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Studies on Joyce’s Ulysses

 | 
Jacqueline Genet
, 
Wynne Hellegouarc’h

Language in Ulysses

T.P. Dolan

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1In this paper I shall concentrate on the language of the Sirens, Circe, and Penelope episodes in Ulysses, in the light of an illuminating comment made by Seamus Deane in The Cambridge Companion to James Joyce:

  • 1 Seamus Deane, “Joyce the Irishman”, in The Cambridge Companion to James Joyce, ed. Derek Attridge, (...)

The speaker of Irish-English in the world of increasingly Standard English finds it too difficult to conform to the imperial way. He takes as his script the advice: “When in Rome, do as the Greeks do.” There is a certain scandal in such behaviour. It is a linguistic way of subverting a political conquest.1

  • 2 See T.P. Dolan “The Language of Dubliners”, in James Joyce The Artist and The Labyrinth, ed. Augus (...)

2In the famous encounter between Stephen and the Dean of Studies in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, where the Irishman’s use of the word tundish and the Dean’s incomprehension at hearing the word bring out the national insecurity of the Irish, it seems that Stephen up till then had felt that he was doing as the Romans – he was wrong-footed and de-stabilized by the Dean’s response and the ensuing discussion. “How different are the words home, Christ, ale, master, on his lips and on mine!”2 An Irishman’s pronunciation of these words classifies him as a speaker of non-Standard English, because his vowels and consonants, as well as his pronunciation of the endings of the words Christ and master, all demonstrate that he is using Irish sounds for English letters. This leads him to the painful recognition that for him English “will always be ... an acquired speech.”

  • 3 Summarized by T.P. Dolan in “The Language of Dubliners”, art. cit., p. 27-30.

3The story of the history, use, and development of the English language in Ireland has often been told3. For our purpose it is important to appreciate that, from the seventeenth century, the English language was not imposed on the Irish, as had been the earlier policy emanating from the so-called “Statutes of Kilkenny” first promulgated in 1366, but came to be seen as the more desirable language for getting on in daily life. In other words, the Irish themselves decided to learn English for the purely pragmatic purpose of communicating with their employers in their own language. Hence, it has become generally agreed among scholars that seventeenth-century English contains the origins of Hiberno-English as it has developed from then up to today. Put simplistically, Stephen’s use of the word tundish symbolizes the archaic English features of his speech, and his pronunciation of home, Christ, ale, master symbolizes the Irish (Gaelic) strain in his speech.

  • 4 Quotations are taken from James Joyce, Ulysses , Harmondsworth, 1969. On this episode see Robert J (...)

4Joyce was himself perfectly well aware of the history of the English language in England, from Anglo-Saxon times up to his own era, as is evident from the use he makes of the History of English in the Oxen of the Sun episode in Ulysses4. This episode celebrates the gradual development of English syntax from Old English, with its thumping alliteration and variable word-order, to nineteenth-century English, by which time the Subject-Verb-Object word-order pattern had long been dominant – from the pattern of “Within womb won he worship” (p. 382), with Adverbial headword-Verb-Subject-Object order, to “He’s got a coughmixture...”, with its modern Subject-Verb-Object order. To recall Seamus Deane’s phrase, this is how “the Romans” (i.e., the English) developed their language, adapting to influences from Old French syntax and rationalizing its word-order as the inflexional system of Anglo-Saxon gradually collapsed. There was no influence from the Irish language, and so it was left to the Irish to accommodate their language, which was and is substantially different in its idiom, verbal structure, and syntax from English, to that language and, by so doing, form Hiberno-English.

5As we have noted, Stephen was made to feel very insecure in his use of English. It is obvious that he was not intending to subvert English by imposing patterns drawn from his own linguistic experiences as an Irishman. On the contrary it seemingly had not occurred to him that his English was so different from Standard English, and we should now have a look at the implications of this fact.

  • 5 Alan Bliss, “The English language in early modern Ireland, in A New History of Ireland, ed. T.W. M (...)
  • 6 See Markku Filppula, “Substratum, Superstratum, and Universals in the Genesis of Hiberno-English”, (...)

