The influence of the Ulster Scots on our dialect.

We often wonder what influences accents or dialects all over the country and indeed the rest of the English speaking world. Why are the accents and vocabulary of two communities which are only a few miles apart, distinctly different in so many cases? In order to get a handle on this phenomenon we need to take some factors into consideration. Firstly, the physical layout of the countryside tended to be a reason for the accents of two neighbouring communities to differ. In days gone bye when travel was slow and only done of necessity, the people of two communities would have little contact with each other and would therefore be little affected by their accents. If we take the accent of the people of Dungiven, for example, we find that it is noticeably different from that of Draperstown across the mountain and only 12 miles away. This would tend to suggest that the physical landscape has an effect on our accents in that the mountains would have hindered travel and social interaction in days gone bye. Of course that situation has vastly changed nowadays but the accents will remain in both areas. Trade was another factor in the development of accents. We can see evidence of this in the Glens of Antrim, for example, where the accents have a strong Scottish influence due to the amount of trading and social interaction which took place over the centuries past. The Irish language also was a factor in the formation of accents and dialects. Irish is a broad sounding language and so this still comes out in our spoken English. Furthermore, we still use words which originate in the Irish language and form part of our distinctive dialects.

The same influences are present when it comes to the differing dialects and vocabularies of neighbouring communities. The reasons for these differences are the same as those which affect the various dialects throughout the land.

Finally, we need to look at the history of our districts, in order to find reasons for the differences mentioned above. In the Sixtowns area, up until the mid 19th century, the spoken language of the local people was largely Irish. As well as that, there was a sizeable Ulster Scots community in the area who had been living there since the second half of the 18th century. The spoken language of the Scottish settlers at first would have been Scots Gallic but then these people would have adopted English as the language of daily use. However, the English which they would have used would have had a strong Ulster Scots influence to it. The local Irish would have been encouraged to learn and use English as their main language from the early 19th century onwards especially in the school. Some of these people have learned English from the Ulster Scots at that time and this would end up with having a marked affect on their dialect and the words which are still used today. The end result was that the English which we speak locally here in the Sixtowns, is heavily influenced by the people from whom we may have learned it nearly 200 years ago. There is a tendency to abbreviate words in our dialect. Sometimes we pronounce words as if we are either lazy or that we have a kind of contempt for proper English since it was not our native tongue. This may have been the case with the Ulster Scots as their native tongue had been Scots Gallic originally. We tend to cut short many of the pronunciations of many of our words. E.g. `comin` for coming, ` wi` for with,` aye` for always, `oul` for old or `the morrah` for tomorrow, to list just a few. We say `karr` for car, `derrah` for draw, Sterrah for Straw, which comes as a result of the use of broad sounds from the Irish language. That same broad sounding of letters would originate from the Scots Gallic as well and help explain their use in Ulster Scots dialect. The use of abbreviated forms of words in our dialect tends to make us come across as speaking very fast, to the outsider. When we listen to people from areas which are not affected by the Ulster Scots, speaking, we realise just how much of our words we tend to abbreviate in our dialect here in the Sixtowns.

Here are some of the words which we use in our local dialect and some which have sadly ceased to be used in our daily speech:

WORD(s)                         HOW WE SAY IT                       EXAMPLE

Of                                     a                                         late a getting here

Be                               bay                                          bay   quate

Cold                           cowl                                           cowl today

With                             wi                                           working wi cement

Beyond                     beyont                                    over beyont the window there

Facing                     fornenst                                     the wall fornenst you

Must have             beeta                                   he beeta walk home

Door                        dour

floor                     flure

Boards                   boords

Thirst                     drooth                                     the drooth was killing me

Gable                     gavel                                     the gavel wall

Hoke                       dig  

Today                   tha day

Tomorrow             tha morra                                    

Lane                     loanin    

Quit                     quett                                          quettin time

Quiet                   quate                                         a quate wee cow

Spink                   spink                                         walking down a steep spink

Contrary               thran                                      a thran sort of man

A few                     a wheen                                   a wheen a men

Old                         oul

Water                       wather    

Fair                           quare                  

Stack                         steck

Bowl                           boul

Clean                           klane

Ditch                           sheugh

Door                           dure

Flat                             flet

Swim                         sweem

One                           wan


We can see from the above examples that there is a tendency to pronounce “oo” sounds as “uu”, (flure), the “I” sounds as “ee” (sweem), the “o” sound as “a” (wan) and the “a” sound as “e” (flet).

There can often be confusion over whether a certain word is of Ulster Scots origin or whether it comes from the Irish. It does not really matter as people just keep on using this array of words and their pronunciations, in their everyday language and it remains as part of our rich dialect in the Sixtowns.