Sunday, 23 September 2007

Response to Ulster Scots Academy Consultation


The Kingdom of Dalriada Ulster Scots Society was represented at the public meeting regarding the structures and mechanics of the proposed Ulster Scots Academy (Ballymoney Town Hall, Friday evening 21st September 2007) by the Society secretary Gary Blair.

Although we as a group are in favour of the establishment of the Academy, we are apprehensive about some aspects of it. They are as follows:

1. Centralisation of the Academy in Belfast
2. Definitions of Academics and native speakers and subsequent roles.
3. Collation of the language into a standard dictionary of words.

Whilst we understand fully that the government and the business sector is almost always minded to base headquarters in Belfast, we feel that this project should be very different to others. Ulster Scots is not spoken in Belfast but is spoken in the Western, Central and Southern zones, basically Co Donegal, Co Antrim and Co Down respectively. We therefore feel that the headquarters of the Academy should be based in one of these areas. That brings us to the question of which one?

Throughout the history of the islands that now comprise the British family of nations, there has only ever been one Ulster Scots kingdom – the kingdom of Dalriada. Surely that area should be considered as a base for the Academy? Should somewhere in the old Dalriadic kingdom not have the historical right to host such an establishment? Belfast could then be a regional centre for the promotion of the language. We believe that the northern part of County Antrim best reflects Ulster Dalriada thus the Academy should be based there. As well as the historical significance of north Antrim, we have contemporary writers and poets such as Charlie Gillan and Charlie Reynolds whom we regard as Cultural revivalists, ambassadors of the language and who are based in the old kingdom. Why should Belfast have prominence over those who tour the country bringing the language to thousands? The choice of Belfast as the main artery of the Academy will prove to be exceptionally unpopular for historical and contemporary reasons.

There does appear to be a distinction drawn between “academics” and “native speakers” in the consultation paper. Does this imply that one cannot be an academic and a native speaker or vice versa? To many, this smacks of intellectual snobbery and suggests that we who speak the language could not possibly be regarded as academics. This is also reflected in the scales of pay suggested. Whereas the “academics” will be paid handsomely, the native speakers will be paid less than the minimum wage for any work we do. This has not been well received by those who speak the language and are indeed the primary source for any material the Academy might choose to produce. Many believe that we, the speakers, have little value in the eyes of the academics and that the consultation paper reflects this regarding job descriptions and rates of pay. If there does prove to be some kind of institutionalised discrimination between the academics and native speakers and an “us and them” mentality comes to the fore with the speakers being made to feel like the poor cousins, then we envisage problems ahead. The next connotation is that the Academy will be staffed by Academics et al from the greater Belfast area. Although we have a good relationship with the Ulster Scots Agency, staffing there comes mainly from Co Down or Belfast city. We hope that both the Academy and the Agency will bear in mind that we in Co Antrim resisted institutional discrimination from the Education system and other agencies to keep the language alive thus we feel that we should have a significant role to play in the staffing of the Academy.

The collation of the language will be difficult and must be conducted with caution and respect for local variations. How will a word be classified as “Ulster Scots” and who will determine what is not an Ulster Scots word? By what means will this be determined? Can there really be a definitive all-encompassing Ullans language? During my time bringing the language to the children of the nine Ulster counties via the very rewarding Summer Schools organised effectively and efficiently by the Ulster Scots Agency, I had no difficulty persuading and convincing the children that “wame” is Ulster Scots for stomach and “sonsie” is Ulster Scots for pretty but I had a lot of difficulty persuading and convincing myself that this is the case.

Could it be that they are in fact Scots words but not Ullans? Or could it be that these words are used in the Western and/or Southern zones but not in the Central zone. If so, then bringing such words to the people of the Central zone may lead to resistance and subsequent scorn for the idea of a collated single language. I have noticed the DCAL have the following “translation” of the title CULTURE, ARTS AND LEISURE on their notepaper: “Fowkgates, Airts an Aisedom”. I noted the words down and conducted a private survey of native speakers, simply asking them what these words meant. Not one single person could understand ANY of the three words. Out of interest, I asked each person which language they thought it might be and the replies suggested Irish, Welsh or Polish! When I told them it was an Ulster Scots expression, I was laughed to scorn and sent on my way, made to feel foolish and an ignoramus. This, we fear, will be the reception that will greet those who create or transport alien words to the Ullans speaking areas of Ulster.

We conclude by giving a cautious welcome to the establishment of an Academy but, for our part, we feel that the points raised in this paper should be considered as they are weighty matters and we write from the pulse of the most densely populated Ullans speaking zone in Ulster.

Compiled by Gary Blair

On behalf of the Kingdom of Dalriada Ulster Scots Society, Ballymoney

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