Mid Ulster English: Wikis


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Approximate boundaries of the English and Scots dialects spoken in Ulster.

Mid Ulster English or simply Ulster English is the dialect of most people in the Province of Ulster in Ireland, including those in the two main cities. The dialect has been greatly influenced by Ulster Irish, but also by the languages of the Scots who arrived during the plantations – this includes the Scots and Scottish Gaelic languages. It represents a cross-over area between Ulster Scots in the north and southern Hiberno-English in the midlands.

Despite its name, the term Mid Ulster English is commonly used to describe the dialect of Ulster in general, not simply County Tyrone (where the geographical centre of the province lies). The accent of much of County Monaghan (chiefly the area known as South Monaghan) and the accent of all of County Cavan (both of these counties lying in South Ulster) is largely central and western Ireland in character. The accent of South Armagh, which also lies in South Ulster, is also quite central sounding, closely resembling the accents of parts of County Cavan, north County Louth and South Monaghan. On the other hand, the accent in north County Antrim (in northeastern Ulster) sounds vaguely similar to lowlands Scots. The rest of the province uses Mid Ulster English in differing varieties usually distinguished with reference to the county of origin of the speaker.



Phonetics are in IPA.



Phonetic notation
/i/ feet
/əi/ fight
/e/ fate
/əʉ/ shout
/ɛ/ bet
/ɛ̈/ bit
/a/ bat
/ɔ̈/ but
/ɑ/ pot
/ɔː/ bought
/o/ boat
/aː/ father
/ʉ/ boot
/ɔe/ boy
  • Vowels have phonemic vowel length, with one set of lexically long and one of lexically short phonemes. This may be variously influenced by the Scots system. It is considerably less phonemic than Received Pronunciation, and in vernacular Belfast speech vowel length may vary depending on stress.
  • /a/ in after /w/, e.g. want, what, quality.
  • /ɑ/ and /ɔː/ distinction in cot, body and caught, bawdy. Some varieties neutralise the distinction in long environments, e.g. don = dawn and pod = pawed.
  • like, light, meat and beard also with /e/ [lek], [let], [met], [berd]
  • /e/ may occur in such words as beat, decent, leave, Jesus, etc.
  • Lagan Valley /ɛ/ before /k/ in take and make, etc.
  • /ɛ/ before velars in sack, bag, and bang, etc.
  • Merger of /a/ - /aː/ in all monosyllables, e.g. Sam and psalm [sɑːm].
  • /i/ may occur before palatalized consonants, e.g. king, fish , condition, brick and sick.
  • /ɑ/ may occur before /p/ and /t/ in tap and top, etc.
  • /ʉ/ before /r/ in floor, whore, door, board, etc.
  • Vowel oppositions before /r/, e.g. /ɛrn/ earn, /fɔr/ for and /for/ four.


  • Rhoticity, that is, retention of /r/ in all positions.
  • Palatalisation of /k, ɡ, ŋ/ in the environment of front vowels.
  • /l/ is not vocalised, except historically; generally "clear" as in Hiberno-English, except in the Belfast area, where it is often dark, at least in some environments.[1]
  • /b/ for /p/ in words such as pepper.
  • /d/ for /t/ in words such as butter.
  • /ɡ/ for /k/ in words such as packet.
  • /ʍ/ - /w/ contrast in which - witch. This feature is recessive, particularly in vernacular Belfast speech.
  • Dental realisations of /t, d, n, l/ may occur through Irish influence before /r/, e.g. ladder, matter, dinner and pillar, etc.
  • Elision of /d/ in hand [hɑːn], candle /ˈkanl/ and old [əʉl], etc.
  • Elision of /b, ɡ/ in sing [sɪŋ], thimble, finger etc.
  • /θ/ and /ð/ for th.
  • /x/ for gh is retained in proper names and a few dialect words or pronunciations, e.g. lough, trough and sheugh.

Grammar derived from Irish

The morphology and syntax of Irish is quite different from that of English, and it has influenced both Ulster English and Hiberno-English to some degree.

Irish has separate forms for the second person singular () and the second person plural (sibh), like English used to have. Ulster English mirrors Irish in that the singular "you" is distinguished from the plural "you". This is normally done by using the words yous, yousuns or yis.[2] For example:

  • "Are yous not finished yet?"
  • "Did yousuns all go to see it?"

