The Ulster Scots language is a unique element of the cultural heritage of Northern Ireland. It has been accorded minority language status by the European Community and is regarded as being west Germanic (Saxon) in its origin, thus having similar origins to English.

In Ulster the language is known as Ullans and in Scotland it is known as Lallans. From the latter 1500s settlers into East Ulster from Scotland brought their Lallans language with them. A considerable number of documents, some from the local area in the early 1600s, help to highlight this.

In the 1630s Isobel Haldane of Redhall, Ballycarry, wrote:

“Ye will wrestle with it, ye say, giff I will…” (The word giff, or gif, being Ullans for If) However, Ulster Scots came to be viewed as a rude language of the uneducated and this led to a decline.

This was because, from about 1650 onwards, Ulster Scots written forms were generally discarded in favour of English. The language, as a consequence, survived until the latter 18th and early 19th century in oral form only.

But there were revivals, when the language was written as during the period of the Ulster Weaver poets such as Orr, Campbell, Beggs, Thomson and others… In his poem The Irish Cottier’s Death and Burial, James Orr noted how country people tried to speak on a level with the minister (who was better educated than they were):

While wi’ hope he soothes the suff’rers heart
An’ gies a cheap, safe recipe, they try
To quat braid Scotch, a task that foils their art;
For while they join his converse, vain though shy,
They monie a lang learn’d word misca’ an’ misapply

Today, Ulster Scots, despite having been in decline for generations and centuries, has adapted and continues to survive. The following words are typical Ulster Scots words:

Wheen (unquantifiable number: a wheen o’ folk)
Doun (down)
Fizog (face: his fizog was a picture)
Dinnae (do not: Dinnae gang doun tae tha toun)
Quair (good: it’s a quair day tha day)
Yin (one: yin plus yin is twa)
Thonner (over there: there’s a castle on thonner hill)