In the English-speaking world, be-deletion, or copula absence, is best known as a likely creole feature of African American English (AAE) and basilectal Caribbean Englishes. This historical case study examines Raymond Hickey’s contention that attestations of be-deletion in present-day Irish English (IrE) must lead to revision of accounts assuming that be-deletion does not and did not occur in the Englishes of Britain and Ireland. A survey of reports of be-deletion in present-day and historical varieties of British English (BrE) and IrE suggests that be-deletion is and was found not only in Ireland, but also in Scotland and northern England, regions that contributed greatly to British settlement in Ireland. Deletion appears to have been widespread in IrE historically and was present in time to cross the Atlantic with Ulster Scots (Scotch-Irish) settlers in the eighteenth century and with other Irish emigrants in the nineteenth. However, an analysis of the letters of one individual writer from the Corpus of Irish English Correspondence (CORIECOR) shows that his be-deletion in a range of preceding and following grammatical environments deviates from the robust patterns reported for AAE and Caribbean Englishes. IrE is thus unlikely to have exerted much direct influence on be-deletion in AAE and Caribbean varieties. Nonetheless, be-deletion in IrE may have provided input into some marginal grammatical contexts where deletion was once found in AAE but has since been lost. Some of these—such as following what, it, that, and this—seem to be robust contexts for be-deletion in the IrE letters and are contexts where copula deletion in the Irish language suggests that the Irish substrate exerted some influence on be-deletion in IrE.

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