At one time I was Development Officer for the Ulster-Scots Language Society. However, the linguistically-dense poetry of contemporary writers James Fenton and Philip Robinson was beyond my capabilities.
The Language Society needed someone to access funding because, against their better judgment, the language enthusiasts had been forced into competition with the highly-politicised Irish language lobby and its Sinn Fein cheerleaders.
Latterly, I was roped in as a note-taker at committee meetings. My knowledge of language issues increased. I observed a Language Society that is apolitical.
Ulster-Scots speakers would prefer that minority languages should fund themselves and not be a drain on the taxpayer. Members love the language for its own sake, not because they feel the need to make a political statement.
The consequences of this attitude are dire. Ulster-Scots has been airbrushed out of the language debate, while Ulster-Scots speakers have been demeaned. This partly arises because everyone thinks they know about Ulster-Scots. But, as W F Marshall pointed out, dialects are not a corruption of English – ‘they are a museum of the most useful language in the world’.
The Northern Ireland administration has taken advantage of this lack of political awareness to short-change Ulster-Scots as compared to Irish. The record is undeniable and well-documented. It cannot be fair that an historic language community on this island that eschews political involvement should be totally omitted from a language act.
Does Irish really agitate for a position of privilege or super-equality?
It is a sad commentary on those MLAs who identify as British, exemplified in the word ‘Ulster-Scots’, are so ill-informed about the wider aspects of their heritage that they fail to promote the proposition that any language act should embrace both minority linguistic positions.
If the public are willing to pay the price and there must be legislation, then it would only be fair and honest to table a Northern Ireland Languages Act.
Clifford Smyth, Belfast