What is Hiberno-English? This phrase refers to English as it is often spoken in Ireland. Another way of looking at it is this: Hiberno-English is English spoken in the style of the Irish language. The syntax of the two languages is very different (in fact Irish syntax is very different from most Indo-European languages). A native Irish speaker automatically gives their own twist to the use of the English language. That is how Hiberno-English came about.
Let me give you an example. The Irish language does not have words that translate directly to yes or no. If you would like to reply negatively or positively to someone's question, you must rephrase the question and make a full reply.
For example, if asked "Are you coming for dinner?" a Hiberno-English speaker might answer, "I am" intead of "Yes". If asked, "Is your friend coming with you?" they would be likely to answer, "She's not" instead of "No".
In Hiberno-English, someone who can speak a language is refered to as "having a language". This phrase borrows from the Irish translation. As further explained on Wikipedia's Hiberno-English webpage, the sentence "She does not have Irish" is translated as "Níl Gaeilge aici", literally meaning "There is no Irish at her". Sadly, I realize that I "do not have Irish". The way that sentence sounds makes it seem like I could just go out and get it. If only learning a language was so easy!
According to the History of the Irish Language webpage,
The version of English spoken in Ireland, known as Hiberno-English bears striking similarities in some grammatical idioms with Irish. Some have speculated that even after the vast majority of Irish people stopped speaking Irish, they perhaps subsconsciously used its grammatical flair in the manner in which they spoke English. This fluency is reflected in the writings of Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde and more recently in the writings of Seamus Heaney, Paul Durcan, Dermot Bolger and many others.The distinct Hiberno-English may today be losing some of its hold over Ireland, particularly within younger age groups and in urban areas, yet the impact of the Irish language on its birthplace (and the world) remains.
After all, who ever referred to Cork County? Of course, the correct name is County Cork - a result of the original Irish word order. The same is true of lakes and rivers, such as Lough Neagh (the largest lake in the United Kingdom) and the well-known River Shannon, Ireland's longest.
Cork itself appears to have its own "dialect" of Hiberno-English, recognizable by its commonly generous use of emphasis words. Here's an example, in case you are in need of a good insult:
"You are a howling, thundering, rampaging, galloping, creeching langer, so you are!"(Warning: it might not be a good idea to use this on your friends.)
Now it's time for me to put the kibosh on. In closing, I thought you might enjoy a reminder of some of the words that the English language has borrowed from Irish. Where would we be today without galore, phoney and smithereens?
I hope that this little introduction to Hiberno-English got you thinking, and that you'll find time to dabble in a little bit of Irish slang yourself.
Need a good starting place? Try Slanguage: A Dictionary of Irish Slang by Bernard Share and A Dictionary of Hiberno-English by T.P. Dolan, both recommended by Corcaighist's Colm Doyle.
Go n'éirí an t-ádh leat! (Pronounced guh nye-ree un taw laht)
The best of luck to you!
This article was originally published here on April 25, 2008 as Sad news: there is "no Irish at me". It was written for and included in the "Irish language" edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage and Culture entitled "A little Irish language, a bit of Blarney...". You can also find that edition of the carnival reposted on the carnival's blog.