Questions of 'h' in Northern Ireland: Breathing New Life on the Aspiration Theory

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This paper considers existing ideas concerning pronunciation of the letter name for (LNH) in Northern Irish English (NIE). Traditionally, the status of LNH realisation as an ethnic marker has gone unquestioned: Catholics are thought to say [het&Mac186;] while the Protestant norm is assumed to be [etS]. The phonetic difference between these realisations is consistently described as word-initial aspiration versus non-aspiration, with aspiration attributed exclusively to Irish language influence. Here, we show that an explanation based on aspiration alone is phonologically unsatisfying and question whether aspiration is, in fact, an Irish language or ethnically dictated phenomenon. It is further suggested here that the overwhelming stigmatisation of LNH realisation may be responsible for blocking a potential sound change in NIE. While this paper is not intended as a detailed account of ethnolinguistic differences in NI phonology, it engages critically with the over-simplistic and widespread notion that LNH realisation is a result of transfer from the Irish language to the English used by Catholics in Northern Ireland.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-61
Number of pages15
JournalÉtudes Irlandaises
Volume31 (2)
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language

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