Come here, boyo, let's not misunderstand each other: you're not going to be able to sound like a Dubliner by the end of this article. Many have tried, many have failed: Brad Pitt in The Devil's Own, Val Kilmer in The Ghost and the Darkness, Richard Gere in The Jackal, Tom Cruise in Far and Away. God almighty, they were all bollocks! But it's not just the lads - the colleens are useless too: Julia Roberts in Michael Collins. But it's obviously worth trying - these notables were all too aware of the increased sexual allure of those of the Hibernian (that is, Irish) persuasion. And that accent is a powerful tool. How else do you think men with the dreadful faces of Bono and Stephen Rea could come to be considered sex symbols?
It's all in the voice, and we're here to pimp you out to whomever it is that you're hoping to impress. We'll give you some vital pointers on how to tap into the emerald vein of charming and lyrical elocution. Obviously the first thing to learn is how the phonemes sound differently in the Irish vernacular, so that you can work on pronouncing your words like a native. But perhaps something more important to bear in mind is that it's not just the way Paddies say things, it's what they say. To sound convincingly Irish, you'll need to add a new lexicon to your vocabulary. And, of course, you're going to need to some drills along the way to practice your technique.
1. Master the Irish soundWe obviously don't have time here to go word by word through the dictionary, pointing out how Irish folk say things differently. In fact, even if we did have the time, we'd never arrive at a consensus - they say a true Irishman can tell the difference between thirty-two Irish accents. That's one accent for all the counties in Ireland, including the six currently under British occupation in Northern Ireland. Indeed, people from the North of Ireland sound far more English than those from the South (compare Gerry Adams with the Pogues), and Dubliners sound different from both (listen to Bono). So we're going to extrapolate some of the broader rules that govern the Irish patois. Then we're going to give you some cultural references to study and some drills to practice.
Soften your vowels
When the Irish make fun of yanks, it's generally by elongating their phonemes and turning their vowels into long sounds, kind of like the way most Americans make fun of Texans. In fact, if you want to imagine how you sound to a European ear, just think of your stereotypical 1800s southerner. That's you. Eww, right, time for a change.
Perhaps the best example of how vowels in the Irish argot are softer is contained in the schoolhouse recitation of the alphabet. American kids begin it "ay, bee, see . . ."; Irish kids begin it "ah, bee, see . . . ." Let's begin with perhaps the first phrase you'll utter in your Irish disguise: "How are you?" That's should come out: "Ha-ware-ya?" Oh, and just as a general note applicable to all our phonetic guides, don't separate the syllables into separate beats - slur it all together like natives: "Hawareya?" So from an Irish mouth, you'll hear far less differentiation between the very distinct "o" sounds of "how" and "you." The both sound more like "ah" than they would from an American larynx. Also note that in this particular example, the "a" in "hawareya" is actually long, like the "a" in "bake." That's because the pronunciation of the "a" is generally the reverse of the U.S. accent. For another example, the word "arse" in Irish (meaning "bootie") is pronounced soft ("ah-rs"), while in the U.S., we just say "ass." And before we forget, the proper answer to "hawareya?" is not "good" or "fine," but "grand," or if you are particularly well, "grand altogether."
Here are some other examples of the phenomenon. "Tomato" should definitely lose its long vowels, so "tamahtoe" - definitely not "toemaytoe." "Basil" should be "bahsil"; not "baysil." With these two words alone, you can create a strong illusion of Irishness - particularly if you eat at an Italian restaurant.
This might be a good time to mention that to capitalize on the sexual cachet of having an Irish accent, you don't need to sound like a bad caricature - very few Irish people sound rampantly Irish. And unless you spend years practicing, you're not going to be able to master the skill well enough to pull it off completely. Instead, what you'll want to do is merely slip a few potent Irishisms into your speech here and there, thereby playing the easier role of someone whose Irish accent is simply waning after years in America, rather than a Mick fresh off the boat. So, for example, if you simply bring your target to a restaurant and are sure to ask whether the pasta contains "tamahtoe" or "bahsil," you will have already triggered the Euro alert in your potential amour's mind. This restrained version is easier to pull off and more believable - and less risky.
We've shown you how to soften your o's and a's, which are the chief variants for Irish speakers. But here's how to do the i's. The Irish will say "v-ih-tamin" not "v-eye-tamin" - with the "i" sound from "if" not "hike."
Harden your consonants
The converse rule applies to consonants - to sound more Irish, you'll want to harden yours, not soften them. Think about it, one of the first things that you'll notice about the speech pattern of Europeans - even if their accent has faded - is that they sound like they are enunciating much more clearly than Americans. The best way to improve your enunciation is to focus on your consonants. A classic theatrical exercise for improving the clarity of actors' voices, which need to be projected well into a crowded house, is to emphasize consonants. The human ear learns much more about a word from its consonants than from its vowels - this is why we abbreviate words by simply deleting most of the vowels.
The American trait of slurring consonants is most obvious with compound expressions: coulda, woulda, shoulda, wanna, gonna. Although some versions of the Irish dialect certainly do slur things - particularly when lubricated with th'auld elixir - the easiest rule for you to learn is to clip your words into distinct entities. So focus on turning those expressions distinctly into: could have, should have, would have, want to, going to. A good way to practice this elocution is to read aloud, aspirating loudly on each consonant. Pretend as though you're trying hard to be heard down a long distance telephone line. Generally, Irish folk sound clearer than yanks. It all comes from emphasizing the consonants.
Lyricize your inflection
This is perhaps the most difficult lesson to teach a foreign ear, but we hope that simply by mentioning it, we'll alert you to the sound so that you can work on it. One of the biggest differences between languages is the rhythm and tone of delivery. We all know that you can tell a question by hearing the raised inflection at the end of the sentence - so even if you're chatting with someone on a cell phone and losing them in a tunnel, you can still parse out the questions from the statements by the inflection. This same phenomenon of varying pitch accounts for the very different feel of many languages and accents. The Irish accent is very commonly described as lyrical. What that really means is that a typical sentence sounds more musical and sing-songy than American English.
Now, we can't convey to you they precise way an Irish person would deliver any possible sentence, but by telling you to listen for this varied inflection, we can give you a tool for practicing your Irishness. Rather than simply hearing an Irish accent and feeling exasperated at how different it is from your own, you can break it down into the differences of vowel, consonant, and lyricism.
A phoneme drill
So how will you convert this new-found awareness of distinctive Irish sounds into a mastery of the accent yourself? Well, practice, my child, practice. And aside from hiring your own personal dialogue coach, we think that one of the best ways to practice is to emulate the voices of Irish folk from movies. Grab yourself some of these movies from your local video rental store:
Watch these flicks with a tape recorder handy and recite each line in your own attempted Irish accent into the box. When you are speaking, focus on the three portions of speech that we have emphasized: soft vowels, hard consonants, and lyrical inflection. Then play the tapes back and listen to your attempts. We fairly sure you'll be really lousy at first, but that's fine - this is a skill like any other and you'll just have to keep working on it. Remember, there are plenty of people who do acquire this skill - hell, Daniel Day-Lewis sounds like a Brit naturally, but just check out his skills in The Boxer and In the Name of the Father. He's as Irish as Paddy's goat in those movies.