Those of you who don’t hail from Northern Ireland will probably be unaware of Ulster-Scots. It’s a language spoken in certain parts of the province, distinct from English, and is recognised in both the Good Friday and St Andrews Agreements. It’s become increasingly visible in recent years: here’s an example of a Northern Ireland government department, Regional Development, whose logo features its name in three languages (English, Irish and Ulster-Scots) – as well as details of its Ulster-Scots helpline number. Bilingual street signs are also popping up here and there.
Now, you might suggest that its resurgence is purely a tit-for-tat response to the province’s Irish language lobby, and to the availability of EU funding. You might also argue that it’s just a phonetic transcript of broad Glaswegian – think Rab C Nesbitt or Billy Connolly. But you would of course be wrong.
Why mention it here? Because this week, apparently for the first time, Ulster-Scots was heard on the floor of the House of Commons. Step forward Jim Shannon, newly elected DUP MP for Strangford, making his maiden speech on Tuesday, who received special permission to offer the following remarks.
Thaur is monies a guid thang at A cud sae aboot tha fowk o mi Baille-Wick bot yince an firmaist A coont it a muckle oaner tae spake oot oan thair ahauf in tha Hoose O Commons. Tha Strengfird fowk ir tha satt o tha grun, an in thenkin thaim fer thair support A wud promis thaim at A’ll wrocht an dae fer thaim aa at A caun.
If that doesn’t make any sense, try reading it out loud. Thankfully for the MPs present in the Chamber who will clearly have struggled with this foreign tongue, Jim proceeds to read his remarks translated into English. (Although given that he speaks nearly as quickly as I do, the Ulster-Scots version may have been easier to understand.)
You can enjoy this groundbreaking moment at the Parliament website: wind the video forward to 18:02:45. Actually, start watching from a little bit before… and see if you can actually detect the moment he switches languages.