“When I was a kid no one came…the only black men here had uniforms on them”:
The Sociolinguistics of Globalization and Migration in the Context of Northern Ireland

Karen Corrigan, Newcastle University

2015 will be remembered as the year in which over one million people ‘spread their roots’ by migrating to Europe. Northern Ireland (NI) – once synonymous with emigration – has fully participated in this phenomenon, experiencing significant socio-demographic changes arising from both these globalising trends and the Peace Process, as captured in my title (NISRA 2011). This presentation explores the first project to investigate the sociolinguistics of globalization and migration in NI (Collins et al. 2009; Blommaert 2010; Slembrouck 2011). It also describes ‘linguistic gratuity’ initiatives informed by the research (Wolfram 2012).

The newcomers speak L2 varieties that bear traces of their heritage languages and contact induced change (Cornips 2000; Clyne 2003; Thomason 2009). Simultaneously, their speech incorporates acquired Northern Irish English features. These are characterised by both ‘local’ and ‘translocal’ linguistic resources. The idiosyncratic after-perfect is an excellent example of the former (Corrigan 2010: 62) while the BE-LIKE quotative exemplifies the latter (Buchstaller and D’Arcy 2009: 292; Corrigan 2010: 101).

Research in England, Scotland and the Irish Republic shows that migrant speech patterns can differ from those of local peers (Verma et al. 1992; Schleef et al. 2011; Nestor et al. 2012; Diskin 2016 inter alia). This presentation hones in on the following:

  1. Do newcomers adopt the same linguistic constraints as NI locals?
  2. Do speakers make use of variation to index belonging and/or dissonance?
  3. Are there similarities between the experiences of the Irish Diaspora and NI immigrants?

In order to address these, ethnographic interviews with young transnationals were conducted, generating linguistic data that was interrogated from a variationist perspective. This aspect of the presentation thus addresses (i) and illuminates our understanding of language change in contact settings more broadly. The interviews also probed migrants’ attitudes to local linguistic norms and their own repertoires, revealing answers to (ii). In order to explore (iii), the experiences of these contemporary transnationals were compared with the language ecologies (Haugen 1972) of emigrants captured in CORIECOR (McCafferty and Amador-Moreno 2012). I will argue that synergies and differences emerge amongst these two groups of ‘new speakers’ (O’Rourke and Pujolar 2015) that offer invaluable insights into the sociolinguistics of globalization and migration.