Notes on the Phonology of a County Antrim Ulster-Scots Dialect
Part I: Synchronic Study i.e. the Contemporary Dialect*

Robert J. Gregg

Throughout the 17th century Lowland Scottish planters came over by the thousand to Ulster, the northern province of Ireland, chiefly from Central and South-West Scotland to settle the escheated lands of the defeated Irish earls who had fled into exile in 1607, as well as other territories that had been seized by the Crown. Influenced in varying degrees by the ubiquitous Gaelic which was the language of the majority of the population in Ireland until Famine times about a hundred years ago, as well as by different forms of Anglo-Irish speech, the Lallans language eventually stabilised itself as a chain of closely-related Ulster-Scots dialects stretching around the coastal areas in a broad arc from the Ards Peninsula in eastern county Down, via county Antrim, county Londonderry and North Tyrone to the Laggan district in north-east Donegal.

A detailed investigation of these Ulster-Scots dialects — which would be of considerable value to dialectologists not only in the British Isles but probably also in English-speaking North America — still remains to be carried out. Pending such a large-scale survey this article aims to sum up some of my personal work on the phonological aspect of a particular but typical Ulster-Scots dialect, viz., that of the village of Glenoe and the neighbouring part of the Glynn river valley in eastern county Antrim. This is a rural area, five or six miles south of Larne, a town of some twelve thousand inhabitants, situated also in county Antrim about twenty miles north of Belfast. The valley has a population of about one thousand, engaged for the most part in mixed farming and forming a fairly homogeneous ethnic and social group. As the area is somewhat off the beaten track — it does not lie athwart any major highway — the dialect has been well preserved up to the present, although modern communications are beginning to break down its isolation and in particular the modified Standard English of Larne, which is a second language to all educated dialect-speakers, is exerting an increasing pressure at both the lexical and the phonological level.

My chief informants are my mother, Mrs. T. Gregg, and my brother, Mr. T. F. Gregg, both of Larne, and many other relatives who still live in or near the valley have been consulted about special points. Furthermore, I can also claim for myself the status of a native speaker of the dialect, which I learned to use as a child when staying on vacation with my grandparents, and with which I have never lost contact.

The corpus on which my work is based consists chiefly of material I have been collecting over the last thirty years, supplemented by a systematic study inspired by the Belfast Naturalists' Field Club dialect survey, which began in 1951 and which has benefited for the past five years from the friendly co-operation of Professor McIntosh of Edinburgh University and several of his collaborators in the Linguistic Survey of Scotland. There is no existing literature on any specific Ulster-Scots dialect to date and even work of a more general nature is very scanty. In 1880 W. H. Patterson published for the English Dialect Society A Glossary of Words in Use in the Counties of Antrim and Down, an excellent word-list with careful definitions, but covering, as the title makes clear, too large an area to give us any precise information as to the geographical distribution of the lexical items, and having no accurate system for indicating pronunciation.(1) Phonologically there is only Joseph Wright's Antrim material incorporated in the English Dialect Grammar, which appeared in 1905.(2) It is very useful to have this phonetic record of Antrim speech as it was about half a century ago, but a careful perusal of these forms reveals many obvious errors, due undoubtedly to the tremendous difficulties encountered by Wright in seeking qualified informants in all parts of Ireland, and perhaps also to his own lack of familiarity with Ulster-Scots and Anglo-Irish speech in general, which prevented any adequate check on the information furnished.

No serious attempt to examine Wright's Antrim material critically had been made until 1956, when Mr. G. B. Adams published his Phonology of the Antrim Dialect(3) using as his corpus the Antrim entries which he had extracted from the EDG index.

Conventionalised Diagram showing Glenoe Vowels in relation to Cardinal Vowels

Glenoe Vowels

NOTE: The Glenoe vowels are shown by small circles.

Table of Glenoe Consonants

Labial and Labio-dentalInter-dentalAlveolarPalatalisedPalatalVelarLaryngeal

Note: For typographical reasons the palatalised consonants are represented in the body of the article by ń, ĺ, ś, etc., instead of the symbols shown in the above table.



As far as possible the symbols of the International [Phonetic] Alphabet have been used, but the following should be noted:


æ, ë, ϊ, , ü represent vowels in or approaching central positions.


t, d, n, l indicate interdental consonants.

r represents a single-flap r (i.e. [ɾ]).

r represents a point open r (i.e. [ɹ]).

ń ś ź ĺ palatalised versions of the alveolar consonants in question.

tś dź stand for palatalised affricates.

Vowel Quantity

It is possible to divide the Glenoe vowels into three groups according to whether they are always short, always long, or have in various ways alternating long and short quantity, as follows:

(a) Vowels that are always short:

[ι] as in [ˈhιte] 'have to', [ˈɛ:rιk] 'pullet', [fιt] 'from it'.

