Ulster Scots: Wikis


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Ulster Scots
Spoken in Ulster
Total speakers Estimates range from 35,000 in Northern Ireland,[1] to a total of 100,000 including the Republic of Ireland.[2]
Language family Indo-European
Writing system Latin alphabet
Official status
Official language in None
Regulated by None: the Ulster-Scots Agency promotes usage.
Language codes
ISO 639-1 None
ISO 639-2 sco
ISO 639-3 sco

Ulster Scots (or Ullans, a recent neologism merging "Ulster" and "Lallans"[3]) generally refers to the dialects of Scots[4][5] spoken in parts of Ulster.[6] Some definitions of Ulster Scots may also include Standard English spoken with an Ulster Scots accent[7][8] – where lexical items have been re-allocated to the phoneme classes that are nearest to the equivalent standard classes[9] – a situation equivalent to that of Lowland Scots and Scottish Standard English.[9] Ulster Scots has also been influenced by, and has itself influenced, Mid Ulster English. As a result of the competing influences of English and Scots source dialects, varieties can be characterised as 'more English' or 'more Scots'.[8]



While once referred to as Scotch-Irish by several researchers, that has now been superseded by the term Ulster Scots.[10] Native Speakers usually refer to their vernacular as 'braid Scots'[11] , 'Scotch[12][13] or the 'hamely tongue'.[14] Since the 1980s Ullans has also been used, a portmanteau neologism popularized by the physician, amateur historian and politician Dr Ian Adamson,[15] merging Ulster and Lallans — the Scots for Lowlands[16] — but also an acronym for “Ulster-Scots language in literature and native speech”.[3] Occasionally the term Hiberno-Scots is used,[17] although it is usually used for the ethnic group rather than the vernacular.[18]

Speaker population

Approximate boundaries of the English and Scots dialects spoken in Ulster. Ulster Scots areas are shaded blue-green.

During the middle of the 20th century, the linguist R. J. Gregg established the geographical boundaries of Ulster's Scots-speaking areas based on information gathered from native speakers[19].

Ulster Scots is spoken in east Antrim, north Down, north-west County Londonderry, the Laggan area of Donegal, and also in the fishing villages of the Mourne coast.[20]

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.[21] Other estimates range from 35,000 in Northern Ireland,[1] to an "optimistic" total of 100,000 including the Republic of Ireland.[2] Speaking at a seminar on 9 September 2004, Ian Sloan of the Northern Ireland Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) accepted that the 1999 Northern Ireland Life and Times 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".


Scots, mainly Gaelic-speaking, had been settling in Ulster since the 15th century, 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.[22] In the core areas of Scots settlement, Scots outnumbered English settlers by five or six to one.[23]

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.[24] 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.

Scots in Ulster has been influenced by contact with Mid Ulster English, Hiberno-English and Irish. The relationship has been two-way: for example craic in Irish is a late 20th century borrowing from the word crack, traditionally used in most varieties of Scots. Mid Ulster English, the dialect of most people in Ulster, including those in the two main cities of Belfast and Derry, 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.


Enthusiasts such as Philip Robinson, author of "Ulster-Scots: A Grammar of the Traditional Written and Spoken Language"[25], the Ulster-Scots Language Society[26] and supporters of an Ulster-Scots Academy[27] are of the opinion that Ulster Scots is a language in its own right. That position has been criticised by the Ulster-Scots Agency, a BBC report stating: "[The Agency] accused the academy of wrongly promoting Ulster-Scots as a language distinct from Scots."[28]. A position reflected in many of the Academic responses to the "Public Consultation on Proposals for an Ulster-Scots Academy"[29] Aodán Mac Póilin has written 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."[30]


Linguistic status

Among academic linguists Ulster Scots, along with other varieties of Scots, is treated as a dialect of English, for example Raymond Hickey[31], or by others as a variety of the Scots language, for example Dr. Caroline Macafee, who writes "Ulster Scots is [...] clearly a dialect of Central Scots."[32] And "Ulster Scots is one dialect of Lowland Scots, now officially regarded as a language by the European Bureau for Lesser-Used Languages."[33]. The Northern Ireland Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure considers Ulster Scots to be "the local variety of the Scots language."[34] 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 Scots (cf. British and American English), since it does not have the Mindestabstand, or 'minimum divergence' necessary to achieve language status through standardisation and codification.[citation needed] 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.[35]

Legal status

Ulster Scots is defined in an Agreement between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of Ireland establishing implementation bodies done at Dublin on the 8th day of March 1999 in the following terms:

"Ullans" is to be understood as the variety of the Scots language traditionally found in parts of Northern Ireland and Donegal.

