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BASIC RULES OF AN IRISH ACCENT

Updated: 5 days ago




INTRODUCTION

This tutorial will cover the basics of an Irish Accent. Before we break it down, it’s important for actors to understand exactly what type of Irish accent they might require, and which one we’re exploring here. 



While in reality the types of voices and accents you will hear on the island of Ireland are as varied as its people, it typically behooves actors when training to focus on the two main accents that will be required of you in performance: a more southern, Dublin-based accent, and a Northern Irish, or Ulster, accent. For the purposes of this tutorial, we’ll be exploring a general rule-set for the former that can be applied to much of the Republic of Ireland. While some sound shifts are also present in the accents of Northern Ireland, that is not the focus of this guide. Think of the accent presented here as the perfect neutral Irish accent to have on deck for auditions; then, once you find out the specific area your character is supposed to be from, you can further investigate the signature sound shifts of the region.


In order to better demonstrate the accent’s unique sounds, we will be comparing the “rules” of an Irish accent outlined in this guide to the sounds of a General American dialect.


VOWELS SHIFTS 

1) [ɪ] as in KIT shifts to [ɛ] as in DRESS.

"Bring in six images of the big ship."


2) [ʌ] as in STRUT shifts to [ʊ] as in FOOT.

"My brother stumbled into a clump of shrubs."


3) [ɑ] as in LOT is lip-rounded, closer to [ɒ].

"I thought of calling Shaun this fall."

Tip: Round your lips on this sound, almost like you’re making a kissy-face.


4) [æ] as in TRAP is slightly more open, [a].

"Bradley the fat cat had a bath and danced."

Tip: Careful not to retract your tongue towards [ɑ].


5) Vowels like [oʊ̆] as in GOAT and [eɪ̆] as in FACE will be more pure, towards [oː] and [eː] respectively.

"It’s only a stone’s throw to Rio."

"My favorite flavor was placed on my plate."

Tip: If you have trouble finding this sound, speak the American version of the vowel in slow motion, and stop your voice suddenly.


6) [aɪ̆] as in PRICE will be retracted and rounded at the start, towards [ɒɪ̆].

"My fine key lime pie was dry."

Tip: Avoid going as far as the vowel sound [ɔɪ̆] as in CHOICE–it should be somewhat softer in sound, or only halfway there.


7) [aʊ̆] as in MOUTH should have a more central starting vowel, towards [ɛʊ̆].

"The crowd out at the town house was too loud."

Tip: Start with the same vowel used in the word BED, then finish the sound by rounding your lips.


CONSONANT SHIFTS

1) Avoid dropping <R> sounds like you would in many other accents of the British Isles, a mistake American actors often make when attempting Irish. Also note [ɑɚ̆] as in START will be more fronted in the mouth, towards [a˞ ].

"Carly, are you parked by the star bar?"

Tip: If you have trouble finding this sound, start with a stereotypical pirate sound, “arr”, and then back off it a bit.


2) All <L> sounds should be light, clear, and almost delicate.

"The old bell in the well on the little hill."


3) Words spelled with <WH> that produce the [w] sound should be breathier, towards [hw].

"Which whale whined by the wharf?"

Tip: This sound shift does not occur when the <WH> produces an <H> sound, as in words like “who, whose, and whom.”


4) <TH> sounds should be produced off the back of the teeth, towards [t] or [d].

"That thing over there in the theater is both of theirs."


5) Multi-syllable words ending in <NG> might drop the <G> sound.

"Today I’m camping, fishing, hiking, and eating."


MUSICALITY

The musicality of an accent is defined by tendencies in rhythm, stress, intonation, tone, volume, and pitch–and in reality, all of these things can be highly personal to the individual speaker. Whenever exploring a new dialect or accent, it’s important to compare your own unique musicality to that of the target dialect, or more specifically to whichever individual speakers you are using for resources.


Generally speaking, the Irish accent makes much more use of pitch play than the American accent. American’s may be most familiar with the over-the-top musicality from the old Lucky Charms slogan, “They’re always after me lucky charms!” While basing your accent entirely on a cartoon mascot’s delivery would of course be frowned upon, it can sometimes be useful to start from this place of caricature in order to feel how musical the accent can be. Then try to smooth things out a little bit in your delivery so that you maintain some of the musicality, while not sounding like a cartoon character.



UNIQUE WORD PRONUNCIATIONS

As with every accent, Irish has many unique word pronunciations. Here are just a few common examples:


-my: /me/ (in unstressed positions)

-Jesus: /JAY.zuhs/

-film: /FIL.um/

-tea: /tay/

-idiot: /EE.juht/


There’s also a ton of Irish slang, many lists of which are readily available online. Typically it’s not our job as the actor to incorporate such slang, assuming the writer has done theirs–but you should familiarize yourself with the pronunciation and meaning regardless, should you encounter them in an audition.


Finally, consider that many word pronunciations may favor a more British influenced pronunciation, such as “zebra, adult, vitamins”, etc.


CONCLUSION

The Irish accent can be one of the most difficult ones for American actors to reproduce authentically, due in part to the large number of sound shifts that occur, as well as the many varieties one may hear on the relatively small island. Begin by practicing the general sound shifts on the example sentences provided in this tutorial. If you get an audition or book a role, explore the more specific sounds of your character’s place of birth, and incorporate them into what you’ve learned today. Be sure to check out some of the example speakers I’ve provided in the written tutorial to tune your ears to the sounds of the accent.


EXAMPLE SPEAKERS

Note, Scott Alan Moffitt, The Actor's Dialect Coach claims no ownership of the material in the following links--they are provided for educational purposes only. Certain links may contain language or content not suitable for children.


Farrell, Colin (secondary) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Okh9pXz5oXk

Gleeson, Brendan and Domhnall  (secondary) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ru4f9s3fspw

Horan, Niall and O’Dowd, Chris - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7RWjCe3rX1c

Ronan, Saoirse (secondary) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OLfelKkLemo

Irish Radio - http://www.rte.ie/radio/ 


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