Mid Ulster English is the dialect of most people in the traditional province of Ulster in Ireland, including those in the two main cities. It represents a cross-over area between Ulster Scots and Hiberno-English (southern Irish dialects). Varieties phonologically influenced by Scots, found in districts in counties Antrim, Londonderry, Donegal and Down, sound similar to Scottish English, and middle-class speakers from these areas in particular are sometimes mistaken by outsiders for Scots.
Despite its name, the term Mid-Ulster English is commonly used to describe the dialect of Ulster in general, not simply County Tyrone (where the geographical centre of the province lies). Before English came, all of Ireland, the Isle of Man and most of Scotland spoke Gaelic, and as there was a dialect continuum of understanding, in that dialects gradually changed from region to region. Ulster lay at the heart of this, and thus Ulster Irish is linguistically said to be midway between southern Irish Gaelic dialects and northern Scottish Gaelic dialects. This mirrors the modern day linguistic reality of the province, which now is almost entirely English-speaking. The accent of much of Cavan (in southwestern Ulster) is largely southern in character. Whilst the accent in north Antrim (in the northeast of the province) sounds much more akin to lowlands Scots. The rest of the province uses "Mid-Ulster English" in differing varieties usually distinguished with reference to the county of origin of the speaker.
The vocabulary of the dialect has been greatly influenced by Ulster Gaelic, but also profoundly by the languages/dialects of the 17th century settlers who came to Ireland from Britain; Scottish Gaelic, Lowland Scots and the West Midlands accent in England. The use of Scots and Irish Gaelic has diminished greatly since the 18th century, but both have impacted on the syntax, grammar and vocabulary of modern Mid-Ulster English.
The urban Belfast dialect is not limited to the city itself but also takes in neighbouring urban areas in the local vicinity (such as Lisburn, Carrickfergus and Newtownards), as well as towns whose inhabitants originally came from Belfast (such as Craigavon). It is generally perceived as being associated with economically disadvantaged areas, and with youth culture. This however is not the dialect used in the media (even those outlets which are based in Belfast). Features of the accent include several vowel shifts, including one from /æ/ to /ɛ/ (/bɛɡ/ for "bag"). The accent is also arguably more nasal compared with the rest of Ulster.
The Belfast dialect is now becoming more frequently heard in towns in the 'commuter belt' whose inhabitants would have traditionally spoken with a 'country' accent. Examples or such areas are Moira, Kinallen, Dromore and Ballynahinch. It could be said that many youths in these areas prefer to use the more cosmopolitan city accent, as opposed to the local variant that their parents or neighbours would use. Other phonological features include the following:
Some of the vocabulary used among young people in Ulster, such as the word "spide", is of Belfast origin.
In the 1830s, Ordnance Survey memoirs came to the following conclusion about the dialect of the inhabitants of Carnmoney, east Antrim:
Their accent is peculiarly, and among old people disagreeably strong and broad.
The results of a BBC sociolinguistic survey can be found here.
|Mid-Ulster English||Standard English||Notes|
|Ach!/Och!||annoyance, regret, etc. (general exclamation)||Usually used to replace "Oh!" and "Ah!". Ach is Irish for "but", and can be used in the same context.|
|aye||yes||Heard throughout Ireland, Scotland and northern England. General Scots and dialect or archaic English, first attested 1575.|
|bake||mouth||From Scots, extension of meaning from beak. Many body parts are also from Scots: see below.|
|boke, boak||vomit||From Scots bowk, Middle Scots l-vocalisation with West Central monophthongisation to /o/ betraying the origins of Scottish Planters. Cognate with English "baulk".|
|cowp, cope||to tip over, to fall over||From Scots cowp, Middle Scots l-vocalisation with West Central monophthongisation to /o/ betraying the origins of Scottish Planters.|
|crack||banter, fun, eg. "What's the crack (with ye)?" - "What's up?"||From Scots or Northern English or Irish. Originally spelt crack but the Gaelic spelling craic is now common.|
|culchie||a farmer, rural dweller||Either from "Kiltimagh" (KULL-cha-mah), a town in County Mayo, or from the -culture in "agriculture". Some say it derives from the Irish cúl (a') tí (lit. back of the house). For it was common practise for country people to go in the back door of the house they were visiting, so they were dubbed Culchies.|
|dander||walk (noun or verb)||Usually encountered as a noun in Scots (daunder), its use as a verb is well attested in the Dictionary of the Scots Language, and Ulster use may reflect the preponderence of nouns over verbs in an Irish adstrate.|
|duke, jouk, juke||duck, dodge||From Scots jouk, "to dodge".|
|gob, gub||mouth||Perhaps from Scots gab, but also Irish gob, mouth.|
|gutties||plimsolls||Note also the phrase "Give her the guttie" - "Step on it (accelerate)". From Gutta-percha, india-rubber. Also used in Scotland.|
|hallion||a good-for-nothing||From Scots.|
|(to have) a hoak, hoke||to dig, to look around in e.g. "Have a wee hoak"||From Scots howk, Middle Scots l-vocalisation with West Central monophthongisation to /o/.|
|jap||to spill||From Scots jaup.|
|lug||ear||Scots, almost certainly from a Scandinavian source, c.f. Norwegian lugg, a tuft of hair.|
|poke||ice-cream||From Scots poke, a bag or pouch.|
|scunnered, scundered||annoyed (around Tyrone)||From Scots scunner.|
|sheugh||Pronounced /ʃʌx/ a small, shallow ditch.||From Scots sheuch.|
|til||to||From Norse via Scots and northern English. Common in inner-city Belfast and Mid-Ulster region.|
|thon||that||From Scots, originally yon, the th by analogy with this and that.|
|throughother||untidy, like "something the cat dragged in"||Derivies probably from Irish. Though, it has parallels in both Goidelic, e.g. Irish trína chéile, and Germanic, e.g. German durcheinander.|
|wee||little, but also used as a generic diminutive||Cognate with German wenig, meaning "a little", although more closely related to English weigh.|
|wheeker||excellent||Onomatopoeic. From Scots wheech meaning "to snatch".|
Furthermore, speakers of the dialect conjugate many verbs according to how they are formed in the most vernacular forms of Ulster Scots, e.g. driv instead of drove and driven as the past tense of drive, etc. (literary Scots druive, driven). Verbal syncretism is extremely widespread, as is the Northern subject rule, which has probably been reinforced by Irish, in which the verb-endings in any given tense remains the same in all persons (ie. you do, he does = déanann tú, déanann sé and also I am, you are, he is = Tá mé, tá tú tá sé).|-