—The language in which we are speaking is his before it is mine. How different are the words home,Christ,ale,master, on his lips and on mine! I cannot speak or write these words without unrest of spirit. His language, so familiar and so foreign, will always be for me an acquired speech. I have not made or accepted its words. My voice holds them at bay. My soul frets in the shadow of his language.
This quotation, from Chapter 5, indicates the linguistic and historical context of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Stephen makes this comment during his conversation with the dean of studies. The dean, who is English, does not know what "tundish" means, and assumes it is an Irish word. In a moment of patriotism, Stephen sympathizes with the Irish people, whose very language is borrowed from their English conquerors. The words Stephen chooses as examples in this passage are significant. "Ale" and "home" show how a borrowed language can suddenly make even the most familiar things feel foreign. "Christ" alludes to the fact that even the Irish religion has been altered by English occupation. Finally, "master" refers to the subordination of the Irish to the English. Stephen's new awareness of the borrowed nature of his language has a strong effect on him, as he knows that language is central to his artistic mission. By the end of the novel, Stephen acknowledges that Irish English is a borrowed language, and resolves to use that knowledge to shape English into a tool for expressing the soul of the imprisoned Irish race.