José Mª Tejedor-Cabrera
University of Seville, Spain

Creative Commons 4.0 by José Mª Tejedor-Cabrera. This text may be archived and redistributed both in electronic form and in hard copy, provided that the author and journal are properly cited and no fee is charged for access.

Edited by Diana Villanueva Romero, Carolina P. Amador-Moreno and Manuel Sánchez García.

Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018. 294 pp.

ISBN: 978-3-319-66028-8

Case-studies volumes are always welcome because they open new areas of analysis and forward conclusions that clear the way in the bog land that knowledge and interpretation often conform today. The first half of this enticing and stimulating approach to voice and discourse in Ireland exploits corpus linguistics not as a goal in itself but as a means to further sociolinguistic and cultural studies. The reader is thus happily not beleaguered with infinite lists of data and, while conclusions are provisional and tentative, they open new spaces for both the study of larger corpora and the discussion of new findings. The second half develops critical approaches to literary texts and, as usual with literary criticism, conclusions are suggestive rather than final but thought-provoking and inspiring, especially the chapters by José Francisco Fernández and Teresa Casal, that stand out among the rest for their extraordinary quality.

The book opens with a serious but relenting study by Elaine Vaughan and Máiréad Moriarty, “Voicing the ‘Knacker’: Analysing the Comedy of the Rubberbandits,” the result of the evaluation of a fairly complete corpus of linguistic data comprising the performances, tweeter feeds, prank calls, recorded music, TV sketches, commentaries, meta-performances and metacommentaries (including printed and on-line articles, miscellanea comments on the YouTube clips and their responses) by and about the Limerick based comic pair the Rubberbandits. The result of this use of the LCIE, the Limerick Corpus of Irish English, as a comparative, reference corpus allows the authors to discuss how the Rubberbandits parody and lampoon the discourse of the Limerick knacker as a social construct and to dig into the comic duo’s linguistic consciousness. Beyond punctual annotations commenting, for instance, on what the work “yurt” may (not) mean, the chapter calls attention to the “socio-political code-switching of voices” (32) through the stylization of the language of the knacker that the Rubberbandits turn into humour and satire, thus empowering a marginalized Limerick (Irish) English accent that challenges dominant ideologies.

Making use of an also impressive corpus, C.P. Amador-Moreno and A. O’Keeffe analyse five different types of discourse (intimate, socialising, professional, transactional and pedagogical) plus a large historical literary corpus with the help of digital tools to provide a qualitative approach to the resulting data in their “He’s After Getting Up a Load of Wind: A Corpus-Based Exploration of be + after + V-ing Constructions in Spoken and Written Corpora”. While the larger sections of the chapter are necessarily descriptive, the authors contend that the perfective construction of Irish English “be+after+V-ing” contains an “inherent element of modality” that has “gone unnoticed so far” (59) and that it also bears and additional emotional and vivid character, while its high frequency among friends and family or “members of the same social group …[signals a type of] solidarity among speaker/listener” that does not exist in the standard English pattern “have+just+pp” (61).

Chapter 3, “I Intend to Try Some Other Part of the Worald’: Evidence of Schwa-Epenthesis in the Historical Letters of Irish Emigrants” by Persijn M. de Rijke, makes a really interesting journey across the diverse uses of the shwa-epenthesis and discusses a set of egodocuments from the still in progress Corpus of Irish English Correspondence (CORIECOR) which required “manual search.” While the reader would expect some kind of daring conclusion from the large amount of data handled by the author, he prevents the fretful that he will not venture anything conclusive about the appearance of epenthesis in terms of rank, class, gender or religion. Partial conclusions are, however, still interesting: epenthesis is more frequent in mid- and late nineteenth century farmers’ letters (91) and “occurs nearly exclusively” in the Ulster rural area (92). Yet, the author warns us, CORIECOR is still unfinished and it has a “northern bias” (92).