[ϊ] as in [ˈsϊte] 'sooty', [gϊs] 'goose', [fϊt] 'foot'.

[æ̈] as in [ˈsæ̈te] 'city', [hæ̈l] 'hill', [fæ̈t] 'fit'.

[ʌ] as in [dʌnt] 'nudge', [śʌx] 'ditch', [glʌmf] 'sulk'.

(ə) as in [ˈbɔ:rə] 'barrow', [əˈbϊn] 'above'.

(b) Vowels that are always long(4)

[ë] as in [flë:r] 'floor', [pë:r] 'poor', [bë:rd] 'board'.

[ü] as in [grü:] 'greyhound', [brü:z] 'bruise', [smü:ð] 'smooth'.

[ɛ:] as in [grɛ:s] 'grass', [ˈhɛ:mər] 'hammer', [plɛ:t] 'plait'.

[α:] as in [bα:t] 'moth', [flα:m] 'flatter', [skα:d] 'scald'; 'tea'.

[ɔ:] as in [hɔ:st] 'cough', [lɔ:k] 'lock'; 'a lot', [ˈɔ:kstər] 'armpit'.

(c) Vowels which may be short or long

[i] as in [brik] 'brick', [drip] 'drip', [kiŋ] 'king'.

[i:] as in [li:] 'falsehood', [di:v] 'deafen'.

[e] as in [ˈpite] 'pity', [ˈsɔ:led] 'solid', [ˈdιne] 'do not'.

[e:] as in [te:] 'tea', [ne:n] 'none', [kwe:t] 'quiet'.

[o] as in [smok] 'smoke', [tśok] 'choke', [fok] 'folk'.

[o:] as in [po:k] 'to poke', [spo:k] 'spoke' (<speak), [lo:k] 'lukewarm'.

[Ü] as in [hÜs] 'house', [kÜf] 'a fool', [ˈfÜste] 'fusty'.

[ø̈] as in [stø̈:r] 'flying dust', [ˈsø̈:rək] 'wild sorrel'.

Complete list of Glenoe vowel-sounds


No. 1 [ι] between close and half-close, front.

No. 2 [ϊ] between close and half-close, front-central.

No. 3 [æ̈] open, front-central.

No. 4 [ʌ] half-open, back.

No. 5 [ə] half-close, central.

No. 6 [ë:] half-close, front-central, slightly lowered.

No. 7 [ü:] close, front-central, rounded.

No. 8 [ɛ:] half-open, front.

No. 9 [α:] open, back.

No. 10 [ɔ:] half-open, back, rounded.

No. 11 [i/i:] close, front.

No. 12 [e/e:] half-close, front.

No. 13 [o/o:] between close and half-close, back, over-rounded.

No. 14 [Ü/ø̈:] between close and half-close, front-central, rounded.


No. 15 [əi] No.  5 plus No. 11
No. 16 [αe] No.  9 plus No. 12
No. 17 [ɔe] No. 10 plus No. 12
No. 18 [əü] No.  5 plus No.  7
No. 19 [eə/iə] No. 12or    No. 11 plus No. 5

Detailed description of the Glenoe vowels

Note: All the vowels are oral.

No. 1 [ι] is between close and half-close, front, unrounded, very near to the RP vowel in hit or din. It is somewhat marginal in the Glenoe dialect, arising chiefly from the contextual shortening of [e:].

Contrast [he:] 'have' with [ˈhιte] 'have to', [ˈhιne] 'have not', [hιt] 'have it';

[de:] 'do' with [ˈdιne] 'do not', [dιt] 'do it';

[fe:] 'from' with [fιt] 'from it';

[ne:] 'no' (adj.) with [ˈnιθən] 'nothing'.

This vowel also occurs in words like [ˈpɔ:lιś] 'polish' and forms like [tιˈkɛ:r] 'take care'.

No. 2 [ϊ] is between close and half-close, front-central, unrounded. It is of fairly frequent occurrence, cropping up in words like [gϊs] 'goose', [spϊn] 'spoon', [gϊm] 'gum', [əbϊn] 'above', [skϊl] 'school'. This vowel has close counterparts in the Celtic languages, e.g., Irish tuiletϊlə], im [ϊm] 'butter'.

No. 3 [æ̈] is an open, front, unrounded vowel, somewhat centred in comparison with RP [æ] in Hal [hæl], bat [bæt], vanish [ˈvænιʃ]. It occurs in Glenoe [hæ̈l] 'hill', [bæ̈t] 'bit' and in the first syllable of [ˈfæ̈nιś] 'finish'. Compared with the RP vowel in hill [hιl], bit [bιt] and finish [ˈfιnιʃ], the Glenoe sound has a slightly central quality and is at the same time very much lowered so that it suggests [æ] or even [a] to the unaccustomed ear. Investigators have found great difficulty in analysing the corresponding vowel or vowels in broad Scots dialects, a fact mentioned by Joseph Wright, A. J. Ellis, J. A. H. Murray and others.

