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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.