The Orthography of Ulster-Scots


In dealing with the consonants our main problem has been to make provision for a much wider range of sounds than most other types of English possess. With the vowels, however, the nature of the problem is different and even more complex. Firstly, since such differences affect the vowels more than the consonants, we have had to make provision for the divergent vowel systems of the two major dialects or dialect groups which for convenience, though not with complete geographical accuracy, we call the northern and southern dialects of Ulster speech, together with some compromise spellings for certain word-forms common to both. Secondly, from the chronic combination of polyphony (the use of one letter or digraph for several sounds) and polygraphy (the writing of different letters or digraphs for the same sound) which affects the spelling of English, we have had to make a choice of letters and digraphs in such a way that they could be applied more or less phonetically to the spelling of words which do not exist or are pronounced quite differently in standard English, while at the same time they might be allowed to remain in cases where the Ulster pronunciation does not differ enough for a change of spelling to be necessary but where the standard spelling itself is inconsistent. Each of the single vowel letters and many of the digraphs have therefore, besides the phonetic value which we assign them, one or more graphic values which are tolerated just as, among the consonants, GH has partly a phonetic and partly a purely graphic value. The vocabulary listed in the Dictionary therefore consists of words spelt more or less 'phonetically' (on the unphonetic basis which our ordinary spelling conventions allow us to adopt) together with a certain number in which divergences from this system are tolerated if they agree with standard spelling. It could be relieved of these anomalies by substituting letters with phonetic values for those used graphically where these occur, but pending a general reform of English spelling we have preferred not to disguise the connection of dialect words with words in general use which in many cases this would mean. It may be added that some of the digraphs we use for the traditionally long vowels and diphthongs are not necessarily those we would recommend for a general spelling reform as we are to some extent tied by the graphic values which have to be allowed to stand for the present.

(11) The minimum number of vowels which a consistent orthography of English, based on what Professor Daniel Jones calls 'received pronunciation' (RP), would need to distinguish is made up of the six short vowels in pat, pet, pit, pot, putt, put, the three wide long vowels in far, fur, for or fall, the two almost diphthongal long vowels in feel, fool; and the five diphthongs in fail, foal, file, foul, foil, to which for practical purposes may be added the rising diphthong in feud (though phonetically it is simply the vowel in food, fool, preceded by the semi-vowel y-sound), making a total of 17. The remaining four centring diphthongs and two triphthongs in peer, poor, pair, pour, pyre, power, need not be distinguished from the vowels of feel, fool, fail, foal, file, foul, respectively since they are either variants of these which occur before r, or else they arise where the two vowels of originally separate syllables which are still written as such stand in hiatus. The sound of fur also occurs only before r but as it replaces three separate short vowels from all of which it is distinct it deserves a special notation. For the Ulster regional standard the distinction between the pat-vowel and the far-vowel would not in a simplified orthography be absolutely necessary since the latter can only occur before R not followed by a vowel, and with most speakers there is no difference between the put-vowel and the fool-vowel (e.g. full and fool sound alike). But apart from these two points a simplified spelling devised for RP would do phonemically for the Ulster regional standard of pronunciation despite the great phonetic differences between them in the formation of some of the vowels. Actual differences in vowel quality and such Ulster features as the lengthening of the pat-, pet-, pot-vowels and the shortening of the feel-, fool-, foal-, feud-vowels in certain specific cases according to the nature of the following consonant need not find expression in a simplified standard orthography since they are regulated automatically in this way. Given a simplified spelling of English (such as, for example, Nu Speling or some compromise between it and our present orthography) and assuming the Ulster regional standard of pronunciation for that orthography, the problem of devising a dialect orthography consists therefore in finding ways to represent dialect sounds not occurring in the regional standard and standard sounds which occur in unfamiliar phonetic contexts. To this may be added that so long as certain existing spellings are allowed to stand in words which differ in meaning but not in pronunciation, there is the additional problem of avoiding misinterpretation by false association with certain standard spellings which happen to clash with whatever semi-phonetic system is devised.

In what follows, partly for the convenience of users of the Dictionary who are not accustomed to phonetic script and partly because certain phonetically distinct vowels are united under one spelling in certain cases, we refer to the vowel sounds usually by means of the key-words just mentioned rather than by phonetic symbols. The part of the Introduction dealing with Phonology will make clear exactly the phonetic basis on which the spelling rests. The terms 'short' and 'long' in quotes refer to the traditional vowel lengths as preserved from Middle English or developed in RP, while the same terms without quotes refer to the actual length as occurring in Ulster dialects today. The orthography used in this Dictionary does not normally distinguish between such shorts and longs having a common origin and the same quality of sound; for the phonetic conditions under which such variations of length occur see the section on Phonology and the phonetic spellings of each word. The general principle of using single vowel letters for 'short' vowels and digraphs or trigraphs for 'long' vowels and diphthongs is followed wherever possible, and for this reason we prefer, for example, staen to stane as the northern dialect form of stone. We see no particular objection to having two ways of writing one sound — provided one of these spellings does not also represent a second and quite different sound — if they are used where the sound arises from different etymological sources. We may now consider each vowel in detail.

