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Review of  A Source Book for Irish English

Reviewer: Elizabeth J. Pyatt
Book Title: A Source Book for Irish English
Book Author: Raymond Hickey
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Book Announcement: 13.3359

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Date: Wed, 4 Dec 2002 10:45:17 -0500
From: Elizabeth J. Pyatt <>
Subject: Review of Hickey (2002)

Hickey, Raymond (2002) A Source Book for Irish English (Library and
Information Sources in Linguistics, vol. 27), John Benjamins,
hardback, ISBN 90 272 3753 0 (Eur) / ISBN 1 58811 209 8 (U.S.) 541
pp., CD-ROM (Windows), $136.00

Reviewed by Elizabeth J. Pyatt, Penn State University

The handbook 'A Source Book for Irish English' (announced in
LinguistList 13.2549
<>) is the latest
volume of John Benjamins Library and Information Sources in
Linguistics series which collects references for specialized language
topics such as Irish English. This book consists of four portions - a
"Historical Overview" of the English language in Ireland starting
from the medieval period, an overview of "Research Themes" in the
scholarship of Irish English, the "Annotated Bibliography" containing
over 3,400 entries and then various appendices, including information
about the CD-ROM.

Irish English, also known as Hiberno-English, refers to the form of
English spoken in Ireland. This variety is of potential interest to
traditional dialectologists, sociolinguists, and also to creolists
since many features of the native Celtic language Irish, such as
heavy use of clefting, were transferred to this form of English as
the population lost Irish.

As can be imagined from the proximity of Ireland and England, the
history of English in Ireland has been long, complicated and
sometimes turbulent. The historical overview gives an excellent
synopsis of the social and political situation starting from the
initial Norman settlements in the 12th century through the Protestant
plantations of the 16th-17th centuries to the secret 'hedge schools'
run by Irish language scholars, then the modern era. Hickey also
mentions other linguistic events in Ireland such as contact with Old
Norse and Flemish through various settlements or colonies. The
synopsis is followed by a list of key documents starting again from
the Anglo-Norman era. The research themes section sketches out what
issues have been of concern to historians and linguists.

The bulk of the source book is the annotated bibliography. At almost
400 pages, this section alone comprises almost three-quarters of the
book. This section is also organized by topic, and the range and
depth of topics is truly impressive as will be discussed later in
this review. Each entry is numbered in order to facilitate searches
on the CD-ROM and in the book itself. For instance, the historical
overview and research themes contain reference numbers which refer to
the bibliographic section. In addition, each entry is accompanied by
a short annotation explaining the contents of the article or book.

The CD-ROM contains the references in an electronic database, but
unfortunately for this reviewer, it is only accessible in PC format.
The database files are available with a special PC database or in
Microsoft Access format. However, some of the shorter reference files
are in RTF format which is usable on most platforms.

The first section of the bibliography covers references to works
about "English in Ireland" and includes general works, regional
studies including Dublin, Belfast and Ulster (Northern Ireland),
medieval resources, contact issues, the influence of Irish on
Irish-English, linguistic analyses (phonology, morphology, lexical,
syntax and acquisition) and the use of Irish-English in literature
and drama with special sections on Joyce, Swift, O'Casey, Synge and
the Irish "brogue."

The second section covers what Hickey calls "Extra-Territorial
Varieties" or language issues related to the diaspora of Irish
English speakers to Britain, North America, Australia and New Zealand
in the 18th-19th centuries. This section actually begins with the
linguistic relationship between Ireland and Scotland and then Ireland
and the Isle of Man. The socio-linguistic relationship between these
three regions is complex because both English and a form of Irish or
Gaelic is spoken in all three. The rest of this section finishes with
references to Wales and various regions in Britain then moves to
North America, with special sections on New Foundland, Appalachia and
the Caribbean. This section also includes papers which explores
potential relations with North American and Caribbean creoles
including African American Vernacular English. The last portion
includes sources for the Southern Hemisphere including Australia, New
Zealand, Asia and Africa.

The next section is "Additional Languages" and includes basic
citations for the Celtic languages, Norse, Flemish, Anglo-Norman and
Shelta (a gypsy language if Ireland), plus issues of Irish and
English bilingualism and language planning. The last two sections are
"General References" covering history, politics and literature in
Ireland and "Collections" organized by world region.

This book is a valuable resource for specialists of Irish English as
well as in other sub-disciplines such as creoles, Celtic linguistics,
English language dialectology and Germanic linguistics. Indeed, even
scholars of Irish literature and history could find this source book
very valuable, since the detailed organization of the bibliography
makes it easy for scholars to review the type of references they are
interested in. In addition, the historical overview is well-written
and extremely informative for both novices and experts. The
chronology at the end of the book is another valuable research tool.

However, for a researcher interested in getting an overview of Irish
English linguistic features, this may not be the best source to begin
with. Some information is available, but it is interspersed within
the annotations or in the Research Themes section which themselves
are mixed in with historical or dialectal themes. The focus of the
book is the bibliography and that would be its recommended use.
Fortunately, some information about general sources is provided in
the initial sections.

One technical quibble I have is that the database files on the CD-ROM
are apparently accessible only to PC users. The Macintosh user group
may be in the minority, but, in my opinion, still a significant
market force in the field of linguistics. A parallel set of files in
the cross-platform FileMaker Pro database format or even comma/tab
delimited delimited files could be made available. In particular, the
text delimited are relatively easy to import into other database
programs or a spreadsheet Excel. Finally, one minor publication quirk
is that Section II "Research Themes" is given its own section heading
in the table of contents, yet is labeled as part of the previous
"Historical Overview" section in the text itself. The author's
contents are not affected, but in a book this size, I found this a
little disorienting.

Overall though, scholars looking for a comprehensive overview of
available research on Irish-English will want to take a look at this
book. The detailed organization and annotation of the book make this
a valuable tool for Irish-English scholars and specialists in related

Elizabeth Pyatt earned a Ph.D. in linguistics, specializing in Celtic phonology and syntax.µ