Sunday, 30 September 2012

A Waant o Fushion: Part Three

Continuing the criticism of the "Ulster-Scots" version of material concerning the Help Scheme for the digital switchover (available on request from

Waant o fushion

In traditional literature this expression covers a broad range of disabilities and health problems, including mental health problems, as well as perceived failings of morality or "manliness". Its meaning here is unclear and its use potentially offensive.

Waant or hobble adae wi lear

Potentially offensive.


The vowel in wark is applicable only to the noun. The correct form for the verb is wirkin.

Whut the' cry ye

Surely the formal Scots term would simply be name.

Wud ye ivver tak tent

In Ulster wud ye ivver is generally used in an imperative sense (either in anger or light-heartedly) and never as a generalised formal equivalent of "please".

Yin enn's erran

It looks here like ance eerant has been conflated with end's errand. This is unsurprising in a dialect where there is no taught written form to ensure that people are aware of what it is. However, one would expect the experts doing a translation to know.


The obvious points to make here are that a) not one of them is used in this way in traditional Ulster-Scots literature and b) their employment in the text is in many cases inconsistent, e.g. lettèr but lamiter, despite the fact that both words would have an environmentally conditioned interdental realisation of t.

With ï, on the one hand we have bïg, bïts, fïll, fït, ïll, kïngrick, pïck, quïck, thïng and tïcket, and on the other birl, blinn, gin, inpit, pit, til, and yin. The latter are not recognisable from a Standard English perspective, and it appears that ï is being employed only to differentiate the first group from it, despite the fact that the same vowel occurs in all the above words.

There is also the ubiquitous dïgital, which in broad Scots would have the same vowel as in leeshins, leevin and ableeged (obleeged).

Although a centralised realisation of /ɪ/ also occurs in Ulster before voiceless sounds or clusters containing them, the ï seems not to represent that, since it is also used where the centralised /ɪ/ does not occur or not used where it does.

Eye dialect

Boax, cums, naem, phóane, poakit, recoardèr and soart, but month rather than *munth.

There is also respelling of unstressed forms to produce words such as fur, ir, cud and shud.


Fyn should be fin(d).

Run-together words


Spelling inconsistency

Auld, braws, faut, haud, maun, thrawin, and whaur, but aa, caa, faa, laas, and taak.

Heid but deef.

Pey but gye and wye.

Waantin and waatch, but flatch, hantit, and hantle.

Wittins but swutches, wull (also will), wurd, wutless, but wïllfu. The vowel after w (and wh) in all those words is the same. Wittins is not recognisable from a Standard English perspective, so i remains. In the others it is changed to u to differentiate the word from Standard English.

The vowel in taxt is the same as in feck and recks, but text is the same as Standard English, so it is respelt taxt to differentiate it.

Bakkin and leukkin, but beck.

The letters e and ai take the place of the usual a in the words beck and faix to differentiate them from Standard English, despite the fact that the vowel is the same as in bakkin, which is spelt with kk to differentiate the word from the recognisably Standard English backin(g).

Throch but throu.

A Waant o Fushion: Part Two

Continuing the criticism of the "Ulster-Scots" version of material concerning the Help Scheme for the digital switchover (available on request from


Can this really mean 'e-mail'? As the initial vowel of electronic (unlike that of electric) is stressed, it is implausible to suggest that it would be dropped in the same manner.

Norlin Airlan Männystrie o Resydentèr Oncum

As "Kintrie-pairt poust an resydentèr tent trust" above. For many years now Northern Ireland has had Departments rather than Ministries. The correct English title is "Department for Social Development" rather than "of".


This is here being used in the sense of German auswählen, but it is more properly used in the sense of German aussortieren, the exact opposite.


In traditional Scots the digraph ui is used for a vowel known as "vowel 7" in the scheme developed by the late Prof. Jack Aitken, which is realised in various ways depending on dialect. In many but by no means all cases, vowel 7 corresponds to oo in Standard English. However, that vowel does not occur in this word, and one must conclude that the translator understands the ui digraph to be a spelling variant of English oo.