(12) The pet-vowel is written E, even when lengthened in Ulster, and E is not used phonetically for any other vowel though retained graphically in many cases where standard orthography provides a precedent, especially as a silent final letter and in the past tense ending -ED.

(13) The pit-vowel is written I in south Ulster and general word-forms, and is always short. In genuine north Ulster dialect forms the vowel which most commonly corresponds to this phonemically differs from it to such an extent phonetically that we prefer to write A (see 17 below), but on the other hand I seems the best way to write the advanced, shortened and unrounded vowel which in north Ulster often replaces the fool-vowel (28) and sometimes the put-vowel.

(14) For the fail-vowel, Wilson's Scottish dialect orthography has AI or AY, no doubt on account of the frequent occurrence of this spelling in our present orthography, while in Nu Speling AE — a compromise between AI and A followed by final silent E — is used. Many words now spelt with AI (AY) had EI (EY) in Chaucer's time, as some still have (e.g. veil, grey) and we think that the latter spelling should be adopted generally in place of AI or AY, which should be allowed to fall out of use with this sound. EI is to be preferred because it re-establishes the connection between sound and spelling with the short vowel E, of which EI (i.e. the fail-sound) is now the nearest corresponding 'long' vowel. This vowel sound has, however, so many different origins in Ulster dialect use that we have found it convenient to use AE in some cases as an alternative to EI, especially where the standard language has the foal- or fool-vowels (e.g. caem = comb, haem = home, dae = do), and in some cases where EI, on account of an exceptional use in standard orthography, would be ambiguous (e.g. desaet = deceit). In addition the use of C and G with both hard and soft values according to what follows make it desirable to have the choice between EI and AE and may lead to departures from the etymological basis of the spelling in some cases. When this vowel occurs before R it usually has the sound of the pet-vowel lengthened, but no account is taken of this in the ordinary spelling. There are districts, however, where the normal fail-sound is preserved even before R; again no account of this is taken in the ordinary spelling of words in the Dictionary, but pronunciations of this type could be shown (1) by writing the digraph EI in its final form EY (and by analogy AEY), or (2) by writing -ER after the digraph, as if a separate syllable, or (3) by inserting H between the digraph and the R. We also do not give spellings to represent two variant types of pronunciation of the fail-vowel, the first a more open sound like the pet-vowel but always long, and the second like ea in real, which could best be written EEA.

(15) For the feel-vowel Nu Speling and Wilson both adopt and extend the use of EE, presumably because it rarely has any other sound in our present orthography. Though we have allowed it to stand in general words which have developed dialect meanings and in the Irish diminutive suffix -een (despite the Gaelic spelling -ín), which has established itself through some loanwords even in the standard language, we prefer IE, which is already well established with this sound in many words (e.g. field, chief, mien, shriek, pier). It may be noted that IE is used with this value in Dutch and German, and for English it has the advantage of being the link between recent loanwords from French and other languages where I, retaining its traditional value, has this sound (e.g. pique, suite, machine) and the large body of words in which an older long e (written e, ea, ee) has shifted its pronunciation. In any general reform of spelling IE can therefore receive recruits from both sides as it were without undue distortion of the visual character of many words, and in addition it links up with the simple short I, of which in the present state of the language it is phonetically the nearest 'long' equivalent. Except in a few exceptional cases like dee for die where the standard language uses this digraph irregularly and yet the dialect has the feel-vowel, we have written IE wherever we had to provide a new spelling for a word containing this sound, therefore: hied (= north Ulster head), driegh (tedious) despite Wilson's and Nu Speling heed, dreekh, and despite the traditional Scots heid, dreich. We have not attempted to distinguish in the Dictionary spellings the south Ulster shortening of this vowel before voiceless consonants or its north Ulster shortening before all consonants other than r, voiced fricatives and the past tense suffix -d, though this could have been done in most cases by doubling the following consonant.

