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What is a Brogue?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 13 November 2016
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A brogue is a type of very strong accent. Many people use the term specifically to the heavily accented English spoken in Ireland and Scotland. The heaviness of a brogue varies, depending on the origins of the speaker and whether English was his or her first language or not. In regions where Gaelic is heavily used, people may grow up learning both Gaelic and English, and this can heavily influence the accent of spoken English.

An accent is simply a different way of pronouncing words. Many people who learn second languages speak with an accent, because they are accustomed to the sounds of their native languages, and some people, especially in Ireland, develop a lilt, a sing-song accent which is very distinctive. Accents may also integrate unusual word usage or regional slang terms which would be unfamiliar to people speaking a standardized version of the language in question.

Linguists consider a brogue to be an example of a dialectical accent, emphasizing the fact that brogues appear in people from specific regions and social classes. Historically, the brogue has been associated with the Irish lower classes, and brogues were a subject of mockery among the upper classes and English speakers from England, as they instantly betrayed the social class of the speaker.

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There are two explanations for the origins of the word “brogue.” Both rely on the fact that a brogue is a type of shoe commonly worn by the lower classes in Ireland. Some people have suggested that the term is a scathing commentary, suggesting that someone who speaks in a brogue speaks as though he or she has a mouth full of shoe. Others believe that the term is simply a slangy reference to the shoes worn by people who speak with a brogue.

Although the Irish brogue was historically a subject of mockery and derision, some people today think it is rather charming or even beautiful. Natives of Ireland are sometimes complimented on their accents while traveling abroad, and Irish accents are often featured in films and plays about Ireland. Actors can go to special voice coaches to learn how to speak in a brogue.

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