No. 4 [ʌ] is a half-open, back, unrounded vowel. It differs from its RP counterpart in tongue position but has similar acoustic qualities. It corresponds undoubtedly to the 'backer' variety which Jones claims is heard in the North(5) and the 'ordinary deep provincial form' cited by Ellis.(6) Such a backer, lowered sound occurs specifically in certain parts of Scotland, e.g., at Tarbolton in Ayrshire(7) and in the Buchan district.(8) This characteristic East Antrim vowel is clearly distinct from the Belfast and South Ulster equivalent, viz., [o̤] a fronter, rounded vowel which seems to be derived from the Gaelic substratum.(9) This sound is of frequent occurrence in Glenoe words like [bʌś] 'bush', [ˈbʌtśer] 'butcher', [ˈbʌlək] 'bullock', [ˈdʌnər] 'a heavy blow', [ˈwʌntər] 'winter', [ˈtwʌnte] 'twenty', [ˈgʌldər] 'shout', [ˌmilə ˈkrʌśe] 'fried oatmeal'.

No. 5 [ə] is a half-close, central, unrounded vowel, very similar to the German final -e in Gabe [ˈgα:bə] and with a decided [ι] quality. It occurs widely in words like [ˈɛ:lbə] 'elbow', [pəˈte:tə] 'potato', [ˈbɔ:rə] 'borrow', 'barrow', [əˈbüt] 'about', [əˈnϊðɔr] 'another', [ˈα:pətəit] 'appetite', [ˈwα:ntəd] 'wanted', [ˈwα:lˌkα:rsəz] 'water-cress', [ˈga:ləsəz] 'braces', [gləˈno:] 'Glenoe'.

No. 6 [ë:] is half-close, slightly lowered, front-central, unrounded, and is, like [ə], to be considered as marginal in the Glenoe vocalic system. It occurs in only a few words such as [flë:r] 'floor', [bë:rd] 'board', [ˈməül ˌbë:rd] 'mould-board', [pë:r] 'poor'.

No. 7 [ü:] is close, front-central, rounded. This sound, characteristic of all native Ulster speech, is an extremely advanced form of [u:], phonetically close to [y:]. A similar fronted [u] occurs in West Central Scots, especially in Glasgow, as well as further afield in Scandinavia: Swedish or Norwegian hus 'house'.(10) It is worth noting that the same advanced [u] is characteristic of the Gaelic of Rathlin Island(11) and the Glens of Antrim(12) as well as the Scots Gaelic of Argyllshire'.(13) Examples of Glenoe words containing this sound are: [kü:] 'cow', [fü:] 'full', [prü:v] 'prove', [brü:z] 'bruise', [smü:ð] 'smooth', [ˈkrü:əl] 'cruel'.

No. 8 [ɛ:] is half-open, front, unrounded. It is approximately the vowel of RP there [ðɛ:ə], i.e., rather opener than the vowels in RP bed [bɛd], German Bett [bɛt] or French laide [lɛd]. The Glenoe version may be heard in the words [lɛ:n] 'lend', [brɛ:nś] 'branch', [ˈhɛ:mər] 'hammer', [glɛ:d] 'glad', [brɛ:s] 'brass', [ˈɛ:pl] 'apple', [ɛ:ks] 'axe', [sɛ:k] 'sack', [bɛ:] 'to bay', 'to cry (of a child)'.

No. 9 [α:] is open, back, unrounded, nearer to the vowel in RP grass [grα:s] than to that in French grâce [grα:s]. It occurs in words such as [mα:n] 'man', [lα:n] 'land', [skα:r] 'scare', [skα:rt] 'to scratch'; 'cormorant', [gα:nś] 'stutter', [hα:d] 'a hold, grasp'.

No. 10 [ɔ:] is half-open, back, rounded, oral, with tongue position near that for German [ɔ] in Gott [gɔt] and backer than French [ɔ] in dot [dɔt]. It is quite distinct from South Ulster [ɒ] in [lɒt] 'lot' etc., being closer, fronter, and more strongly rounded. The Glenoe vowel occurs in words like [dɔ:l] 'doll', [gɔ:l] 'gall', [fɔ:lt] 'fault', [ɔ:n] 'on', [dɔ:n] 'dawn', [lɔ:k] 'a lot'; 'lock'.