6On the basis of his researches into written survivals of seventeenth-century Hiberno-English, Alan Bliss claims that “the type of English which took root in Ireland was sub-standard and probably dialectal.”5. If this is correct, as is likely, Hiberno-English is in its origins far removed from what was then regarded as “Standard English” (presumably the language used at court and in the universities). Since Irish speakers learnt this sub-standard form through the paradigms of their own language the resulting hybrid dialect of Hiberno-English would sound unusual in the ears of those who spoke it and those, especially native English speakers, who heard it. The relationship between the two languages, which may be classified as substratum (Irish) and superstratum (English)6, was and is a singularly productive and enriching one, because the original language has never ceased to interfere (in the linguistic sense) with the newcomer language. In terms of status and prestige, one way of describing the relationship would be to think of the position of Trinity College Dublin, a protestant institution founded and introduced from England in 1592 on the site of the suppressed Augustinian priory of All Hallows, which had been founded by Dermot Mac Murrough, King of Leinster (d. 1171):

  • 7 G.A. Hayes-McCoy, “Tudor conquest and counter reformation, 1571-1603”, in A New History of Ireland (...)

it was a product of the reformation, and not a catholic university which had been reformed. This coloured it in Irish eyes. Although there were catholics among its students, particularly in its earlier years, it was a protestant foundation, indeed a pillar of the state church, and catholic controversialists regarded it as a place “in which the Irish youth shall be taught heresy by English teachers.”7

7If we regard the English language as one of the organs of conquest, which became a presence in most accessible parts of Ireland as a result of the Plantations (those who gave orders spoke English; those who accepted orders spoke Irish, but were trying to learn English), it is reasonable to claim that the English language represented power in Church and State and that to give it, deliberately or involuntarily, the flavour of Irish idiom was an observable means of asserting Irishness at the expense of Englishness and thus subverting that power in a relatively harmless way.

  • 8 See A dialogue in Hybemian Stile Between A & B, & Irish Eloquence by Jonathan Swift, ed. Alan Blis (...)

8The prestige of the English language continued to strengthen in the eighteenth century, although by now there was some interference from Irish noticeable in the speech of the Planters. This was not thought desirable by, among others, Swift, who poked fun at the Irishisms creeping into the language of the settler-class in his A Dialogue in Hybernian Stile Between A & B and Irish Eloquence8. For our purpose the important point to note is that these Irishisms were considered damaging, or at least, degrading, so far as the purity of Standard English was concerned.

9During the eighteenth century the power of English culture was more extensively symbolized in architectural terms through the construction of great houses throughout much of the country, especially in Dublin with the building of the great squares (e.g., Merrion and Rutland (now Parnell) Squares, begun in the middle of the eighteenth century, and so forth). Then in 1795 St. Patrick’s College was founded in Maynooth, Co. Kildare, and this, too, as a Royal College, added further to the prestige of English culture, since it could be seen as a catholic version of Trinity College, educating the native clergy with a generous Parliamentary grant.

10In the nineteenth century, the English language reached supremacy as a practical means of communication at the expense of Irish – Daniel O’Connell used English; English was the medium of instruction in the newly founded National Schools; emigrants had to learn English in order to survive in England and the United States of America; the Great Famine was much more serious in its effects on the poorer, monoglot Irish-speaking areas of the country. Everything seemed to combine to diminish the status and currency of the Irish language.

11The events described above help to explain the perception of the Irish language as a medium of failure in the eyes of many its speakers and as an organ of subversion in the eyes of some members of the Anglo-Irish community, but when Irish people used English they were incapable of speaking it without interference from their native language. Hence, the dialect of Hiberno-English symbolizes a cultural, as well as a linguistic conflict.

12Returning to Joyce, having briefly traced the development of English in Ireland up to his time, we can appreciate Stephen’s distress at being made aware that he was not speaking Standard English. In later writings, however, Joyce uses the dialect, where appropriate, to localize his characters in Ireland, in such a way as to make them proud of their speech, because it utilizes and exploits some significant features of the Irish language through the medium of English.

  • 9 For a linguistic analysis of this episode see T.P. Dolan, “The Language of Dubliners”, art. cit.

13In Ulysses, the most obvious use of densely clustered Irish-based features of speech occurs in the Cyclops episode9, but he also employs similar devices in the three episodes which form the subject of this paper. Like Swift, but for very different reasons, he adjusts the idiom to enforce the non-Standard quality of the English used.

