Sunday, December 12, 2010

Christmas Carols in Ulster Scots ...

The Ullans Christmas Song Book

Ulster Scots certainly describes the distinctive vocabulary and accent I remember as a child being spoken in County Antrim farm houses by some of my older relatives.

I mostly encountered Ulster Scots orally. And while I know from acquaintances who spend a lot of their time working in the field of indigenous minority languages that there is some literature and written material, most people encounter the language through the spoken or sung wurd.

It's makes perfect cultural sense when the Thompson Brothers sing old gospel songs as brother duets using the Hamely Tongue or Ullans - Ulster Scots is sometimes known. In the wider cultural scene, there's perhaps a delicate balance to be struck between being celebrating a distinct culture and just being folksy.

But there are some conundrums too. Previously on the blog I wondered:

Why is "The Ulster-Scot" [monthly] paper (possibly distributed with Saturday's Newsletter) completely devoid of anything actually written in Ulster-Scots?

Even more bizarre is the promotion of Ulster Scots through the translation of well known songs and stories into the language. Material which seemingly has absolutely no connection with the culture. Humpty Dumpty? Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer? Yes I know I enjoy Russian and French novels translated into English, but in the early stages of language redevelopment and promotion surely there's better material to use than translating nursery rhymes and Christmas carols from English to Ulster Scots?

Many of the rhymes and carols aren't originally English. But over hundreds of years they've been incorporated into the wider indigenous catalogue of material. It seems a bit soon to be teaching I saw Mummy kissing Santa Claus to kids whenever there must be existing content well connected with the cultural place and context with which to kick start Ulster Scots outreach?

A seen mae Ma kissin Santa Claus
In baelow the mistletoe las nicht.
Shae didnae hear mae creep
Doon the stairs tae hae a peep;
Shae thocht that A wus happt up in mae bedroom, soun asleep.

The Ullans Christmas Song Book features traditional Christmas carols translated into Ulster Scots by Anne Morrison Smyth, the language development officer at the Ullans Centre in Ballymoney. Funded by the Ulster Scots Agency, and if you want to make up your own mind a copy of the Ullans Christmas song book can be obtained by contacting 028 2766 8897 or emailing ullans AT live DOT co DOT uk

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

An interesting article but I am surprised at your view that it is somehow wrong to translate Nursery Rhymes and Christmas songs into Ulster Scots. These books are obviously written for a target audience of children and these are the songs and rhymes that children know and can associate with. Thus I believe that the content is ideal for teaching the next generation how to speak and write Ulster Scots. As a native speaker, I can endorse these publications fully and emphatically.