The North/South Co-operation (Implementation Bodies) Northern Ireland Order 1999,[36] which gave effect to the implementation bodies incorporated the text of the agreement in its Schedule 1.

The declaration made by the United Kingdom Government regarding the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages reads as follows:[37]

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.

The definition from the North/South Co-operation (Implementation Bodies) Northern Ireland Order 1999 above was used in the 1 July 2005 Second Periodical Report by the United Kingdom to the Secretary General of the Council of Europe outlining how the UK meets its obligations under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.[38]

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). The legislative remit laid down for the agency by the North/South Co-operation (Implementation Bodies) Northern Ireland Order 1999 is: "the promotion of greater awareness and the use of Ullans and of Ulster-Scots cultural issues, both within Northern Ireland and throughout the island". The agency has adopted a mission statement: 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.

The Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006[39] amended the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to insert a section (28D) entitled Strategies relating to Irish language and Ulster Scots language etc which inter alia laid on the Executive Committee a duty to "adopt a strategy setting out how it proposes to enhance and develop the Ulster Scots language, heritage and culture." This reflects the wording used in the St Andrews Agreement to refer to the enhancement and development of "the Ulster Scots language, heritage and culture"[40]


The earliest identified writing in Scots in Ulster dates from 1571: a letter from Agnes Campbell of County Tyrone to Elizabeth I on behalf of Turlough O'Neil, her husband. Although documents dating from the Plantation period show conservative Scots features, English forms started to predominate from the 1620s as Scots declined as a written medium.[41]

In Ulster Scots-speaking areas 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.

Poetry by Robert Huddlestone (1814-1887) inscribed in paving in Writers' Square, Belfast

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, although the first printed poetry (in the Habbie stanza form) by an Ulster Scots writer was published in a broadsheet in Strabane in 1735.[42] 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 Scots writing from Scotland and Ulster. Among the rhyming weavers were James Campbell (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, especially in Antrim and Down, in the form of pseudonymous social commentary employing a folksy first-person style.[41]

The poet Seamus Heaney indicates the importance of Ulster Scots to his own writing in his poem 'A Birl for Burns':

:From the start, Burns’ birl and rhythm,
That tongue the Ulster Scots brought wi’ them
And stick to still in County Antrim
Was in my ear.
From east of Bann it westered in
On the Derry air.
My neighbours toved and bummed and blowed,
They happed themselves until it thowed,
By slaps and stiles they thrawed and tholed
And snedded thrissles,
And when the rigs were braked and hoed
They’d wet their whistles....

Language planning

The brand identity of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure in Northern Ireland as shown on this sign is displayed in English, Irish and Ulster Scots[43]

In 1992 the Ulster-Scots Language Society was formed for the protection and promotion of Ulster Scots, which some of its members viewed as a language in its own right, encouraging use in speech, writing and in all areas of life.

Within the terms of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages the British Government is obliged, among other things, to:

  • Facilitate and/or encouragement of the use of Scots in speech and writing, in public and private life.
  • Provide appropriate forms and means for the teaching and study of the language at all appropriate stages.
  • Provide facilities enabling non-speakers living where the language is spoken to learn it if they so desire.
  • Promote study and research of the language at universities of equivalent institutions.

The Ulster-Scots Agency, funded by DCAL in conjunction with the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, is responsible for promotion of greater awareness and use of Ullans and of Ulster-Scots cultural issues, both within Northern Ireland and throughout the island. The agency was established as a result of the Belfast Agreement of 1998.

