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The Daltaí Boards » Archive: 1999-2004 » 2004 (January-March) » Ulster Scots « Previous Next »

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Malachy (203.26.24.218 - 203.26.24.218)
Posted on Tuesday, December 02, 2003 - 07:32 am:   Edit Post Print Post

Please, Please, Please don't read this as sectarian but what are people's thoughts on the Ulster Scots langauge. I am trying to learn Irish and looked at some Ulster Scots to compare. I may be wildly wrong but it seemed to me closer to a pidgin English. I read some aloud in a sort of scots accent and could translate the gist of 3 passages relatively successfully. I do not wish to denigrate anyones culture but are there opinions onto whether Ulster Scots is as much a stand alone language as Irish. Cheers

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Bradford (216.16.15.66 - 216.16.15.66)
Posted on Tuesday, December 02, 2003 - 08:49 am:   Edit Post Print Post

Malachy, I think that depends on who you ask. I myself, having seen and heard a little Ulster Scots, don't think it's anymore a "stand alone" language than Hiberno-English or American English. In other words, in my opinion it's not a standalone language at all. Some others would certainly disagree with my statement, and for some it does have a political aspect.

Jonas, being our resident linguist :), what's your take on Ulster Scots?

- Bradford

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Jonas (213.243.175.7 - 213.243.175.7)
Posted on Tuesday, December 02, 2003 - 10:16 am:   Edit Post Print Post

Bradford, a chara! You flatter me so much that I guess I'll just have to answer. ;-)

To begin with, I would like to contradict the description of Ulster Scots as "pidgin English". Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, if there is one language I Europe I would (jokingly) call a pidgin language it would definitely be the language I'm writing in right now, standard English. English has, with a great sense of parody, been described as:
1. Grammar:
A Germanic grammar that ruined by the French (Normans, after 1066)
2. Pronunciation
French words mispronounced by Germans (the Anglo-Saxons)
Don't take this seriously, of course, but it says something about English. Of all the Germanic languages, all of which have a rather complicated grammar, English grammar is by far the most simplified - the most pidgin if you like. This came about after the Norman invasion, prior to that the grammar of English was almost identical to that of Old Norse and Old German.
The same thing with the vocabulary, a huge amount of French words were brought in but they are now pronounced in a way that would make any Frenchman laugh.

Both these changes, grammar and vocabulary, date from the period after the Norman invasion. At that time two distinct languages, Old English and Norman French were spoken side by side. Out of this mix came the Anglo-Norman language, a sort of pidgin French that died out centuries ago. The other language that came out was English. In other words, the circumstances surrounding the birth of English are almost identical to what we mean when we talk about a pidgin language these days.

Right, that was a bit off-topic, but it is good to keep it in mind when turning to Ulster-Scots.

If we assume that English is a pidgin language, then so is Ulster-Scots and all English dialects. Despite the pidgin-like birth of English I wouldn't call a language that has existed for some 800 years a pidgin, and the same goes for Ulster-Scots (which I will call "Scots" from now on in this post.)

It is a common mistake that Scots has developed out of English and that it is some kind of corrupted English. Both views are wrong. When the different Germanic tribes started occupying Celtic Britain they did not all come from the same place. Not exactly the same at least. They all came from places along the (present-day) Danish and German North Sea coast, but from different places along this coast just as they settled in different places on the opposite coast, that of Britain.

In other words, the English language wasn't brought to Britain now, but a number of Germanic dialects was. These were of course identical to those dialects spoken at that time in Denmark and Northern Germany. In Britain, a number of small, tribal kingdoms arose but over time they were united. As you know, they were not all united at the same time though. The most important dividing line was that between north and south. Fairly soon two Germanic kingdoms existed, England and Scotland (I'm jumping over Mercia and its likes now, sorry for that simplification).

The Germanic dialects that formed the bulk in England developed into a standard language used by the court and the capital, ultimately giving us English. The dialects in Scotland - AND THEY WERE DIFFERENT GERMANIC DIALECTS - in a similar way became Scots.

That is, both English and Scots came about in identical and equally natural (or worthy) circumstances. Still, the difference between these two languages wasn't the big, probably roughly comparable to the difference between American and English English. Then came the invasion...

No, not the Normans, but the Vikings. They (or should I say we? ;-) ) occupied a large part of England as well as Scotland, but the parts in England that they didn't conquer were the most significant ones. This meant that the impact of Old Norse on English wasn't that big, altough you've loaned words such as "they", "window", "law" and others from us. In Scotland the Viking (=Old Norse) influence was much more significant, affecting both pronunciation and grammar as well as vocabulary. This meant that the difference between English and Scots grew wider, with Scots taking on a somewhat Scandinavian look.

