I came across an edition of the Ulster-Scots Agency magazine ‘Oot An Aboot’ (Out and About) and couldn’t help but feel a sense of disappointment — even embarrassment — at how its new brand of ‘in-your-face’ Ulster-Scots completely misrepresented me and my family background.
I may be an aspirational, middle-class Northern Irish expat now living ‘across the water’ (‘acrass tha wadder’), but my family roots are firmly embedded in the Shankill and Crumlin Roads, and in Ballymoney, Co Antrim.
I am an Ulsterman and an Irishman. My upbringing was largely Protestant-Unionist and my forbears, on both sides, Scottish. My family name is Presbyterian and that is the church I grew up in. I am, by any measure, a proud Ulster-Scot.
However, I regret that my cultural heritage seems to have been hijacked by a small group of overfunded and politically aware (though not so politically astute) propagandists who have felt the need to create a souped-up, flat-packed, pre-fabricated culture when there’s a perfectly good one already in existence. The same gimmick-obsessed clique think that by swapping letters in order to make words look the way they’re said, they’ve somehow created a language.
Well, if I were to write in well-known, light-hearted idiom “the moida occoid in Noo Joisie wer the boyds choip” as I have here, according to the logic of the ‘Ullans Speakers’ Association’, it would make me fluent in New Yorkish — clearly ridiculous.
This linguistic contrivance not only devalues vibrant, complex accents and dialects everywhere, but actually diminishes, rather than enriches, the long and honourable Ulster-Scottish tradition by making a mockery of it.
No one disputes that Ulster-Scots is a rich and dynamic dialect, but to insist that it is a separate, distinct language smacks of desperation.
Ulster-Scots, as sold by the determined, but delusional heritage-peddlers at the Ulster-Scots Agency, is in grave danger of being discredited or, at least, becoming a caricature of itself, and none of us want that.
ROBERT FERGUS ELDER