Thursday, 30 May 2013

Coming to Pass

New, highly local Census figures released this week are reviewed in detail over at Belfast Media. The big story, of course, remains the same: the growth in a relatively younger Catholic population and the decline in a relatively older Protestant one — with religious affiliation still acting as a fairly reliable proxy for political orientation.

What might this mean for Irish and Ulster Scots? Well, growth in the Catholic population will almost certainly mean growth in the number of Irish-speakers. Indeed, even a decline in overt religiosity might not dent it much, since precisely those people of Catholic background who have no time for their erstwhile faith may be inclined to send their children to Gaelscoileanna as another way of expressing their Irishness.

The flip-side of this is that Ulster Scots, with its largely Protestant and therefore ageing population, may be likely to suffer a decline. Yet in the medium term any such decline could easily be halted or reversed by encouraging the quarter to a third of speakers who are Catholic to take pride in the way they talk and by promoting the dialect in a way that native users do not find offensive (in which context the spelling consultation that closed last week will be key).

It's probably not going too far to say that the future of Ulster Scots will be decided in this generation.

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