Ulster Scots language

From Academic Kids

Ulster Scots (also known as Scotch-Irish, Ullans or Hiberno-Scots) refers to varieties of Lowland Scots spoken in parts of Ulster in Ireland. Native speakers traditionally called it (Braid) Scots or Scotch - as did James Orr in The Irish Cottier's Death and Burial "To quat braid Scotch, a task that foils their art; For while they join his converse, vain though shy, They monie a lang learn'd word misca' an' misapply".

Lowland Scots is a Germanic language closely related to English.



Scots, mainly Gaelic-speaking, had been settling in Ulster since the 1400s, but large numbers of Scots-speaking Lowlanders, some 200,000, arrived during the 17th century following the 1610 Plantation, with the peak reached during the 1690s. In the core areas of Scots settlement, Scots outnumbered English settlers by five or six to one. Lowland Scots in Ulster has been influenced by contact with Hiberno-English, Mid Ulster English and Irish. Mid Ulster English, the dialect of most people in Ulster, including those in the two main cities, represents a cross-over area between Ulster Scots and Hiberno-English; it is currently encroaching on the Ulster Scots area, especially in the Belfast commuter belt, and may eventually consume it. Ulster Scots should not be confused with Scottish Gaelic or Irish, which are Celtic languages.

Although it is usually treated as a variety of the Scots language or, along with all Lowland Scots varieties, as a dialect of English, some claim it to be a language in its own right; only the first two views are represented among academic linguists, although at least one academic has argued for recognition on non-structural, apperceptional grounds. Dr. Caroline Macafee, the editor of The Concise Ulster Dictionary, has said that "Ulster Scots is [...] clearly a dialect of Central Scots (Mid Scots).", while Dr. Aodán Mac Póilin has said that "The case for Ulster-Scots being a distinct language, made at a time when the status of Scots itself was insecure, is so bizarre that it is unlikely to have been a linguistic argument." Using the criteria on Ausbau languages developed by the German linguist Heinz Kloss, Ulster Scots could qualify only as a Spielart or 'national dialect' of Lowland Scots (cf. British and American English), since it does not dispose over the Mindestabstand, or 'minimum divergence' necessary to achieve language status through standardisation and codification. Of the four peripheral varieties of Scots - the others being Insular, Northern and Southern Scots - Ulster Scots is the only one whose traditional written form is commonly indistinguishable from the main Central Scots variety.

Some confuse English spoken with a very broad Scottish or North Antrim accent with Lowland Scots proper. As a result English-speakers familiar with the Scottish or northern Irish accents of English find Scottish or North Antrim English easy to understand and, assuming this speech variety to be "broad" Scots, conclude that Scots is a dialect of English.

Literature from shortly before the end of the unselfconscious tradition at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries is almost identical with contemporary writing from Scotland. W G Lyttle, writing in Paddy McQuillan's Trip Tae Glesco, uses the typically Scots forms kent and begood, now replaced in Ulster by the more mainstream Anglic forms knew, knowed or knawed and begun. Many of the modest contemporary differences between Scots as spoken in Scotland and Ulster may be due to dialect levelling and influence from Mid Ulster English brought about through relatively recent demographic change rather than direct contact with Irish, retention of older features or separate development.


Ullans is a neologism merging Ulster and Lallans - the Lowland Scots for Lowlands - coined by the physician, amateur historian and politician Ian Adamson. The magazine of the Ulster-Scots Language Society is also named Ullans, ostensibly from "Ulster-Scots language in literature and native speech" but ultimately from the other contraction. The German linguist Manfred Görlach differentiates between the term "Ulster Scots" (the historical spoken variety) and "Ullans" (the revived literary variety).


Unlike "Ulster Scots", "Hiberno-Scots" refers only to a linguistic tradition; it also mirrors "Hiberno-English". The novelist William Carleton refers in his author's preface to the first edition of his Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry (vol. 1, 1st series, Dublin, 1830) to "Scoto-Hibernic jargon". The linguist James Milroy used the term "Hiberno-Scots" as early as the 1980s.

Who speaks it

During the middle of the 20th century, the linguist R. J. Gregg established the geographical boundaries of Ulster's Lowland Scots-speaking areas based on information gathered from native speakers. The 1999 Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey found that 2% of Northern Ireland residents claimed to speak Ulster Scots, which would mean a total speech community of approximately 30,000 in the territory, which does not include County Donegal. Some advocates have claimed that Ulster Scots is spoken by up to 100,000 people, and if the NILTS figure is accurate, their estimate of 100,000 speakers for Ulster as a whole would be dependent on there being 70,000 speakers in Donegal, which is unrealistic. According to the 2001 census, the total number of Northern Ireland residents born in Scotland was 16,772. If there is the same proportion of Lowland Scots-speakers among them as believed in Scotland itself by the General Register Office in its 1996 study, i.e. 30%, the number of Scots-born speakers is 5,031. This would make those born in Scotland around 14% of speakers in the jurisdiction, or one in seven. The fact that Scots-born speakers may feel that they are being excluded from applying for jobs or benefiting from services and consultations advertised as "Ulster-Scots" is another element in the controversy surrounding status.

