Even when faced with objective statistics from the census and the views of independent international experts, Wilson Burgess persists with the ridiculous claim that Ulster-Scots is dead.
In a ludicrous twist, he claims never to have met an Ulster-Scots speaker.
This, despite the fact that only a couple of weeks ago, he told the Londonderry Sentinel, “...there’s no question about it, there are little pockets of people speaking Ulster Scots...”
Far more than little pockets, there are people speaking Ulster-Scots all over Ulster. It is true that the use of Ulster-Scots varies between urban and rural areas; and there is a significantly higher level of use among older people: but the use of Ulster-Scots is a fact which cannot be denied. Everyone in Northern Ireland uses Ulster-Scots words all the time. How many of us say aye instead of yes or wee instead of small? Lugs instead of ears or neb instead of nose? How many of us get bumfled up before we go out in case we get a founderin? Put the front door on the snib instead of the latch? Get a skelf in our finger instead of a splinter? How many of us hunker doon and thole it when we are up tae oor oxters in work? Do we enjoy a wee blether or have a drap o tae to take the drooth aff? Have we ever had a quare gunk or heard a crabbit oul crater gulder at a wee skitter o a wean?
All over Ulster, we also see place names which reflect the Ulster-Scots language, even in areas where people might not expect to find them. Words like brae (hill), burn (stream) and loanen (lane) describe physical features; while clabber (mud) and flush (boggy) describe ground conditions.
How many of us are aware of place names in our district which contain these words? Near where I live, there is a White Brae, a Buttermilk Loney and a Glenburn Park. Not too far away, there is Sandyknowes. Knowe is Ulster-Scots for a small hill (radio announcers take note: it is knowe rhymes with cow not knowe rhymes with snow). Recently I passed a new development on the north coast called The Whins (whin is the Ulster-Scots word for gorse) and a few months ago, while driving in South Armagh, I came across Sturgan’s Brae.
Ulster-Scots is all around us. Ask yourself how many of these words or phrases that you know or use: ask your family and friends. Do you believe Ulster-Scots is dead, or are you ready to tick the box and say you can read, write or speak Ulster-Scots? Maybe you don’t know all the words and phrases, or maybe you know different ones. To find out more, a good start would be to get hold of a copy of Scotch Town: Ulster-Scots Language and Literature in Belfast, which is available free of charge from the Ulster-Scots Agency and contains a list of mair than a hunner weel kent Ulster-Scotch words an a clatter mair o guid stuff forbye.
A last word on the subject? Get it intae yer heid – oor leid’s no deid!
Ian Crozier, Chief Executive, Ulster-Scots Agency.