Zee or Zed? The Question of Conflicting English Dialects
The English language is a multinational, multicultural language spanning centuries of war, colonialism and great social reform, and is now seen by many as the modern language of business. The question that inspired this article, is why an English-speaking nation like Ireland has acquired a superiority complex over other English-speaking countries (America in particular), that has potentially fuelled into our racist/discriminative culture. Regardless, our main concern should be whether English can still be considered a homogenous language and if not, can particular English dialects be considered superior to others? Unfortunately, this opens up a vast array of further questioning. Take Canada as the first example, it is evident throughout history that Canadian-English has tried to remain as ‘English’ as possible but has also had great influence from American dialect after the Civil War. Can this Canadian dialect be considered English, or only technically ‘English’? And if so; can it even be defined as its own language?
For the purpose of this article let us call into question the American-English, Irish-English and Canadian-English dialects of the original language. A large majority of these questions can centre around colonialism, for example, the American dialect. During the colonisation of the Americas, a large majority of the Northern America was colonised by the British, with a considerable proportion of America’s current citizens descending from countries such as Ireland (35,523,082), Africa (41,284,752), France (9,136,092), Italy (17,558,598), Germany (49,206,934), Denmark (4,810,511), Poland (9,739,653) and England (26,923,091). This is noteworthy as the Americas remained under British rule until the American Revolution. Thus, the dominant language became English, therefore the ancestors of current American citizens were either English speaking colonists or natives, compelled to learn the language.
Throughout the years of colonisation, the English language has changed considerably. For example, we no longer speak the language of William Shakespeare or Geoffrey Chaucer, but these dialects or versions of English are still considered ‘English’. Due to the evolution of the language, other countries such as Ireland and England have established the derogatory opinion that Americans don’t speak English, they speak ‘American’. America is recognised today as an English-speaking nation, much like Ireland, demonstrating that languages have evolved and diverged over the years. For example, given that the state of New York was a former Dutch colony it was inevitable that this language would have a lasting effect on the English spoken there today. Lasting colloquialisms still seen today are phrases such as ‘she was madder than a wet hen’ in the south, referring to a farming technique used to calm down a hormonal hen temporarily. Other phrases being ‘he’s schnookered’, used in the Midwest to describe someone who is heavily intoxicated, however, this phrase can also be found in Ireland, but meaning ‘he’s in trouble’.
The Irish-English dialect isn’t the English that Britain uses today either. For example, the term scallion is only used in a handful of countries around the world, including Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Korea, whereas others refer to it as spring onion or even shallot. Another example of influence on our own dialect is Irish colloquialisms and the resurgence of the Irish language in 1893 by Douglas Hyde, founder of Conradh na Gaeilge. During the Irish revival between the 1890’s and 1920’s, many old Irish traditions were assimilated back into Irish society and culture. Due to people like Lady Augusta Gregory, Irish myth and lore was no longer a thing of the past but now a pivotal role in literature and education, even to this day students still learn about Oisín i dTír na nÓg, for their Leaving Certificate. The increase in enthusiasm around this resurgence of lost aspects of Irish culture caused a widespread recognition towards Irish phrases. Some common Irish phrases that are associated solely with Ireland are ‘craic’, ‘scéal’, and pronunciation in some regions like Cork and Kerry changing these even further.
Having spoken on the effect of one country’s influence on the English language and it’s dialectic evolution, let us now become philosophers and try to wrap our minds around the effect of the cultural mixing pot and the cultural melting pot on the language. For countries such as America and Australia, who had influence from several cultures and languages including Aboriginal languages, English etc., and hence have become cultural mixing bowls of all these countries. Australia had over 250 different Aborigine language groups in 1788, combined with English, Irish, Chinese, Dutch and Indian influences. However, when we speak of the effect of culture on the language and its evolution, it cannot be ignored that ethnicity, skin colour, and gender set the tone for history, up to (and including) the modern era. Evidently, the effect that even a handful of foreign cultures and their languages have had on the country’s current Australian-English dialect is massive.
To finish off this point on cultural melting pots and mixing bowls, I leave us with something to boggle the mind. If we try to explain to ourselves the effect of Polish immigrants in Ireland who’s second language is Irish, raising children in Ireland with both polish and their polish influenced English, educated in Irish schools learning the Irish-English dialect, with the added effect of their Irish-Polish accents. Can we then categorise the dialect of these children? Ergo, we must consider that, while English is not a homogenous language, its competing form and variations must still be considered ‘English’.
English is a complex language with multiple dialects, but the original purpose of the article was to determine why we as an Irish nation, of multiple cultures, feel as though our Irish-English dialect is superior to the American-English dialect. Is it an easy solution to say that it is part of our slightly discriminative culture? Or is it a more deeply rooted answer, in which we have combined our language and the English language to create our own personal, distinctive language in order to find acceptance in the irreversible effect of our colonisation?
By Kathryn MacRedmond – Features Writer