Although Ultach Trust promotes the Irish language among Ulster Protestants, there is no corresponding organisation to promote Scots among Catholics. Arguably, given the already high numbers of Catholic and Nationalist users, a neutral approach to promotion and a more representative Ulster-Scots Agency board would suffice, but no Northern member has ever been nominated by a Nationalist political party, since each agency nomination is set against one to Foras na Gaeilge, leading to complaints that Nationalist Scots-speakers are being punished because of the user profile of another language and that the UK Government is attempting to create a purely Unionist counterbalance to Irish where none naturally exists. Speaking at a seminar on 9 September 2004, Ian Sloan of the Northern Ireland Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) accepted that the survey "did not significantly indicate that unionists or nationalists were relatively any more or less likely to speak Ulster-Scots, although in absolute terms there were more unionists who spoke Ulster-Scots than nationalists". This statistic calls into question the heavily Unionist stance of the Ulster-Scots Agency, which has paid for loyalist murals, arranged a festival in conjunction with the Schomberg Society, advertised as an "Ulster-Scots" event in its house newspaper an exhibition of B-Specials' uniforms staged in an Orange hall, publicised British Israelite and Cruithinist children's books on its website and, through its funding of the Institute of Ulster-Scots Studies (http://www.ulst.ac.uk/news/releases/2005/1643.html) at the University of Ulster's Magee campus, paid for an academic to spend a working holiday studying the Orange Order in Ghana. DCAL itself recently excluded all but Unionists from an implementation committee considering the establishment of an Ulster-Scots academy.

Legal status

Ulster Scots is defined in legislation (The North/South Co-operation (Implementation Bodies) Northern Ireland Order 1999) as: the variety of the Scots language which has traditionally been used in parts of Northern Ireland and in Donegal in Ireland [1] (http://www.coe.int/T/E/Legal_Affairs/Local_and_regional_Democracy/Regional_or_Minority_languages/Documentation/1_Periodical_reports/2002_5e_MIN-LANG_PR_UK.asp).

The declaration made by the United Kingdom Government regarding the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages reads as follows: The United Kingdom declares, in accordance with Article 2, paragraph 1 of the Charter that it recognises that Scots and Ulster Scots meet the Charter's definition of a regional or minority language for the purposes of Part II of the Charter [2] (http://conventions.coe.int/Treaty/Commun/ListeDeclarations.asp?NT=148&CV=1&NA=&PO=999&CN=999&VL=1&CM=9&CL=ENG).

There is some debate as to whether this declaration recognises Ulster Scots as a separate language. Some argue that since the word "language" is in the singular, the charter recognises a single language given two names on a jurisdictional basis. Opponents of this view point out that the word "meet" is in the plural, and that the singular word "language" occurs as part of the phrase "definition of a ... language". Although would ...it recognises that Scots and Ulster Scots meets the Charter's definition... be considered correct English? However, the question would then arise of whether the charter declaration, which is not legally enforceable and was based on consultation with activists rather than academic linguists or a representative sample of ordinary speakers, amounts to a breach of the implemenation bodies legislation cited above, which has the status of a bilateral international treaty with the Irish Republic and may not be amended unilaterally. In any case, if Ulster Scots is structurally a form of Lowland Scots, even a right to separate development might not justify the act, since the gain in linguistic diversity effected thereby might be more than offset by the loss of speakers. What is certain is that in academic and popular use the word "Scots" includes "Ulster Scots" and that the charter declaration represents a departure in terminology through positing a divide.

DCAL [3] (http://www.dcalni.gov.uk/allpages.asp?pname=language_faqs) describes Ulster Scots as a Germanic language and the local variety of the Scots language.

The Good Friday Agreement (which does not refer to Ulster Scots as a "language") also recognises Ulster Scots as "part of the cultural wealth of the island of Ireland", and the Implementation Agreement established the cross-border Ulster-Scots Agency (Tha Boord o Ulstèr-Scotch), whose mission statement is to promote the study, conservation, development and use of Ulster Scots as a living language; to encourage and develop the full range of its attendant culture; and to promote an understanding of the history of the Ulster-Scots people. It will be noted that this is slightly different from the organisation's legal remit to promote Ulster Scots as a "variety of the Scots language".


In recent years a movement has been under way to change the perception of Ulster Scots. It is derided by many as "poor English", but many of its speakers now take pride in the way they speak and in the wider Ulster-Scots heritage of which it forms part.

Many Nationalists and Republicans in Northern Ireland have derided Ulster Scots as a 'DIY language for Orangemen', arguing that it is a reaction by Unionists and Loyalists to the promotion of the Irish language in Northern Ireland. The revival of a vernacular largely unheard of before the 1990s by the Ulster-Scots Agency is regarded as an attempt to keep funding away from the promotion of the Irish language. While that may be motivation in certain cases, some civil servants may also be using Ulster Scots as a counterbalance allowing them to raise spending per speaker on Irish towards the much higher levels for Scottish Gaelic and Welsh while deflecting criticism from Unionists, who have traditionally been hostile to Irish since the partition of Ireland.

