Deep breath. Devil's Advocate time. Is there a future for Ulster-Scots language? The heritage stuff, the historical stuff, the cultural stuff, the light entertainment fluff - these have appeal and plenty of people involved or interested. But the language? Nah.
From what I've observed over the past few years, hardly anyone cares enough about the language to give it a future. The way the media froth about it as an issue you'd think that it was a huge public concern. Aye right.
During the 20th century there was ongoing large scale population change in Ulster. Two world wars / emigration to Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand / the emergence of a national and international mass media / emphasis on education and "getting on" / an emerging affluence and educated class / the Troubles opt-out which saw many seek refuge in yacht clubs and golf clubs, or who just upped and left for GB / the bourgeoisification of the countryside that saw wealthy town dwellers buying up the rural dwellings and which drove wedges through the rural communities / the Troubles momentum that caused people to move out of the urban areas into the small market towns and villages - these things and more all decimated that older population that grew up with naturally spoken Ulster-Scots language and a more primitive way of life.
Meaning that by the time "peace" arrived in the mid 1990s and Ulster-Scots was getting attention for the first time in a generation, the pool of genuine Ulster-Scots language speakers to draw upon was already at an all-time low. And those speakers didn't recognise the importance and value of their own speech.
10 years ago there was an opportunity to capture the natural Ulster-Scots speech of this older, pre-mass media generation. But half of those people are now dead - and unrecorded. There are maybe ten years left until all of them are dead. And then naturally-spoken Ulster-Scots will be gone. Apart from a few words and the odd expression here and there which survive as part of general Ulster English, it'll be finished. Sheughs and oxters will continue to raise a smile, or a smirk, but that's about all.
My father's generation (he's 64) reminisce about local characters, rural folkways, manual horse-drawn farming, the idyllic but poverty-stricken 40s and 50s, of life before "The Troubles". My generation (I'm 37) reminisces about tv programmes, toys of the 70s, fashion and pop music - but only faint fading glimmers of the life that my parents knew so well, and which had changed very little in the previous 100 years.
The Ulster Folk Museum to my parents is their childhood. To me it's a nostalgia trip, or a time machine that takes me to a place I didn't live in and only heard older people talk about. They had Burns' poetry and kailyard novels in the house - I had the Broons annual. They drew water from the well every day with a bucket, and tried to not catch the eel that was down in there which kept the water clean - I had an immersion heater. They can remember going to school in bare feet - I had Nike trainers for PE. That generational transformation includes massive language shift, from the once-widespread use of rurally-preserved but establishment-ignored Ulster-Scots, to a world of mass-media and international English. Even today in the Irish Gaeltacht (ie Gaelic speaking) regions, I'm told the best selling newspapers are the English tabloids.
Ulster-Scots language will dwindle and remain the interest of the dedicated few who genuinely love it. And it'll provide intellectual cud for the anoraks and academics, nostalgia for the luddites and fuel for the identity zealots. And perhaps it'll be exploited by those who see the current gravy train as a way of building personal empires - but which will be light years removed from general public interest. Public sector signage, job adverts in the papers that tick some equality box will ultimately attract further public disdain and scorn - and thereby damage the overall Ulster-Scots momentum. Because in reality, to 99% of the population, Ulster-Scots language will be a fossil, an extinct Dodo. Unheard, unspoken, and book-learnt if learned at all.
I wrote an article for the News Letter about this general issue back in March 2007. No-one batted an eyelid. Because hardly anybody cares.
There are ten years left. The need is to leapfrog my generation, and to connect the limited, diluted, eroded, Ulster-Scots language of grandparents with the world their grandchildren live in. The clock is ticking...