Irish lacks words that directly translate as "yes" or "no", and instead repeats the verb in a question (positively or negatively) to answer. As such, Ulster English and Hiberno-English use "yes" and "no" less frequently than other English dialects.[3][4] For example:

  • "Are you coming home soon?" "I am"
  • "Is your computer working?" "It's not"

The absence of the verb "have" in Irish has influenced some grammar. The concept of "have" is expressed in Irish by the construction ag ("at") ("me") to create agam ("at me"). Hence, Ulster English speakers sometimes use the verb "have" followed by "with me/on me".[5] For example:

  • "Do you have the book with you?"
  • "Have you money for the bus on you?"

Ulster English by region

Belfast and surroundings

The urban Belfast dialect is not limited to the city itself but also takes in neighbouring urban areas in the local vicinity (such as Lisburn, Carrickfergus and Newtownards), as well as towns whose inhabitants originally came from Belfast (such as Craigavon). It is generally perceived as being associated with economically disadvantaged areas, and with youth culture. This however is not the dialect used in the media (even those outlets which are based in Belfast). Features of the accent include several vowel shifts, including one from /æ/ to /ɛ/ (/bɛɡ/ for "bag").

The Belfast dialect is now becoming more frequently heard in towns in the 'commuter belt' whose inhabitants would have traditionally spoken with a 'country' accent. Examples or such areas are Moira, Ballyclare, Dromore and Ballynahinch. It could be said that many youths in these areas prefer to use the more cosmopolitan city accent, as opposed to the local variant that their parents or people in other areas would use.

Other phonological features include the following:

  • Two major realizations of /e/ are to be encountered: in open syllables a long monophthong near [ɛː], but in closed syllables an ingliding diphthong, perhaps most typically [eə], but ranging from [ɛə] to [iə]. Thus days [dɛːz] and daze [deəz] are not homophonous.
  • In Belfast, and in mid and south Ulster, the opposition between /ɔ/ and /ɒ/ is better maintained than in other parts of Ulster, though it is restricted to only a few environments, e.g., that of a following voiceless plosive. Thus stock [stɒk ~ stɑk ~ sta̠k] is distinct from stalk [stɔ(ː)k]. However, this is complicated by the fact that certain words belonging to the Standard Lexical Set THOUGHT have /ɒ/ rather than the expected /ɔ/. These typically include draw, fall, walk, and caught. Water often has /a/ (the TRAP vowel).
  • The /aʊ/ phoneme is pronounced [əʉ] in most of Ulster, but in Belfast it is extremely variable and is a sensitive social marker. Pronunciations with a relatively front first element, [ɛ̈] or fronter, are working class. Middle class speakers prefer back [ɑ] or even [ɔ]. The second element is [ʉ ~ y ~ ɨ], often with little or no rounding. How and now may receive special treatment in working-class Belfast speech, with an open first element [a ~ ɑ] and a second element ranging over [i ~ ʉ], a retroflex approximant [ɻ], and zero, i.e., there may be no second element.[6]

Some of the vocabulary used among young people in Ulster, such as the word "spide", is of Belfast origin.

Ulster Scots areas

This region is heavily influenced by the historic presence of Ulster Scots and covers areas such as northern and eastern County Antrim, the Ards Peninsula in County Down, the Laggan valley in County Donegal and northeastern County Londonderry. These districts are strongly Ulster Scots-influenced, and Scots pronunciation of words is often heard. People from here are often mistaken by outsiders as Scottish. This area includes the Glens of Antrim, where the last native Irish speakers of a dialect native to what is now Northern Ireland were to be found. It has been stated that, whilst in the written form, Gaelic of this area continued to use standardised Irish forms, the spoken dialect continued to the Scottish variant, and was in effect no different to the Gaelic of Argyll, or Galloway (both in Scotland).

In the 1830s, Ordnance Survey memoirs came to the following conclusion about the dialect of the inhabitants of Carnmoney, east Antrim:

Their accent is peculiarly, and among old people disagreeably, strong and broad.

The results of a BBC sociolinguistic survey can be found here. [7] East Donegal also has a strong Ulster Scots dialect (see below).