Dania Jovanna Bonnes also works with similar material from CORIECOR and 77 additional letters (from Eight letters from Ireland to John Forsythe the Emigrant with Some Others of Interest and a Genealogy of Four Generations of Forsythes in America, and Irish Immigrants in the Land of Canaan: Letters and Memoirs form Colonial and Revolutionary America, 1675-1815) and focuses on a diachronic study of “NEG/AUX Contraction in Eighteenth Century Irish English Emigrant Letters”. She sets out to examine “differences with regard to the author’s geographic origin, gender and social status” (109). In contrast with “Hickey’s claim that the use of AUX-contracted ’ll not is to be found copiously in historical texts of IrE, and his statement that a change to NEG contraction occurred in the nineteenth century, the fact that NEG won’t is [widely] used in … Ulster as well as the rest of Ireland, is an important finding” (120). But the author also breaks expectations as regards the conclusions of other authors such as Tagliamonte. All this is done with caution and the methodology considers, among other things, “the so-called Knockout contexts” (111), as well as the difficulties generated by the limited number of tokens, the often unidentifiable geographic origin of the letters and the biological sex or the social strata of their authors.

Pablo Ruano’s chapter, half way between corpus linguistics and literary studies, proposes “A Corpus-Based Approach to Waiting for Godot’s Stage Direction: A comparison between the French and the English Version”. He justifies the study because “the systematicity with which some of these directions are used are not always easy to spot with the naked eye” (140) and because he attempts to find stylistic differences between the two texts. His study, limited by space and provisional in terms of an interpretation that relies on Lance S. Butler’s and Góran Kjellmer ideas, claims that the English version (published 3 years after the French one) is stylistically more refined and not a self-translation from the original.

Following the growing trend to historicize Irish authors, José Francisco Fernández contends, in magnificent prose, that Samuel Beckett’s Not I “contains traces of an Irish context” (170) against other traditional views that defend that the playwriter “only addressed eternal truths” (171). He agrees with Anthony Uhlmann that the context exists in Beckett’s literary production, but that the connection with the external events has been purposely severed (172), which effects a “sense of abstraction” (Uhlmann 3) upon the readers. In addition to George O’Brien’s list of Irish themes in Beckett’s production, Fernández states that there are at least two elements that are “unmistakably Irish” (174): the character of the woman, “Mouth”, in the play, and the setting, but he also finds reasons to suggest that the orphanage she attended was Irish (and Catholic), and that her discourse recalls the stereotypical “Irish banter” (175), and that the self-negation of identity (both personal and national) is doggedly Irish, like the murmurs of eerie voices in his other plays. All this in spite of Beckett’s efforts to present a neutral play in a neutral language and accent, following T.S. Eliot’s dictum about the impersonality of the author (“Tradition”). The focus on Mouth’s disconnected speech calls attention to the very act of telling: the verbalization of a part of Beckett’s childhood so detached from the author that it does not compromise his own emotions and cannot be sentimentalized. Nevertheless, Ireland is still there.

Gustavo A. Rodríguez Martín’s chapter also moves in the same direction: contrary to the assumption that G. B. Shaw catered only for international audiences because of his Fenian ideology, the author argues that there is much of “Shaw’s opinions on the political conflicts of Ireland” (189) in his historical plays and proposes an allegorical and symbolic study of Caesar and Cleopatra and Saint Joan. In addition to the grand themes that make the plays masterpieces, stage directions, setting, external texts such as Shaw’s “Notes to Caesar and Cleopatra,” characters depicting national archetypes (193) and Shavian anachronism (which is not precisely a drawback) all contribute along with textual phraseology and subtextual symbolism to allow the reader/audience connections with Shaw’s views of Irish politics, among which is the notion that “nationalism is one of the blemishes of advanced human societies” (197).

Daniel de Zubía Fernández, in his “Voices from War, a Privileged Fado” foregrounds armed confrontation areas from the Falklands to Afghanistan as locations “where people find, meet and define themselves and each other in any specific war” (209). The voices uttering those pretextual experiences share “a common narrative thread” (209) and may be read as a “fictionalized collective voice” (210) expressed through the “topos” of the homecoming. This is the case with the Portuguese António Lobo Antunes’s Fado alexandrino and the Argentine of Irish descent Ronnie Quinn’s El raro privilegio. Both novels use fact and fiction to provide a common voice and a shared sense of dislocation, although the setting for the first one is the Portuguese Colonial War (1961-74) between Portugal and its African colonies, and for the second the fight for the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands between the United Kingdom and Argentina (1982) seen through the eyes of an Irish descent. While the chapter is interesting in itself and surely perfect for a collection of essays on comparative literature (although a bit too long and repetitive at times), the connection with “voices and discourses in an Irish context” is slight and the two snippets connecting the protagonist of El raro privilegio to his ability as a translator and mediator between the Argentines and the British on pages 225-26 do not seem to fully justify its presence in the volume.

