The Ulster-Scots Dialect Boundaries in the Province of Ulster*

Robert J. Gregg

A detailed discussion of the lists that make up this Phonological Questionnaire now follows:

List 1

For the purpose of discriminating between the US and UHE dialects, the most important consonant by far is /x/, the reflex of the velar fricative in OE and ME. It is well preserved in all the US areas, not only in dialect words of a Scottish type such as sheugh, pegh, spraghle, etc, but — characteristically — in a large number of Standard English words that have a UHE equivalent in which [x] → [f] or zero:

daughter[ˈdɔ:xtər][ˈdɔtər] etc

List 2

The words in this list had ọ̄ in ME, but evidently had ǖ in Early Scots and Middle Scots. This Middle Scots vowel has a number of different US reflexes which have a more or less clearly defined regional distribution. In some cases where we find them grouped geographically with other peculiarities we might be tempted to think in terms of the four or five different US reflexes found in words such as:

above, afternoon, done, good, school, shoes:

(i) /i/ occurs in the mid-Ards along the boundary with S Ards HE, and in two out of every three of the places investigated to the W of Strangford Lough.
The same reflex is found in all parts of the Laggan and also in the Magilligan area, settled in the 19th century by Lagganeers. This present-day distribution interpreted in the light of our knowledge of settlement history and of the dialectal situation in Scotland would suggest that this reflex represents the most archaic form. The Laggan district, in W Ulster and further removed from Scottish ports of disembarcation, was definitively planted in the early years of the 17th century, and chiefly from Ayrshire and the SW Scottish hinterland. The areas concerned in county Down were likewise planted from the same parts of Scotland and at the same period; and they are furthest removed from Donaghadee (Montgomery's port) and Bangor (Hamilton's port) through which the Scots settlers entered and through which contact with Scotland was maintained.

The characteristic forms for these areas are:


The absence of a [w]-glide with preceding velars is a good reason for dismissing any direct connection with NE Scots (Buchan), which has [gwid], [skwil].(34)

Evidence of the existence of [i]-forms similar to those of US has (as stated above) recently been discovered by the Linguistic Survey of Scotland on the border between Lanark and Dumfries.(35) The fact that this pocket has been found in a rather remote area would argue once again in favour of the archaic nature of this reflex, which may have been normal 17th century SW Scots.

(ii) /ɪ̈/occurs in the N Ards, on the fringes of the UHE boundary W of Strangford Lough and throughout most of county Antrim. Its similarity to current SW Scots, and its distribution close to the ports of entry through which contact was kept with Scotland, would suggest that this was an innovation which came in from SW Scotland some time after the original settlement but never reached the perimeter of the Scots-settled areas. Typical forms with [ɪ̈] are:


(iii) /e/ occurs in N Antrim and the adjacent parts of NE Derry. This seems to represent a development of /ɪ̈/, for in the same dialects we find /e/ as the vowel in the morpheme -ing, e.g., fishing [ˈfæ̈śen], Sometimes /e/ is realized as [eə]. Characteristic forms from these areas are:


(iv) /ü/ occurs in alternation with /i/ and /ɪ̈/ in a few localities in the Mid Ards and W of Strangford Lough. These forms may represent a hyperurbanism on the part of a few dialect speakers who, knowing that dialectal [nin] or [nɪ̈n] corresponds to standard [nʊ̈n], by analogy make [əˈbʊ̈n] to correspond with [əˈbin] or [əˈbɪ̈n].

(v) /æ̈/ or its equivalent occurs sporadically for certain items in the list throughout the US areas, but at least with one speaker (D4) it is the normal reflex in the whole of List 2, thus being identical with this reflex for ME ǐ, which is also /æ̈/.

The US dialect spoken by D4 illustrates clearly the kind of substitution that takes place among bilingual speakers, leading to the loss of a characteristic dialect vowel, viz. /ɪ̈/. Dialect speakers hear educated Standard English speakers consistently using [ɪ̈] and never [æ̈] as a reflex of ME ǐ, whereas they themselves use [æ̈] and never [ɪ̈] in the same circumstances in their 'broad' version of SE. This may lead to the idea that [ɪ̈] versus [æ̈] is a class dialect marker and that these two vowels are functionally equivalent, which in turn leads to the loss of distinction within the dialect itself between [ɪ̈] and [æ̈] and, in effect, to the substitution of [æ̈] for [ɪ̈] in many instances.

This result of bilingualism had already made itself felt in MSc, especially in certain words such as foot, pronounced —as shown by the poets' rhymes — [fæ̈t] (or something like it), alongside the traditional [fɪ̈t] etc.

