My first authentic encounter with an Irish accent occurred when I met my "Host Mom," named Sabrina, for the first time. As Sabrina began offering advice for how to navigate the city, I noticed the bouncy rhythm of her speech. She spoke in an oscillating manner, for her vocalizations alternated between rapid bursts of a rush of syllables and long, highly emphasized, monosyllabic tones. For example, Sabrina pronounced the phrase "peanut butter" by placing a very lengthy stress on the first syllable "pea" and following that initial syllable with a quick surge of the remaining three syllables. My host father, on the other hand, named Paul, possessed a deep, guttural rumble which greatly contrasted with Sabrina's sharp vocalizations. I was struck by how differently the two spoke and struggled to track the proper "Irish" pronunciation of words. My fascination with the variation present within the Irish speech patterns expanded as I continued to meet people in the immediate area. I was baffled by the vocal diversity - it seemed that each individual developed his/her own particular pronunciations.
As I began my work for the National Children's Research Centre (NCRC) in Crumlin, I continued to encounter new accents. While many of the researchers at the NCRC were foreigners as well, the staff members native to Ireland spoke in a steady, soft tone. The energetic bounce in the accents of those in my immediate neighbourhood were absent in the workplace at the NCRC. The NCRC was not far from my house, so how could the accents change so dramatically after a few blocks? As I was speaking with one of the other interns on the first day, the subject of accents inevitably entered the conversation. The intern asked if I had noticed the vast array of speech patterns, and, after telling him of my fascination with accents, he boasted profoundly that "Ireland is a country of accents." The intern also claimed you could tell where a stranger grew up based on their accent alone. Over the coming weeks, I began to pay more attention to where people were from in addition to their accent. Bus and train rides became more entertaining as I observed minute shifts in dialect throughout the trip.
Of course every country has a collection of accents, so how is Ireland unique? There are a multitude of accents in America - from Boston to Texas, New York to Minnesota, Georgia to North Dakota, the list goes on and on. Certainly, accents develop in every part of the world. But the differences present in America are regional differences and they vary more or less from state to state. Ireland is 174 miles wide at its widest and 302 miles long as its longest and contains about 6.5 million people. My home state of Virginia is 200 miles wide and 400 miles long, both dimensions greater than Ireland, and possesses a population of 8.1 million. Virginia has a detectable array of accents, as there is a great divide in culture between Northern and Southern Virginia. Yet, the few dialects present in Virginia are in no way comparable to the range of accents present in Dublin, let alone Ireland.
In Dublin alone - a city containing just over a half of a million people - borders and pockets exist that contain their own flavour. Even the organization of the city fosters these mini-divisions, for the city is sectored into regions numbered 1-12 which describe each region's location in relation to the River Liffey. Moreover, Dublin is just one city within the larger country, and a greater number of tight communities and accents exist in the peripheral countryside. One could argue the range of accents present in the city is a microcosm of the greater range of nature, history, culture, food, and entertainment to be found in Ireland. The beaches and coasts on the periphery are only a short trip away from green hills and the occasional mountain. Medieval churches and school buildings border modern concert halls and luxury hotels. While the broad scope of accents present in Ireland certainly attracted my attention, the accents are just one amusing feature of the proud country.
~ Justin Murphy '15
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