(16) The digraph EA of standard orthography has so many different sounds that it presents several special problems. Apart from cases where the two letters belong to different syllables it has five sounds: (1) the old long sound as in break, bear; (2) the new long sound as in freak, fear; (3) the old sound shortened as in threat, dread; (4) the same [sound] re-lengthened before r plus consonant at an early stage to the far-vowel, and (5) at a later stage to the fur-vowel, as in heart and learn respectively. In reformed spelling nos. 2, 3 and 4 would obviously be replaced by IE (e.g. friek, fier like shriek, pier), E and AA (see 17) respectively, while for no. 5 there would seem to be a good case for reviving the Old English spelling leorn, which would pave the way to using EO in many other words with this sound, which at present has no distinctive spelling. Where EA retains its old long sound (e.g. great, break, bear, wear) it should be allowed to remain as a second way of writing this sound beside the EI suggested in 14, and it could later be extended to such words as name, late, fare, rare. In this way there would be preserved in the language a means of indicating the older pronunciation of certain dialects and older literature; the orthographical distinction, for what it is worth, could be preserved between the two main groups of words which have the fail-vowel now, viz. those which go back to a Chaucerian diphthong being written with EI (or EY finally) and those going back to an old long vowel of whatever sort being written with EA; and in addition the E element common to both digraphs associates them with the E of the short pet-vowel, of which they are now the nearest 'long' sound phonetically. None of these advantages attends so well the use of AE as applied in Nu Speling, and still less the AI of Wilson's orthography. In dealing with this group of words for dialect purposes we have not been able, however, to apply these reforms consistently, partly since we have to take account of present spelling conventions and partly because the distribution of sounds in words spelt with EA does not always accord with standard usage nor do the dialects always agree with each other. On the one hand, especially in north Ulster, the new long sound occurs instead of the shortened vowel and these we have written with IE (15), e.g. dief for deaf (like thief); on the other hand, the old sound often survives especially in south Ulster, and here we have retained EA only where it survives also in standard usage, writing elsewhere EI as being less ambiguous in the present state of English orthography, e.g. meil, deith, for meal, death. For the later re-lengthened sound before r plus consonant the use of EO suggested above does not arise, as in genuine dialect forms the fair- (fail-) vowel and not the fur-vowel occurs. Here again we write EI, as also in many cases where standard spelling has E or I before r, e.g. leirn, geirl for learn, girl, also heirt for heart in north Ulster.

(17) Traditional orthography fails to distinguish between the pat-vowel and the far-vowel, although the difference is clearly marked and important in RP, and the Nu Speling use of A for the short front pat-vowel and AA for the long back far-vowel is an admirable way of separating the two sounds in spelling (though A continues to be written before R in that system). Unlike most spelling reforms, however, this one involves recognition of regional differences of pronunciation and might prove unacceptable unless as a compromise the A was doubled only in words where a silent L or U was at the same time omitted until such time as we got used to the idea that the standard orthography might allow variant spellings for major regional differences. As remarked above the graphic distinction is hardly necessary for Ulster standard pronunciation, as the far-sound is only associated with r and the fat-sound may be short or long according to the following consonant but without difference of quality (e.g. ant/aunt and cam/calm all have the same vowel short in the first pair, long in the second), while for Scottish and northern English pronunciations it is also generally unnecessary. Despite this, however, it does remain essential to be able to distinguish in ordinary spelling between a back a and a more advanced a in the Ulster dialects, and though both sounds are usually pronounced further back than the corresponding sounds in RP, and north and south Ulster differ from RP and from each other in their distribution, the use of single A for the front sound and double AA for the back sounds as in Nu Speling and in Wilson's orthography, but irrespective of the actual length of the vowel in either case, seems to be the neatest way of achieving this. In the first place AA is used in both north and south Ulster for the long back unrounded vowel which usually replaces the fall-vowel of standard English. Secondly, for south Ulster, AA is a common though not universal substitute for 'short' O, while A remains as the normal sound of historic 'short' A. Both these vowels, A and AA or O, are short or long according to the following consonant like the pet-vowel (see Phonology), but no attempt has been made to distinguish these variable quantities except that where AA is substituted for O final TCH and CK following it are retained and P and T are doubled to distinguish it from long AA, representing the fall-vowel, after which these consonants are written single. The other consonants are only doubled when another syllable is added, just as after O. Thirdly, for north Ulster, AA is written for historic 'short' a, to indicate the more back quality of the sound, but not for historic 'short' o except where, as in Scots, the two sounds fall together near certain consonants. In this case final P and T are not generally doubled unless the vowel is really short (i.e. in this dialect length is phonemic, not simply phonetic). This leaves single A free to represent the sound which in this dialect replaces historic 'short' i, and as this is invariably short the following consonant is always doubled where possible, even in the case of P and T, before which A would be short in any case in south Ulster and the regional standard, but final LL is written single to avoid confusion with the fall-sound and final FF, SS are written single to avoid confusion with the fall-sound of RP. It should be noted that the two sounds represented by A and AA in south Ulster are broader than the two north Ulster sounds for which these spellings are used, the latter being nearer to RP at least in the case of the back vowel. The acoustic sequence is (1) south Ulster AA, (2) north Ulster AA, (3) south Ulster A, (4) north Ulster A. The use of A in one dialect and AA in the other for historic 'short' a is governed as much by the necessity of distinguishing two a-sounds in each dialect as by the difference between the dialects in this particular case. One final problem remains in view of the standard Ulster use of the AA sound before nonintervocalic R: as in Nu Speling single A could have been retained, but in some south Ulster pronunciations the fat-vowel is used even in this position. The only way of making this clear seems to be by doubling the R finally and before another consonant. Where the back sound occurs before R double AA is used even though A would suffice according to standard pronunciation. Single A followed by single R would serve as a compromise spelling for both dialects.

