Press, 2010).

For both the above topics I maintain two large websites with wide-ranging materials. The websites are dedicated (i) to the history of the English language in England and (ii) to the varieties of English found throughout the world. Both websites are open sources put at the disposal of interested students and scholars alike and can be accessed via the following links.

       

       



   Irish English


                     

As someone who grew up in Ireland I have a natural interest in language matters in Ireland. In particular, I have researched varieties of English in Ireland for about three decades and have written very extensively on the subject as you can see from the relevant section of All Publications.. There are many facets to this topic: broadly speaking, it has a historic and a present-day dimension, the major event in the former being the shift from Irish to English by the great majority of the Irish population in the past few centuries.

Present-day Irish English show a kaleidoscope of sub-varieties. There are different varieties in the capital Dublin (see following section) and in the major towns and cities, including Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford in the Republic of Ireland. Added to these are many rural varieties through the country which often show traces of the Irish language and of dialect input from those regions in Britain where settlers came from.

The province of Ulster (which includes Northern Ireland, politically a constituent part of the United Kingdom) has an even greater range of varieties due to diverse dialect input to the region since the seventeenth century. There was an early and strong Scots input from Western Scotland which gave rise to Ulster Scots. But there was also input from Northern England which led to specific forms of Mid-Ulster English. The two major cities Derry/Londonderry and Belfast show amalgams of hinterland inputs in the past few centuries as well as features of their own.

To start with you might like to consult the comprehensive overview of Irish English, Irish English. History and Present-day Forms. (Cambridge University Press, 2007).

If you wish to consult material online then I suggest you begin with the branch Languages in Ireland of the Irish English Resource Centre which has information on Irish, Anglo-Norman, Old Norse and Latin in Ireland as well as relevant historical data. I also have a book with contributions covering various languages in Ireland, e.g. Irish, English and Ulster Scots.

The website just mentioned – Irish English Resource Centre – cover all major aspects of Irish English both in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (or the province of Ulster more generally). There are many maps and visual guides on the site as well as a selection of sound files illustrating the different varieties of Irish English.

         



   Dublin English


   

English was taken to Dublin, the capital of Ireland, in the late twelfth century and has continued there since, making Dublin English one of the oldest varieties of English. It has retained many archaic features, such as unshifted short /ʊ/, classically found in the local pronunciation of the city’s name /dʊblɪn/ for Dublin.

For anyone interested in language variation and change from a sociolinguistic perspective English in Dublin is a rewarding experience. There are a number of aspects which distinguish Dublin from other capital cities in the anglophone world and which make English there different. The most important is that there is no codified standard of Irish English and because of the historical relationship with England, the use of anything like Received Pronunciation by Dubliners, or Irish people in general, is not an option (contrast this with Britain). So non-vernacular registers of Dublin English are essentially distinguished by being different from the vernacular of the city and not by sounding like standard British or American English.

Because of the huge changes to Dublin which began in the late 1980s with the economic upswing (until 2008) there arose new forms of non-vernacular English which in their features were diametrically opposed to local, colloquial Dublin English. This process and different varieties of Dublin English are documented in my 2005 book Dublin English. Evolution and Change (Amsterdam: John Benjamins). There is a CD with this book on which all the 300+ speakers recorded for this project can be heard. About the CD: I believe strongly in accountability in linguistic research. Wherever possible, I have provided the anonymous audio files which I used for various projects as a CD or DVD going with a book, see A Sound Atlas of Irish English (Berlin: de Gruyter Mouton) with a DVD and The Dialects of Irish, also with a DVD. All these projects come complete with appropriate software to listen to the sound files and follow the analysis for which they form the basis.

Dublin English is dynamic and has not just shown the major changes, such as the vowel shift, of the 1990s but more recently the lowering of short front vowels in the DRESS and TRAP lexical sets. While the motivation for the earlier shift would seem to have been internal to Dublin, the present shifts among short front vowels may possibly be an adoption of the lowering which is quite widespread across the anglophone world (far western USA, Canada, but also Britain).

As part of on-going work on Dublin English I have a large research-based website with lots of information, spectrograms, sound files, etc. Feel free to look around the site and find out more about English in Dublin.

   



   The Irish Language


     

I am a native speaker of English but have had a lifelong interest in the Irish language (of which my great-grandfather was probably the last native speaker in our family coming from the Déise (then encompassing north Co. Waterford) which was an Irish-speaking area until the early twentieth century). My first published article was on loanwords in the Irish of the middle Aran Island (in Galway Bay). Since then I have concerned myself with the linguistic description of Irish. This culminated in the monograph The Dialects of Irish. Study of a Changing Landscape. (de Gruyter Mouton, 2011) which is a comprehensive overview of the major dialects of present-day Irish. Accompanying the book is a DVD with recordings of hundreds of speakers which document the manner in which Irish is still spoken today. A second monograph, The Sound Structure of Modern Irish. (de Gruyter Mouton, 2013), offers a description of Irish phonology and morphology from a typological perspective comparing the system of palatalisation and initial mutation to similar devices in a range of other languages from around the world.

The following is an introductory website with much general and background information about the Irish language. It is intended for students and scholars alike.

     

The following website deals specifically with the phonology of Irish in its various dialects. The sound system of the language is explained with sound files for all segmental distinctions and processes. Contrasting sets of sounds are also presented to illustrate the major differences between the Northern, Western and Southern dialects along with their subvarieties.

     



   Other linguistic issues


         

Researching data from the history of English and Irish led me to more general considerations of language change especially with regard to the effects of language contact and the geographical clustering of linguistic features (areality). Anyone interested in these issues might care to look at any or all of the above volumes. I was also the coordinator for the section on language contact in Terttu Nevalainen and Elizabeth Closs Traugott (eds) The Oxford Handbook of the History of English. (Oxford University Press, 2012), my contributions to that volume (on language contact in the history of English and on the Celtic hypothesis) can be accessed in the relevant section of the file All Publications..


    

The rise of standards in the anglophone countries around the world is the topic of Standards of English. Codified Varieties Around the World (Cambridge University Press, 2012) which contains many insights into how these varieties have arisen. In particular I have examined the process of supraregionalisation by which vernacular varieties lose some but not all of their colloquial features due to social factors such as universal education and the rise the middle classes who began to use an embryonic standard variety, see the relevant section of the file All Publications.

Connected with the above complex is the methodological issue of examining the textual record for varieties with a view to linguistic analysis. This historical concern led to the publication of the volume Varieties of English in Writing. The Written Word as Linguistic Evidence (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2010).


The examination of texts in computer form has been an additional concern of mine for some time, at least since I started collecting documentation for the history of Irish in electronic form back in the 1990s, something which was published on the CD accompanying the book Corpus Presenter (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2003). I continue to maintain the software which I wrote for this task and it has been used in projects undertaken by colleagues in Helsinki, see Irma Taavitsainen and Päivi Pahta Early Modern English Medical Texts. Corpus description and studies (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2010) and Merja Kytö, Peter Grund and Terry Walker Testifying to Language and Life in Early Modern England. An electronic text edition of depositions 1560-1760 (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2011).

Click on the branch Corpus Linguistics on the left of the screen and then on Text analysis software for more information about Corpus Presenter.