Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Sorrow, shame, and lament in Irish folk lyrics

Sorrow, shame, and lament in Irish folk lyrics

Andrew McKinney

Folk lyrics often evoke emotions; this is especially true of Irish folk lyrics written or sung in the English language. Common emotions associated with Irish folk lyrics are sorrow, shame, and lament. This paper questions the origin of these feelings, and why the listeners and readers of Irish folk lyrics place meaning upon them. The theoretical framework of this paper draws upon James A. Wilce’s research on language and emotions. Additionally, Eric Hobsbawm and Helen O’Shea’s research is used to investigate the myth associated with Irish folk lyrics stemming from a pure Gaelic past. Data collected for this research comes from lyrics that highlight these emotions. These lyrics were obtained from and Google Lyrics. A qualitative linguistic analysis found that the inspiration for the Irish folk lyrics stem from the historical events associated with the eight hundred years of conflict between Ireland and England. The lyrics encompass complex issues of gender, family, and kinship concerns as they relate to the aforementioned conflict. Ultimately, these lyrics express emotions that are felt on a personal level which in turn represent the illusion of sorrow, shame, and lament being felt on a national level.

April 2, 2018 - Posted by | abstract


  1. I love Irish folk music! Great topic. Did you use a Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count software for your analysis? I’ve read about it but never tried it so I’m not sure if it would help – but maybe. :)

    Comment by Carly Slank | April 19, 2018 | Reply

    • Thanks, great suggestion. I actually did a qualitative analysis. However, I can see myself investigating a quantitative analysis of word use in the future.

      Comment by Andrew McKinney | April 20, 2018 | Reply

  2. You had me at Irish folk lyrics! How lyrics express emotions personally is something that we can all understand at a cognitive level, but an analysis that addresses the illusion of sorrow, shame, and lament on a national level is a fascinating exploration.

    Comment by Jami | April 20, 2018 | Reply

    • It was defiantly a topic that kept me interested through out the duration of my research.

      Comment by Andrew McKinney | April 20, 2018 | Reply

  3. This sounds like a fascinating topic. Therefore, ‘Wow, very linguist, Such fascinate!’

    Comment by Andrew McKinney | April 21, 2018 | Reply

  4. Would really enjoy to read a qualitative analysis by a historical archaeologist. Did you stumble upon any surprising codes besides the three main emotions?

    Comment by Haley Scott | April 24, 2018 | Reply

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