Why Don’t People Mix Dialects?

Fáilte (Welcome) Forums General Discussion (Irish and English) Why Don’t People Mix Dialects?

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    Hi. I’m new here but I’ve been lurking and reading for a while.

    I’m curious as to why learners (both on this forum and generally) seem to want to stick to learning to speak one Gaeltacht dialect. As in, a primary learning goal seems to be sounding as though they are from one specific village/parish etc. And fluency is often equated to having genuinely *dialectal* blas as opposed to ease and ability in the language.

    I’m not attacking such a goal in any way shape or form. Just wondering why if you’re not brought up in one particular dialect, do people not just pick and choose what suits them or what they like from among the options on offer?

    Or do they? Perhaps I’m misinterpreting here.

    I’m asking because I’m from Cloch Cheann Fhaola, in the Donegal Gaeltacht. Although I grew up there and went to national school through Irish, I’m not fluent because Irish wasn’t spoken in my home. What Irish I do have (I’m around Upper intermediate and working on it) was very heavily Donegal dialect and when I moved to Galway City, most people weren’t able to understand me easily. I was even told by someone who’d learned Munster dialect in school that it sounded “like dirt in my mouth” and my speaking in Irish was often greeted with dismay- people would just switch off- or worse, switch to bearla!

    After a while, I started re-learning the language. I used “Learning Irish” to pick up some Conamara Irish in order to make myself better understood in Galway. It worked. And it also introduced me to a refreshing new (to me) way of speaking the language.

    Which lead me to my question.

    Go raibh maith agaibh!

    PS. Really heartened to see the enthusiasm for Gaeilg Uladh on here!


    As a native Swedish-speaker, few things sound as silly in my ears as when someone from the deep countryside moves to Stockholm and starts to speak a mixture of the urban Stockholm dialect and a rural dialect. I’m not alone in thinking that, it’s a recurrent character in many parodies on TV.

    I cannot speak for other languages as well as for Swedish, but I would assume a native English speaker would find it a bit strange to hear a foreigner speak a mixture of Hiberno-English, RP, Texas and New Zealand English. I may be wrong, but I would expect that to sound odd.

    Then again, some great Italian writes succesfully mix their own dialect and standard Italian for great effect, so I’m not saying it can’t be done.


    I would assume a native English speaker would find it a bit strange to hear a foreigner speak a mixture of Hiberno-English, RP, Texas and New Zealand English. I may be wrong, but I would expect that to sound odd.

    I speak a mongrel of accent and dialect in English (one of the reasons I’m curious about the equivalent in Irish). My family are from all over so my accent and the dialect words I use drift between Lowland Scots, Donegal and Dublin.

    And when I teach English (as a foreign language), I generally teach in an American accent for simplicity’s sake and it’s starting to creep into my everyday speech. I usually get no more than a “where are you from, then?” if anything.

    I always thought mixed accents/dialects are normal enough in English. The number of people I know from Anagaire and other villages in the Gaeltacht who are fluent speakers but have a TV-induced American twang when they switch to English.

    Funnily enough, one of my friends is Swedish and speaks English with a hybrid Australian/Galwegian accent.


    I listen intensely to friends from Conamara and Gaoth Dobhair and take a keen interest in how they speak. But I’m not aiming to learn Conamara or Gaoth Dobhair Irish. I was born in Cork and so for me Munster was the natural choice.

    How do you find communication with speakers of other dialects in that case? Also, if you don’t mind my asking, do you ever find elements of other dialects creeping into your Irish and, if so, do you consciously try to get rid of them?


    If you don’t bother with native pronunciation, you won’t really get the whole broad/slender dichotomy in Irish or might have only an incomplete understanding of it.

    To be fair, I’m not talking about ignoring native pronunciation, I’m talking about why people are focusing on one native dialect to the exclusion of the others. I know that during the learning process, it’s probably more effective to work on one at a time but I mean after you’ve developed a blas.



    I think this article which was written by one of your fellow countrymen may address some of what you’re asking about.

    Read his article: “Want to learn Irish? A word in your ear if I may”


    I think it is a very well written article that expresses how many Irish people feel. It is obviously the opposite view of that view expressed by the majority of regulars on this forum.


    GRMA a Fhéabar!

    Really interesting article. I’ll check out the rest of his blog too.


    What does “pseudo-linguistics” mean?

    According to wikipedia, “Psuedo-science” is a claim, belief, or practice which is presented as scientific, but does not adhere to a valid scientific method, lacks supporting evidence or plausibility, cannot be reliably tested, or otherwise lacks scientific status.

    Replace science with linguistics and I’d say that’s what he means by it.


    He didn’t specify, I think.


    His blog site says:

    “My name is Ciarán Dunbar, I am a journalist specialising in the Irish and Scottish Gaelic languages – I also speak English!
    I am a currently a radio columnist on RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta as well as being a print journalist and I am the administrator
    of the independent Gaelic news site antuairisceoir.com. I specialise in the linguistic politics, conflicts in the world, Irish politics
    and have written about Italian politics.

