Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Dayset or Daydaw?




















Ian Adamson has given his view of Nelson McCausland's nominations to the Ministerial Advisory Group for the Ulster-Scots Academy.

The main thrust of his argument is that the Minister "has excluded native speakers". The Blether Region of course tries to advocate an academic approach to Ulster Scots, which is why it promotes its actual, structural status as a dialect of Scots over any apperceptional one. With that in mind, while native speakers may help garner social support, they bring with them no particular advantage when it comes to codifying language. A single native speaker brings a single, subjective view, usually without the requisite reading or analysis. An academic, on the other hand, is aware of the need to base decisions on evidence, be that diachronic (the literary tradition) or synchronic (the wishes of those who use the dialect). Including academics thus ensures that the views of many more native users, living and dead, are taken into account.

It is also uncharitable to say that there are no native speakers on board. Anyone, like Ivan Herbison, who grew up in a Scots-speaking area and was acquent with the traditional literature would have an equivalent — if not superior — level of knowledge. Ulster Scots is not Irish.

Ivan Herbison has of course been a pioneering and learned voice in the study of the variety. And there are others among the ministerial nominations, such as Carol Baraniuk and John Erskine, who are more than qualified to serve.

In fact, were it not for the notion of an academy being so obviously and fundamentally flawed, the Blether Region might be quite pleased. An academy will, after all, weaken Ulster Scots — probably to the point of death — by deliberately and artificially splitting it from its parent dialects. It will also duplicate functions of the Ulster-Scots Agency while at the same time needlessly politicising the dialect by infusing it with the agency's trademark blend of "history, heritage and culture" (none of which, at the risk of stating the obvious, is linguistic).

The Minister's nominations are in fact not all that unreasonable and, more than anything else, support the Blether Region's view that the DCAL portfolio may well change hands after the election. The priority here is not to satisfy Mr. McCausland's various theological and political constituencies but to create a problem for any Nationalist Minister who might be tempted not to press ahead with what is an expensive white elephant.

Ironically, a Nationalist Minister has much more chance of establishing an academy. Unionists doing so would have to face the ire of the most implacable opponents of spending on Ulster Scots: ordinary Unionist voters. A Nationalist would have no such difficulty, since everyone knows that Unionist politicians are the ones agitating in favour. Another attraction is the political linkage between Ulster Scots and Irish that was born in the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement and took on much more clearly defined form at St. Andrews, the reasoning being that a fillip for the former in the shape of an academy will bolster the chances of a language Act for the latter. A fiscally responsible Nationalist Minister would therefore experience something of a dilemma.

The Blether Region suggests tabling a motion in the Assembly and abstaining. If Unionists want an academy, let them put their necks on the line and vote for it — publicly.

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