Satellite roon

This is not a plausible translation of "satellite dish". If one absolutely needed a native word, one could use ashet, though in my view even that would be ridiculous.


I acknowledge that some writers use this as a generalised equivalent of English write, but many others understand it to mean 'scratch' or 'scribble'.

Seekness o tha harns

Literally this means 'sickness of the brains'. Its use here is potentially offensive.


I know that television presenters sometimes talk about what is "on the other side" (in fact usually BBC presenters referring to ITV, which was for a long time the only independent TV broadcaster). I do not believe that the word could be used as a generalised equivalent of channel. One would have expected chainel.


This word would suggest to me someone talking snappily (i.e. either quickly or harshly) rather than clearly, which is presumably the intended meaning.


I can find no definition in the dictionary that makes sense in this context. The word can refer to a span or stride, and it is possible that the translator has understood it as a generalised term for "step" or for whatever reason decided to relexify it as such. It is unlikely to be immediately comprehensible to a native speaker.


Usually this means 'ask' in the sense of 'enquire'. I acknowledge that there are a few instances in the Dictionary of the Scots Language recording its use to mean 'request', but that usage is nevertheless rejected by most writers.

Tentin or indwallin hame

This is not a plausible translation of "care or residential home". An indwaller can be a resident, but tae indwall is to inhabit or occupy.


Outside Insular Scots, the respelling of the definite article in this manner was virtually unknown before the 1990s.

This wittins

It is not clear whether this has been used in error for "thir wittins" or reflects the influence of the Irish language, which does not have separate words for "this" and "these".

Tyne yer wittins

One assumes that the translator's intention here is to extend the meaning of the verb tyne on the basis of really rather rare usages. Almost all native speakers would take the phrase to mean "lose your information" rather than "destroy" it.

A Waant o Fushion: Part One

The Blether Region recently came into possession of the "Ulster-Scots" version of some publicity material concerning the Help Scheme for the digital switchover (apparently sourced from Eclipse Translations of Alnwick, Northumbria and available on request from

The following should be regarded as constructive criticism.


One assumes that this is here being used to mean 'features'. Native speakers would be more likely to interpret it as 'fine things'.


Clag or cleg can be rather an earthy word (both in its field of application and metaphorically). In my view it is not suitable for use in the sense of a label stuck to something.


This is presumably Claught Kïngrick, which is not an adequate translation of "United Kingdom". The verb cleek, of which claucht or cleikit and claught are generally the respective Scots and Northern English simple past forms, has various meanings based on the notion of 'hook', many of them negative (e.g. 'grasp', 'deceive' and 'ensnare in marriage', all of which could suggest antipathy towards Unionists), and none used in traditional literature to refer to a political union. The meaning 'confederal', i.e. referring to a connection short of union, might be slightly more plausible.

Daen time

I assume that this refers to having a criminal record. However, one can have a criminal record without having "done time", i.e. gone to prison. It in any case seems too colloquial for a formal text.

Doon's Syndrome, Guidmans, Side 4, Smairt Taak, Swutchowre Hize Ploy

These have been translated despite being proper names; would it really be possible to make out a cheque or send a letter to "Swutchowre Hize Ploy"? Even if one has no knowledge of Ulster Scots, such naivety should alert one to possible issues with the quality of the translation.

Eildit an lamiter crettèrs

Potentially offensive.

Fair faa ye

This is a blessing and is not a general equivalent of English welcome. The traditional word is walcome.


The word factor properly refers to an agent acting on behalf of a laird or appointed by a court. Its meaning here is considerably extended.


Using this word to refer to a TV screen is rather bold.


Flicker is not a Scots word but a slang English one and too colloquial to be used for "remote control" in a formal text.

Gie it a birl

This expression ('give it a shot') is too colloquial to be used in a formal text.

Gin ye hae gat tha jile

This is too colloquial to be used for "been to prison" in a formal text.

Hamelt analogue sïgnal

One assumes that hamelt is here being used to mean 'existing' or 'conventional'. It more properly means 'domestic' or 'native'.