(18) The file-vowel is a diphthong beginning near the pat-vowel and moving towards the pit-vowel, so that AI (as in aisle) or AY (as in aye) is the ideal way to write it, but such spellings are rare and until these digraphs in their more common use are replaced by EI or EY as suggested above and their present sound forgotten, the use of AI or AY for this diphthong would be impracticable. On the other hand, the digraph IE suggested for this sound in Nu Speling is probably the most inept of all the digraphs proposed in that system, as it perpetuates in a flagrant manner the divorce from traditional international vowel values caused by the English Great Vowel Shift. In any case IE in our present spelling has far more frequently the feel-sound, in which its use should be extended as explained above (15), than the file-sound, which occurs only finally in a few verbs and before the grammatical endings -S and -D, being replaced by Y finally in nouns and some of the verbs and always before the ending -ing. In the words where IE does occur at present with this sound therefore it is always interchangeable with Y, and Y — not IE —is the choice that should be made for the file-vowel, especially as Y is so pronounced in many other words. In some cases it has the pit-sound and here I would ultimately be substituted. In Chaucer's time Y was frequently used for the long vowel from which the present diphthong is descended, I being restricted to the short sound, and a return to this older orthographic tradition would sort out the two values shared by I and Y and provide a consistent way of writing both. This does not clash with the use of Y initially as a consonant (since this sound is never followed by the file-vowel) or as second part of a diphthong such as OY. It is true that Y is usually an orthographic variant of I in other languages, except the Scandinavian group where, as in the International Phonetic Alphabet, it represents the front rounded vowel (French u and German ü), and Welsh where it represents two central vowels, but as it is not one of the five basic vowel letters its special use with this diphthongal value would not be so serious a departure from general usage. It was in fact so used in older Dutch spelling where ij is now used for the same sound, and it still remains in Afrikaans with this value. In representing the file-vowel in all words for which we have to devise a spelling we have used Y consistently in this way. We have not thought it necessary to show that the starting point of the diphthong is more advanced than in RP. In parts of south Ulster, however, it starts with a more centralized vowel, which in 18th century English was also used for the foil-vowel and this is the origin of the stage Irishman's OI for the file-vowel. Beside the present sound of OI, however, this is an entirely misleading spelling, and a much better way to write this sound is UY (but not UI, which might imply other quite different sounds), already familiar, though with no implication of a difference in sound, in such spellings as buy, Guy; cf. also the short sound of U, which is near the starting point of UY. We have not thought it necessary to add to the bulk of the Dictionary by quoting forms with UY, which can be consistently substituted for Y to indicate a certain type of pronunciation.

(19) There is, however, another diphthong of this type, longer, with a back starting point, which, being distinguished phonemically from Y, requires a separate spelling. Except in so far as it occasionally arises locally from lengthened A before palatal G, NG, in which case of course it has no historical connection with Y, this is a north Ulster sound which replaces Y in certain words. The same distinction is found in Scots where Wilson uses EI for our Y sound (18) and II for the sound here in question. This latter spelling is open to the same kind of objections as Nu Speling IE, as well as being graphically inconvenient, and as we are free to invent a new graphy to represent a distinction not found in the standard language we prefer AAY, which shows clearly the long back starting point and the connection with the next nearest sound, viz. simple Y. The RP file-vowel lies between Ulster Y and AAY (though nearer the latter) and in their starting points the two Ulster sounds stand in more or less the same relation to each other as the north Ulster simple A and AA vowels. On the analogy of the usual practice with the AI/AY, EI/EY, OI/OY digraphs of standard orthography it might be argued that AAY should be used only finally and before vowels and AAI before consonants (cf. also Dutch AAI for the same sound), especially as it will replace standard I in many words, or again that AAI should be used on the grounds that the second part of the diphthong rarely passes beyond the sound of the E- or AE-vowel, but all things considered we have preferred to use AAY and to write this in all positions as with Y (and its local variant UY).

(20) The foil-vowel is written OI or OY as in standard spelling, being one of the few diphthongs there logically represented. No account is taken of variations in the starting point of the sound in Ulster, as they do not appear to be phonemic.