No. 11 [i] is a close, front, unrounded vowel, slightly opener than French [i] in fini [fini], which is about cardinal. It occurs in the words [śip] 'sheep', [hid] 'head', 'heed', [sin] 'seen', 'scene', [di:] 'die', [li:v] 'live', [bli:z] 'blaze', [ti:ð] 'teethe', [wi:r] 'wear'.

No. 12 [e] is a half-close, front, unrounded vowel, slightly opener and less tense than French [e] in été [ete], German [e:] in leben [ˈle:bən], or Scots [e:] in day [de:]. This Glenoe vowel occurs in the words [we:n] 'child', [ble:t] 'shy', [ˈkre:tər] 'creature', [beˈgæ̈n] 'begin', [ˈmʌne] 'many', [ˈsɔ:led] 'solid'.

No. 13 [o] is between close and half-close, back, over-rounded, near in timbre and articulation to Swedish and Norwegian overrounded o [o].(14) These very close o-sounds, which acoustically approach [u], are paralleled also in Rathlin Gaelic and Scottish Gaelic.(15) Examples: [go:] 'go', [bo:s] 'hollow', [to:v] 'to boast', [spo:k] (<speak), [pok] 'a small bag', [tśok] 'choke'.

No. 14 [Ü] is between close and half-close, front-central, rounded. It is the rounded version of No. 3, [ϊ], and the open, lax counterpart of No. 7, [ü]. It thus approaches the tongue position of German short ü in müssen [ˈmysən]. The Glenoe vowel is heard in the words [fÜd] 'food', [śÜt] 'suit', [kÜ:rs] 'course', 'coarse', [ˈfÜtər] 'a clumsy person', [stÜ:r] 'flying dust'.

The Diphthongs

No. 15 [əi] is a narrow closing diphthong whose first element, No. 5 [ə], is more strongly stressed than the second, No. 11 [i]. In spite of this difference in stress the glide element seems to be equally prominent with the first because it is a little longer. Examples: [kəitś] 'to shake up', [wəif] 'wife', [drəiv] 'drive', [wəis] 'wise', [rəiz] 'rise', [əi] 'always', [məin] '(coal) mine', [kwəi] 'heifer', [ˈəirlən] 'Ireland'.

No. 16 [αe] is, in contrast with the preceding, a wide closing diphthong. The first and strongly stressed element is the long vowel No. 9 [α: ], which is acoustically much more prominent than the second, a short version of No. 12 [e]. Examples: [αe] 'yes'; 'I', [mαen] 'mine (belonging to me)', [kαe] 'cows', [fαev] 'five', [prαez] 'prize', [sαeð] 'scythe', [dαeəl] 'dial'.

No. 17 [ɔe] is, like No. 16, a wide closing diphthong, combining a strongly stressed, long, prominent first element —No. 10 — with a short, weakly stressed variant of No. 12 as a glide element. This sound is of rare occurrence in Glenoe. Examples: [bɔe] 'boy'; 'buoy', [bɔel] 'to boil', [tɔe] 'toy', [stɔex] 'a stench', [dəˈstrɔe] 'destroy', [kɔets] 'quoits', [ˈmɔele] 'hornless (of a cow or goat)'.

No. 18 [əü], a narrow closing diphthong, follows the pattern of No. 15 with a short, strongly stressed first element — No. 5 — followed by a somewhat longer, weakly stressed glide element, No. 7. Prominence is again equally distributed here because of the relatively long duration of the second element. Examples: [nəü] 'a knoll, hillock', [kəüp] 'overturn', [mjəüt] 'a faint sound', [kəül] 'cold', [gəüp] 'throb (with pain)'.

No. 19 [eə/iə] crops up sporadically in the speech of certain individuals, where it replaces the long variant of No. 12 [e:] in monosyllabic word-forms. With such speakers [geət] or [giət] stands for [ge:t] 'gate', [keək] or [kiək] for [ke:k] 'cake', [neəm] or [niəm] for [ne:m] 'name'. The first element here is a shortened variant of No. 12 or No. 11, which is strongly stressed, followed by No. 5. This diphthongal pronunciation is felt to be vulgar by those who use the pure vowel. This diphthong is common in the dialects of the southern counties of Scotland, and may have been a social marker at an earlier stage in Ulster.

The Triphthongs

Three-member vocalic groupings do occur in Glenoe, but are normally spread over two syllables, e.g., [ˈwəi-ər] 'wire', [məˈgwəi-ər] 'Maguire', [ənˈkwəi-ər] 'enquire'; [ˈbαe-ər] 'byre'; 'buyer', [ˈfαe-ər] 'fire', [ˈdαe-əl] 'dial'; [ˈlɔe-əl] 'loyal', [dəˈstrɔe-ər] 'destroyer', [əˈnɔe-ən] 'annoying'; [ˈfəü-ər] 'four', [ˈtrəü-əl] 'trowel', [ˈrəü-ən] 'rowan, mountain ash'. In these circumstances it seems simpler to interpret these vowel clusters as consisting of diphthongs Nos. 15, 16, 17 and 18 followed in the next syllable by vowel No. 5. In this case there is no need to set up a category of triphthongs.