Properly this means 'to ratify' or 'to confirm formally something already done' (literally, 'to say the same word'). I am not sure that it could be used to mean 'confirm' or 'approve' in any more general sense.

Kintrie-pairt poust an resydentèr tent trust

This is not a plausible translation of "local health and social care trust". Kintrie-pairt is a new conflation, albeit a reasonably transparent one. Poust means 'energy' or 'drive' rather than 'health', for which the usual Scots word is halth. A resydentèr is a 'resident', and its use to mean 'social' seems difficult to justify.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Crouns for Covenants

The Blether Region very much enjoyed William Crawley's documentary on the Ulster Covenant yesterday evening — enjoyed, that is, until the final credits, when it was revealed that the Ulster-Scots Broadcast Fund had stumped up the siller for it.

Let's be clear: dipping into an ostensibly Ulster-Scots fund for a programme on history and politics is plain gyte. It diverts money that could be spent on Scots away from it and saddles the language with unnecessary (and at a community level, obviously incorrect) stereotypes. Even the effect presumably intended, that of packing the schedule with programmes of interest mainly to Protestants, may be considerably blunted by the requirement that the BBC demonstrate impartiality — that is, a "Protestant" programme may have to be counterbalanced by a "Catholic" one.

As we know, the equivalent "Catholic" broadcast fund sensibly covers language only. Cultural nationalists get their Irish programmes from that, while political nationalists get their programmes by default by piggybacking on the Ulster-Scots ones. The real effect of the Ulster-Scots fund is therefore one of subsidising the BBC — which sends the lion's share of the money raised through licence fees in Northern Ireland straight to London — while Scots the speech variety remains marginalised.

The Ulster-Scots Broadcast Fund — which, unlike many another daft Ulster-Scots "ploy" of recent years, does not manage to squeeze in the word "language" (odd, that) — will have many dedicated and talented administrators working for it. Ultimately, however, those individuals are hobbled by the perpetual relegation of language to minor status through its conflation with politics.

The programme was interesting, and it is important that such material be broadcast, since it is of obvious relevance today. Indeed, tomorrow's Covenant march is certain to be in the news — perhaps, though we hope not, for all the wrong reasons.

At the end of the day, though, it was a programme about the Unionist community, a community created during the course of the nineteenth century through an ethnic merger that virtually ended literary endeavour in the Ulster dialect of Scots.

Far from being synonyms, a cool-headed look at history may show that "Orange" and "Ulster-Scots" are opposites.

If You Want It

The BBC reports on rising demand for Irish-language classes in East Belfast.

More power to their elbow.

It is high time we all (including the BBC) recognised that an interest in Irish does not of itself render a Unionist less Unionist or turn Bible-reading Protestants into apostates. Indeed, speakers of Scottish Gaelic, a closely related language, would barely recognise the stereotype.

As for arguments about the "politicisation" of Irish, well, it should be obvious to all that cultural nationalism is not an offshoot of political nationalism — not something entered into to rile the political "other". Rather, the two have a common origin: the existence of historical diversity.

Now is the time to create in Northern Ireland, as already exists in Scotland, a pluralist society where language and religion need say nothing about politics.

Let's hope the coming years see more Catholic Unionists and Protestant Nationalists — and above all more Gaeilgeoirí.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Illiberal Interventions

The BBC reports that Dr. David Hume, Orange Order Director of Services, has demanded that "Ulster Scots" be given a vote on whether Scotland becomes independent.

One cannot help thinking that the intervention by Dr. Hume, who also sits on the board of the embryonic Ulster-Scots Academy, is ill-judged, having its basis in part, perhaps, in a false image of Scotland extrapolated from his limited experience of the kind of people encountered at west-of-Scotland Orange Order events such as the one at which he was quoted.