Teresa Casal’s “A Century Apart: Intimacy, Love and Desire from James Joyce to Emma Donoghue”, another wonderfully written chapter, compares the paralysis in Joyce’s “The Dead” with the (apparent) “liberation” (political, linguistic, religious, social, sexual, emotional and otherwise) achieved by characters in Donoghue’s “Speaking in Tongues”. Casal’s contention is that especially in the case of love, desire and intimacy, it is not always the case (237). To make her point, Casal relies on the works of the psychologists Carol Gilligan and Ziyad Narar and, after a magisterial presentation of the relationships between Gabriel and Gretta Conroy in “The Dead” and between Sylvia Dwyer and Lee Maloney in “Speaking in Tongues,” she teaches the reader a lesson on intimacy and vulnerability to prove that “the twenty-first-century sophisticated coolness that seems to have replaced twenty-century notions of heroic self-sacrifice” has not changed the “longing for intimacy” (253-54): “self-immolation” has given way to “self-preservation” (255) in such a way that if “patriarchy is disabling for women as well as men” (256) in Joyce’s story, Donoghue’s “suggests that much as reciprocal desire may be consummated, a ‘mutually accepted fragility’ remains a secret and ‘frightening thought’” (256).

The last chapter, “Foreign Voices and the Troubles: Northern Irish Fiction in French, German and Spanish Translation” by Stephanie Schwerter, focuses on the difficulty of translating local culture into a different language. Errors, although at time diverting, are bound to occur. She chooses two popular Troubles novels to exemplify her point: Robert McLiam Wilson’s Eureka Street (1996) and Colin Bateman’s Divorcing Jack (1995) which, because they were published after the IRA ceasefire declaration (1994) allow the authors some humorous tone which, along with irony, parody and wordplay make translation even harder. The essayist draws on Lawrence Venuti’s concepts of “domestication” and “foreignization” to discuss to what degree the three translations of Eureka Street, by Brice Matthieussent (French), Christa Schuenke (German) and Daniel Aguirre Oteiza (Spanish), find a solution to those difficulties in their respective cultures. Schwerter seems to favour the Spanish translation, probably because Aguirre Oteiza, being Basque, is more “sensitive to the story’s violent context” (271) than the others. The three translations fail in appropriately transferring a reference to Seamus Heaney’s “Blackberry Picking” but it is well known that if linguistic translation is usually difficult, cultural translation is too frequently almost impossible. The two translations of Divorcing Jack (there is as yet no Spanish version) suffer from the same limitations. Scherter calls the section “Struggling with the ‘Untraslatable’: The Difficulty of Transferring Telling Titles” as a word play based on phonetics does not easily find an appropriate equivalent in the target languages. Both Michel Lebrun (French) and Michael Kubiak (German) are forced to maintain the English original to keep an acceptably understandable version of the joke. No doubt “awareness of the local context is a key asset for any translator” (285). Yet, translators and Scherter seem to forget that, although apparently out of fashion, footnotes may be at times very useful.

All in all, the volume is a valuable contribution to Irish studies, covering linguistic, literary and translation lines that offer a wide diversity of interests raging from TV comedy to corpus studies and from the revision of canonical authors to the evaluation of translations. Perhaps the editors’ attempt to cover such a broad spectrum may make the reader doubt about the appropriateness of the title itself but it must be conceded that to find an umbrella under which all chapter would fit is certainly no easy task.

Works Cited

Eliot, T.S. “Tradition and the Individual Talent”. Perspecta 19 (1982): 36-42. JSTOR. First published in The Egoist (Part I, September and Part II, November 1919).