About the Ulster-Scots Academy
For over 20 years the Ulster-Scots Academy has been an integral part of the Ulster-Scots Language Society (established 1992) with the agreed aim of:
“Recording, collecting, conserving, studying, promoting and disseminating written and spoken Ulster-Scots in its cultural and historical contexts, in association with native speakers, and to the highest academic standards”.
At an early stage, five ongoing language development programmes were identified as most critical to the needs of the Ulster-Scots community (see An Academy Established and the Task Begun, by Professor Michael Montgomery). These continue to be prioritised, both by the Academy and the Language Society, with substantial joint progress to date:
- A Tape Recorded Survey of native speakers (the audio record of the spoken language)
- An Electronic Text-base collection of Ulster-Scots writings (the archival and literary record of the written language)
- An Ulster-Scots dictionary programme on historical principles (from text base)
- A Bible Translation Programme
- Spelling and Translation Standards
The Ulster-Scots Academy was formed in the early 1990s within the Ulster-Scots Language Society as a community-based, independent Academy envisaged on the model of the Frisian Academy.
For a brief period it was later (in March 2003) constituted as a “Company Limited by Guarantee” (The Ulster-Scots Academy Ltd.), but since 2006 has reverted to its original status integrated within the Language Society.
Its specific objectives are:
- To be the authoritative community and academic voice on the language, including the setting of standards for spellings and translations
- To maintain stewardship of the resource collection, including a Tape-Recorded Survey of native speakers and Electronic Text-base of Ulster-Scots writings, with the provision of public access to these and other resources
- To deliver an integrated Language Development Programme, including dictionaries and Bible translation
- To encourage writing in Ulster-Scots, and deliver an integrated Education Development Programme, including teaching resources, grammars, anthologies and classes
- To conduct research programmes, inclusive of language, literature, culture and history
About the Ulster-Scots Language
Ulster-Scots is a sister to Lowland Scots, which itself was brought into what is now called Scotland around the beginning of the 7th century A.D. by descendants of the Anglo-Saxons, a Germanic people who had come to Britain from Continental Europe beginning about A.D. 450. Scots and English gradually diverged for the next thousand years, but remain today two very closely related languages in both Scotland and the historical province of Ulster. Scots arrived in Ireland when large numbers of settlers from the Lowlands of Scotland came to the northern half of the Ards Peninsula from 1606, to settle on lands granted to two Ayrshire lairds, Hugh Montgomery and James Hamilton, by King James I (James VI of Scotland). Three years later James launched what came to be known as the ‘Ulster Plantation’, which opened six counties of Ulster to newcomers from Scotland, northern England, and London. Scottish settlers spread out along the coast and inland, so that Scots became the native speech of both Protestant and Catholic inhabitants in a crescent-shaped area from County Down to County Donegal. This pattern as the core area of Ulster-Scots speech was mapped in the 1960s by the pioneering linguist, Professor Robert J Gregg.
The first known instance of the term ‘Ulster Scots’ (to refer to the people) is found in a source dated 8 October 1640 (‘The Life and Original Correspondence of Sir George Radcliffe, Knt.’, cited in James Seaton Reid’s History of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland).
There was much further to-ing and fro-ing between Ulster and Scotland during the 17th century (particularly in the 1680s and 1690s) and thereafter than most people realise today. Even so, for the next three centuries the speech brought across the channel from Scotland gradually took its own character in Ulster, developing through contact with the English spoken by other settlers (evolving into what is now often called ‘Northern Hiberno-English’) and with the Irish language of the indigenous population. Ulster-Scots was the tongue of many who emigrated and helped settle parts of United States in the 18th century, and it remains ‘their ain mither tongue’ for many thousands of Ulster folk today.
In the twentieth century and even today, Ulster-Scots has been heavily stigmatised when used in public, especially in schoolrooms. In the countryside, in the home, and at the hearth it has remained the hamely tongue. The rich vocabulary of earlier days has been eroded by modernising forces, such as pressures to conform and not least through the media. Often it is thought of as a dialect of English, a view Professor Gregg described as ‘ridiculous’, or even as a debased form of English. However, many have been learning to be proud of their linguistic heritage that stretches back four hundred years. In March 2001, the United Kingdom Government ratified the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages — in the case of Ulster-Scots, giving it Stage 2 status. Ulster-Scots was cited in the 1998 Belfast Good Friday Agreement as ‘part of the cultural wealth’ of the island.