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Dublin: 7 °C Saturday 15 December, 2018
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'I'm sickened by the D4/ mid-Atlantic/ makey-up English accent that is blighting Ireland'

I don’t want us to wake up in 20 years all sounding like we’re living in some middle-class suburb of Dublin, writes Michael Fortune.

Michael Fortune Folklorist and filmmaker

I DON’T KNOW about you but I am continually sickened by the D4/ Dart/ mid-Atlantic/ makey-up English accent that is blighting Ireland.

I first noticed it in the early 1990s in Wexford when middle-class Dubs would put on an accent to distinguish themselves from working-class Dubs when on holidays in the same caravan parks in Wexford. Since then, it’s become an epidemic and has seeped into every county.

It is inescapable, as our children are picking it up via education and our national broadcaster RTÉ, and many of our commercial television and radio stations are not helping the situation.

Voluntarily casting off our accents

We continually lament the decline of our Gaelic language in this country and yet we voluntarily cast off our local accents to be seen educated, intelligent and socially better off.

Accents do evolve, I know, but this is deeper and it’s tied in with social standing and aspirations. It’s completely aided by education and mass media, and I’m continually finding young people with this accent while their parents will have rooted regional local accents.

I could cite thousands of examples, but I won’t – just stick on your radio or telly for five minutes and have a listen. Every ‘aah’ sound will be replaced with ‘ooh’, so ‘car’ is not ‘car’ anymore, it’s ‘cauwr’, Mark is ‘Mork’, Mammy becomes Mommy etc.

Aspirational classes have changed their accent

Even when you hear Irish spoken in this accent, that drawl is weaved into it, so instead of ‘pairc’ for field you have ‘pohrk’. It’s beyond ridiculous when you hear an Irish person, who lives in Ireland, speaking the Irish language with a plummy BBC ‘marbles in your mouth’ accent.

I’m well aware that there was an old deep-rooted Anglo-Irish accent in Dublin city and I respect that. The issue I have is that the aspirational classes have changed their accents to what they believe gives them a position of power by highlighting their superiority over the commoners below them. It is surely a post-colonial throwback and linked in with a wider national inferiority complex.

But I’m not here to get into a local Dublin debate; Damo and Ivor covered that well. I’m more interested in why a person from Kerry, Roscommon, Wexford etc who moved to Dublin would have picked up this accent within weeks of living there. Why didn’t they pick up a working class Dublin accent instead?

‘Proper English’

I have worked around the country for the past 20 years and have witnessed this change first hand. Much of this accent is now propagated in our regional schools and I find that the curriculum, complete with some compliant teachers, try their best to bate the local Hiberno-English accent out of the kids in order for them to speak ‘proper English’.

It’s worse in the suburbs and commuter belts of Dublin as the peer pressure comes from fellow pupils so that those with ‘bogger local accents’, drop them in a bid to simply fit in.

I’ve worked in South Dublin over the years and often witnessed people trip over themselves mid-sentence trying to disguise their older working class Dublin accent and cover it up with the supposed ‘proper’ way to pronounce a word. There is something awful sad when someone feels that have to do that. Why is the question?

Influence of media and internet

Accents naturally change due to movement of people but in recent years much of this is happening remotely through the influence of our media and the internet. A few months ago I did a workshop in Wexford Town with pupils from a classic middle-class school, and half of the young kids had this accent even though they’d never lived outside of Wexford and their parents had been born and bred in the town.

Typically Irish, we can blame someone else for our problems with YouTube, social media etc, but this started back in the early 1990s and the problem is more home-grown. It is also very easy to say it’s a teenage problem, it’s not , the foundations were laid for this generic flattening back in the 1990s and 2000s and the real offenders are people in the 30s and 40s who have standardised this and have since passed it onto their own children.

In the early 1990s we called this a ‘college’ accent and it was rampant through the likes of UCD, TCD and the like, while now its jokingly referred to as an AA Roadwatch accent and tied in with the spread of suburbia.

I’m not a purist

I’m far from a purist and proud of the fact that you can hear hints of Cornish or West County English in our Wexford accents, and I delight in all those small, local accents and the Hiberno-English that we speak on this island of ours.

Likewise I delight in hearing the accents of those new Irish who call Ireland their home. These new accents are adding yet another layer to Ireland and I’ve encountered first generation Irish-Polish kids in Wexford using traveller gammon and Irish teenage lads using Polish slang words. This is organic and natural.

This ‘AA Roadwatch’ accent isn’t. It is tied in with aspirations of grandeur and creating a monoculture: a standardised accent where all those varied local things that form us, are thrown aside in the name of progress.

If you have this accent, why do you have it?

There are many questions which I won’t be able to answer in this short article but hopefully you will ask yourself some questions. If you have this accent, why do you have it? Why is it that young women are more prone to pick this up than men?

Why has it not affected the Ulster as much as the rest of the country? Why do our regional radio stations feel the need to use these accents when it’s clearly foreign to their audience? And finally, what can you do about it?

I’ll let you stew on that, but in the meantime I will bet any money that it will be the people with this accent who will get offended and upset at this piece. It’s as if they can’t handle been called out and can’t handle their little cage being rattled. I can hear them typing already, “get-over it, it’s progress, chip-on-your-shoulder bogger” in a their whiny contrived ‘shoneen’ accent.

So there you have it, I’m kicking the ball into the field, so those of us in ‘the regions’ can consider this and not wake up in 20 years all sounding like we’re living in some middle-class suburb of Dublin.

As a father of young children, I continually make my children aware that it is okay to speak with their local accent and not be under the thumb or be looked down upon by any fucker who thinks differently. Those days are gone.

Michael Fortune is himself. If you want to follow him visit: facebook.com/michael.fortune.wexford.

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About the author:

Michael Fortune  / Folklorist and filmmaker

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