Although Gaeilge (Irish) is the official language – and all official documents, street signs and official titles are either in Gaeilge or bilingual – it’s only spoken in isolated pockets of rural Ireland known as Gaeltacht areas.
While all Dubliners must learn it at school, the teaching of Gaeilge has traditionally been thoroughly academic and unimaginative, leading most kids to resent it as a waste of time. Ask Dubliners if they can speak Irish and nine out of 10 of them will probably reply, ‘ahhh cupla focal’ (literally ‘a couple of words’) and they generally mean it. It’s a pity that the treatment of Irish in schools has been so heavy-handed because many adults say they regret not having a greater grasp of it. A new curriculum has been in place for the last few years that aims to redress this shortcoming by cutting the hours devoted to the subject, and making the lessons more fun, practical and celebratory.
While most Dubliners overlooked Gaeilge, their command of English and their inventive use of vocabulary is second to none. Huge numbers of foreign-language students, particularly from continental Europe, flock to the city for study because the average Dubliner’s elocution is so clear. When travelling in Italy or Spain, it’s gas (funny) to hear locals speaking English with Dublin accents. Dubliners love the sound of their own voices and they are genuinely interested in the way words sound as much as in their meaning. They’re very articulate, generally confident orators, and like nothing more than a good debate (preferably over a pint).
Dublin accents – there are several – have all the traits of the typical Irish brogue, including softened, shortened vowels, hardened consonants and discarded ‘h’s in the ‘th’ sound (as in the old ‘t’irty t’ree and a t’ird’ joke). The average, or neutral, Dublin accent is possibly one of the most eloquent and easily understandable in the English-speaking world while the extremes are barely comprehensible at all. The ‘real Dublin’ accent is clipped, drawn out and slack-jawed. It discards consonants disdainfully, particularly the letter ‘t’ (all right becomes origh) and is peppered with so many instances of ‘feck’, ‘jaysus’ and ‘yer wha’?’ that you think the speaker might be dumbstruck without them.
Yet this Dublin accent is infinitely preferable to the plummy accent of affluent southsiders, who contort and squeeze vowels at will. Formerly known as the Dublin 4 accent, this diction has since come to be known as the ‘DART accent’ (or ‘dort’ as its speakers would pronounce it) because it has spread out south along the coastal railway line.
The spread of this pseudo-received accent is so alarming that Frank McNally of the Irish Times has suggested the only way to eradicate the DART accent would be to make it compulsory in schools – it damn nearly worked for Gaeilge!
Dublin is well known for its English-language schools. For a list of these and other courses, get a copy of the yearly Dublin’s Evening Classes (Oisín Publications; €4.99), available at most bookshops (also check out www.eveningclasses.ie). Most courses run for extended periods, ranging from four or six weeks to a year and more.
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