Preface .... and warning - Guid Wittins frae Doctèr Luik

Source: Guid Wittins frae Doctèr Luik (The Gospel of Luke in Ulster-Scots)

Publisher: Ullans Press

Date: 2009

The book you are holding invites you to read a story that is old and likely familiar, one that includes events of the first Christmas, with shepherds, three wise men, and a baby named Jesus. You probably know something about how this story turns out as well as how it starts. But the form of the words in this version will make it very different from any other you have read before, and this will make it very special and give you some surprises, but only if you will follow a very simple rule.

Though Bible scholars continue to debate many points, they agree about much regarding the four gospels of the New Testament. One is that the Gospel of Luke is addressed to the widest audience of the four, an audience far beyond the Jewish people. It is the only gospel having an addressee, “most excellent Theophilus.” However, no plausible candidate for such an individual has ever been identified, leading to the view that Luke used a symbolic name for anyone (or everyone) who in the Greek language would be a “lover of God” or “friend of God.”

Another point of agreement is that, like most texts of the day, all four gospels existed in oral versions at least a generation before they were written down. Written documents were scarce in the first century, and relatively few people could read, so it was quite customary to memorize texts, even long ones, from hearing them. Most documents that did exist were expected to be read out, usually in a public place. These included letters, such as those by the apostles Paul and Peter. Though usually addressed to a particular church, they were copied and recopied, carried away, kept for frequent reference, and read out when a need arose.

For a long time few people read the New Testament Scriptures for themselves, and not until the 1500s did this begin to change in Europe. Ears and memories could serve and had served very well if they were attentive. The printing press and rapidly growing Protestantism replaced Latin translations with ones from Greek, as believers were keen to hear the Bible in their native language, though this was often resisted by church authorities. However, the attempt to suppress William Tyndale's 1525 translation, the most influential one before the Authorised Version of 1611, met with little success. For centuries thereafter oral comprehension was stressed, and many church-goers were expected to rise to their feet in respect and attention as the Scripture was read to the congregation. For example, Presbyterian churches centred their services around the “hearing of the Word,” long sermons that interpreted and reinforced Scripture.

In the twenty-first century we normally read silently to ourselves, rarely following the age-old practice of using our ears to guide us. The present version of the Gospel of Luke is in Ulster-Scots, which was brought to Ireland from Scotland four centuries ago and spoken for generations in the Ulster countryside. It has always been, and it remains, spoken far more often than written, a language of the heart and of the ear. Though poets have written many things in Ulster-Scots and have used different spellings to capture its sounds, their work really comes alive when read aloud, as in the work of the well-known contemporary poet James Fenton.

The very same thing will be true for what you are now holding. Your ears will be much more familiar with Ulster-Scots than will your eyes. Back in 2006 small teams of people in County Down and County Antrim who spoke Ulster-Scots began meeting, with the help of professional translators, to put portions of the Bible into their native tongue. They know that no method for writing Ulster-Scots will ever be perfect or ever lack improvement, but after listening and working for several years on this and the other Gospels, their ears are ready to share their results with you and seek your reactions. A page is provided at the end of the book for this purpose. It is not a final translation, but the translators are confident that it will open the Gospel of Luke to you in a fresh way.

But be WARNED: you need to read this book aloud! Whether you read it for yourself, or read it for others, its story will come alive only if you follow one simple rule: listen to it!

Michael Montgomery

Professor Emeritus of English

University of South Carolina at Colombia

President, Ulster-Scots Language Society


The Ulster-Scots Academy has been an integral part of the Ulster-Scots Language Society since 1993. The name "Ulster-Scots Academy" is registered to the USLS with the Intellectual Property Office.

Ulster Scots Academy


A new edition of Michael Montgomery’s From Ulster to America: The Scotch-Irish Heritage of American English recounts the lasting impact that at least 150,000 settlers from Ulster in the 18th century made on the development of the English language of the United States. This new edition published by the Ulster-Scots Language Society documents over 500 ‘shared’ vocabulary items which are authenticated by quotations from both sides of the Atlantic. A searchable online version of this dictionary is now also available here.


The Ulster-Scots Academy is currently working on the digitisation of Dr Philip Robinson's seminal Ulster-Scots Grammar and the English/Ulster-Scots part (with circa 10,000 entries) of a two-way historical dictionary of Ulster-Scots. These projects are planned to be completed and available on the site in 2016.



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This site is being developed by the Ulster-Scots Language Society (Charity No. XN89678) without external financial assistance. USLS volunteers have been involved in preserving and promoting Ulster-Scots for more than 20 years. All donations, however small, will be most gratefully received and contribute towards the expansion of the project. Thank you!

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