West Cork Speak: Lessons 3 and 4

How are ye?

How are ye?

You all did very well, Dear Readers, with learning to speak like a true West Cork denizen. I was especially proud of all the grands and likes you appended to your emails and comments. So, now, I think it’s time for the next couple of lessons.

I wish I could really capture for you the true cadence of the language here – the colourful vocabulary, the way stories are infused with a humorous acknowledgement of the foibles of the teller and the audience, the up-and-down rhythm of the speech, the expressiveness of all communication. But at least I can teach you some of the basics, so you will feel at home when you get here.

Would you be after some scallops?

Would you be after some scallops?

Lesson 3: Using the Conditional Tense

Today’s first lesson deals with the importance of mastering the conditional tense – in other words, using the word ‘would’ and all its variations, where the rest of the world would use the simple present or past tense. This has the effect of softening a statement in quite a delightful way, but it can also be confusing if you’re not used to it.

At a recent class I took, the instructor presented her credentials by saying, “I would have qualified in 1996.” Now, if someone outside West Cork had said that, you would have been waiting for the rest of the sentence…”Except that I failed the exam,” perhaps. But she was simply saying, in the West Cork way, “I qualified in 1996.” It’s just a bit more roundabout, a bit more diffident, a bit less assertive, than baldly stating a fact. Here’s how I normally say something, followed by how it is said in West Cork:

I got married in 2004. 

I would have been married in 2004.

I don’t like jazz.

I wouldn’t be a huge fan of that kind of thing myself, now.

Hi, I’m Finola.

’Tis lovely to meet you. I would be Finola.

I’m always exhausted after yoga.

Sure, ’tis tiring, like, but you would feel great after it, wouldn’t you?

That guy is a crook.

He wouldn’t be the saintliest of fellas, like, but he would have had a hard time of it as a young lad.

I asked him to bring the umbrella.

I asked him would he bring the umbrella.

This will take some practice: set yourself the task of turning one declarative sentence a day into a conditional statement. You would want to spend a fair bit of time on it, like.

And where would you be from, now?

And where would you be from, now?

Lesson 4: Pronouns

Pronouns! Most of them are the same as English elsewhere, but with two important differences.

You/Ye. If you look up the word ye in a dictionary it will tell you the word is archaic, and died out in general usage several hundred years ago. Not in West Cork! It is in common usage, here and elsewhere in Ireland, as the plural of you. So, if you meet a group of people and are addressing them collectively, you say “How are ye?” I must say, this make eminent sense. How often do we have to qualify you by saying “I mean you, plural?” Or, “I mean both of you?”

Herself would have raised the ducks.

Herself would have raised the ducks.

Now so, are ye ready for the last biteen (we’ll deal with that word another day) of the lesson? On we go, so, to reflexive pronouns – those are the ones with self at the end of them. They are used in Ireland in a variety of ways. Himself and herself are sometimes used to denote a husband or wife, but also can have a slight suggestion of amusement or mockery.

Himself would be holding forth about politics the whole evening.

I’d like to stay a while longer, but herself has the tea on the table at six sharp.

Is it yourself? It is indeed.

It will be time for a quiz soon, so ye should study what we’ve learned so far and I’ll think about a suitable test, and maybe some prizes. Wouldn’t that be grand? Himself thinks so, too.

Is it yourself, Sean?

Is it yourself, Sean?

West Cork Speak: Lessons 1 and 2

The scenic route

The scenic route

Stories abound of hapless tourists convinced that the locals were speaking to them in Irish (which foreigners typically call Gaelic) and finding afterwards that in fact it was English. (For an amusing twist on this idea see the excellent short film: Yu Ming is Ainm Dom.)

The sing-song burr of English as she is spoke in West Cork can be impenetrable to non-natives. For those planning a visit, therefore, I thought I would do the world a favour and provide a primer on sounding like a native.

Lesson 1: Grand and Like

The first thing to know is that you put like at the end of every sentence, and the word grand somewhere within it. I’ll give you an example. You have hired a car and chosen a route marked on the map as scenic. You find yourself inching along a potholed track that clings perilously to a mountain side, with yawning cliffs beneath and a mountain with a cross on it above. You are sure you have gone astray and are on a long abandoned road to nowhere. You are about to turn back (but how? The road is barely wide enough for your car) when around a bend comes a tractor, bucketing and swaying, driven by a genial man in a cloth cap. Through some miraculous process that you can’t afterwards describe, he manages to find enough ground to pull over to let you pass. You roll down your window and ask him if the road is passable ahead. He looks puzzled, then realizes you are a tourist and assures you “’Tis a grand road, like.”

'Tis a grand road

‘Tis a grand road

You are now in possession of a word, Grand, that is appropriate for all possible occasions and can be used in the most prodigal manner. Indeed, you can’t go wrong with it.

keep-calm-it-ll-be-grandHow are you? I’m grand. Better – I’m grand, thank God.

How is your husband? Himself? The back was playing up, but sure he’s grand now, thank God.

Oh, sorry – I can see I am in your way. Ah no, you’re grand.

I’ve just broken both arms and the bank is repossessing my house. Ah sure, it’ll be grand, like.

Lesson 2: Now and So

Together with Grand and Like, Now and So will get you through a surprising number of situations. Although they can be used interchangeably on occasion, they also have distinctive nuances. Now is the one that every waitress will say to you as she appears to take your order and as she delivers your food. It announces that she is here to look after things and you can relax. Its versatility doesn’t rest here – if delivered in a forthright or perky manner you can use it to indicate that you are ready for whatever the day holds as you head out the door, that you are settling down to a good conversation about your neighbours, that the kettle has just boiled, or that it’s your partners turn to hit the ball. If you say it with a slow or sad inflection – ah, now – you can use it to deflect an insult or express sympathy with one who suffers.

So contains a hint of expectancy – So, breakfast is served at 8; So, is it from Canada you are?; So, that will be twelve euros.

But the real trick is to use them together properly – Now so, or so now.

So now is a good one as you settle into a corner of the sofa for a chat: So now, Maureen, I hear Donal up the road was seen in Dunmanway last week with that American woman.

Now so can be used to wind up the conversation: Now so, I’d better be going or himself will be roaring for his dinner, like.

Now so, you’re all set for the first day of your holiday in West Cork. Yes, they drive on the left but just take your time, like, and it’ll be grand. And once you get into the rhythm of life here you’ll be ready for lesson 3 – how to manipulate every sentence into the conditional tense. Perhaps we will also touch on one of the truest Cork talents: how to insert multiple vowel sounds into the word no.

I Can't Do It

I Can’t Do It

Meanwhile, if you want to get a true flavour of the accent, try viewing some of the Sminky Shorts by the talented  Andrew James on YouTube. Be warned – the language is atrocious in some of them – back away NOW if this offends you. Otherwise, start with the Chicken Audition or the Nervous Horse.