The Academic Study of Ulster-Scots

Author: Clifford Smyth

Date: 2010

Source: Ullans: The Magazine for Ulster-Scots, Nummer 11 Ware 2010

Clifford Smyth (former Development Officer, USLS)


Anne Smyth, Michael Montgomery and Philip Robinson (eds.), The Academic Study of Ulster-Scots: Essays for and by Robert J. Gregg (National Museums and Galleries of Northern Ireland, 2006), pp. xxv, 293, £30.00

The ‘Gregg Volume’, as this publication is affectionately known, makes a signally important academic contribution to our knowledge and appreciation of the language of the Ulster-Scot.

Funded by Tha Boord o Ulster-Scotch and the Ulster-Scots Academy Implementation Group, this volume sets before the enquirer the entire canon of the late Professor Robert Gregg (1912-1998), together with articles and contributions of both erudition and delight which pay tribute to one who has been described as an ‘Ulsterman to the core’.

Perhaps the most striking feature of this academic study is that the book remains largely unknown outside a pitifully small handful of Ulster-Scots language enthusiasts. Has the ‘Gregg Volume’, like Bob Gregg himself in his early career, or the current status of our Ulster-Scots minority language, simply been marginalised? It would not be timely in this brief review to detail the fate of this remarkable piece of scholastic endeavour since its first publication, save to say that this study is of inestimable value to all those who love the ‘hamely tongue’ or are drawn to research Ulster-Scots as a the living language for themselves.

The second feature that needs to be vigorously underlined is that though this is a masterpiece of linguistic scholarship, the book is readily accessible to the ordinary reader. And that is why it is appropriate to urge on all the readers of Ullans, and the supporters of the Language Society, the joys that are to be found in opening up the pages and delving into the book’s three sections: there is something for everyone to be found within.

Of course, some of the articles by Professor Gregg are highly technical in character and will only appeal to a small coterie of linguistic experts; and, similarly, some of those who have taken the time and trouble to contribute pieces of writing in memory of Bob Gregg have also published material which, frankly, makes its appeal to the expert. Would we expect anything different? Such technical articles are, nevertheless, encountered infrequently and should not impede the ordinary reader in the enjoyment of a study which is unrivalled in its comprehensive treatment of the Ulster-Scots language.

Such is the range of talent mustered by the editors in support of this notable contribution to the advancement of Ulster-Scots that it is with some diffidence that this review identifies individual articles as worthy of special mention. However, this reviewer lacks expertise in Ulster-Scots and in that regard stands in for the ordinary reader. As always, James Fenton has important things to say, and his insights are deeply stimulating. Philip Robinson’s ‘Case for an Ulster-Scots Bible’ seems to carry the stamp of some covenanter prophecy upon it, because the publication Guid Wittins Frae Doctèr Luik is freshly to hand! Professor Michael Montgomery makes a number of invaluable and weighty contributions which include a commentary on the life of Bob Gregg and, in association with John Erskine, provides an ‘Annotated Bibliography of Ulster-Scots Language and Literature’.

This treatise deserves to be widely and deeply read: The Academic Study of Ulster-Scots ought to be in the hands of language enthusiasts everywhere. This is not a forbidding book; nor is it dry. Rather the text brims with the wit and wisdom of a unique people, by turns thran and irrepressible, but never, ever, lost for ‘wurds’!



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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