Derry City and surroundings

The accent of Derry City is actually that of western County Londonderry (including Dungiven and Limavady), northeastern County Donegal (including Inishowen), and northern and western County Tyrone (including Strabane). There is a higher incidence of palatalisation after /k/ and its voiced equivalent /ɡ/[8](eg. /kʲɑɹ/ "kyar" for "car"), perhaps through influence from Hiberno-English. However, the most noticeable difference is perhaps the intonation, which is unique to the Derry, Letterkenny and Strabane area. The accent of the Finn Valley and - especially - the Laggan district (centered on the town of Raphoe), both in East Donegal, together with the accent of neighbouring West Tyrone and the accent of the westernmost parts of County Londonderry (not including Derry City), are also quite Scottish sounding. A version of Ulster Scots is spoken in these areas. This West Ulster version of Ulster Scots is considered to be quite similar to the way English is spoken in Ayrshire in south-west Scotland.

Mid Ulster

The speech in southern and western County Donegal, southern County Tyrone (known as South Tyrone), southern County Londonderry (often known as South Derry), northern County Fermanagh, north County Armagh, southwestern County Antrim and most of County Down form a geographical band across the province from east to west. On the whole, these areas have much more in common with the Derry accent in the west than inner-city Belfast except in the east. This accent is often claimed as being the "standard" Northern Irish dialect as it is the most widely used, and it is the dialect of famous Irish writer Séamus Heaney. Parts of the north of County Monaghan (an area centered on Monaghan Town and known as North Monaghan) would roughly fall into this category, but only to a certain extent. Bundoran, a town at the southern extremity of County Donegal, also has quite a western Ireland accent, as do parts of the south-west extremity of County Fermanagh.

South Ulster

Areas such as southern and western County Armagh, central and southern County Monaghan (known locally as South Monaghan), northern County Cavan and the southern 'strip' of County Fermanagh are the hinterland of the larger Mid-Ulster dialect. The accent gradually shifts from village to village, forming part of the dialect continuum between areas to the North and Midlands (as it once did in Gaelic). This accent is also used in north County Louth (located in Leinster) and in part of the northern 'strip' of County Leitrim (in Connacht).


Much non-standard vocabulary found in Mid Ulster English and many meanings of Standard English words peculiar to the dialect come from Scots and Irish. Some examples are shown in the table below. Many of these are also used in Hiberno-English, especially in the northern half of the island.

