Wednesday, 19 January 2011

What's in a Name?

The Blether Region is intrigued by a blog entry made last month by Councillor Dr. Ian Adamson OBE:

"Nelson McCausland, our Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure in the Stormont Assembly, does not share our views on Ulster-Scots, which is fair enough, and issues the occasional directive to the Ulster-Scots Agency about the use of the term Ullans, to keep them in order."

Ulster-Scots aficionados will recall that the cross-border legislation setting up the Ulster-Scots Agency refers to "Ullans", which is defined as a "variety of the Scots language", i.e. a dialect of Scots. The UK's declaration on the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, on the other hand, reads as follows:

"b) 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 above has been taken by the more radical Ulster-Scots activists as meaning that Ulster Scots is now to be treated as a language separate from Scots (although, as "regional or minority language" is in the singular, that is far from certain).

What is certain, however, is that, if Ulster Scots is indeed being defined as a language in the Charter declaration, it is clearly not the same language as Ullans. After all, if both the names (Ullans and Ulster Scots) and the definitions (dialect and language) vary, one is obviously dealing with two separate things.

One wonders how one is to interpret Dr. Adamson's comments. One possibility is that the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure is attempting to direct the agency not to use the term "Ullans" on the basis that it has been superseded by "Ulster Scots". But on what basis? Quite apart from the fact that "Ullans" and "Ulster Scots" are, by the Minister's own interpretation of the Charter declaration, incompatible, the Charter is non-justiciable and the declaration regarding it national in character, while the framework for the agency is legislative, cross-border and has the status of an international treaty, incapable of amendment without parallel legislation passing through the Houses of the Oireachtas in Dublin.

It is clear that the only strictly legal terms that the agency may use are "Ullans" and — the Blether Region's preference — "Scots".

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