(21) The pot-vowel, which with its RP value occurs only in standard and some south Ulster dialect pronunciations, is written O in so far as it is not replaced by AA (see 17 above), and like A and E it is subject to lengthening before certain consonants, but this is not shown in the ordinary spelling (see Phonology). The use of O for the putt-vowel is avoided except where standard spellings are allowed to stand unchanged and likewise the use of A for the pot-sound after W because the original A has remained as A or AA in sound.

(22) The for- or fall-vowel has two separate origins: (1) historic 'short' o (in RP usually also 'long' o) before r, and (2) the earlier diphthong arising from an old short vowel, usually a (rarely o), combining with a following consonant now usually silent. Even in Nu Speling they are distinguished, the former being written O (like the pot-vowel) and the latter AU. Wilson uses AU or AW, but this vowel is not of frequent occurrence in the Scottish dialect which he records. Before R we follow Nu Speling in retaining O — in so far as the dialect does not call for the substitution of the foal- or even the fool-vowel — though outside of north Ulster at least this differs in quality from the pot-vowel (21). For the fall-sound when not followed by R we are guided by three considerations. First, we do not think that AU is the best choice for the reformed spelling of words containing this sound as it perpetuates the divorce between sound and symbol caused by the Great Vowel Shift. The most usual ways of spelling the sound at present are A (fall, water), AL (talk), AU (haul), AUL (baulk), AUGH (caught), AW (paw, crawl), the L and GH being silent, while OU occasionally occurs before the latter (bought). Common to almost all of these is A, while the sound is the same as that given to O before R, so that AO would have the advantage of being neutral as between the present spellings and of linking up with them through its first part and with the other chief source of this sound through its second part, thus paving the way perhaps for the ultimate use of AO or simple O in all cases, while AU and its variant AW should be allowed to fall into disuse in standard orthography as in the case of AI and AY (see 14 above). Second, in north Ulster this sound with more or less its RP value usually replaces the pot-vowel of standard and south Ulster, and while O might be used with the convention that it represents the pot-vowel in one dialect and the fall-vowel in the other, it is perhaps better to separate them in spelling, and for this purpose the AO digraph suggested above is used in north Ulster forms, except before R where O has this value anyway. Third, in south Ulster in so far as it survives at all and is not replaced by AA, and in most types of standard Ulster pronunciation the fall-vowel agrees in quality though not always in length with the pot-vowel, so that, for example, Claud and clod sound alike because the former sound is lowered and the latter is lengthened, while taut and tot differ in length (as in RP) but not in quality (contrary to RP). We are therefore dealing with a special case of the pot-vowel rather than of the fall-vowel and it seems best to leave A, AU, AW as graphic variants of the former in so far as they are not replaced by the more genuine dialect AA.

(23) Before dealing with the foal-, foul- and fool- vowels, we must consider the position of the digraph OU in relation to the simplification of spelling, since like EA (16) it has an exceptionally large number of sounds, viz.: (1) the foul-sound from an old long vowel; (2) the fool-sound (as in youth, route), being the old sound exceptionally preserved or more often a recent loanword from French; (3) the putt-sound (as in double), being the old sound shortened; (4) the fur-sound (as in journal), being the same re-lengthened before R; (5) the foal-sound (as in soul, shoulder), from an old diphthong; (6) the fall-sound (as in bought), being a special development of the old diphthong before GH; and (7) the pot-sound (as in cough), being the same shortened. Of these, nos. 3, 4, 6 and 7 could be written with whatever letters are chosen for these sounds in simplified spelling. This leaves three claimants to the digraph OU (OW), and both Nu Speling (OU only) and Wilson (OU and OW) use it for the foul-vowel presumably on the grounds that this sound is rarely written in any other way, whereas the foal- and fool-vowels (for which Wilson writes OA and OO and Nu Speling uses OE and UU respectively) have common alternative spellings. We do not think, however, that this is the best way to write the foul-vowel or the best use to which to put the OU digraph. The foul-vowel is a diphthong which begins near the pat-sound and moves towards the put-sound. but until such times as the present sound of AU is forgotten that digraph — which had this value in Middle English and still has it in German, Italian and Spanish — cannot be used for this sound (cf. the parallel case of AI, 18). We therefore suggest that the insertion of A before OU (or OW) when it has the foul-sound is a reform which would re-establish the connection between the spelling and the present sound by showing the starting-point of the diphthong, and at the same time would distinguish this group of words from others in which OU/OW has a different value (e.g. faoul beside soul). It may be noted that AOU is already used for the foul-vowel in the two rather uncommon words giaour and caoutchouc. This still leaves two sounds where OU could be written, but the only point in favour of the use of this digraph for the fool-vowel is that additional borrowings from French may increase the number of words where OU has this sound. On the other hand, OU (as in soul) would seem to be the ideal compromise between the various diphthongal pronunciations of the foal-sound in RP and southern English generally, and the pure long close vowel (between the O in pot and the U in put in quality) which is used in Scottish, Irish and northern English pronunciations. It is exactly parallel graphically and phonetically with EI (14) and is superior orthographically to Nu Speling OE and Wilson's OA since the two parts of the digraph are chosen with regard to their basic values and it can be applied without ambiguity to words where simple O now has this sound, especially when followed immediately by A or E in another syllable, once OU has ceased to be used for other purposes. Where now used for the fool-vowel OU would be replaced by some other digraph. In the light of this discussion we may now proceed to consider the dialect spelling of the remaining vowels.