And now the Normans. As I wrote above, they had a huge, tremendous, impact on English. But just as Scotland was geographicaly closer to Scandinaiva, so it was further away from France and the French influence was not as heavy in Scotland. Instead the Vikings lingered on for a while.

The picture is now quite clear, here are the important differentiating stages:

1. 400-600AD Different Germanic tribes speaking somewhat differnt dialects conquer Britain
2. 600-850AD English develops out of the southern dialects, Scots out of the northern.
3. 850-1066 Viking occupation having a much more significant impact on Scots.
4. 1066-1250 Norman conquest having a much more significant impact on English.

This means that English and Scots developed in the same way, and to describe one as a pidgin of the other is simply wrong and unhistorical. Then the question of whether English and Scots are different languages or just different dialects. Let me say from the start that I won't give a definite answer.

I can't agree with in placing true Scots in the same folder as Hiberno-English or American English. These two have both developed out of English after the language had underwent all the 4 significant changes I outlined above. They are both different from British English but not in the same fundamental way as true Scots is.

You may notice that I've started talking about "true Scots" above. The reason is that we need to distinguish between Scots and Scottish English. Scots is the language whose development I've described in some detail. Scottish English is English spoken with a Scottish accent and with some different words (usually Gaelic or Scots loans). Scottish English can of course be compared to American English and Hiberno-English, they are all off-springs of Standard English.

These days, far more people have heard Scottish English than Scots. If you have seen Braveheart, then you've heard a lot of Scottish English, English with a Scottish accent, but no Scots. Both in Scotland and Ulster there are more people speaking English with a Scottish accent than there are speakers of true Scots. This does not mean that Scots is dead, far from it, but this distinction is not always clear.

I've now answered two questions:
Q: Is Ulster-Scots a pidgin?
A:NO!

Q: Is Ulster-Scots a dialect like Hiberno-English or American English?
A: No, but Scottish English is.

The final question, whether Scots and English are different languages, is impossible to answer. Clearly they are at least as different as Swedish and Norwegian. They are not as different as some Chinese dialects. The difference is quite close to that of Northern German and Dutch. If Scotland had remained independent then Scots would definitely be considered a separate language today. That is all I can say.

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Jonas (213.243.175.7 - 213.243.175.7)
Posted on Tuesday, December 02, 2003 - 10:32 am:   Edit Post Print Post

A chairde, I apologise for the bad spelling in the text above. I have to admit that it was too long for me to read through again... ;-)

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Bradford (216.16.15.66 - 216.16.15.66)
Posted on Tuesday, December 02, 2003 - 11:22 am:   Edit Post Print Post

Jonas, a chara,

Well, I knew you wouldn't let me down. Great response! Extremely informative.

Le meas,

Bradford

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Tomas OCathain (82.40.32.142 - 82.40.32.142)
Posted on Wednesday, December 24, 2003 - 07:30 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

Hmm...as a Scot myself (nationality-wise that is, 100% Irish origin though), what are your views on Doric Scots? Is this the same as Ulster-Scots, Jonas?

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Daithaí Mac (195.92.67.71 - 195.92.67.71)
Posted on Saturday, January 03, 2004 - 12:29 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

Did Jonas forget that the Scots were the Highland Celts who traditionally spoke Gaelic and therefore should you not call your language old English or something else rather that confusing everbody by calling it Scots.

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OCG (217.155.45.123 - 217.155.45.123)
Posted on Saturday, January 03, 2004 - 05:00 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

It's called Lallans by speakers of it, AFAIK.

Lallans = Lowlands

Lowland Scots.

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Daithaí Mac (195.92.67.208 - 195.92.67.208)
Posted on Saturday, January 03, 2004 - 05:30 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

Go raibh a maith agat a chara. I've have never the term before but it seems alot more appropriate. So the term should be Ulster Lallans instead of Ulster Scots.

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Jonas (213.243.178.22 - 213.243.178.22)
Posted on Saturday, January 10, 2004 - 09:04 am:   Edit Post Print Post

Níl aon dearmhad déanta agam mar gheall ar an dteanga a bhí (agus atá) ag na Gaeil in Albain. Still, I don't think it is particularly confusing to refer to the language as "Scots". I'd be pleased to use "Scots" for Gaelic, but today it is a fact that the term "Scots" is used for the language that this particular discussion is about. Ach má tiocfaidh athrú air seo, beidh mé ana-shásta ar fad téarma eile a úsáid.

Slán go fóill,
Jonas

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