Mid-Ulster English Standard English Notes
ach!, och!, ack! annoyance, regret, etc. (general exclamation) Usually used to replace "ah!" and "oh!". Ach is Irish for "but", and can be used in the same context. "Och" is Irish and Scots Gaelic for "Alas", and again can be used in the same context.[9]
aye, auy yes Heard throughout Ireland, Scotland and parts of northern England. General Scots and dialect or archaic English, first attested 1575.
bake mouth From Ulster and Hiberno English pronunciation or, extension of meaning from beak.
banjax to break/ruin/destroy Hiberno-English word, of unknown origin.[10]
boak, boke to retch, to vomit From Scots bowk, Middle Scots L-vocalisation with West Central monophthongisation to /o/ betraying the origins of Scottish Planters. Cognate with Old English bealcan.[11]
boreen a narrow road/lane/track From Irish bóithrín meaning "small road".[12]
caul cold From Scots cauld meaning "cold".[13]
claggerd covered with something adhesive (usually dirt) From Scots clag meaning "to besmear".[14]
cowp, cope to tip over, to fall over From Scots cowp, Middle Scots L-vocalisation with West Central monophthongisation to /o/ betraying the origins of Scottish Planters.[15]
crack, craic banter, fun, gossip, news
(eg. "What's the crack?)
From Scots or northern English. Originally spelt crack but the Gaelicized spelling craic is now common.
craitur a term of endearment
(eg. "The poor craitur")
Hiberno English pronunciation of creature where ea is realised /e/ (see above) and -ture as archaic /tər/ rather than the standard affricate /tʃər/.
culchie a farmer, a rural dweller Dublin-English used originally by those dwelling in the Pale to refer to all residing outside the area, i.e. the wooded rest of Ireland, either from Irish coillte meaning "the wood/forest"[16] or from the -culture in "agriculture". Some say it derives from the Irish cúl a' tí meaning "back of the house", for it was common practise for country people to go in the back door of the house they were visiting.[17]
dander walk (noun or verb) Usually encountered as a noun in Scots (daunder), its use as a verb is well attested in the Dictionary of the Scots Language, and its use in Ulster may reflect the preponderence of nouns over verbs in an Irish adstrate.
duke go to, advance (verb) Probably derived from Scotland (see 'jouk' below), it is used as a synonym for "go to" a place, eg. "to duke into town". It is particularly popular in south Monaghan but its use can be found in parts of north Louth and Armagh.[18]
eejit idiot From the Hiberno-English pronunciation of "idiot".[19]
fella man From fellow; ultimately from Norse felagi.
founderd to be cold From Scots foundert/foondert/fundert which can mean "(to be numbed by) a severe chill".[20]
geg, geggin joke, joking From English gag meaning "a joke/prank".
glen valley From Irish gleann.
gob, gub mouth From Irish gob or Scots gab, both meaning "mouth".
gutties, guddies running shoes From Scots, in which it is used to mean anything made of rubber. Note also the phrase "Give her the guttie" meaning "Step on it (accelerate)".[21]
hallion a good-for-nothing From Scots hallion meaning "rascal".[22]
hoak, hoke to search for, to forage
(eg. "Have a hoak for it")
From Scots howk, Middle Scots L-vocalisation with West Central monophthongisation to /o/.[23]
jap to spill From Scots jaup meaning "to spill".[24]
jouk, juke, duke to duck, to dodge From Scots jouk meaning "to dodge".[25]
lock'a an unspecified amount
(eg. "In a lock'a minutes")
From Irish loca meaning "a pile of" or "a wad of", or simply an extended meaning of "lock" as in "a lock of hair".
lough lake/inlet From Irish loch.
lug ear From Norse. Originally used to mean "an appendage" (cf. Norwegian lugg meaning "a tuft of hair"). Heard throughout Ireland.
malarky nonsense Probably from Irish.
oxter armpit, under-arm From Scots oxter meaning "armpit" and "to carry under-arm".[26]
poke ice-cream From Scots poke meaning "bag" or "pouch".
quare, kwer very, considerable
(eg. "A quare distance")
Used throughout Ireland, a different pronunciation and extended meaning of "queer".[27]
scunnerd, scunderd annoyed, embarrassed From Scots scunnert meaning "offended" or "fed up".[28]
sheugh a small shallow ditch
(pronounced /ʃʌx/)
From Scots sheuch meaning "ditch".[29]
skite, skitter, scoot to move quickly From Norse skjuta meaning "to shoot" (cf. Norwegian skutla meaning "to glide quickly").
slew a great amount From Irish slua meaning "a crowd/multitude".[30]
til to From Norse til.
theday/themarra today/tomorrow From Scots the day/the morra.
thon that From Scots, originally yon in archaic English, the th by analogy with this and that.[31]
thonder there, something distant but within sight From Scots, originally yonder in archaic English.
throughother untidy Probably from Irish. Though, it has parallels in both Goidelic (eg. Irish trína chéile) and Germanic (eg. Scots throuither,[32] German durcheinander).
wee little, but also used as a generic diminutive Cognate with German wenig meaning "a little", although more closely related to English weigh. Heard throughout north Connacht, north Leinster and Scotland.
wheeker excellent From Scots wheech meaning "to snatch". Onomatopoeic.[33]
whisht be quiet (a command) The Irish huist,[34] meaning "be quiet", is an unlikely source since the word is known throughout England and Scotland where it derives from early Middle English whist[35] (cf. Middle English hust[36] and Scots wheesht[37]).
wojus awful Heard throughout Ireland, probably a variation of "odious".
ye you (singular) From Old English ye, but pronounced with a short e sound.
yous, yousuns you (plural) See grammar derived from Irish.

Furthermore, speakers of the dialect conjugate many verbs according to how they are formed in the most vernacular forms of Ulster Scots, e.g. driv instead of drove and driven as the past tense of drive, etc. (literary Scots druive, driven). Verbal syncretism is extremely widespread, as is the Northern Subject Rule.

See also


Wells, J.C. (1982). Accents of English 2: The British Isles. Cambridge University Press 1986.

External links


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