An Analysis of Hiberno-English in the Early Novels of Patrick Macgill: Bilingualism and Language Shift from Irish to English in County Donegal

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This study is a linguistic analysis of two novels by the early twentieth-century Donegal writer Patrick MacGill. Both Children of the Dead End and The Rat Pit enjoyed great popularity in England and the USA, though not in Ireland itself, where they were not so well received. From a linguistic point of view, these two novels form a particularly interesting source of data for the study of the dialectal variety known as Hiberno-English (or Irish English), as the author purports to give an accurate portrayal of the types of English spoken in Donegal in a period of ongoing bilingualism and language shift from Irish to English.

Chapter 1 contains an introduction to the author’s biographical, literary and linguistic background. This is supplemented with a description of the English of Donegal. Chapter 2 is devoted to an analysis of the syntax and grammar of the two novels, such as the use of the definite article, the reflexive pronoun or the cleft sentence, among other features. Chapter 3 pays special attention to the vocabulary found in the novels. The grammatical, syntactic and lexical features analyzed here are heavily influenced by the Irish language and bear striking similarities with the type of structures produced by second language learners, which allows us to look at this variety of English in a different light. This work will appeal to scholars interested in Irish English, languages in contact and Irish Literature in English.


“This book is the first study to apply the tools of linguistic analysis to the work of the Donegal writer Patrick MacGill. As such, it is a highly significant intervention into the genre of the Irish novel, and also into the broader area of Irish Studies ... Although the novels examined evidently do not contain instances of all the linguistic utterances that might be typical of this variety, there are sufficient features selected by the author in his rendering of his own speech, and that of his contemporaries, to provide interesting insights into the linguistic situation of Donegal during the first half of his lifetime. In this sense, as a “fully native speaker” of this variety, MacGill’s work may serve to enrich existing accounts not only of the English of Donegal, but of Hiberno-English in general ... This is a well-written, well-constructed and well argued study and is a significant intervention into this field by a scholar from whom I’m sure we will be hearing a lot more on this topic in the future.” – (from the Foreword) Dr. Eugene O’Brien, Mary Immaculate College, Limerick, Ireland

“Dr. Amador Moreno’s approach is beautifully simple and methodical. Taking account of research in second language acquisition, language contact and Hiberno-English, she explores MacGill's use of a large number of syntactic structures - the definite article, reflexives, progressive and habitual aspect, the perfect, clefting and topicalization, word order in embedded questions, subordinating and, and Hiberno-English discourse markers like sure and troth ... Dr. Amador Moreno’s treatment of the lexical features is, once again, carefully and painstakingly detailed, charting the possible Irish, English and Scottish origins of the dialect vocabulary used by MacGill against the backdrop of what seems to be a total overview of the scholarly literature on the subject ... The book will be useful for literary scholars working on Irish literature in general who feel the need for an accessible, readable and highly reliable work on Hiberno-English, and of course, for MacGill scholarship in particular. It will be essential reading for anyone with an interest in literary representations of Hiberno-English and the documentation of Hiberno-English usage before the age of recording equipment.” – Dr. Kevin McCafferty University of Tromsø, Norway

“ ... This book is an original, ground-breaking, creative monograph which defines, discusses, and analyses the novelist’s distinctive use of Donegal Hiberno-English. The author’s felicitous decision to deal with his lexicon under different headings (Landscape, Clothing, and the like) has resulted in an important study which will be useful for literary scholars, lexicographers, the general reader, and also social historians of the turbulent period which forms the character of his novels, especially the early works, on which the present study concentrates.” – Professor Terrence P. Dolan, University College Dublin, Ireland

Table of Contents

Preface by Eugene O'Brien
List of Abbreviations
1. Introduction
2. Biographical, Literary and Linguistic Background of Patrick MacGill
3. The Grammar and Syntax of the Novels
4. The Lexicon of the Novels

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