Saturday, 5 March 2011

Anither glaikit gowk

In recent weeks two 'journalists' with the Irish Daily Star were geckin at the Ulster-Scots language.  Meanwhile a regular contributor to the Derry Journal (22 February) has also had a go at Ulster-Scots.  This time it was Norman Hamill, who is described in the newspaper as 'a former police inspector in Derry' and who has a column called Hamill's Beat.  Here then is some of 'Norman's nonsense', which might be a better title for the column.
Even without a dictionary you can still speak in Ulster-Scots.  All you have to do is to talk English with the broadest Ballymena or North Antrim accent you can muster. 
Don't worry about making mistakes.  Nobody will notice.  I've been making up cod Ulster-Scots in this column for ages and nobody has notices any mistakes.  In fact making up codology has been good craic.
They don't have anything like Ulster-Scots in Scotland.  That's because it would be considered too embarassing there, even for Scotland.  Of course it's embarassing here too but no matter how severe the cringe-factor, anything is deemed to be worth it to counter the promotion of Irish.
I must confess that I am neither a regular nor an avid reader of the Derry Journal so I have not had the privilege of reading any of Norman Hamill's 'cod Ulster-Scots' but one thing is absolutely certain.  His article is just another example of trash journalism.

It seems that when some columnists have nothing else to write about, and surely if they are half-decent journalists there must be something, they tend to resort to an attack on Ulster-Scots.  They don't worry about the facts because they have no facts.  They just give expression to their abject ignorance and their cultural prejudice.

Clearly Norman Hamill has not read The Hamely Tongue by James Fenton or Dr Philip Robinson's Ulster-Scots Grammar, and he in unaware of academic works such as the Dictionary of the Scots Language.  But then, why would Norman let his abject ignorance stand in the way of earning a few bob?

So perhaps Norman Hamill may find it helpful if I correct him on two points.  Ulster-Scots is not an accent, it is a language and it has been recognised by the United Kingdom government as one of the regional or minority languages of the United Kingdom, along with Irish in Northern Ireland, Scots and Scottish Gaelic in Scotland, Welsh in Wales and Cornish in Cornwall.  It is a West Germanic language and a sister language to English, with its own vocabulary and grammar.  As an example of vocabulary the words glaikit and gowk are Ulster-Scots words.  They are not English words and they are not 'an accent'.  Yes there are words that are common between English and Ulster-Scots, just as is the case with sister languages around the world, but there are many words that are not shared.

As regards Scotland, Norman Hamill said, 'They don't have anything like Ulster-Scots in Scotland.'  Well, Norman, you're wrong again.  In Scotland they have Scots, and in Ulster, we have Ulster-Scots.  It isn't hard to understand, or at least it isn't hard to understand if you have a gleed o wut and know even a little about the subject of minority languages.

Sadly the standard of journalism seems to be declining and there are more and more journalists and columnists who refuse to let total ignorance of a subject stand in the way of them writing about it.

Londonderry has been chosen as the first United Kingdom City of Culture.  I do hope that this drivel in the Derry Journal is not a reflection of the cultural life of the city, I really do.  A city of culture should be an inclusive city that embraces cultural diversity, including the culture of the Ulster-Scots.


  1. Glaikit and Gowk are also used in Scotland. Wright's English Dialect dictionary includes Glaik and forms of Glaikt used in Northumbria, Yorkshire and the North Country. Gowk is also used in Scotland and Wright's English Dialect dictionary includes forms of Gowk for Northumbria, Durham, Cumbria, Westmoreland, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Lincoln, Worcester, Shropshire, Gloucester, Huntingdon, Surrey, Devon and Cornwall. Gleed and wut, usually spelled wit, are also very English words. The claim that 'Ulster-Scots' is a West Germanic language and a sister language to English is somewhat specious if the much of the vocabulary is common between English and 'Ulster-Scots' and that which isn't, is very likely common with 'that other language' Scots, which also has much the same vocabulary in common with English. Surely it is then by definintion either Scots or, as some will argue, Englsh? Is there anything in the linguistic structure of Ulster Scots that justifies considering Ulster Scots a language other than Scots, and if so, what?

