Kevin McCafferty University of Bergen “‘I was away in another field […] got’ A diachronic study of the be-perfect in Irish English.”


Retention of the be-perfect with intransitive mutative and motion verbs is said to distinguish Irish English (IrE) from most other varieties. The be-perfect has been investigated in present-day IrE, but there has been little diachronic study. This study uses the Corpus of Irish English Correspondence to study this construction, showing that IrE broadly followed the general development in English: the be-perfect declined in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and became lexically restricted. Compared to BrE and AmE, the decline in IrE occurred at a delay of some 50 years. However, IrE retains auxiliary be with a wider range of verbs than other varieties, and the types found most frequently with be change over time. Be with motion verbs declined sharply, with the exception of go (as in other varieties), while the change proceeded more slowly with mutative verbs. Also, use of be increased with certain transitive verbs. This change may have been facilitated by the fact that many intransitive verbs take an object-like complement, but substrate influence from Irish, where the equivalent of the be-perfect is found with transitive verbs, may also have affected this development.

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