Description of the Glenoe Consonants

The consonantal systems of most dialects of English show less divergence than is found among the vowels. The Glenoe system, for example, coincides to a considerable extent with that of RP, but at the same time it has additional complexities. As well as the various phones of the standard speech it has a series of breathed ejective or glottalised plosives, a full range of interdental and of alveolar-palatalised consonants and a breathed velar fricative. These along with some other minor deviations from the RP system are described below.


Interdental consonants — indicated by the small capitals [t] [d] [n] [l] — are generally pronounced with the body of the tongue flattened and the tip protruding between the teeth. Similar sounds are heard in Gaelic words like dorasdɔrəs] 'door', bannach [ˈbαnαx] 'bannock'.


[t] [ˈtrɛ:vl̩] 'walk', [ˈpɛ:trəl] 'petrol'.

[d] [drüθ] 'drought'; 'thirst', [drix] 'dreary'.

[n] [ˈθʌnər] 'thunder', [ˈsæ̈nəre] 'asunder'.

[l] [ˈɛ:ldər] 'elder'; 'udder', [ˈwʌldərnəs] 'wilderness'.

Glottalised Plosives

In the speech of many Glenoe individuals, unvoiced plosives pronounced with a simultaneous glottal stop may be heard in words like the following:

[p’] [ˈθrα:p’l̩] 'throat', [ˈsʌp’ər] 'supper', [drα:p’] 'drop', [strüp’] 'spout (of a kettle, etc.)'.

[t’] [ˈbrα:t’l̩] 'rumble (of thunder)', [ˈtwʌnt’e] 'twenty', [sʌt’] 'sat', [tśα:t’] 'small potato'.

[t’] [ˈklα:t’ər] 'a large number', [ˈmɛ:t’ər] 'to matter'.

[k’] [ˈkük’ər] 'to spoil (a child)', [ˈke:k’l̩] 'to cackle', [sɛ:k'] 'sack', [blα:k'] 'black'.

With some speakers [t’] loses its alveolar closure and only the glottal stop remains, e.g.,

[ʔ] [ˈrɔ:ʔn̩] 'rotten', [ˈrəiʔn̩] 'writing', [ˈbɔ:ʔl̩] 'bottle', [ˈplɛ:nʔe] 'plenty'

As this feature is not universal, it will not be noted in future transcriptions.

Alveolar-Palatalised Consonants

In these consonants, the normal alveolar articulation is combined with an arching of the blade and front of the tongue towards the hard palate. The resulting sounds are thus not purely palatal like the [ɲ] and [ʎ] of the Romance languages, but rather resemble the dental-palatalised sounds of Russian. Examples occur in the words:

[ń] [ńü] 'new', [ńʌk] 'pilfer', [əˈńʌx] 'enough'.

[lˊ] [ˈĺüge] 'fool' (These pronunciations are traditional but obsolescent. The younger generation say [əˈnʌx], [ˈlüge].),

[gəˈ ĺo:r] 'plenty', [ˈmæ̈ĺən] 'million'.

[ś] [ˈsʌgər] 'sugar', [śϊn] 'shoes', [kriś] 'grease'.

[ź] [ˈpʌźən] 'poison', [ˈlæ̈źər] a local road name.

[tś] [tśÜn] 'tune', [tśip] 'chirp', [kəitś] 'to toss about'.

[dź] [dźÜk] 'dodge', [dźα:p] 'splash', [fα:dź] 'potato bread'.

The Alveolar Lateral

Apart from interdental [l] and palatalised [ĺ], Glenoe has an alveolar lateral [l] which has always a noticeably front or central resonance — produced by raising the front part of the tongue — in words like [fil] 'feel'; 'field', [skιl] 'school', [rÜl] 'rule', [wʌl] 'wool', [ˌrilˈrα:l] 'topsy-turvy'.

The Single-Flap r

A single-flap r viz., [r], similar to the Spanish r in toro [ˈtoro], occurs in the following words: [trαe] 'try', [drÜk] 'drench', [ˈgʌtəre] 'muddy', [ˈbɛ:dərəl] 'bed-ridden person', [ˈdźɛ:nərəl] 'general', [ˈgʌldərən] 'shouting', [ˈθræ̈sl̩] 'thistle', [ˈsʌðərən] 'soldering'.

