Random thouchts on Ulster-Scotch

I intend make a few points on the Ulster-Scots language/dialect/speech, but first a few minor observations.

My personal understanding is that much, but not all, of what we see as the Ulster-Scots movement is one reflection of how many in the unionist community see the Irish Language movement, the GAA etc. Maybe I am wrong?
For example, I attended the Ulster-Scots/Irish night in the Cultúrlann last year and I took much from it. The Ulster-Scots music was sung in English and was of a religious nature, justified by the fact that it was from Ulster-Scots in America. I personally was bemused, my more socialist friends were quite sullen.

We also had a speech explaining that the particular Ulster-Scots group in question put no emphasis on the ‘language’ as this would ‘turn children against it’. Frankly, I understood the speech in its entirety as an attempt to persuade Irish speakers to use Irish only symbolically so as not to antagonise people. I felt that most people in the Ulster-Scots group were surprised but not shocked to find Irish spoken at a vernacular level.

I also found it strange, and still do that much of what is promoted as Ulster-Scots culture is solidy Highland and Gaelic rather Lowland Scottish, the sight of a Highland Fling and a feileadh beag could well have had the ancestors of the Ulster-Scots reaching for their swords rather than joining in. There was also a titter of two of laughter as we were explained what a sgian dubh was! How long before Shinty makes it to the Newtownards Road I asked myself. In general however, the evening was good one.

Now, Ulster-Scots the language rather than an ethnic identity, language or dialect or nothing at all? The thing is, it can’t be a dialect of English as it does not seem to have sprung from English. Is it a dialect of Scots therefore?

Many agree but others here seem to be striving towards a separatist vision of a separate Ulster-Scots language. Ulster-Scots – The Language, has long been dismissed, even by Lord Laird but more notably by linguists such as Manfred Goring and John Kirk of QUB. I myself asked an expert on Scots for her opinion on the matter and she merely looked at me with pity.

So what is it then, Goring says it is a cant. I say however that Ulster-Scots is the remains of a language, albeit a dialect of Scots. There is a considerable vocabulary but there is not enough there to be a language as a complete system in my opinion, though there maybe more than one would think.

For example I was up in Ballymena a while back and I got to taking with an eldery gentleman who explained to me that Braid-Scotch was much spoken in his youth in Ballymena though he himself could not speak it. He explained to me that he was able to understand much of it and that often he translated for others who couldn’t. He said that whilst there are people who can speak Scotch, none would nowadays out of shame.

Clearly, the language we see in advertisements is simply ‘made up’ and designed to be as different from English as possible. This leads to the use of words such as ‘leid’ for language, a word extinct in Scotland and unknown in Ulster, and then there is Eksee-Peeksie ‘equality’, a word found in Scots today but only in the speech of 6-8 year olds. A wee bit bizarre?

I would suggest ‘The Hamely Tongue’ by James Fenton and ‘A Concise Ulster Dictionary’ by Caroline McAfee as honest records of Ulster-Scots for those interested.

I believe that there should be much academic work carried out of what is left of Ulster-Scots speech before it is too late (It is shocking that it hasn’t been done already, money being spent on Orange Order CDs in English I fears). That is were the priority must lie for those genuine about the speech? No?

Of course, many understand Ulster-Scots as a mere instrument to hold the Irish Language back, to take as much of the funding as possible and to make the question of language in the North seem so silly that Irish is make look ridiculous by association with Ulster-Scots. There may be some truth in that but it dismisses the efforts of some genuine people.

There is no doubt that certain politicians were noted for their opposition to Irish long before they came across Ulster-Scots and Nelson McCausland shows no sign of learning it, even mocking ‘poor Barry McIlduff’ on Talkback after he had apparently spoken Ulster-Scots.

I my opinion Ulster-Scots (or as I have heard ‘oul spakes’) is a form of speech which should be recorded and preserved and people should have the right to revive it and to reinvigorate it if they wish. We need to find out what the speakers of Ulster-Scots want, Ulster-Scots medium education, radio, books? Nothing at all?

The word equality is too simplistic an answer.

Freelance journalist, working mostly in Irish.

Have my own independent news website – antuairisceoir.com – which is in constant need of material.

I am the former editor of the newspaper Gaelscéal, www.gaelsceal.ie