As everyone knows, sectarianism in Scotland, while a serious problem, is not of the structural kind encountered in Northern Ireland — that is, unlike in Northern Ireland, if one is not sectarian-minded, one is not forced to make decisions about politics, residence, education, home decor, music, the names of one's children, or, indeed, what minority languages one supports that are liable to be interpreted as sectarian statements. The truth is that ower the Sheuch the Orange Order lacks the kind of rural and middle-class element to its membership that in Northern Ireland keeps it from an out-and-out association with the urban poor (though that may come yet). Far from being a national issue, green and orange in Scotland is, by and large, a tawdry, often inebriate affair of the footballing underclass in the west. It is largely meaningless with regards to Scotland's constitutional status — historiographical interpretations notwithstanding, there must surely be few people in Scotland today who believe that the present-day Union is founded on Protestantism. As a friend of the Blether Region once said, "Scots I know tend to view the Orange Order as something that holds up the traffic.".

They will no doubt also identify as bogus any specious equation of "Orange" and "Ulster-Scots".

Of course, sectarianism is still very real to those experiencing it, though they may on occasion, like Dr. Hume, project that experience onto parts of Scotland for whom it is a whopping irrelevance. The Blether Region once heard tell of a feted sociolectal poet from the west of Scotland reduced to saying "Do you know who I am?" when offered the opinion at a reading that the sectarianism apparently so grim in the west might not figure too highly outside it.

One cannot help but think that interventions from Northern Ireland — such as Lord Kilclooney's call for Scotland to be partitioned or Peter Robinson's well-rehearsed plea to Alex Salmond — may, from a Unionist perspective, do more harm than good. Certainly Dr. Hume's blatantly undemocratic call (he wants votes for "Ulster Scots", not "Northern Ireland residents", after all) will do much to recall his tribe's association with gerrymandering.

Once upon a time the SNP drew its support mainly from Protestants whose previous unswerving loyalty to the Conservative Party had, for understandable reasons, broken down. A key constituency that it must capture to win the independence referendum is Catholic Labour voters in the west of Scotland, a constituency among which, at the last Scottish Parliament elections, it began to enjoy considerable success.

In that context, SNP strategists may be hoping for more such illiberal interventions.

Monday, 24 September 2012

The Fringes of Unionism

This week's Gaelscéal has an interesting article about current DSD and former DCAL Minister Nelson McCausland, at the moment the subject of a — purely symbolic — censure motion in the Assembly over his failure to condemn misbehaviour by the Loyal Orders outside a Catholic church. The Blether Region has translated a few passages into English:

"It is recognised that McCausland is a capable person. He is an Oxford graduate. He is connected with the fringes of Unionism. He is strongly against Irish. Last year he said on the BBC that '20 people use the Irish language'. He is a creationist who was once a science teacher. He spent 10 years as Northern Secretary of the Lord's Day Observance Society.

He is a British Israelite. He believes that the people of Britain are a lost tribe of Israel. Indeed, he has been on his religious and political wanderings himself. He attends the Congregational Church every Sunday morning. In the evening, he plays the organ at an Independent Methodist Church.

His political life began in the UUUP (United Ulster Unionist Party), which split from Vanguard in the 80s. The UUUP fell apart. A lack of energy, rather than disagreement, was the cause. He stood as an Independent Unionist on a couple of occasions.

For a time he was in the Ulster Independence Committee, which advocated independence for the North. Then he joined the UUP but later left and registered with the DUP in 2001.

It is widely held that he is a Minister to prevent him gathering dissident Unionists around him. He is respected in the DUP, but does not have the loyalty of party members."

Of course, Gaelscéal is entirely correct in acknowledging that Nelson McCausland is a clever cookie, as well as a fearless — one is tempted to say "brass-necked" — defender of his faith-based beliefs, whether on creationism or Ulster Scots (the latter arguably even more tendentious than the former). However, Mr. McCausland is much more circumspect when it comes to British Israelism, a notion that many evangelical Christians would find seriously heretical and that could lose him votes. Nevertheless, Gaelscéal joins the Guardian, Wikipedia, and the BBC blogs of Mark Devenport and William Crawley in identifying Mr. McCausland as a current or former British Israelite.

BI is also a notion that, while not in itself racist, forms obvious parallels with racist doctrine, in furtherance of which it could easily be utilised. The British-Israel World Federation, for example, states that the British are "God's Servant People as defined in the Bible, irrespective of world Jewry, among whom we find only a residue of today's Israel folk." — i.e., for the BIWF, Jews are, by and large, mere pretenders to the special status rightfully held by the British family of nations.