The Breathed Palatal Fricative

This type of fricative, which is very similar to German [ç], occurs in a few words such as: [çÜ] 'hue'; 'Hugh', [çÜdź] 'huge', [ˈçÜmən] 'human', [ˈçÜbərt] 'Hubert'. This is phonetically a single sound — not a sequence of [h] followed by [j].

The breathed labio-velar fricative

This sound, [ʍ], is fully preserved in Glenoe, in contrast with most versions of RP. It is phonetically an unvoiced version of [w] rather than a sequence [hw] and is heard in words like [ʍəilz] 'sometimes', [ʍin] 'a small number', [ˈʍʌtrət] 'stoat', [ˈʍα:zl̩] 'wheeze', [ʍʌn] 'gorse'.

The unvoiced velar fricative [x]

This sound is produced by constricting the outgoing breath at various points between the uvula and the back edge of the hard palate. With the back variants there is often some uvular scrape. Front variants are never as far forward as German [ç]. Examples: [ˈsprcα:xl̩] 'sprawl', [lɔ:x] 'lough', [tśʌx] 'tough', [do:x] 'Doagh' (place-name), [næ̈xt] 'night', [pɛ:x] 'pant', [hix] 'high', [ˈgriśəx] 'glowing embers', [ˈdɔ:xtər] 'daughter'.



In discussing the phonemic status of the vowels above it is useful to consider interlocking series of minimal pairs. This task is rendered more difficult by the fact that certain sounds are of rare occurrence in the dialect. Thus, vowel No. 1 occurs only in unstressed syllables as in [ˈkɔ:mιk] 'comic', [ˌmιkelˈwe:n] 'McIlwaine', [ˈfæ̈nιś] 'finish' or in fused verbal forms such as those already cited. It is possible, however, to find cases in which this vowel is used in contrast with No. 2 and No. 3:

[fιt] 'from it', [fϊt] 'foot', [fæ̈t] 'fit'.

We may further note that [ˈhιte] 'have to' does not rhyme with [ˈsϊte] 'sooty' or [ˈsæ̈te] 'city', which form a minimal pair. These vowels are therefore three separate phonemes, to which we may add seven more, viz., Nos. 4, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, on the basis of the series [bϊt] 'boot', [bæ̈t] 'bit', [bʌt] 'but', [bɛ:t] 'bet', [bα:t] 'bat', [bɔ:t] 'bought' (alternative pronunciation [bɔ:xt]), [bit] 'beet', [be:t] 'bait', [bo:t] 'boat'.

Vowel No. 5 is a problem in all forms of English, for it occurs exclusively in unstressed syllables, so we can contrast only the unemphatic pronunciation of the word but, viz. [bət], with the monosyllables listed above. The opposition between [ˈwʌndə] 'window' and [ˈwʌnde] 'windy' helps further to establish the phonemic status of [ə].

Of the remaining vowels, No. 6 is found to be in complementary distribution with No. 2. The latter is the main member of the phoneme occurring in words like [rϊt] 'root', [gϊd] 'good', [mϊn] 'moon', [kϊl] 'to cool', [gϊm] 'gum', [gϊs] 'goose'. The former is the variant that is used before [r], e.g., [flë:r] 'floor', [pë:r] 'poor', [bë:rd] 'board'.

Vowels No. 7 and No. 14 are for the most part found in complementary distribution. No. 7 is used in open syllables, in hiatus and before voiced fricatives in monosyllables, e.g., [kü:] 'cow', [pü:] 'pull', [dźü:] 'Jew'; 'due'; 'dew'; [ˈkrü:əl] 'cruel', [ˈü:ər] 'hour', [grü:v] 'groove', [bü:z] 'booze', [smü:ð] 'smooth', [rü:ź] 'rouge'. No. 14 is used in monosyllables closed by consonants other than voiced fricatives, e.g., [Üt] 'out', [lÜd] 'loud', [hÜs] 'house', [brÜn] 'brown', [mÜθ] 'mouth', [skÜl] 'scowl', with a lengthened variant before [r] as in [Ü:r] 'our', [pÜ:r] 'pour', [dÜ:r] 'dour'. This is not the whole picture, however, for although medially before voiced fricatives we do in most cases find [ü:] as in [bü:zər] 'boozer', [ˈsmü:ðer] 'smoother', [ˈrü:zl̩ˌdʌnt] 'potato-oaten bread', [ˈkrü:zər] 'cruiser', yet [Ü] occurs in [ˈśÜðər] 'shoulder', [ˈpÜðər] 'powder', [ˈhÜvər] 'Hoover'. These few exceptions disturbing the general phonemic pattern may be due to dialect mixture.

