Ulster-Scots can’t be equated to Irish language: DUP founder

Wallace Thompson was a founder members of the DUP
Wallace Thompson was a founder members of the DUP

Ulster-Scots is not a language and should not be equated with the Irish language, a founder of the DUP has said.

Wallace Thompson, who was born and bred in Ballymoney, the Ulster-Scots heartland of north Antrim, described it as a “hamely tongue, but not a language”.

Making the remarks on social media, Mr Thompson, who is firmly on the traditionalist wing of the DUP, acknowledged that his views would come as a surprise to some observers.

He posted on Facebook on Wednesday: “I was born and reared in north Antrim and I’ll probably be accused of heresy, but to me Ulster-Scots is not a language. It’s a dialect.”

He also stated that it was “nonsense” to equate Ulster-Scots to Irish, adding that the latter is a language, “no matter what some people say”.

Speaking to the News Letter on Thursday, Mr Wallace said he did not see the need for legislation to protect either Irish or Ulster-Scots, adding there was “already sufficient protection” for both.

“I would not want to see a significant amount of public money spent on Irish or Ulster-Scots,” he added.

Mr Thompson also felt that some unionists had attempted to “ratchet up” the significance of Ulster-Scots in a bid to combat republicans “hijacking” of the Irish language.

He added: “Sinn Fein has deliberately politicised the Irish language and turned it into a key ideological weapon, a badge of separation.

“In an attempt to counteract that, some unionists have blown Ulster-Scots out of proportion to claim it as something they own.

“I believe Ulster-Scots should be respected and promoted, but I think many people would agree that it is not a language.”

One person who did not agree with that assertion was former DUP culture minister, Nelson McCausland.

The former North Belfast MLA said the debate on whether Ulster-Scots constitutes a language is “an outdated issue”.

He added: “This was settled when the United Kingdom government recognised Ulster-Scots as a regional or minority language and gave it the protection of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

“I am not a linguist but many respected academic linguists will confirm that there is no clear set of criteria to demarcate between a language and a dialect.

“Professor Mario Andrew Pei said: ‘There is no essential difference between language and dialect, the language being a dialect which has met with literary or political favour, while the dialect is a language which politically or culturally has not met with the same good fortune.’

“And according to Professor Tom Priestly of the University of Alberta, no one has devised an acceptable measure of linguistic difference.

“The bottom line is, there is no set criteria to demarcate what is and what is not a language.”