The Ulster-Scots Language Society

Formed to encourage an interest in the Ulster-Scots language

The Ulster-Scots Language Society was formed to encourage an interest in traditional Ulster-Scots literature, to promote creative writing in modern Ulster-Scots, to support the use of Ulster-Scots speech and writing in present-day education, and to encourage the Ulster-Scots tradition in music, dance, song, ballads and storytelling.

In short, our aim is to promote the status of Ulster-Scots as a traditional language, and to re-establish its dignity as a European regional language with an important role in our cultural heritage.

Ulstèr-Scotch Leid Societie: mintit at giein a heft til the Ulstèr-Scotch leid, oor ain hamelt tongue.

Quhit wud Ulstèr-Scotch be? What is Ulster-Scots?
Ulster-Scots is a variant of a language called Scots. The language of the poet Rabbie Burns, it is often called Lallans, the Scots word for ‘lowlands’, where it is still spoken today. Ulster-Scots, or Ullans, is chiefly spoken in parts of counties Antrim, Down and Donegal.

Where did Scots come from?
Scots is a language closely related to English, Dutch and Frisian, all of which are known as west Germanic languages. Scots and Ulster-Scots also share many words with Danish and Norse, which are both north Germanic languages. It is completely distinct from Scottish Gaelic which, like Irish, is a Celtic language.

Both Scots and English evolved from seventh century Anglo-Saxon dialects of German. While English developed in England, Scots developed separately to become the official language of Scotland until 1603, when the English and Scottish crowns were united by James I.

So how did Ulster-Scots get here?
Braid Scotch was brought to Ulster by the Scottish settlers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when it became known as Ulster-Scots. Parts of Antrim and Down had already been ‘Germanic’ speaking since the Vikings.

But is Ulster-Scots really a language?
The Scots language is now officially recognised by the UK Government as one of Europe’s 40 traditional regional languages. Ulster-Scots as a dialect or variant of the Scots language in Ulster has been given similar European recognition. Many people still wrongly believe that Ulster-Scots is just ‘bad English’ or just ‘a dialect of English’.

Scholars now agree that Ulster-Scots has its own grammar, its own literary tradition, and its own vocabulary, features that distinguish a separate language. The question of whether Ulster-Scots is a language in its own right, or is the ‘Scots language in Ulster’, is still being debated.

Was anything ever published in Ulster-Scots?
Examples of early writing in Ulster-Scots include the Elegy on the Death of Brice Blare (1734) and The Ulster Miscellany (1753). When Burns was writing his poems in Scotland in the eighteenth century, many poets in Ulster were also writing and publishing in Ulster-Scots. Stories and novels in Ulster-Scots appeared until the 1950s, many serialised in local newspapers. Unfortunately, most of these publications are now out of print and are only to be found in libraries. The current revival has encouraged an increase in writing in Ulster-Scots, most of which is published by the Language Society.

How can I learn Ulster-Scots?
Philip Robinson’s Ulster-Scots: A Grammar of the Traditional Written and Spoken Language (1997) has been described as ‘indispensable to any serious study of the language’ and ‘a scholarly triumph’. More importantly, it will enable any ‘present-day speakers to discover the rich pedigree of their way of talking’.

The Ulster-Scots Language Society is currently developing a teaching scheme on the Ulster-Scots language. Please contact the Society for further details on +44(0) 28 9075 8985 or email ulster-scots@utvinternet.com

© The Ulster-Scots Language Society 2004

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