The opposition between long and short in Nos. 11, 12, 13 and 14 has still to be considered. For Nos. 11, 12 and 14 the contrast is not significant, the long and short variants being in complementary distribution. Thus [i:] occurs in final open syllables, in hiatus and before voiced fricatives and [r]: — [gi:] 'give', [wi:] 'little, small'; [di:v] 'deafen', [bli:z] 'blaze', [si:ð] 'seethe', [wi:r] 'to wear', [ˈpri:ən] 'small quantity'. On the other hand [i] occurs when followed by consonants other than the voiced fricatives and [r]: — [pit] 'peat', [fid] 'feed', [kik] 'peep', [dźig] 'jig', [ʍin] 'a small number', [tim] 'rain heavily', [bil] 'suppurate', [dif] 'deaf', [ˈpitər] 'Peter', [ˈskridl̩] 'scrape (on a violin)', [ˈgigl̩] 'giggle'.

With No. 12 the distribution is different, for [e:] occurs in accented syllables, [e] in unaccented positions: — [ble:t] 'shy', [ˈde:lər] 'dealer', [ˈkre:tər] 'creature', [be:st] 'beast', but [ˈɔ:ne] 'any', [deˈpɛ:nd] 'depend', [ˈkɑ:nte] 'small and pretty', [beˈsəid] 'beside'.

In the case of No. 14, as already mentioned [Ü:] occurs only before [r]: — [stÜn] 'throb with pain', but [stÜ:r] 'flying dust'.

No. 13 is the only instance in Glenoe where the opposition between long and short is differentiative. We find, for example, these significant contrasts in front of [k]: [pok] 'a small bag' — [po:k] 'to poke', [spok] 'spoke (of a wheel)' —[spo:k] 'spoke' (<speak). The short vowel [o] is also heard in [fok] 'folk', [smok] 'smoke', [tśok] 'choke', but otherwise in front of [k] or elsewhere only [o:] occurs. This opposition is thus apparently marginal and may be an innovation exploited as shown above to eliminate what would otherwise be cases of homonymic clash.

The diphthongs Nos. 15, 16, 17 and 18 are to be considered as four separate phonemes on the basis of the opposition between [məin] '(coal) mine', [mαen] 'mine (belonging to me)', [mɔen] 'Moyne', [məün] 'mound'.

Further minimal pairs for the first two are [əi] 'always', [αe] 'I' and [gəi] 'very', [gαe] 'guy'; and for the second two [bɔel] 'to boil', [bəül] 'bowl' and [tɔel] 'toil', [təül] 'told'. The situation with Nos. 15 and 16 is more complicated than the above examples show, for a study of series like [prəis] 'price', [prαez] 'prize', [prαe] 'pry', [fəif] 'fife', [fαev] 'five', [ˈfαeəl] 'phial', [fαe] 'fie' indicates an underlying allophonic distribution of these two diphthongs, [əi] functioning as the main variant and [αe] occurring in final open syllables, in hiatus, and before voiced fricatives.

This simple distribution pattern has, however, been disturbed by various factors — the historical falling-together of certain diphthongs, analogy which has arrested uniform development, and perhaps also dialect borrowing. In any case, we must now regard [əi] and [αe] as separate phonemes in the present stage of the Glenoe dialect.

As already stated, No. 19 — [eə] or [iə] — is a diaphonic variant of No. 12.


As mentioned earlier, many of the Glenoe consonants coincide with those of RP. These need not be discussed at this point, but the phonemic status of the divergent sounds described above must be examined.


At first glance [t], [d], and [n] seem to be allophones of the corresponding alveolar sounds, replacing the latter in immediate contact with a following [r], [-ər] or [-ər-]. Closer study, however, reveals the significant opposition of alveolar to interdental in pairs like:

[ˈbɛ:tər] 'better (one who bets)' — [ˈbɛ:tər] 'better' (<good) [ˈgʌtərz] 'people who gut (herring etc.)' — [ˈgʌtərz] 'mud' [ˈśʌnər] 'shun her' — [ˈśʌnər] 'cinder'.

These interdentals must therefore be considered as phonemically distinct from the alveolars, but on the other hand the interdental [l] never occurs except in contact with the following [d] or [t], as in [ˈɛ:ldər] 'udder'; 'elder', [ˈbo:ldər] 'boulder', [ˈhɛ:ltər] 'halter'. The alveolar [d] in [ˈwɛ:ldər] 'welder', [ˈbo:ldər] 'bolder' and alveolar [t] in [ˈpɛːltər] 'pelt her' imply an alveolar [l] before them. This alveolar-interdental contrast, it must be noted, is not just a simple phonemic opposition: the use of the alveolars rather than the interdentals is also an oristic signal marking a word junction or a morpheme suture.

