Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Not English dictionaries - "low and vulgar"

This image has been circulating online over the past few days. The original source is page 23 of The Provincialisms of Belfast and the Surrounding Districts Pointed Out and Corrected, by David Patterson (Belfast, 1860 - pdf online here). These are mostly Scots language origin words, but once again their status misunderstood and mocked.

Patterson was a teacher at the Ulster Institution for the Deaf, Dumb and Blind, and was himself blind. Even if well-intentioned by Patterson and his ilk, this is the kind of social élitism which causes a society to under-value its own linguistic heritage - reducing a rich vernacular to simply 'not English'.

On page 6 Patterson dismisses 'the half Scotch of the country people, of which we say nothing, as it is not supposed to be in use among the natives of Belfast'. There was no educational or institutional support for Ulster-Scots. Its popularity and publications were despite the efforts of 'the establishment'. Perhaps that is still the case today.

Many of these 'low and vulgar' 'half Scotch' country people would move to Belfast where, two generations later in the early 1900s, they and their rural kinfolk would get the language question on their census forms so badly wrong.

(Below is the Chambers Scots Dictionary definition for 'scrunty' which had been blacked-out above).