‘[B]ut <i>sure</i> its only a penny after all’
Sure as a discourse marker is salient in Irish English, and it has been traditionally associated with the Irish since the seventeenth century. Its frequency in textual representations of Irish English seems to suggest that it was enregistered to audiences in historical contexts, and its occurrence in emigrant letters provides evidence of its use by letter-writers from different social and educational backgrounds since at least the 1760s. This study compares data from the Corpus of Irish English, which consists of literary texts, and the Corpus of Irish English Correspondence, which contains Irish emigrant letters. The comparison of historical corpora allows us to observe the structural positions in which DM sure is found from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries, and to examine the different pragmatic functions that it seems to fulfil. We suggest that its survival up to the present may have been due to sociolinguistic reasons: it was a useful feature for signalling identity and intimacy, and a pragmatic feature that enables IrE speakers to look for consensus, mitigate opinions, etc.