AHRC Research Project 1

Ref. AR12375

Sociolinguistics of Standardisation of English in Ireland

The principal aims of this project can be rephrased in the light of experience and ordered as:

  1. to describe standard English in Ireland according to the protocols of the International Corpus of English (ICE) project, treating Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland as separate zones for the standardisation of language and thus creating two linguistic corpora designated as ICE(NI) and ICE(ROI) respectively.
  2. to identify the nature and degree of homogeneity and heterogeneity within each ICE-Ireland corpus and across these two subcorpora.
  3. to use the descriptive resource of the ICE-Ireland corpus in order to investigate the 'invariance hypothesis' for standard language.

In the light of our experience, we now reformulate the invariance hypothesis in terms of four possible relationships among standard Englishes in Ireland and elsewhere:

  1. the default hypothesis, that Irish standard English on either side of the political border is not distinguishable from the standard Englishes of, at least, the northern hemisphere (e.g. Great Britain and North America).
  2. the political hypothesis, that Ireland possesses two standard Englishes, reflecting the political division between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, with the standard English of Northern Ireland much more closely aligned to that of Great Britain on the basis of the political unity of the United Kingdom.
  3. the single island hypothesis that, despite any low-level lexical differences that simply reflect different political and social environments, the island of Ireland possesses one national standard English that is differentiated from other national standards.
  4. the dialect-historical hypothesis that the Irish divisions of standard English do not reflect political boundaries, but those of traditional dialectology in English and/or Irish.

These hypotheses are ways of exploring key questions which we posed at the outset of this project, specifically, the extent to which 'national varieties of standard(ised) English … conform to an international standard … [or] reflect local cultural and political conditions'. In fulfillment of our undertaking to describe standard English in Ireland, it can now be reported that ICE-Ireland is a reality. All 500 corpus texts of approximately 2000 words each as prescribed in the ICE protocols have been collected, transcribed, and entered into a fully-searchable electronic database. The texts, 300 from speech and 200 from writing across a standard set of discourse genres, are evenly divided between the NI and ROI subcorpora, responding to the need to represent text types from each jurisdiction equally, rather than an alternative possibility of reflecting demographic proportionality between the jurisdictions. The resultant corpus consists of of 1,047,850 words, providing a database which is capable not only of yielding a detailed picture of standard English usage in Ireland, but of bearing comparison with other corpora (especially those from the ICE project which have been collected using similar protocols) now available or arising in future.


Research Project 2

Integrating Prosody, Pragmatics and Syntax in a Corpus-based Linguistic Description of Irish Standard English

AHRC ref no. APN16248

The close analysis of spoken language shows that much of what is conventionally considered to be purely syntactic is conditioned by pragmatic intent; pragmatic intent, in turn, is often signalled by the use of contrastive patterns of prosody. This project has taken the transcriptions of the spoken component of the International Corpus of English for Ireland (ICE-Ireland) and enhanced them with two orders of annotations: one for different classes of pragmatic and discourse function, the other for prosodic or tone pitch movement. The principal outcome is a new resource which allows for the description of Irish standard English on an unprecedentedly broad range of linguistic levels, and allows pragmatic, discoursal, and prosodic variables to be seen in relation to syntax and in relation to the speaker variables (social characteristics of the speakers recorded in the corpus) and contextual variables (pertaining to contexts of language use) which correlate with the primary texts. The corpus is organised to facilitate comparison between speakers in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland; due to the comparability of corpora within the ICE project worldwide, this new resource may also be compared with material arising from much of the rest of the English-speaking world.

In this project, our achievements were:

  1. The development of relevant theory for the analysis of a large quantity of spoken discourse. Though many previous studies have investigated intonation, speech acts, discourse markers, quotatives, sentence tags, and other features of spoken discourse in a relatively atomistic way, it remained for us to develop a unified, theoretically-justifiable approach that gives coherence to our annotation project.
  2. The implementation of those annotations to the text of the ICE-Ireland spoken corpus, so that any reader can search the text for patterns at the level of lexicon, syntax, pragmatics, discourse, prosody, or the interactions between different levels. These annotations are not intended to be idiosyncratic to ICE or to Irish material, but, rather, have been designed with wide-scale applicability to other such corpora and may therefore be adapted by others in the interests of cross-varietal comparison.
  3. The compilation of a CD version of what is now called the SPICE-Ireland Corpus available for use by others; enquiries already received show that the CD-ROM will be seen as an important electronic resource.
  4. The production of primary material for a monograph arising from the compilation of the SPICE-Ireland corpus, which also shows basic distributional information about the SPICE-Ireland corpus and will aid other users in maximising the value of the corpus as an electronic resource.
  5. The presentation of preliminary analyses of the SPICE-Ireland corpus which show evidence of linguistic change in progress, convergence and divergence within standard Englishes both within Ireland and between Ireland and other English-speaking countries, and other aspects of socially-significant language variation. These preliminary results provide the basis for ongoing work in this field.