14In the Sirens episode there are a number of striking examples of Hiberno-English idiom which colour the language of the participants so as to locate them in Dublin and also to deliberately destabilize the prose to register the fact that those who employ the idiom in such a way as to mock the authority of Standard English or, at least, English as spoken in England. Sometimes Joyce uses the idiom in so subtle a fashion that a word looks as if it might be ordinary English, but analysis shows that behind its use lies the idiom of the Irish language. A good exemple of this device is the word till in such sentences as

Wait till I see
(256)

15and

But wait till I tell you. Miss Douce entreated
(258)

16Here, in both sentences the word till has more than the simple temporal sense, because it represents the Irish conjunction go, and so the two sentences may be translated as *“Wait and let me see” and *“Wait and let me tell you”.

17Sometimes in HE (Hiberno-English) what appears to be a solecism according to the formal grammar of SE (Standard-English) may be explained as a piece of English which is surreptitiously following the rules of Irish grammar. Joyce is very sensitive to this form of linguistic subversion as in the sentence:

It’s them has the fine times, sadly then she said.
(256)

  • 10 See P.W. Joyce, English As We Speak It In Ireland, New Edition, with an Introduction by Terence Do (...)

18This sentence could hardly be further from the formality of SE, which would have something like *“They have good times...”. In the Irish language every sentence must start with a verb (e.g. “Have they good times”). Alternatively, the main clause is often put into the form of a subordinate adjectival clause in a sentence which is then headed by a specially developed form of the verb to be, known as the copula. This copula (which, confusingly, looks in form like English is) is used to head sentences such as Is fearmaith e (lit. “Is man good is” i.e., “He is a good man”). This copula form of the verb is rendered in HE as It is, It’s, Tis, and so forth, and is often used to introduce sentences such as that quoted above from Ulysses. Following the It’s in that quotation we have them which looks ungrammatical, but in the Irish language the accusative case is frequently used where English would use the nominative10. Hence, Joyce is imposing the grammar of Irish on English and so it strikes a grammatically subversive note – as also does the has, which should presumably have appeared as have, in agreement with the plural form of them. Here again, we can explain the has by reference to the idiom of the Irish language. In English, verbs tend to change their form from singular to plural (“am, is, are”; “have, has, have” and so forth), but in the Irish language, the same form is kept throughout the paradigm as, for example, in the following sentences which mean, respectively, “I have a book” and “They have a book”, in both of which the verbal form ta remains the same for singular and plural pronoun subjects:

1. Ta leabhar agam. 2. Ta meabhar acu.

19Since the one form of the verb is retained for singular and plural in Irish, by analogy Irish speakers of English carry the same rule into English, thereby again demonstrating Joyce’s exquisite sense of Hiberno-English grammar.

20Sometimes the It’s form, representing the copula in Irish, is omitted from a sentence in HE, and this, too, makes for syntactical distinction as, for instance, in:

Most aggravating that young brat is.
(257)

Not twenty I’m sure he was.
(262)

21If the It’s is placed in front of these two examples we can see the original form in which the “Most aggravating” and “Not twenty” would have the function of complements to the verb It’s.

22These and other verbal forms all exhibit influence from the Irish language, sometimes in very subtle ways. For instance, Irish idiom uses continuous forms of verbs much more frequently than SE, and so we find Joyce employing such forms as “Aha... I was forgetting... Excuse” (262), where the “was forgetting” exemplifies yet another variation between HE and SE, less spectacularly, it is true, than in the following:

Stout lady does be with you in the brown costume.
(289)

  • 11 See P.W. Joyce, op. cit., p. 86-87.

23Here “does be” is a purely HE feature: this consuetudinal tense of the verb indicates the habitual sense more clearly than the purely temporal is11.

  • 12 Ibid., p. 221; see also Richard Wall, An Anglo-Irish Dialect Glossary for Joyce’s Works, Gerrards (...)
  • 13 See P.W. Joyce, op. cit., p. 27-28.
  • 14 Ibid., p. 87.
  • 15 See Marilyn French, The Book as World, James Joyce’s Ulysses, London, 1982 edn., p. 187 and 278 n. (...)

