The Irish alphabet

26 Nov

Stan Carey has a post on ‘haitch’: a mainly Irish pronunciation of the name of the letter H. I have heard local pronunciations of other letter names in Ireland. In all cases it is the vowel in the name that is at variance.


Letter R with the NORTH vowel instead of the START vowel. This is widespread; I am unable to categorise the distribution other than to report that I have witnessed Irish people mocked by other Irish people for using either vowel. Perhaps “Cawstle Cawtholic” is involved. I notice RTE presenters in the last 10 years seem to have shifted more to the START vowel when saying the station’s name.


Letter A with the PALM vowel instead of the FACE vowel. This I associate with Irish-speakers, like my Mammy, for whom the A.B.C. is the /a: bi: si:/. Although Wikipedia notes distinct Irish-language names for all the letters, I’ve never heard them. Except for A, Irish speakers seem to use the English names: e.g. TG4 is called by its own presenters “[tiː dʒiː] ceathar”, not “[teː geː] ceathar” or “[tiː dʒiː] four”.


Letter Q with the STRUT vowel instead of the GOOSE vowel. This is a nonstandard Cork pronunciation.  The same Corkonians pronounce the strong form of the preposition “to” with the same vowel, so it is never homophonous with “too” or “two”. Perhaps it is from the same motivation as “dubya” for “double-you”, mentioned below.


The other letter names mostly don’t vary.

The letter Z, of course, has different names in Britain and the US; Ireland tends to follow Britain, though I suspect that “zee”, like many US forms, has more currency in Ireland than England. I learned the alphabet rhyme with “…double-U, ex, wye and zee” but even then I used “zed” in other contexts.

The letter W is sometimes “Dubya”, as in the rustic Murkin nickname for George W. Bush, but in Ireland I’ve more often heard “dubbleya”, where only the final vowel is reduced, with the middle syllable preserved. Maybe this is the same as the process where final unstressed -o is reduced to schwa in nonstandard speech (so “tomorrow” rhymes with “Gomorrah”) though of course the final vowel in the name of W is the vowel of GOOSE, not GOAT. More likely it’s identification of the unstressed schwa with the stressed STRUT vowel. In the same way, there are Americans who have STRUT rather than FLEECE in the strong form of “the”; although in that word, in my experience, Irish speakers are more likely to have DRESS than STRUT.


Name abbreviations in the Irish phone book

20 Oct

At languagehat 10 days ago, dearieme asked “When last did you see those old abbreviations for Christian names: Wm, Thos?” and I answered, “They were used in Irish telephone directories into the 1990s.”

Since then, I have cracked open a white-pages for the first time in a long time, and found that in fact such abbreviations are found in Irish phone books to this very day. However, they are now intermixed with the full forms. I checked the 2013 book for 02 (that’s nought-two the digits, not O2 the cellphone company), the area-code approximating County Cork. I checked the surname “Murphy”, the most common surname in Ireland (and originally a Cork name) to see what the stats were for various forenames:

Short form Long form Short count Long count
Cors Cornelius 6 10
Danl Daniel 11 23
Edwd Edward 8 5
Geo George 3 0
Jas James 26 21
Jerh Jeremiah 17 13
Jos Joseph 7 8
Mgt Margaret 4 17
Mce Maurice 6 1
Ml Michael 53 70
Patk Patrick 50 47
Richd Richard 5 13
Robt Robert 1 7
Thos Thomas 12 5
Wm William 22 22

I exclude hypocoristics like “Will”, “Joe” from the above table. Some abbreviatable names were only listed in full form and not in abbreviated form (again, excluding hypocoristics like “Art”, “Bart”): Anthony (9), Arthur (3), Bartholemew (1), Benjamin (1), Bridget (3), Christopher (6), Desmond (5), Nicholas (2), Oliver (5), Raymond (4). I don’t know if any of these were formerly abbreviated.

I surmise that abbreviated forms are no longer being added; as new subscribers are enrolled, and existing subscribers die off or move to a new address and get their entry updated, the full form is replacing the abbreviations. I don’t know when this changeover began. It would be too dull even for me to seek out old phonebooks to scrutinise. I recall c.1995 the format changed so that the surname is listed only at the top of the column or when it changes; a ditto dot is used for subsequent entries of people with the same name. Maybe the forename abbreviations were phased out at the same time.

Based on the preceding surmise, one might estimate how old-fashioned a name is by the proportion of abbreviated forms: older people move house less and so have had the same number and phonebook entry since before the changeover. However, this is not a reliable calculation. Consider Margaret, the only female name listed, and one that strikes me as old-fashioned. I surmise most of the Margarets are not young women with the name, but rather the widows of men who died after the changeover. Also, where do hypocoristics fit into these ratios? Some at least of those listed under “Tom Murphy” are “Thomas Murphy” on their birth certificate.

Let’s know

18 Jun

I’ve recently heard English people saying “let’s know” rather than “let us know” in sentences like “let’s know how you get on”. Traditionally, “let’s” occurs as an abbreviation of “let us” only as a form of first-person-plural imperative; or suggestion equivalent to “why don’t we…” But not any more. Web searches for “let’s know” throw up lots of false positives from South Asian English, where “let’s know” seems to mean “let’s learn about…” in self-instruction manuals, guidebooks, etc.

WordPress or LiveJournal?

10 Feb

LiveJournal admits “OpenID is currently not working with some other services.” So my fooblog there is good for nothing. Hope I have better luck here.