Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Minding Our Language

Over the past two weekends Blether Region has been watching Tim McGarry's latest Ulster-Scots documentary mini-series, Minding Our Language. Overall he made a pretty fair fist of it, although, as always with such things, one wishes one had been present in the editing suite to comment on one or two matters, the notion that Ulster Scots is legally a language because the non-justiciable European Charter says so (or doesn't say so, as the case may be) being a case in point.

And was the word wheesht really borrowed from Irish, or was it, like crack, already part of the language at the time of the Plantation? Indeed — again, as with crack — a more fundamental question is whether it is a Goidelic word at all. The fact that it appears in Wycliffe's Bible suggests a variant of "hush", a borrowing into, rather than from, Gaelic. Wycliffe was a Yorkshireman by birth, making a Northumbrian origin likely.

One contributor to the programme memorably described the perplexity of a native Scots-speaker when sent trilingual Single Farm Payment literature. The letter can be found here.

The Irish version is bureaucratic, dry, difficult — and correct. Alas, the same cannot be said for the "Ulster Scots". Those able to understand it with any facility must surely be limited to the wee small circle of USLS luminaries who contributed to the translation.
It recks gyely ’at ye dinnae jalouse ’at ye shud pit in fur tha MEA fur ilka fiel. Tha MEA wad be whut we hae wechtit as tha bouns o yer fiels ’at’s shuitin; ye may see is thar onie ither airts ’at’s no shuitin ’at we haenae jubed oan. Gin ye pit in fur thae airts ‘at’s no shuitin, an we fyn thaim whan we’re leukkin roon, yer hansel wull aply be hinnèrt an, lippenin til tha ootcum o oor spierin, yer ownin wull be laiched an ye micht cud be skaithed.
Indeed, there has traditionally been a good deal of "shuitin" in the countryside — mainly at crows.

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