There are some parallels with the Ebonics controversy in the United States. Although the Belfast-based Irish language newspaper ran a column in a revivalist version of Ulster Scots, it was at least partly tongue-in-cheek. The board and staff of the Ulster-Scots Agency include numerous members of the Orange Order and other "loyal orders". Some parts of the Ulster-Scots movement have personal and, through British Israelism, philosophical links with the defunct Protestant paramilitary group Tara, an organisation that remained legal throughout its existence.


For pronunciation see Scots pronunciation.


In the Lowland Scots-speaking areas of Ulster there was traditionally a considerable demand for the work of Scottish poets, often in locally printed editions. Alexander Montgomerie's The Cherrie and the Slae in 1700, shortly over a decade later an edition of poems by Sir David Lindsay, nine printings of Allan Ramsay's The Gentle shepherd between 1743 and 1793, and an edition of Robert Burns' poetry in 1787, the same year as the Edinburgh edition, followed by reprints in 1789, 1793 and 1800. Among other Scottish poets published in Ulster were James Hogg and Robert Tannahill.

This was complemented by Ulster rhyming weaver poetry, of which, some 60 to 70 volumes were published between 1750 and 1850, the peak being in the decades 1810 to 1840. These weaver poets looked to Scotland for their cultural and literary models and were not simple imitators but clearly inheritors of the same literary tradition following the same poetic and orthographic practices; it is not always immediately possible to distinguish traditional Lowland Scots writing from Scotland and Ulster. Among the rhyming weavers were James Cambell (1758-1818), James Orr (1770-1816), Thomas Beggs (1749-1847), David Herbison (1800-1880), Hugh Porter (1780-1839) and Andrew McKenzie (1780-1839). Scots was also used in the narrative by Ulster novelists such as W. G. Lyttle (1844-1896). Scots regularly appeared in Ulster newspaper columns.

By the early part of the 20th century this tradition was almost extinct. The Ulster Scots revival from the 1980s onwards has moved away from the previous tradition and Modern Lowland Scots orthographic practice, preferring instead to develop Ulster Scots as an autonomous written variety separate from Lowland Scots in Scotland, incidentally reducing the language's written comprehensibility to Lowland Scots-speakers, including those native to Ulster itself.

Current trends include: adapting the writing system to one based more on the sound values of standard English; often mixing Ulster English and Lowland Scots forms; adopting archaic Scots orthographic features; borrowing from phonetic notation; creating independent neologisms; misusing words, or using them in new ways, depending on point of view; and adopting non-standard features of English. Whether this is a sign of vitality or of decay is a matter of sometimes heated debate. Recently the transactional value of publicly commissioned translations has been questioned.

The introduction of standard educational materials in schools for the teaching of Ulster Scots is likely to formalise ongoing discussions about the future direction of language planning.

See also

External links

eo:Ulstera skota lingvo


Academic Kids Menu

  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Art)
    • Architecture (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Architecture)
    • Cultures (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Cultures)
    • Music (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Music)
    • Musical Instruments (http://academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/List_of_musical_instruments)
  • Biographies (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Biographies)
  • Clipart (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Clipart)
  • Geography (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Geography)
    • Countries of the World (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Countries)
    • Maps (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Maps)
    • Flags (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Flags)
    • Continents (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Continents)
  • History (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/History)
    • Ancient Civilizations (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Ancient_Civilizations)
    • Industrial Revolution (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Industrial_Revolution)
    • Middle Ages (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Middle_Ages)
    • Prehistory (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Prehistory)
    • Renaissance (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Renaissance)
    • Timelines (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Timelines)
    • United States (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/United_States)
    • Wars (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Wars)
    • World History (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/History_of_the_world)
  • Human Body (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Human_Body)
  • Mathematics (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Mathematics)
  • Reference (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Reference)
  • Science (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Science)
    • Animals (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Animals)
    • Aviation (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Aviation)
    • Dinosaurs (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Dinosaurs)
    • Earth (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Earth)
    • Inventions (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Inventions)
    • Physical Science (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Physical_Science)
    • Plants (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Plants)
    • Scientists (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Scientists)
  • Social Studies (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Social_Studies)
    • Anthropology (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Anthropology)
    • Economics (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Economics)
    • Government (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Government)
    • Religion (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Religion)
    • Holidays (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Holidays)
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Solar_System)
    • Planets (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Planets)
  • Sports (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Sports)
  • Timelines (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Timelines)
  • Weather (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Weather)
  • US States (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/US_States)


  • Home Page (http://academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php)
  • Contact Us (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Contactus)

  • Clip Art (http://classroomclipart.com)
Personal tools