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19 September 2014
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Ulster-Scots today
History of Ulster-Scots
Get to grips with Ulster-Scots

Ulster-Scots today by James Fenton

Recent years have seen significant developments favourable not only to the survival but also the promotion of Ulster-Scots as a living language. Although the exact linguistic status of Ulster-Scots has been the subject of some debate, it became an officially recognised regional language of Europe in 1992 by the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages.

Ulster-Scots is the everyday tongue of the great majority of the people living in much of the central, eastern and northern parts of rural County Antrim. It is also, with very little variation, spoken in parts of east Down, north Derry, north Tyrone and north-east Donegal. Ulster-Scots is unmistakable: while the Scots influence in much of Ulster vernacular speech is pervasive, features of its rich vocabulary and the way it sounds give it a quite distinctive identity. Ulster-Scots also has many grammatical features of its own.

Today, Ulster-Scots, like other minority languages, is coming under growing pressure and there is some fear that Ulster-Scots is becoming more diluted by English. The post-war development of secondary and further education mean that increasing numbers of young people may not be acquiring their Ulster-Scots linguistic heritage to the extent of previous generations.

Today, Ulster-Scots, like other minority languages, is coming under growing pressure and there is some fear that Ulster-Scots is becoming more diluted by English.
More marked is the inevitable loss of 'pure' Ulster-Scots resulting from rapidly accelerating change in the rural way of life. The mechanisation of agriculture, the disappearance of the growing of flax and the scutch-mill, the vast reduction in the growing of oats (with the corn-mill a fading memory) and the virtual disappearance of the traditional methods of peat-cutting and hay-making will surely see the eventual loss of much of the rich stock of associated words and expressions.

However, to survive, all languages need to adapt to wider changes in society and recent years have seen significant developments favourable not only to the survival but also the promotion of Ulster-Scots as a living language. The Ulster-Scots Language Society through its journal Ullans and the Ullans Press, has been at the forefront of this, providing an outlet for writing, past and present, in and about Ulster-Scots, conducting local classes and promoting schools projects. Also, an Ulster-Scots Academy is being established.

The Ulster-Scots Agency, through which most official funding is channelled, publishes The Ulster-Scot newspaper, providing news and a further outlet for native speakers and academics. Along with The Ulster-Scots Heritage Council, it is responsible for the promotion of all aspects of Ulster-Scots culture.

Moreover, most speakers have an abiding affection for their native tongue, and now, together with the support of language advocacy groups, a growing awareness of, and pride in, both its history and its lexical and idiomatic richness.

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Your Comments
What is your experience of Ulster-Scots?

Rónán Whelan from Limerick
I am an Irish and English speaker and have just stumbled across this site. I have listened to Ulster-Scots speakers Jim Fenton and Liam Logan and find it very interesting as my grandfather from Co.Limerick used all those words, and he never lived anywhere else other than around here. "Tisn't farcome to us". Slán tamallín.

Steve Porter, Spain
Aidan, Scots, in all its forms, is a Germanic language. Other languages in this sub-division of Indo-European languages include English, German, Dutch and a number of Scandinavian languages. Gaelic, whether from Ireland or Scotland should not be confused with Scots. Some people use the term Scots-Gaelic (when referring to the Gaelic of Scotland)and that may well be the cause of some confusion. But Gaelic belongs to what linguists call the Celtic branch of languages along with Welsh, Breton (from Brittany) and the Manx that you mention. I think Erse is just another name for Gaelic (Irish) but don't quote me on that.

Stephen Belfast
Although scotland was settled by the scots from Northern Ireland in ancient times, they brought gaelic with them. Ulster-scots is a NI/scotland form of English and therefore a regional derivative of the germanic English. The fact that the ancient Ulster Kingdom of Dal Ríada held scotland as part of its Empire was due to scotlands proximity and it is this proximity that has led to the scottish settlement and influence in north-east NI, therefore establishing Ulster-Scots. [a quick note to aiden- I am not sure but the Isle of Man was a Norse posession for a long time, so their language might be Germanic too]

Aidan Work from Wellington,New Zealand.
In reply to Bill Simpson,writing from America: What is wrong with the name 'Ulster'? What is now the British country of Northern Ireland was part of the historic Kingdom of Ulster.The Ulster-Scots-English language is very close to the Scots-English language,as Ulster (as I prefer to refer to Northern Ireland as) was the ancestral homeland of the Scots.That is why Scots culture is such a very strong part of Ulster's cultural identity.Ulster's identity as a country separate from Ireland is very important,so expressing it through the language is a positive thing.It isn't divisive,despite what anyone thinks.

Gabriel Kirk from Ohio
I've been studying braid scots for awhile and I realize that it is very similar to the way many of my relatives in West Virginia speak. West Virginians in America are coalminers who are of scottish and Irish descent and are looked down upon my many because of their poor use of English and bizarre accent. But in reality, their speech is an anglicized version of braid scots. Phrases such as, "shut ye gap," "Hingin by a threid," and "he's a gonner," are used quite often. I write this to inform everyone that the language has survived to a certain extint in the States. Fare ye weel!

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