NATIVE SPEAKER

 

How many languages on this island? Three, according to a recently published book The Hamely Tongue by James Fenton. For, in the foreword, Dr Philip Robinson of the Ulster Scots Academy writes "The task that James Fenton set him self could only have been completed by a native speaker possessing both a total command of his `hame tongue' and a real sense of pride in his second language.

The term Ulster Scots can be questioned when thrown around loosely in politics, but Mr Fenton's purpose is purely linguistic. It is the language (that is his term, not dialect) as spoken in the greater part of rural Antrim during the period since 1930. You may be used to the Northern accent, but this vocabulary is another thing.

Here is a very short selection of words from the vocabulary.

Blirt an objectionable, useless or nastily disposed person. Brave quite good (a brave day) quite decent (a brave body). Fornenst facing, directly opposite, in lieu of in payment of. Gunk a shock of disappointment, a jolt to one's pride. Gype a fool. Hag to hack or hew. ("Haggin' whins" for a neighbour was the answer given to the Prince of Wales, later briefly Edward VIII, when he asked Quigg VC at a British Legion occasion, what he was now doing. To the mystification, can you doubt, of the said Prince.

Whap the curlew. Wheeker an excellent or remarkable specimen.

Some of the words are from Gaelic and are so acknowledged. Mr Fenton has produced a most carefully assembled and annotated book, a life's work as the aforementioned President of the Ulster Scots Academy tells us, carried out through years during which time the Ulster Scots tongue remained, culturally, socially and educationally stigmatised.

The author subtitles said book as A Personal Record of Ulster Scots in County Antrim. It is published by the Ulster Scots Academy Press in Newtownards, paperback, no price. And the Northern Ireland Cultural Traditions Programme of the Community Relations Council, "which aims to encourage acceptance and under standing of cultural diversity", gave support to the book. A long time ago first appeared Montiaghisms, vocabulary from the Montiaghs district, near Lough Neagh. Before that there was Ulster Speaks by the Rev W. F. Marshall.