Analysing Irish accents on the contemporary screen: historical contexts and throughlines to the present

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O'Riordan, Nicholas
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University College Cork
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Against a history of perceived misrepresentation of Ireland and the Irish in literature and theatre, academic discourses around the nation on screen have frequently evaluated the accuracy of these depictions. Such assessments have tended to focus on how the on-screen image of Ireland is shaped, and specifically how it looks. The current thesis shifts this focus, and offers an in-depth consideration of how the country sounds on screen. Colonial and foreign representations of the Irish were once characterised by a specific style of accent employment that tended to infantilise, essentialise, and ‘other’ Irish characters through their voices. This was often achieved in the form of ‘eye dialect’, where a character’s speech is explicitly marked as non-standard through variations in spelling. The introduction of the voice to cinema offered the previously silent medium a recorded and permanent aural manifestation of the types of linguistic representation that had already been commonplace on the stage and the page for hundreds of years. Outside of academia, public commentary online around representations of Ireland and the Irish abounds with criticisms and complaints about depictions of the Irish accent, often perceived as inaccurate, exaggerated, and stereotypical. The current project both explores the historical growth of, and motivations behind, such complaints, and also tracks their enduring evolution to contemporary criticisms of the Irish accent on screen. It proposes that there are historical and political motivations (nationalism, protectionism, and desires for cultural autonomy) for the intense critical reaction to the perceived misrepresentations. By interrogating the concept of accent as a social phenomenon, this project deconstructs essentialist considerations of standard and non-standard accents, and also offers a structuralist methodological framework for approaching accent. It suggests that the Irish accent, on the street or on the screen, should only be adjudicated and analysed in relation to the context of the speech act, the background of the speaker, and the relative experience and knowledge of the listener. Addressing textual uses of accent, a considerable part of the methodological and conceptual project involves the construction of a taxonomy. Focusing on moments in which there is a marked, or meaningful employment of accent, it considers what these moments are doing in the context of each film. This thesis ultimately proposes four main categories of accent use and thus, results in a categorisation of cinematic accents in Irish cinema.
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Irish Cinema , Film and Screen Media , Accent and cinema , Sociolinguistics
O'Riordan, N. 2022. Analysing Irish accents on the contemporary screen: historical contexts and throughlines to the present. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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