On its website and on official paperwork the Department for Culture, Arts and Leisure carries translations of its name in the Irish Language and in ‘Ulster Scots’. The latter is formulated ‘Mannystrie o Fowkgates, Airts and Aisedon’. I shit you not! Recently a selection of ‘native speakers’ were surveyed as to whether this compendium of guttural sounds actually meant anything comprehensible to them. Not one respondent understood the translation (supposedly into their language). When asked which language was being spoken suggestions ranged from Irish to Polish.
This gem was related on Talk Back today to Ulster Scots devotee (although he claims not to speak the language himself) Nelson McCauseland. In the usual pompous timbre of irritation assumed by DUP representatives whose idiocy has been exposed, Nelson ranted self-righteously about new words being imported into languages, English included, every day. Which might be true, although introducing a handful of new words to cover an ever-expanding range of human experience and scientific endeavour, might be argued to be subtly different from manufacturing an entire language, when few of its ‘speakers’ seem to agree on its status or what words and grammar it is actually composed of.
None other than the Ulster Scots Agency, in a leaked document which the BBC reported yesterday, has condemned plans to create an Ulster Scots Academy as “misconceived, divisive and a potential threat to the future of the language”. The document criticises those behind the project for “wrongly promoting Ulster-Scots as a language distinct from Scots”. Now linguists disagree as to whether Scots itself can be described as a language rather than a dialect of English, but to promote Ulster Scots as a different language again, when it consists merely of the same words spoken with a very marginally different accent …….well the idiocy is obvious. The Agency comes very close to accusing the Academy’s implementation group of fabricating Ulster Scots (as opposed to Scots) in order to make it something separate from the version of the latter traditionally spoken here.
“The implementation group (of the academy) seem to be planning to be concerned with a language separate from Scots, which they are calling Ulster-Scots, though this appears to be something distinct from the language variety traditionally spoken in Ulster.”
Whether there is a language called Scots (not to be confused with Scots Gaelic) which is spoken in Northern Ireland, as a non-linguist I would decline to comment. If it is a language, it is a language which has developed in concert with English and which derives most of its words from the same roots as English, with an additional smattering of words which have survived from Gaelic. But undeniably there is an identifiable culture within Ulster which derives from Scottish roots.
That culture has been rejuvenated in recent years and many people have become much more aware of a distinct cultural tradition, whether it is called Scots Irish or Ulster Scots, which is derived from links between Ireland and Scotland and the movement of peoples between the two. That culture deserves recognition and support, because increasingly there are people who perceive their identity by reference to its components.
However that recognition should be provided in an appropriate way and without recourse to unlikely claims that frankly inspire most people to ridicule. Ulster Scots should not be a vehicle used to extract money for the government, blow by blow with the Irish Language lobby. Certainly money should not be wasted in translating government documents into a language whose very existence in keenly disputed. Of course Irish Language translations of official papers are also nonsense, but two wrongs don’t make a right and just because the tax-payer is funding one group’s madness, doesn’t mean that the other community’s nutcases should be wading in to grab their half of the action.