    You can contact me through ciarandunbar – at – outlook.com and I am on Linkedin.”

    If you’re really interested in what he means I would suggest that you ask him on his blog. His blog also states that he has
    written two book involving dialects in the north of Ireland.


    I looked up the article on language death and language management by David Crystal he mentioned which also mentions the idea of being bi- or mutlidialectal.

    From Revitalizing the Celtic Languages

    So if I am monolingual in English, it will pay me- literally and metaphorically- to be bidialectal, or mutlidialectal. The new school curriculum for English in England and Wales emphasises this point, drawing attention to the need for all students to become confident users of standard English, but not at the expense of demeaning any regional dialect or other language they may have. This, of course, is the main change in attitude which distinguishes the kind of mother-tongue language teaching we used to have in schools from that which is present now. And, if I have the opportunity, it will pay me to be bilingual, or mutilingual – and even more to be multidialectal in my multilingualism.

    Héilics Órbhuí

    As a learner, I can say that trying to be pan-dialectical is challenging. In an effort not to favor one dialect over the other, I have never attempted to learn one of them intimately and I think, especially in the area of listening comprehension, this has been a problem for me. On the other hand, I do feel like I have a sense of what a lot of the different forms are, but as I don’t live in Ireland, it’s also difficult sometimes to form a mental map, so to speak, of where all these different types of speakers come from. I can hear 5 speakers and know that they all come from different places and identify them with other speakers of “their” Irish that I have heard in the past, but I might not necessarily be able to correlate that to put a place name.

    I don’t know if this problem is exaggerated for foreign learners who don’t realistically have much access to native speakers at all, let alone speakers of a desired dialect. In that respect, it has been (at least apparently) easier to learn whatever Irish I can find (usually standard or a regional form with heavy standardized influence) that makes for potentially good learning material. Gaeltacht Irish, without some sort of supplementary instruction, I have found to be not as readily useful as learning material because it is more esoteric (for lack of better word – I guess really what I mean is unique to that region). Especially with older speakers (I find the older a person is, the less likely I am to understand them), their Irish may be so natural that I can’t even make out what they’re saying. [url]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eacBLQr-JgE[/url] For instance, the man in the first half of the video is more or less entirely intelligible to me. The man in the second half, I have to listen to this several times through before I can understand maybe 50% of what he says. He actually speaks one of the dialects I am most interested in, but native Irish has a flow that is so natural that sometimes I could listen to it 100 times and not be any closer to deciphering certain words. This type of frustration I’m sure is what contributes to many sticking to standard Irish.



    I came across another article discussing this matter. It came out yesterday on Facebook on a site called “Gaeilge Amháin”. You would probably thoroughly enjoy the site and benefit from it. This article was just posted on it and on another site that Lughaidh has created dedicated to Ulster Irish. It mentions this Daltaí site. I don’t agree with everything in the article, but it is another perspective that you might appreciate.


    Bain sult as,


    .. was very heavily Donegal dialect and when I moved to Galway City, most people weren’t able to understand me easily. I was even told by someone who’d learned Munster dialect in school that it sounded “like dirt in my mouth” and my speaking in Irish was often greeted with dismay- people would just switch off- or worse, switch to bearla!

    Disgraceful behaviour by that person, I think it’s telling that you mentioned “who learnt [place relevant dialect here] dialect in school” — the problem is there are alot of people out there who want to live in their own little bubble and aren’t willing to push their comfort zone and listen to other speakers.

    Imagine in comparison if you had never heard someone speaking English with a Welsh or Texan accent and your exposure to english was basically just to the local accent/dialect. If such a person then met someone with a Texan drawl I doubt they’d get away with telling the Texan that his accent “sounded like Dirt..”. Let time and again we see this attitude with Irish. “Oh I’d couldn’t be bother because your accent challenges my pre-perceived notions of Irish, I’m going to (a) insult you (b) switch to English”

    Personally I think alot more exposure should be given to listening to audio in school, I remember when it came to leaving cert that the prospect of a Donegal speaker been on the Aural exam would bring Terror (this is in english speaking school in Galway). Mainly as there was next to no exposure given to actual native speakers (Via audio recordings etc.).

    Obviously if ye are hanging around with alot of Conamara speakers in Galway there will no doubt be a gradual level of “dialect levelling” going on. Heck this can be seen when someone moves to Australia/States for couple of years their english often ends up having bits of both in it. Even still I wouldn’t feel the need to “re-learn” your Irish, if people are gonna be rude then they can go feck off.


    Héilics Órbhuí

    But you do know that Irish and English are two completely different languages? I mean, come on, you must know that? You have to know that. Therefore any comparison between an English or an Australian accent and pronunciation with that of Texas is irrelevant as those are all English language phonologies, not the phonologies of a completely different language only distantly related to English i.e. Irish. Comparing Irish pronunciation with English pronunciation is comparing apples with oranges; it simply doesn’t hold water.

    I’m going to soak in the irony of you calling me a “shit-stirrer”.

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