My father Barney Dordy was a native speaker of Ulster Scots. His speech was full of words and phrases I had never heard in school.
Her mother was a native Irish speaker from Fanad in Donegal.
As far as I can remember, Barney Dordy himself never spoke a word of Irish.
If he thought someone was stupid, he said he was a Quare Gulpin.
“Quare” was an interesting word in this dialect. I always assumed it was just an accented use of the word queer, but the meaning was quite different. If you say it’s “Quare,” you’ve wondered about it.
A ‘quare gulpin’ bordered on a pure lig.
A pint of stout could be a quare pint. A good boxer might be a Quare boxer.
Another example of a word used to mean the opposite was “doubt,” as in “I doubt we’re going to have quite a bit of rain that day.”
That means I guess we’re going to take a shower.
Perhaps an earlier generation of Gaelic speakers, just getting to grips with the English language, misunderstood a few words and queer, meaning strange, became quare, meaning great.
Our language and culture legislation is now being finalized on the assumption that two distinct cultures in Northern Ireland are equally entitled to support and legal recognition. But are they really different?
Serious advocates of both the Irish language and Ulster Scots stress that these traditions belong to all, that they reflect not unionist and nationalist political attitudes but the way legislation was campaigned and the shaping of new ones Laws exactly this assumption.
What I know about Ulster Scots from Barney Dordy suggests that it is not a language at all.
It’s a collection of words and phrases that you wouldn’t get through the day on your own.
These words are often oddly vague in meaning.
I was at a recent event at Seamus Heaney Home Place in Bellaghy when poet Maura Johnston spoke about Heaney’s own use of the old idiom.
I asked her if she could help me distinguish between a rake, a lock, and a pennant.
All three words were used to denote numbers.
Barney Dordy could walk into a hardware store and say, “Give me a lock from these yokes.”
It would be up to the man at the counter to know which yokes he was talking about and how many he actually wanted.
The language was intentionally vague, more of a code than a language, a way of speaking that obscured its true meaning to anyone who would listen.
I guess that kind of talk comes from a lawless culture.
It’s the talk of old guys who thought their business was just their own.
The idea that this patois could be elevated to a language of general communication is foolish. At first it was hardly about communication. It was the way people spoke out of the corners of their mouths. It was male talk.
If you had told Barney Dordy that a hotline had been set up for him at Stormont so he could speak to an officer in his home country of Ulster Scots, he would have been completely confused. It wasn’t like he couldn’t speak basic English.
And when he spoke to you in that gruff country way, he accepted you into his circle of like-minded people.
He would never have spoken like that to a police officer or the tax officer.
“This shower,” he would have said. And he needn’t have finished the sentence, for his so-called Ulster Scots were as rich in silence as they were in words and phrases.
But he never felt that those words and silences were put together by anything other than the English language.
We now have a movement coining new Ulster Scots words, like ‘langbletherer’ for a telephone. It’s not a word Barney Dordy ever picked up and used. He knew what nonsense is. Goofing is talking nonsense. It’s long-winded, frivolous gossip. It’s the polar opposite of the kind of cautious speech he used in what we call Ulster Scots.
Sure, there are people who chatter on the phone for a long time, but where’s the word for people who talk purposefully?
And anyway, how does it respect the language of the likes of Barney Dordy for coining a whole new vocabulary that would render your speech incomprehensible to him? Would you expect him to learn all those new words?
He wouldn’t have bothered because he didn’t feel he was preserving or enriching an ancient culture. A culture that needs to be enriched and refined is not a culture at all. A culture is what people do when they’re just being themselves.
Barney Dordy would have had no use for an Ulster Scots commissioner appointed to protect his speech rights.
He would be surprised to know that his vernacular, which his teachers would have scoffed at, is now to be facilitated in the schools, or that the law has anything to say about it.
In May this year, the British government officially recognized Ulster Scots as a national minority under the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.
Barney Dordy wouldn’t have noticed that.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/why-ulster-scots-of-today-doesnt-reflect-language-of-my-father-41867741.html Why Ulster Scots of today don’t reflect my father’s language