24These examples from the Sirens episode demonstrate Joyce’s skill as using Irish-English in such a way as to destabilize the formal grammar of the English language, which his characters are supposed to be speaking. There are obviously many more interesting features in this episode, e.g., the fact that there is no aspirated th sound in the Irish language, and this gives rise to such pronunciations as “Tanks awfully muchly” (262); the use of words which look English but which in fact retain their meaning from Irish, e.g., ”... he whispered, bald and bothered,...”, where bothered is from the Irish word bodhar, meaning deaf12, giving the meaning “bald and deaf”, not, as appears at first hearing, “bald and confused"; the frequent use of prepositional pronouns, which are commonly used in Irish13, and also in HE, as in “I’ll complain to Mrs. de Massey on you”, where the “on you” is based on the Irish idiom; the use of archaic or obsolete vocabulary, e.g. “bronze from anear” (257), “gold from anear” (263), where again Joyce shows his keen ear for sounds and meanings, because, unlike many obsolete survivals in HE, anear is especially significant because its form exactly parallels the structure in Irish: a-n-aice. Incidentally, it may be significant that P.W. Joyce singles out this word anear for special attention in his book on HE14 and we do know that James Joyce was familiar with his namesake’s book15.

  • 16 On these and other Irish words see Richard Wall, op. cit., passim.

25The Circe episode shares a number of HE features with Sirens (e.g., the till in “Come here till I tell you” (427), “Hold him down girls till I squat on him” (489); the copula-equivalent, with omission of relative pronoun: “Twas I sent you that Valentine of the dear gazelle” (434), “It was broke in the bucking broncho” (440); Irish words, e.g. alanna (= “my child”), Ochone (= “alas!”), Soggarth Aroon (= “beloved priest”) (all p. 524), and so forth16. Sometimes the HE is a straightforward translation from Irish (e.g., “where were you at all, at all?” (431), in which “at all, at all” is a translation of Irish ar chor ar bith Incidentally the expression “where were you” also shows influence from the Irish language, which does not possess the verb have and so past tenses use the verb fee in place of the regular HE form, which in this instance would be * “where have you been”. Because of the absence of Aave in Irish, the past tense is often formed with the preposition after (Irish tar eis), as in the following:

And when Cairns came down from the scaffolding in Beaver Street what was he after doing it only in the bucket of porter that was there waiting...
(437-8)

You’re after hitting me.
(489)

26Another direct translation from Irish occurs in the sentence:

There’s no-one in it only her father that’s dead drunk. (433)

27Here the in it (meaning there) translates the Irish adverb ann.

  • 17 See P.W. Joyce, op. cit., p. 76-77.

28One significant usage which again demonstrates Joyce’s sharp sense of the difference between HE and SE idiom is in the use of shall Irish people tend not to use shall in forming the future tense; they use will for all persons17. If shall is used, it suggests the speaker is being precious, like the supercilious Beaufoy:

We shall receive the usual witnesses’ fees, shan’t we?
(443)

29Interestingly, Stephen is similarly punctilious when he says:

How long shall I continue to close my eyes to disloyalty?
(471)

30This studied use of SE contrasts with the speech of other characters who invariably signal their apartness from SE, even in small, seemingly insignificant ways, as, for instance, when Mary Driscoll says:

I had more respect for the scouring-brush, so I had.
(444)

  • 18 Ibid., p. 330.

31in which the so is what P.W. Joyce calls a “sort of emphatic expletive carrying accent or emphasis”18.

32Molly Bloom uses this clincher word so in the Penelope episode, to which we shall now turn; “common robbery so it was” (660). Her speech contains many examples of HE idiom. In the following she omits the relative pronoun that or who after bishop:

because I told him about some Dean or Bishop was sitting beside me...
(661)

33She also uses the conjunction and in a way which reflects the much wider use of agus (= and) in the Irish language:

when I asked her to hand me and I pointing at them.
680)

34Here, SE would have something like “when I was pointing at them.” In verbal forms, she employs the pattern with after that we noted above:

There was a woman after coming out of it
(699)

35In SE this would be *“who had just come out of it.”

