Friday, 26 November 2010


Last Tuesday saw a well-attended lunch in the Park Avenue Hotel under the auspices of the Ullans Academy. Blogger Alan in Belfast over at Slugger O'Toole had the following to say about the organisers:

"As far as I can tell, the Ullans Academy is very much on the liberal wing of the innumerable organisations that represent and promote Ulster Scots culture. It points to shared culture and history, from Scotland and throughout Ireland. It's not hung up on equality or parity, and it's about inclusion rather than exclusion."

The last sentence quoted surely makes oblique reference to the other wing of the contemporary Ulster-Scots movement, which promotes a black-and-white, zero-sum view of the world that finds its most influential advocate in the current Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure, Nelson McCausland — whose conspicuous absence Alan remarks upon.

It is clearly a nonsense to strive for equality between Irish and Ulster Scots, since the former is a language, even vis-à-vis Scottish Gaelic, and the latter is an only slightly differentiated dialect of a half-language — one that, except as a cant with no native speakers, lacks even the potential to be a language in its own right.

Indeed, it is a nonsense even to accord Ulster Scots parity of esteem with Irish.

That is not to say that there should not be parity of esteem, and equality of opportunity, between Protestants and Catholics. Of course there should be, but that is a separate issue. And it is separate also from the question of whether it is legitimate or desirable to regard Irish and Ulster Scots, each of which is a series of grunts, as the exclusive or majority property of two religious or political communities.

Let us be in no doubt: what Ulster Scots needs is not God or Caesar but the Brothers Grimm.

And although the Blether Region applauds the anti-sectarianism of the Ullans Academy, which place it head and shoulders above the opposition, there remain two stubborn niggles that cast doubt on its ability to deliver the goods with regard to Ulster Scots: "Ullans" and "Academy".

"Ullans" is a recently made-up term used for the Ulster variety of what, linguistically speaking, is objectively a dialect of Scots. The adoption of novel terminology that shows such little regard for language or history promotes the wholly specious and damaging notion that the variety in question is not a form of Scots. Indeed, from that point of view, the "Ulster Scots" favoured by Nelson McCausland — albeit without the hyphen — is a far better term.

"Academy" has its origins in the Fryske Akademy, a body with the exclusive authority to codify Frisian. If there is no intention to codify Ulster Scots, or Ullans, separately from Scots, why has such a name been chosen? The Academy's own website has the following to say:

"Ullans is a language very close linguistically to English spoken by 'Ulster Scots', Scottish settlers who left Scotland and brought their native language Scots (also known as Lallans) to Ulster, the north-eastern province of Ireland.

'Ullans' is short for 'Ulster laLLANS'. Advocates of the Scots-Irish dialect in Ulster coined the phrase in 1993 as part of the process of trying to make the Scots-Irish dialect into a recognised language."

When the Blether Region raised the status issue with a prominent member of the Academy, one not known for his Unionism, he sought to provide reassurance with the words "Scots is part of Ulster Scots". Yet that primarily political formulation was a reversal of the linguistic reality that Ulster Scots is part of Scots.

Until that simple truth is recognised in policy terms, the future for the dialect looks bleak.

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