Intonation of Irish people?

Listening to Martin McGuiness triggered a question I often wanted to ask: Why do people from Ireland (UK as well as the Republic) have this distinctive intonation? I mean most of their sentences seem to follow a certain intonation pattern raising their voices at the end of each sentence. Why is that?[YSaerTTEW443543]

TOEIC listening, photographs: A private airplane[YSaerTTEW443543]

Hi Torsten,

I’m no expert on Irish accents except that over the years I’ve heard them on radio and tv. I would point out that to my ear the accents of the Irish (from Eire) are much softer and gentler than those of Northern Ireland. Personally I find the Northern Ireland accent quite difficult to follow and maybe this raised intonation is a symptom of defiance or maybe uncertainty brought about by what are eupemistically always referred to as ‘the troubles’. Incidentally before the various agreements between the factions in Northern Ireland Gerry Adams (President of Sinn Fein Ourselves Alone) was never allowed to be heard in person when quoted on radio and tv and his words were read by an actor. When that ban was lifted, we heard his own voice for the first time. This prompted various comments from people saying: Bring back the actor! because no-one could understand what he was saying.


I don’t think you can generalise about Irish accents, north or south.
There is a wide variety from Cork and Kerry accents in the south-west which a very strong and almost unintelligble even to other Irish - myself included, other accents from Leinster and Connacht and the midlands which are much softer, the Dublin accent (where I am from) Wicklow(where I now live) and various northern accents: Belfast (Gerry Adams) Derry (Martin McGuiness) Monahan-Armagh, Tyrone.
On the overall scale of things McGuiness’s accent is not very strong.
Some people used to argue that John Major(former British PM) needed an actor/voice over. Then people might have believed him!!!

Hi Art,

I actually was referring more to the intonation of Irish people rather than their accent itself. For example, Martin McGuiness might not have a strong accent but he does have a distinctive intonation, doesn’t he?[YSaerTTEW443543]

TOEIC listening, photographs: At the lathe[YSaerTTEW443543]

Changing countries now, I’ve noticed that some Americans often raise their voices at the end of sentences to make statements sound like questions. I wonder if it’s an alternative to saying ‘you know’. Perhaps they only do that in Hollywood!

Hi Torsten,

Yes, McGuiness does have a distinctive intonation, but I don’t think it is typically Irish.


If an adult does this, Americans take it as indicating either a severe lack of confidence, or as a sign of childishness and stupidity. American comedians will use this sort of intonation when they want to imitate a character who is supposed to be an “airhead”.

When American children do it, it’s usually because they haven’t learned how to tell interesting stories yet, and so they raise their voices at the end of each sentence to keep the listener’s attention.