36One of the commonest markers of HE idiom in Molly’s soliloquy is in her use of Indirect Questions, which in the Irish language do not reverse the positions of Subject and Verb as in SE:

I wonder did he know me in the box
(662)

I wonder was he satisfied
(662)

I wonder is he awake
(662)

I was dying to find out was he circumcised
(667)

He asked me would I yes to say yes...
(704)

37On one occasion she uses this construction with a malapropism, which is another common feature of HE speech:

asking me had I frequent omissions
(692)

38which in SE would be *“asking me whether I had frequent emissions.” Throughout her speech there are similar signals that her dialect is non-standard and that its linguistic origins are to be found in the inter-play of the two languages of Irish and English.

39To conclude by returning to Seamus Deane’s “When in Rome, do as the Greeks do”, we can claim that the foregoing linguistic analysis of the syntactical and idiomatic patterns to be found in these three episodes in Ulysses provides ample evidence that Joyce uses the Hiberno-English dialect to mark his characters as apart from speakers of Standard English. Their constant allegiance to their own dialect indicates that they wish to preserve their own peculiar linguistic identity and to express their sense of Irishness as a means of proving that the political conquest fell far short of being a cultural conquest as well: Stephen in the Portrait was unwillingly subversive in his speech; most of the characters in Ulysses are exuberantly subversive in theirs.

Notes

1 Seamus Deane, “Joyce the Irishman”, in The Cambridge Companion to James Joyce, ed. Derek Attridge, Cambridge, 1990, p. 43.

2 See T.P. Dolan “The Language of Dubliners”, in James Joyce The Artist and The Labyrinth, ed. Augustine Martin, London, 1990, p. 25-40, esp. p. 25-30; Anthony Burgess, Joysprick: An Introduction to the Language of James Joyce, London, 1973, p. 28; Martin J. Croghan, “Swift, Thomas Sheridan, Maria Edgeworth and the Evolution of Hiberno-English”, in The English of the Irish, ed. T.P. Dolan, Special Issue: The Irish University Review, Vol. 20, n° 1, Dublin, 1990, p. 19-34.

3 Summarized by T.P. Dolan in “The Language of Dubliners”, art. cit., p. 27-30.

4 Quotations are taken from James Joyce, Ulysses , Harmondsworth, 1969. On this episode see Robert Janusko, The Sources and Structures of James Joyce’s “Oxen”, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1983.

5 Alan Bliss, “The English language in early modern Ireland, in A New History of Ireland, ed. T.W. Moody, F.X. Martin, F.J. Byrne, Vol. III, Early Modern Ireland 1534-1691, Oxford, 1976, p. 553.

6 See Markku Filppula, “Substratum, Superstratum, and Universals in the Genesis of Hiberno-English”, in The English of the Irish, op. cit., p. 41-54.

7 G.A. Hayes-McCoy, “Tudor conquest and counter reformation, 1571-1603”, in A New History of Ireland, Vol. III, op. cit., p. 140. See also J.W. Stubbs, The History of the University of Dublin from its Foundation to the End of the Eighteenth Century, Dublin and London, 1889, p. 11, and also p. 21-22 (for T.C.D.’s patronage of the Irish language); Denis Donoghue, “T.C.D.”, in We Irish, Essays on Irish Literature and Society, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, 1986, p. 169-175.

8 See A dialogue in Hybemian Stile Between A & B, & Irish Eloquence by Jonathan Swift, ed. Alan Bliss, Dublin, 1977.

9 For a linguistic analysis of this episode see T.P. Dolan, “The Language of Dubliners”, art. cit.

10 See P.W. Joyce, English As We Speak It In Ireland, New Edition, with an Introduction by Terence Dolan, Dublin, 1988, p. 34-35.

11 See P.W. Joyce, op. cit., p. 86-87.

12 Ibid., p. 221; see also Richard Wall, An Anglo-Irish Dialect Glossary for Joyce’s Works, Gerrards Cross, 1986), p. 17.

13 See P.W. Joyce, op. cit., p. 27-28.

14 Ibid., p. 87.

15 See Marilyn French, The Book as World, James Joyce’s Ulysses, London, 1982 edn., p. 187 and 278 n. 15.

16 On these and other Irish words see Richard Wall, op. cit., passim.

17 See P.W. Joyce, op. cit., p. 76-77.

18 Ibid., p. 330.

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