In 2001 the Institute of Ulster Scots Studies was established at the University of Ulster[44]

An Ulster Scots Academy has been planned with the aim of conserving, developing, and teaching the language of Ulster-Scots in association with native speakers to the highest academic standards.[27].

By the early part of the 20th century the literary tradition was almost extinct.[45] Much revivalist Ulster Scots appearing in official translations has little in common with traditional Scots orthographic practices as described in Grant and Dixon’s 1921 Manual of Modern Scots, instead they represent attempts to develop Ulster Scots as an autonomous written variety whose “common denominator is to be as different to English, and occasionally Scots, as possible”. This hotchpotch of obsolete words, neologisms, redundant 16th and 17th century spelling conventions and “erratic spelling which sometimes reflects everyday Ulster Scots speech rather than the conventions of either modern or historic Scots”. The resulting pastiche “is also often incomprehensible to the native speaker.”[46]. In 2000 Dr John Kirk described the "net effect" of that "amalgam of traditional, surviving, revived, changed, and invented features" as "artificial dialect", further adding "It is certainly not a written version of the vestigial spoken dialect of rural county Antrim, as its activists frequently urge, perpetrating the fallacy that it’s wor ain leid. (Besides, the dialect revivalists claim not to be native speakers of the dialect themselves!). The colloquialness of this new dialect is deceptive for it is neither spoken nor innate. Traditional dialect speakers find it counter–intuitive and false [...]" [47]. Later, in 2005, Gavin Falconer questioned officialdom's complicity, writing: "The readiness of Northern Ireland officialdom to consign taxpayers’ money to a black hole of translations incomprehensible to ordinary users is worrying." [48]. Recently produced Education materials, have, on the other hand, been evaluated more positively.[49]

