Wednesday 11 December 2019

Celtic Roots Craic 60 – Belfast, bil-fahst and Canada, eh?

Belfast Harbour at night

Well, yez all seem to like learnin’ how things are said and done in this part of the world. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeatin’ – there’s no such thing as an Irish accent, there’s a whole host of different accents! 

We were at a Thanksgiving feed the other night – about a hundred of us – and there were some Americans there, obviously; some Canadians, too – and opposite me was a friend from Cork – or as they would say, Cark! And a couple of weeks ago we were down in Dublin – for the first time in quite a while. If ye’ve ever had to drive through Dublin, ye’ll appreciate the reasons for avoiding it, unless you’re actually going there. 

Anyway, we were at an International Crime Writers Festival, called, ’Murder One’ – my wife, Gerry, had been asked to read at it. It was in Templebar and we stayed two nights at a hotel in Templebar – a very noisy place at night, with live music in a pub just opposite, but a great place to eat out. We had Greek food one night and Irish boxty another night, with a Russian waiter serving us. 

So, at the Thanksgiving meal we were discussing the fact that both Belfast and Dublin have not one, but two, accents – there’s the 'real Dub' accent of the inner city and then there’s the polite – sometimes called, ‘West Brit’ – accent of the suburbs.

Belfast is the same, only different – if yer from the Newtownards Road ye would probably say, ‘East Belfaast,’ and in the west they’ll say, ‘West Belfaast’, Same with the Shore Road, they’ll say ‘North Belfaast.' But people from more polite parts – like the Malone Road – would say they’re from ’South Belfast!’  

If yer from Belfast nearly every sentence will end with, now – only it’s pronounced, ‘Nye!’ but if yer from county Antrim, it’ll end with, ‘hey’ ‘I’m from Ballymena, hey!’ And if you live in Derry, hey – no that’s just Derry/Londonderry, with a ‘hey’ stuck on the end, so you can stop Googling where Derryhay is, you won’t find it! – they have their own variation – they’ll say something like, ‘I’m from Derry, hey, mugger!’ 

Actually, we’re not the only ones to end sentences with a particular word. Canadians are famous for putting, ‘eh?’ at the end of a sentence – y’ know, ‘How do you spell ‘Canada’ – it’s  C, eh? N, eh? D eh?’ and not to be outdone, the New Yorkers have their own variation, ‘Huh?’ 

Many years ago – while I was still single – I shared a house just outside Belfast with a friend, John Garrett, from Alabama. We discovered many differences in the languages we both spoke – so that I eventually coined the phrase, ‘The two languages are very similar, aren’t they?’ ‘What’s that?’ ‘Y’know, English and American!’ 

In Ireland a car has a bonnet at the front – the phrase, ‘Pop the hood,’ means something entirely different over here! – you could be eliminating somebody from a rival gang. And cars don’t have fenders, they have wings. We walk on the footpath – not the pavement, and certainly not on the sidewalk!

One thing I will say, though, is Americans and Canadians are usually quite easy to transcribe. I’m compiling a book from radio interviews I did some time ago and the peopl from North America – especially the deep south – they speak steadily and reasonably, whereas the Irish, and the Scots, speak in little bursts. So, that word that you can’t quite make out turns out to be maybe six words all run together. At the moment I’m transcribing an interview with a lady from In-dee-ah – same problem, they speak English – but they pronounce words verrry differently.

So, there ye are, where are ye? Ever since the trouble at the Tower of Babel, communication has become just a wee bit tricky!

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