(24) The foul-vowel often replaces the foal-vowel in both north and south Ulster, but otherwise is not very common in north Ulster, where it is usually replaced by the fool-vowel. When O or OU is written in the standard form its replacement by OW might meet the case, though the latter is itself ambiguous, especially at the end of a word, while the opposite change of OW to OU (e.g. to show that grow rhymes with standard cow) is even more ambiguous, as it could be taken as implying either the foul-sound or the fool-sound. Despite precedents in existing dialect spellings for using OW, we have preferred to write AOU (as suggested above, 23) in all cases where we have to invent a spelling to indicate this sound, leaving OU and OW only where the dialect word differs in meaning but not in sound from the standard language. When it replaces the feud-vowel, Y is generally written before it, e.g. north Ulster yaou for ewe. It will be seen that AOU is parallel with AAY in indicating the starting-point of the diphthong, the former being more advanced than the latter, wherefore single instead of double A is used in this case.

(25) For the foal-vowel we have had to use O at the end of a word and OA in other cases, as in Wilson's orthography as being the least ambiguous way of writing this sound in the present state of English orthography, and despite what is said above. Just as we cannot use EA in the spelling of dialect words, as suggested for the reform of spelling because confusion might at present be caused with old existing spellings (see 16), so likewise with OU and OW, which are used for the foal-vowel only where occurring also in standard spelling with this value. This, however, will help to show the difference in quality between the Ulster foal-vowel and the RP diphthong. We have not attempted to distinguish in the Dictionary spellings (except where different words are so distinguished phonemically) the south Ulster shortening of this vowel before voiceless consonants or its north Ulster shortening before all consonants other than r, voiced fricatives and the past tense suffix -d, though this could have been done in most cases by doubling the following consonant (cf. the parallel case of IE).

(26) The putt-vowel is written U, even though it generally has a more o-like quality than the English and Scottish vowels, from which however there is no simple means of distinguishing it. Where the dialects have this vowel instead of the put-sound the following consonant is doubled, where possible, as in the key-word itself, or in the case of L and S written single when not followed by another vowel, but there is no convenient way of dealing with SH in such circumstances unless one departs from ordinary usage and writes SSH. We have however simply left the distinction unmarked in this case and the phonetic script will show where -USH has the putt-vowel instead of the put-vowel.

(27) The put-vowel need not be specially distinguished in genuine dialect forms. Where it comes from historic short u the putt-vowel generally takes its place, and in so far as it occasionally survives where the standard language has the putt-vowel it may be written with one of the spellings of the fool-vowel. Where it represents in RP a recent shortening of the fool-vowel it is not normally distinguished from the latter in Ulster, so that the Nu Speling use of OO for the shortened vowel and UU for the long sound need not be followed.