See also


  1. ^ a b DCAL What languages are spoken in Northern Ireland?
  2. ^ a b Ulster Scots
  3. ^ a b Tymoczko M. & Ireland C.A. (2003) Language and Tradition in Ireland: Continuities and Displacements, Univ of Massachusetts Press. p.159
  4. ^ Macafee C (2001) Lowland Sources of Ulster Scots in Kirk J.M. & Ó Baoill D.P., Languages Links: The Languages of Scotland and Ireland, Cló Ollscoil na Banríona, Belfast. p.121
  5. ^ Harris J. (1985) Phonological Variation and Change: Studies in Hiberno English, Cambridge. p.15
  6. ^ Gregg R.J. (1972) The Scotch-Irish Dialect Boundaries in Ulster in Wakelin M.F., Patterns in the Folk Speech of The British Isles, London
  7. ^ Gregg R.J. (1964) Scotch-Irish Urban Speech in Ulster: A Phonological Study of the Regional Standard English of Larne, County Antrim in Adams G.B. Ulster Dialects an Introductory Symposium, Cultura: Ulster Folk Museum
  8. ^ a b Harris J. (1985) Phonological Variation and Change: Studies in Hiberno English, Cambridge. p.14
  9. ^ a b Harris J. (1984) English in the north of Ireland in Trudgill P., Language in the British Isles, Cambridge p.119
  10. ^ Harris J. (1985) Phonological Variation and Change: Studies in Hiberno English, Cambridge. p.13
  11. ^ Traynor, Michael (1953) The English dialect of DonegalRoyal Irish Academy, Dublin, p.36
  12. ^ Traynor, Michael (1953) The English dialect of DonegalRoyal Irish Academy, Dublin, p.244
  13. ^ Nic Craith M. (2002) Plural Identities--singular Narratives. Berghahn Books. p.107
  14. ^ Fenton J. (1995) The Hamely Tongue: A Personal Record of Ulster-Scots in County Antrim, Ulster-Scots Academic Press
  15. ^ Falconer G. (2006) The Scots Tradition in Ulster, Scottish studies review, Vol. 7, Nº 2. p.97
  16. ^ Hickey R. (2004) A Sound Atlas of Irish English. Walter de Gruyter. p.156
  17. ^ Wells J.C. (1982) Accents of English: The British Isles, Cambridge University Press p.449
  18. ^ Winston A. (1997) Global Convulsions: Race, Ethnicity, and Nationalism at the End of the Twentieth Century, SUNY Press p.161
  19. ^ Gregg R.J. (1972) The Scotch-Irish Dialect Boundaries in Ulster in Wakelin M.F., Patterns in the Folk Speech of The British Isles, London
  20. ^ Dr. C. I. Macafee (ed.), A Concise Ulster Dictionary, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), xi-xii.
  21. ^ Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey, 1999
  22. ^ Montgomery & Gregg 1997: 572
  23. ^ Adams 1977: 57
  24. ^ Montgomery & Gregg 1997: 585
  25. ^ Extracts from: 'Ulster-Scots: A Grammar of the Traditional Written and Spoken Language'
  26. ^ Ulster-Scots language Society
  27. ^ a b Ulster-Scots Academy Implementation group
  28. ^ Ulster-Scots academy 'misguided'
  29. ^ Public consultation on proposals for an Ulster Scots academy
  30. ^ Language, Identity and Politics in Northern Ireland
  31. ^ Irish English: History and Present Day Forms, Cambridge University Press, 2007. pp.85-120
  32. ^ Macafee C (2001) Lowland Sources of Ulster Scots in Kirk J.M. & Ó Baoill D.P., Languages Links: The Languages of Scotland and Ireland, Cló Ollscoil na Banríona, Belfast. p.121
  33. ^ Dr. C. I. Macafee (ed.), A Concise Ulster Dictionary, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), xxxvii.
  34. ^ DCAL
  35. ^ Falconer, G. The Scots Tradition in Ulster, Scottish Studies Review, Vol. 7/2, 2006. p.94
  36. ^ Statutory Instrument 1999 No. 859
  37. ^ http://conventions.coe.int/Treaty/Commun/ListeDeclarations.asp?NT=148&CV=1&NA=&PO=999&CN=999&VL=1&CM=9&CL=ENG
  38. ^ http://www.coe.int/t/e/legal_affairs/local_and_regional_democracy/regional_or_minority_languages/2_monitoring/2.2_States_Reports/UK_report2.pdf
  39. ^ http://www.england-legislation.hmso.gov.uk/acts/acts2006/ukpga_20060053_en_1 Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006
  40. ^ http://www.taoiseach.gov.ie/index.asp?locID=199&docID=2931 Documents released after talks at St Andrews
  41. ^ a b The Edinburgh Companion to Scots, ed. Corbett, McClure, Stuart-Smith, Edinburgh 2003, ISBN 0748615962
  42. ^ Rhyming Weavers, Hewitt, 1974
  43. ^ Fowkgates is a neologism, the traditional Scots word being cultur [1] (Cf. pictur [2]). The Scots for leisure is leisur(e) [ˈliːʒər], aisedom (easedom [3]) is generally not used outwith the north-east of Scotland and is semantically different.
  44. ^ University of Ulster
  45. ^ Montgomery, Michael and Robert Gregg 1997. ‘The Scots language in Ulster’, in Jones (ed.), p. 572
  46. ^ Language, Identity and Politics in Northern Ireland by Aodan Mac Poilin
  47. ^ Kirk, John. M. (2000) “The New Written Scots Dialect in Present–day Northern Ireland” in Ljung, Magnus ed. Language Structure and Variation, Almqvist & Wiksell, Stockholm, 121–138.
  48. ^ Falconer, Gavin (2005) “Breaking Nature’s Social Union – The Autonomy of Scots in Ulster” in John Kirk and Dónall Ó Baoill eds., Legislation, Literature and Sociolinguistics: Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, and Scotland, Belfast: Queen’s University, 48–59.
  49. ^ an Evaluation of the Work of the Curriculum Development Unit for Ulster-Scots, Stranmillis University College

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




Ulster Scots

  1. A variant of the Scots language spoken in Northern Ireland (Ulster).


See also

Simple English

Ulster Scots, sometimes called Ullans, is a dialect of Lowland Scots that is spoken in some of the northern parts of Ireland. It is closely related to the English language.


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