It was saddening to read the recent letter from Wilson Burgess attacking Ulster-Scots as a dead language, but his assertion that Ulster-Scots is dead is just dead wrong.
Interest in Ulster-Scots is growing all the time, in schools and community groups all over Ulster. At the last census in 2011, more than 140,000 people (about eight per cent of the population) indicated that they could speak, read or write in Ulster-Scots. Just a year later, the Continuous Household Survey found the figure had almost doubled, to 14 per cent of the population.
This is not the sign of a dead language, but rather one which is undergoing a revival.
Wilson accuses the Ulster-Scots Agency of merely paying lip service to the language and taking refuge in safe alternative culture.
There are two important points here. First, the Ulster-Scots Agency’s statutory role is to promote Ulster-Scots language, heritage and culture.
These things are not in competition, they complement and support each other.
Second, far from paying lip service, the Ulster-Scots Agency has been praised for its efforts in respect of the language. In its most recent report, the European Committee of Experts (COMEX) which oversees the development of minority languages across Europe, observed that “the position of Ulster-Scots has improved since the last monitoring round, thanks largely to the work of the Ulster-Scots Agency.”
As part of our effort to promote the language, the Agency has made Burns Night a highlight of Northern Ireland’s cultural calendar (our concert with the Ulster Orchestra filled the Waterfront Hall last year and reached a television audience of 36,000); we are building links with Scotland around Burns (our exhibition on Burns in Ulster was displayed throughout 2015 at the Burns Museum in Dumfries); and our most recent publication, Scotch Town: Ulster-Scots Language and Literature in Belfast, has been extremely well received.
The very fact that Wilson has spent years writing in Ulster-Scots (and has had two books of poetry published and paid for by the Ulster-Scots Agency) shows that the language is not dead. Perhaps it is less a question of carrying food to the grave and more a question of eaten bread is soon forgotten.
Ian Crozier, Chief Executive, Ulster Scots Agency