Speaking of his association with leading Unionist politicians, the late Loyalist leader David Ervine once boasted that he "could tell you the colour of their wallpaper". Of course, Unionists' links with paramilitaries were never nearly as strong as those of their Republican counterparts, who were, in many cases, the self-same individuals. Unionists, after all, had the security forces to defend them and were sworn to uphold the constitution. Nevertheless, it is a matter of historical record that such contacts took place, usually at times of heightened tension or threat.

The highly charged milieu in which Mr. McCausland once moved also had its extremists. The Ulster Independence Movement (UIM) included David Kerr — a former National Front politician and, as far as the Blether Region can make out, one-time member of Ireland's Heritage LOL 1303, a private lodge formed by William McGrath, the British Israelite leader of paramilitary group TARA. Sammy McClure, a McGrath-type figure, is memorably portrayed in the film of Eoin McNamee's novel Resurrection Man strutting around in an SS uniform; McNamee's later novel The Ultras features McGrath as a character. Other UIM members included pastors Kenny McClinton and Clifford Peeples, both jailed for terrorist offences, and Willie Frazer, later of FAIR, who was refused the right to hold a personal protection weapon because of alleged links to Loyalists. Mr. Frazer's murdered father was rumoured to have been in the UVF, while the young Willie was a childhood friend of Billy Wright, later born-again leader of the LVF, and linked with British Israelism on the Internet.

It could be argued that, while the leaders of the UUP and DUP joined forces with paramilitaries (and each other) at times of crisis, the latter sorts' knowledge of Mr. McCausland's wallpaper may have been rather more long-term, obtaining over a number of years and, perhaps, more than one visit to B&Q.

If, as Gaelscéal plausibly claims, Mr. McCausland owes his place on the Executive to being at the very farthest extreme of Unionist acceptability, then he clearly has a fine line to tread.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Summit Rotten in the State of Andytown

The Blether Region was in the commercial wonderland of West Belfast at the weekend, where, having performed an important errand likely to guarantee harmony in the Blether household for literally years to come, it duly found itself waiting on the bus home. Like many of the Metro vehicles plying their way through the area, the information on the bus shelter (on the Andersonstown Road) was bilingual — only in this case the two languages were English and gibberish. Yes, the Blether Region was invited to "barr suas" its bus pass.

The author of this blog, a linguistic pedant of many years' standing, has often been heard to express disapproval at mobile phone companies hyphenating the phrasal verb "top up" (a practice that should properly be applied only to the equivalent noun). This time, however, the reflexive reaction was to glance over at the English, without which the "Irish" would have been simply unintelligible. Barr is most commonly used as a noun but when used as a verb means "to surpass". The correct term for "top up", according to, is breisiú. The remainder of the Irish suggested neither Galway butter nor Dublin margarine but injudicious use of Google Translate. As those working for Foras na Gaeilge are likely to remain ignorant of this scandal as they glide by the bus stops in their 2-litre cars, the Blether Region felt duty-bound to make it known to them.

To point out that native users of Ulster Scots invariably understand the English originals of documents better than the translations (which, depending on the translator, they may not understand at all) is a rather obvious criticism to make. However, when Irish translations are as bad as this, such criticism can become something of a double-edged sword.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Pointing the Way

A report into bilingual road signs in the Highlands has concluded that they pose no risk to driver safety:

"Analysis of accident data in Scotland [found] no evidence that accidents increased or decreased as a result of bilingual sign installation."

Bilingual signs have been around in the Republic of Ireland for decades, and some may wonder why the study was even commissioned. All the same, the Highland signs, as a relevant UK analogue, may be relevant to consideration of the question in Northern Ireland.

Those familiar with the Goidelic languages will know that owing to phonological developments and a twentieth-century spelling reform in Ireland, Scottish Gaelic names, although similar to their Irish cognates, are usually longer — meaning that, if Scottish Gaelic is safe to have on signs, Irish may be even safer.