Mind your language

Lang Syne

26 January 2013

9:00 AM

26 January 2013

9:00 AM

Those of us who only pronounce the words auld lang syne on New Year’s Eve and have a vague grasp of their grammatical function may be cheered by a sign at Ballyhalbert in Co. Down that reads: ‘Shore Road, formerly — lang syne, Tay Pot Raa.’ So we are learning quickly. Lang syne means ‘formerly’, and the local words for ‘tea pot’ are tay pot, and for ‘road’, raa. Hence Faas Raa.

But what language is this? The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 declared that ‘part of the cultural wealth of the island of Ireland’ was Ulster-Scots. This is undeniable. In 2001, the United Kingdom recognised ‘Scots and Ulster Scots’ as ‘a regional or minority language’. By then, paid translators had been engaged to turn the proceedings of the Northern Ireland Assembly into Ulster-Scots.


It is undoubtedly a language, but is it a different language from English? I think not. We are not talking about the Celtic languages of Gaelic or of Irish here. Ulster-Scots is derived from the language of people who spoke Scots in Scotland, and this lowland Scots, sometimes called Lallans, is, linguistically speaking, a northern dialect of English. Culturally, it boasted a proud literature, such as Bishop Gavin Douglas’s translation of the Aeneid (which he called Eneados), beginning: ‘The batalis and the man I wil discrive.’ The written literature of Ulster-Scots is less distinguished.

In Northern Ireland perhaps 2 per cent of people speak Ulster-Scots, say 35,000. In case they do not understand ‘Toilet’, an arts centre in Omagh has a notice pointing to the ‘Cludgies’. The way to the print workshop is signed ‘Prent Waarkschap’, which looks like Afrikaans and might have puzzled Bishop Douglas.

A useful booklet for teachers tells them that the Ulster-Scots for ‘house’ is hoose and for ‘education’ is learnin. That’ll learn them. To see how officials use Ulster-Scots, here is a sentence from a Northern Ireland Assembly leaflet, Yer Assemblie: ‘Syne 2007, Assemblie comatees is haean forgaithers wi hunners o fowk an thinkan on a wheen differan maiters as haes an effect tae the fowk o Norlin Airlan.’

Don’t get me wrong. I rejoice in the plurality of languages and dialects. But heaven help a child educated in the medium of Ulster-Scots.

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Show comments
  • edlancey

    Embarrassing garbage.

    The leaflet (why not ‘wee tait o’ paiper’ ?) from Yer Assemblie is a perfect example of the worthlessness of the EU and its addiction to wasting taxpayers money on drivel like this.

    It isn’t even an accurate reflection of how people actually speak or communicate, just gibberish made up by some halfwit – additionally “Norlin” suggests hearing difficulties on the part of the scribe.

    • http://twitter.com/martinpmcevoy Martin McEvoy

      Sorry, but ’tis nothing to do with the EU -this is entirely a domestic game – the quid pro quo demanded of loyalism in order to allow the inclusion of Irish Gaelic in the Belfast Agreement.

  • MichtyMe

    Tae yer speiring o’ “total con” = muckle swick.

  • Eddie

    Scots is not a language. No more than Cockney or Geordie. It’s a dialect.
    Of course the Scottish nationalist Engliah-haters are desperate to claim anything they can as uniquely Scottish; the forget after all that what we think of as Scottish was in fact created by the Victorian English.
    Wales has its own language; Scotland doesn’t really – except the Gaelic spoken by Irish immigrant descendents in the Western Isles.
    The biggest laugh this week came from the quaint idea that an independent Scotland could still use pounds sterling! So, they DON’T really want to be fully and fiscally independent after all, eh?

    • MichtyMe

      It is said that a language is a dialect with an army and navy. English is a bastardised Germanic dialect. the Scandinavian languages could be considered dialects of each other, Dutch of German, Portuguese of Spanish.

      Sterling, of probably German origin, equally belongs to the Scots and they can choose what to d with it.

      And Eddie “fiscally” means pertaining to public revenues, taxes. Not monetary matters.

      • Eddie

        English is a language because although its roots were in the West Germanic (as were the roots of German, Dutch, Flemish etc), it is now a distict language, with many Latinate additions too, particularly in written or formal form.
        Scots, on the other hand, is like English spoken by a lower class drunkard, and is more similar to English that London streetslang, Cockney. Georgie etc.
        You clearly have no idea of generally accepted definitions of ‘language’ and ‘dialect’.
        Pounds Sterling is the currency of Britain (the etymology does not matter). though it’s related to star, probably, because silver coins had that mark. It is British money, and before that English money from the 14th century or so. It was not created by Scotland – a country cobbled together from Pictish, English, Nordic and immigrant Irish (Scottish) populations, which was way behind England when it came to allowing people individual property ownership etc (which is why Scottish surnames were usually created centuries after English ones, e.g. Teacher – no need to ordinary people to have surnames if they own no property and can leave none to their children).
        If Scotland becomes independent, then they can keep ‘the pound’ in name – which would quickly devalue like the Slovak Crown did after the end pof Czechoslovakia – but they cannot keep Sterling They’d need some Scottish Pound, maybe made out of sheep stomach’s and hypocrisy eh?
        ‘Fiscally’ does mean pertaining to government finances, yes, (I used the word correctly) but ALSO means ‘of or involving financial matters’. Look it up.
        A little learning eh…
        Not a good idea to argue with an English teacher, laddie.

        • LiberallyEducated

          What a dick you are, Eddie. You obviously have some distain for Scotland. MichtyMe does make sense here and you are simply shrugging it off because you are an English teacher? I apologise for my country’s entire history because you are a bigoted, Sassenach prick. There you go, it appears that we do have our own language after all, Wise Learned Scholar!

  • Michael Dempster

    I wonder what Chaucer would think of The Spectator…