Innovations and Reproductions in Cultures and Societies
(IRICS) Vienna, 9 - 11 december 2005

<< Postcolonial innovations and transformations: Putting language in the forefront

The vicissitudes of the ‘do be’ form in Hiberno-English

Tamami Shimada (Kyoto University)



This study aims to discuss the contemporary linguistic situation of postcolonial English through the case of Hiberno-English spoken in Ireland. Language shift from the native Irish to English is today almost complete, one of the critical factors having been the settlements in the 16 th and 17 th centuries. Hiberno-English maintains some elements derived from the Irish language; certain contact-induced features are retained in the grammatical system of contemporary Hiberno-English. It is an undeniable fact, however, that Hiberno-English is today exposed to other major Englishes including normative Standard English. This study may provide an illustration of the fate of certain linguistic features of postcolonial languages in a globalised world.

The Hiberno-English do be (V-ing) form is a significant grammatical feature to illustrate the linguistic phenomenon found in postcolonial languages. The do be form denotes habitual meanings. It is safely assumed that this habitual category is inherited from the substratum Irish language. This study, based on fieldwork undertaken in southwest Ireland, describes what is happening to this grammatical feature in the context of globalisation. Particular focus is given to the socio-linguistic meanings of the do be form in contemporary Hiberno-English. This form today relatively declines due to unfavourable social connotations derived from its conspicuous Non-Standardness. This grammatical feature is significantly compared with the features which speakers do not associate with Non-Standardness but do with Irishness. The linguistic selection in use should be examined from the viewpoint of speakers’ awareness that interacts their identity via linguistic performances in daily practices. This study of the Hiberno-English do be form may serve to explore the grammatical formations of postcolonial languages and their recent changes in progress.


Bliss, Alan J. (1972) Languages in Contact: Some Problems of Hiberno-English, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 72, 63-82.

Filppula, Markku (1999) The Grammar of Irish English: Language in Hibernian Style, Routlege, London.

Harris, John (1986) Expanding the Superstrate: Habitual Aspect Markers in Atlantic Englishes, English World-Wide 7, 171-199.

Kallen, Jeffrey L. (1986) The co-occurrence of do and be in Hiberno-English Syntax, in Harris, Little, and Singleton eds. Perspectives on the English Language in Ireland: Proceedings of the First Symposium on Hiberno-English, Centre for Language and Communication Studies Trinity College Dublin, Dublin, 133-147.

Shimada, Tamami (2005) 'Irishness' in Hiberno-English: A Study of Postcolonial Language in a Globalised World, presented at the Language and Global Communication Conference, Cardiff, 7-9 th July.

Innovationen und Reproduktionen in Kulturen und Gesellschaften (IRICS) Wien, 9. bis 11. Dezember 2005

WEBDESIGN: Peter R. Horn 2005-10-06