(28) The fool-vowel is always long in RP, but in Ulster speech both dialect and standard it is always short except finally and before certain consonants, as explained in the section on Phonology and shown in the phonetic spellings of each word. We have not however considered it necessary to show this general shortening by doubling the following consonant any more than we have shown that which affects IE (15) and OA (25) or the lengthening which affects A, E, O, before certain consonants. The north Ulster dialect is derived from Scots, which has two vowels of this type (or really three, one varying in quality according as it remained long or became short). These are: (1) the fool-vowel proper, a back vowel as in RP but usually short, occurring where RP has the foul-diphthong and written traditionally with OU, but with OO in Wilson's orthography; and (2) a rounded front vowel (like French eu, German ö when long or French u, German ü when shortened) traditionally written UI in both cases, so also by Wilson, and occurring usually where RP has the fool-vowel. But in some Scots dialects this last in both its long and short forms has become unrounded, and this is the normal development in north Ulster in so far as the original distinctions have been preserved phonemically, the long sound becoming the fail-vowel which we write with AE and the short vowel becoming almost the sound of I in pit. Since in north Ulster historic short i has become the sound which we write as A (17), this leaves I free to use for this fronted, unrounded and shortened vowel, which in certain dialect forms replaces the fool-vowel of RP (13). In this sense therefore we do not need the UI of traditional Scots orthography. The original back vowel, however, in almost all types of Ulster speech, and not only in north Ulster, has moved forward till it is nearer this UI-sound than to the original fool-vowel, and in north Ulster this sound has sometimes replaced the original front UI instead of the latter, being unrounded to AE or I. The question then arises whether a special digraph is required to show that the sound differs from its RP value; in accordance however with the principle set out above that we apply the spellings of standard orthography according to the Ulster standard of pronunciation we have let the various ordinary spellings of this sound (O, OE, OO, OU, U, UI, UE, EW) remain in cases where no other change is made in the word, with the convention that phonetically they represent a more advanced vowel than the fool- and put-sounds of RP, just as OA is used with the convention that it represents a pure close vowel and not the diphthong of RP. A question of a different order arises where this sound replaces phonemically another sound normally written in the same way, e.g. the fool-vowel in its Ulster form takes the place of the for- or foal-vowel in the dialect forms of floor, door. To write these with U, UE or UI might pass in the first case but in the second would certainly imply the feud-vowel. We therefore adopt the UU digraph used in Nu Speling for the fool-vowel as an alternative to all the established ways of spelling this sound where the latter would be ambiguous, and we extend this to cases where this sound replaces any other, such as the foul-vowel in north Ulster forms and words which have no English equivalent. The use of UU is therefore introduced primarily to avoid confusion between words phonemically or etymologically distinct, and that it represents a sound which is phonetically distinct from the fool-vowel of RP is only incidental to the case. In so far as a genuine back vowel may survive in some south Ulster border dialects this type of pronunciation could be indicated by writing OO for UU in most of such cases, but we have not quoted such forms in the Dictionary.

(29) The feud-vowel is written UE in Nu Speling, but we consider EU preferable because it indicates the order of the actual sounds of the diphthong. IU would be even more accurate but we allow EU to stand, as it is more commonly used. We also allow EW to stand finally in accordance with ordinary spelling conventions, but U, UE, UI are left only where no other change is made in the word and are not used with this value in purely dialect forms. The U part of this sound is even more advanced than the UU-sound just discussed (28), but we have not thought it necessary to indicate this phonetic difference from the RP value of the vowel in any way.

(30) The fur-vowel is not common in genuine dialect forms. Either the original short vowels from which it is derived remain or it is replaced by other long vowels, in some cases an open front vowel, which for the reasons explained above (16) we write with EI, in others a back rounded vowel, either O (22) or OA (25). In the cases where the fur-vowel does occur we have written simply U, the presence of nonintervocalic R following it being the only indication that this U differs slightly in quality as well as in length from the putt-vowel (26), the difference being in any case less than in RP. Where the original short sounds survive instead of the fur-vowel, the R should be doubled to show this.

(31) For the vowels of unstressed syllables we have generally avoided digraphs, unless they are actually long or distinct in sound, and have allowed ourselves considerable freedom in the choice of which simple vowel letter to use for the short indeterminate vowel according to its derivation. Short unstressed I is usually so written, but some explanation is required of our treatment of the sound usually written Y finally and before -ing, but changed to IE before consonantal suffixes (though other spellings of it occur). Since the normal sound of this in most parts of Ulster is a shortened form of EY in they, we have used this digraph in all words for which we have had to devise a spelling, leaving Y/IE only in words whose spelling is not otherwise changed. This, already familiar from a few words like donkey, money, has the advantage also that it need not be changed when inflexions are added. In some parts however such words are pronounced with a shortened form of the IE in field, and EY may be changed to IE, even when final, to show this, but we did not consider it necessary to swell the Dictionary by quoting such variant forms. AE is used instead of EY however in the unstressed north Ulster negative suffix -nae.

(32) It should be noted that when the diphthongs Y, AAY, AOU (and also OI, though this is rare) occur before R, there are two types of pronunciation. Either the diphthong remains with a tendency to be flattened out into a centralized type of long vowel (the latter being the standard type of Ulster pronunciation), or else the diphthongs are converted into triphthongs which may be indicated by writing -ER after them as if forming a separate syllable, which in some places is actually the case.

(33) Apart from unstressed syllables of long words it should be noted that some words such as pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions and adverbs by their nature often occupy an unstressed position in the sentence and consequently develop two (or more) forms according as they are stressed or unstressed. The standard orthography of such words normally represents the stressed sound and in most cases is written also where they are unstressed. The substitution of unstressed for stressed forms in such words is not a matter of dialect but of idiom, and there is no more reason why we should attempt to spell the unstressed forms phonetically when writing in dialect than when writing in the standard literary language. It may happen however that the dialect unstressed form itself may differ from the standard unstressed form and only in a few cases such as this have we given special spellings for these. In the case of the pronouns he, she, we, me, the traditional spelling is sufficiently ambiguous to serve as both the stressed sound hee, shee, wee, mee, and the unstressed sound hey, wey, mey, for any difference in spelling between the stressed and unstressed forms to be necessary.