  2. Alan - I assume you are the person who has previously posted on this matter.

    First of all do you accept that Scots is a regional or minority language and not a dialect of English? If so why do you accept that and if not, why not? Your answer to that will simplify any subsequent discussion.

  3. Yes, I have posted previously. Pete commenting about a previous post (What an eejit! 3 March 2011) kindly provided a dictionary definition of a dialect: "A regional or social variety of a language distinguished by pronunciation, grammar, or vocabulary, especially a variety of speech differing from the standard literary language or speech pattern of the culture in which it exists". I’m prepared to accept Scots as a regional language with some reservation, Scots does have a literary tradition incorporating established, prestige orthographic conventions. Conventions which were incidentally common to written Scots emanating from both Scotland and Ulster in the 18th and 19th centuries if not later too, so it can certainly be argued that that, along with vocabulary and grammar which is often considered typically Scots, if not always unique to Scots, bestows upon it some of characteristics of what may be considered a language rather than a dialect. However, since Scots is not institutionalised and sociolinguistically heteronomous with respect to (Standard) English, it can be reasonably argued that it functions as a (literary) dialect rather than an autonomous language.

  4. Nelson,

    Caun ye gie iz onie notion ava aboot quan DCAL/Boord o Ulstèr-Scotch/Tha Academie micht be pittin oot tha Ulstèr-Scotch wurdbuik/dictionar an Tha Bible owersettins forbye?
    An quit wey is tha strategie fer Ulstèr-Scotch an Airish Gaelick at noo?


  5. Alan - You say that you are 'prepared to accept Scots as a regional language with some reservation.' You then go on to set out what you see as the cases for and against Scots being recognised as a language. However the United Kingdom government has recognised Scots as a regional or minority language.

    You also refer to a 'dictionary definition' of a dialect. However that definition does not provide definitive criteria for deciding whether a particular 'tongue' is a dialect of another language or a language and indeed there are no definitive criteria. The 'gap' between two recognised but related or 'sister' languages varies from case to case.

    I do not think that a blog is the best vehichle for such a debate but in any case the post was really about the poor standard of journalism in relation to linguistic matters. Norman Hamill went so far as to say that Ulster-Scots was only an accent and did not seem to be aware of Scots.

  6. The project to which you refer, as I understand it, is the production of a spelling and prounciation guid and it is nearing completion. It should be completed in the next few months.

    The only Bible translation work to have been completed so far is the translation of the Gospel of Luke - Guid Wittins frae Docter Luik: The Gospel According to Luke in Ulster-Scots. This was carried out by linguists who have experience of Bible translation and a number of native speakers.

    The 'language strategy' has been near a state of completion for some time but there has not been a satisfactory resolution as ragards culture in schools. The stategy covers the Irish language and Ulster-Scots language and culture.

  7. Ulster-Scots is a form of Scots - thee are several flavours of Scots including `Doric`. It is a recognised minority language by the Britsh, Irish, Northern Irish, Scottish & European parliaments.

    The Scottish government has a dedicated website and has recently released several new policies on Scots.

    Paul Kavanagh has a great article on the language / dialect definition - pointing out that Hindi and Urdu are classed as separate languages yet spoken they are almost identical - written they use two entirely separate alphabets and are unintelligible to each other. That Zhuang Chinese classed as adialect of Chinese is infact no relation at all and is actually a dialect of Thai.

    I would also note that many of the European `languages` are intelligible to each other yet are classed as separate languages and not dialects. The Scandinavian countries, Dutch / German, Spanish / Portuguese

  8. Surely the fact that Wrights `english dialect` dictionary positions the words right at the Scottish / English border reinforces the fact they are Scots words `borrowed`. There is a dinstinct linguistic watershed at the border but it is not hermetically sealed.

  9. Kilsally, you are right in that there are no deinitive criteria to determine a language as opposed to a dialect. The situation is not as imple or clear cut as some people would want it to be.