Glottalised Plosives

In the case of these ejectives the situation is different. These are simply variants of the normal plosives, occurring medially following the stress and sometimes in final position. Even the glottal stop, which may replace [t’] in medial positions as shown, is in these instances an allophone of /t/.

Alveolar-Palatalised Consonants

These consonants can be shown to stand in phonemic opposition to the simple alveolar sounds. Thus we find minimal pairs such as:

[nü:] 'now' — [ńü:] 'new'

[ˈmæ̈lən] 'milling' — [mæ̈ĺən] 'million'

[sϊn] 'soon' — [śϊn] 'shoes'

[ˈli:zər] 'leaves her' — [ˈli:źər] 'leisure'

With the affricates we can adduce two-way contrasts:

[wʌtś] 'witch' — [wʌt] 'wit' — [wʌś] 'wish'

[ˈpʌdźn̩] 'small, fat person' — [ˈpʌdn̩] 'pudding' — [ˈpʌźn̩] 'poison'.

Of the remaining single sounds described above the alveolar lateral [l] differs from its RP counterpart in that it lacks the latter's velarised allophone in final or pre-consonantal positions in words like those cited or in these further examples: [wil] 'well' (adverb), [mɛ:l] 'a large mallet', [de:l] 'to deal', [ˈre:əl] 'real', [fϊl] 'fool', [fæ̈l] 'fill', [mʌl] 'headland', [pÜl] 'pool', [wα:l] 'well' (sb.), [θo:l] 'endure', [pɔ:l] 'Paul'.

Single-flap r is an allophone of /r/ occurring directly after [t], [d], or [n], as in [trɔ:x] 'trough', [ˈdræ̈bl̩] 'a small drop', [ˈhɛ:nre] 'Henry', and even when [ə] intervenes, provided that another vowel follows the r, e.g., [ˈmʌldəre] 'crumbly', [ˈrα:xtəre] 'riff-raff', 'canaille', [ˈrα:nərən] 'talking nonsense'.

The breathed palatal and labio-velar fricatives can be shown to be in significant contrast with the corresponding voiced sounds, e.g.,

[çü:] 'Hugh'; 'hue' — [jü:] 'you'; 'yew'
[ʍin] 'a small number' — [win] 'wean'
[ʍʌn] 'gorse' — [wʌn] 'win'
[ʍəilz] 'sometimes' — [wəilz] 'wiles'

Finally, the breathed fricative [x] has obviously phonemic status on the evidence of the following oppositions with other fricatives:

[do:x] 'Doagh'(place-name) — [do:f] 'hollow-sounding', —

[do:s] 'dose'

[hix] 'high' — [hiθ] 'heath'

[lα:x] 'laugh' — [lα:ś] 'lash'



* Originally published in Orbis 7 (1958), 392-406)

(1) Patterson, William Hugh, A Glossary of Words in Use in the Counties of Antrim and Down (London, 1880).

(2) Wright, Joseph S., English Dialect Grammar (Oxford, 1905).

(3) Adams, G. Brendan, 'The Phonology of the Antrim Dialect', Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 57C3 (1956), 69-152.

(4) It should be noted that [ɛ:], [α:] and [ɔ:] are long in the natural pronunciation of the Glenoe dialect speaker, but that under the influence of educated Larne speech there is a growing tendency to shorten these vowels, especially in polysyllables.

(5) Jones, Daniel, The Pronunciation of English, 3rd edition (Cambridge, 1950), 45, §131-133.

(6) Ellis, Alexander J., On Early English Pronunciation, Part V (London, 1889), 81.

(7) Wright, Thomas, 'A Grammar of the Dialect of Tarbolton', unpublished M. A. thesis, University of Glasgow.

(8) Dieth, Eugen, A Grammar of the Buchan Dialect (Aberdeenshire) (Cambridge, 1932), part 1 (Phonology), §15.

(9) Quiggin, E. C., A Dialect of Donegal (Cambridge, 1906), 23ff.

(10) Sommerfelt, Alf, and Ingvald Marm, Teach Yourself Norwegian (London, 1943).

(11) Holmer, Nils, The Irish Language in Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim (Dublin, 1942), 28, 141-142, 154-155.

(12) Holmer, Nils, On Some Relics of the Irish Dialect Spoken in the Glens of Antrim (Uppsala, 1940), 17-18.

(13) Holmer, Nils, Studies in Argyllshire Gaelic (Uppsala, 1938).

(14) McClean, R. J., Teach Yourself Swedish (London, 1947), 8, §19; Sommerfelt, Alf, and Ingvald Marm, op. cit., 17-18.

(15) Holmer, op. cit. (1942), 27, §23; Holmer, op. cit. (1938), 44-45, §32.