The whole range of necessary vowel spellings has now been covered, and they are here summarized first alphabetically and then phonetically:

Alphabetical summary of vowels:

A- the pat-vowel, short or lengthened in south Ulster, always short in north Ulster
AA- the far-vowel, long or short
AAY- the long back file-vowel
AE- the fail-vowel, usually long, and usually more open before R
AO- the fall- or for-vowel, long or short
AOU- the foul-vowel
E- the pet-vowel, short or lengthened
EI (EY)- the fail-vowel, usually long, except when unstressed, and usually more open before R
EU (EW)- the feud-vowel, advanced and long or short
I- the pit-vowel, always short
IE- the feel-vowel, long or shortened
O-(1) the pot-vowel, short or lengthened
(2) before R, the for-vowel, long or short
(3) the pure close foal-vowel, long or shortened
OA- the pure close foal-vowel, long or shortened
OI (OY)- the foil-vowel
U-(1) the putt-vowel, always short
(2) the fur-vowel, long or short, before R
UU- the advanced fool-/put-vowel, short or long
Y- the short front file-vowel

As in standard spelling, EY, EW, O and OY are allowed as positional variants of EI, EU, OA and OI when final, but in the case of the specially devised groups AAY and AOU only the one form is used. The groups AA, AE, AOU, EI, EU, IE, OA and OI all occur already in standard spelling with the values here assigned to them, the first three however being uncommon, and only AAY, AO and UU are completely new, though suggested by existing spellings. Of the numerous groups beginning with A, this letter indicates phonetically the starting-point of a diphthong in the case of the trigraphs, while in the case of the digraphs it points in most cases to their derivation, and the second letter indicates the pronunciation. The single letters other than Y normally represent the historic short vowels, which may however be lengthened in Ulster, or reduced unstressed vowels; the digraphs other than EU and OI represent the historic long vowels, which may however be shortened in Ulster; while the trigraphs with EU, OI and Y represent diphthongs. Apart from positional variants in four cases already mentioned and phonemic variants in a few cases governed by a following R, there is only a choice of spellings in one case, that between EI and AE for the fail-vowel, for the etymological reasons given above.

Phonetic summary of vowels:

The following table shows the vowel spellings arranged phonetically in the first column with the I.P.A. symbols for the range of sounds which each represents (see Phonology) in the second column, and other variant spellings which are allowed to survive from standard orthography in the case of dialect words which differ in meaning but not in form from standard use in the third column:

IEi: iE, EA, EE, EI, EO, I
IɪY, E, U, UI
EI (EY), AEe: e ɛ: (+r)A, AI, AY, E, EA
Eɛ ɛ:A, EA, EI, EO
Aa a: ä-
AAɑ: ɑ ɑ̀: ɑ̀A, EA, E
Oɒ ɒ: ɔ ɔ: (+ r)A, AU, AW, OU
o: (finally)
AOɔ: ɔA, AU, AW, OA, OU
OA (O)o: oO, OE, OU, OW
ə: ə (+ r)I, E, EA, O, OU, Y
UUü ü: y y: u u:O, OO, OU, U, UE, UI, EU, EW, OE
Yæi ɛi əi aiI, EI, EY, AI, AY, UI, UY
AAYɑi ɑ̀i ɑe ɑ̀eI, Y, UY
OI (OY)ɔi ɒi oi-
AOUəü əu au æuOU, OW
EU (EW)jü: jü jy: jyU, UE, UI

If the words which differ in meaning but not in pronunciation were spelt as in the first column the orthography of the whole body of words in the Dictionary could be made even more consistent but for the reasons already given we prefer to leave these unchanged as there would still remain the numerous words not included in the Dictionary which are common to dialect and standard speech in both meaning and sound, and to change these also would be taking us beyond the realm of dialect into an orthographical reform of the whole language. We can point the way to that road but it must be left to others to follow it in easy stages. It should also be realised that certain sound changes such as the north Ulster shift of I to A are applied to the whole range of vocabulary in which the original sounds occur so that we have had to draw the line somewhere in regulating the number of such forms which are admitted. The general principle followed for this purpose is that in words of one or two syllables where the change might cause the word to coincide with some other word in the same or another dialect the special form is given, while in the case of multisyllabic words which have no special dialect meaning and are such as the dialects would borrow from the literary language they are omitted.

We have discussed the basis of our orthography at considerable length largely for the benefit of those users of the Dictionary, whether natives of Ulster or not, for whom the section on Phonology would be too advanced and who are not conversant with phonetic script, but we would recommend the latter to the attention of all who use the Dictionary as it gives much information especially about the articulation of certain consonants and about the length of vowels which cannot be conveyed in the ordinary spelling.

Editorial Preface | Orthography | Transcriptions | Notes