Characteristic of D4's forms are:


Almost everywhere, of course, before /v/ and in open syllables the reflex is /e/:

[me:v] 'move' [de:] 'do' [śe:] 'shoe' [te:] 'to', 'too'

although do is [di:] in many parts of the Laggan. At the same time [di:] 'die', the usual US form, is replaced in the Laggan for the most part by US urban [dəi], thus avoiding a homonymic clash.

In closed syllables before /r/ the same reflex, /e/, occurs, although frequently the actual sound realized is retracted to [ë:], which may thus function as a lengthened allophone of [ɪ̈]. Examples occur in:

[bë:rd] 'board'[flë:r] 'floor'
[më:rz] 'moors'[pë:r] 'poor'

An outsider in this List, door, was included immediately following floor, because although the traditional US pronunciation [dɔ:r] is frequently in contrast with [flɛ:r], [fle:r], [flë:r], [fli:r], etc. sometimes, perhaps, as a result of semantic association, the vowels in these words are assimilated, e.g., in D4's [fle:r] and [de:r] and in the widespread Ulster reflexes of early SE forms: [flø:r] and [dø:r].

Apart from the general developments of this vowel as described above there were special, complicated changes in ESc and MSc when it occurred before a velar consonant. The final stages of these processes are evident in the various US reflexes of the types /jü/ or /jʌ/ in words (including #91 through #96) such as:

enough[əˈnˊʌx/ əˈnʌx/ əˈnˊÿ:]
left-handed[ˈflˊʌge/ ˈfjʌge/ ˈjʌge,] etc.
escarpment[hjʌx/ çʌx]
hook[hjÜk/ hjʌk/ çʌk]
nook[nˊÜk/ nˊʌk]
plough[plˊÿ/ pjÿ:]
sheugh[śjʌx śʌx]
tough[tˊʌx/ tśʌx/ tʌx]

The forms [dźÜk] 'dodge' and [dˊÜk/ dźÜk/ dˊʌk/ dzˊʌk] 'duck' n. seem to fit in with this series.

It will be noted that the yod frequently coalesces with the preceding consonant to produce a palatalized version, and that occasionally this may disappear in the case of [lˊ], leaving a simple yod, or it may pass on to an affricate, or the yod may disappear (as with tough, enough), perhaps by analogy with SE /t/ and /n/. The yod fronts [ü:] to [ÿ:] in open syllables.

In all the US dialects [ˈbite] behove to has the archaic /i/ realized in a short, clipped form, and singular tooth has /i/, just like the plural teeth, in fact perhaps by analogy with the plural, which would also explain sporadic [gis] (D15) for goose in areas where [gɪ̈s] would be expected.

Summing up List 2, then, we have archaism /i/, innovations /ɪ̈/ and /e/, bilinguals' substitution /æ̈/, all from ESc/MSc ǖ (ME ọ̄). In addition, we have conditional developments such as /e/ before /v/ and in open syllables, and the same vowel or a retracted version [ë] before /r/. The /i/ in behove and tooth is anomalous or analogous. A yod followed by /ü/ or /ʌ/ has developed before velars.

List 3

The typical broad US vowel [æ̈] (or in Donegal the less open [ɛ̈]) occurs in these words with different ME sources and is in contrast with several UHE reflexes as follows:

[əi]#97 — 100
[ø] (or [ö])#101 — 113
[ɪ̈]#114 — 117 (further contrast: US /g/, UHE /dź/)
[ɛ]#120 — 121

Items #97, 98 and 100 tend to show the typical SW Scots loss of final [d] in the [-nd] cluster.

The US areas have preserved this Scots feature well but nonstandard UHE [ʌ] crops up occasionally in bull.

List 4

The US vowel [ɛ] is characteristic of all the words in this list and corresponds to UHE [a] or [ɑ] in most cases but to [e] in #129, 131, 142, 149; to [ɒ] or [ɔ] in #140, 156, 175; to [ɪ̈] in #177, 178; to [i] or [əi] in #179, 180.

The medial consonant of #128 and #144a is [ð] in US, in contrast with UHE [d], nonstandard [ɒ]; in #153, the [r] tends to drop out, being 'implied' by the interdental [t]; in #157, 160, 162, the Laggan dialect of E Donegal has an intrusive schwa or else [m̩], thus [ˈɛ:rəm], [ˈfɛ:rəm], [ˈhɛ:rəm]; or [ˈɛ:rm̩], etc. In Gaelic-speaking areas, or those till recently Gaelic-speaking, these items have [r] (with a single flap); [ˈɛ:rəm], etc.; in #139 and #161, palatalized velars, [kˊ], [gˊ], occur for the most part in Donegal; #163 frequently ends with [-isˊt], #164 contrasts with UHE dialect [ˈmɑ:rlez]. #166 generally has terminal morpheme /-t/. #169 mostly has loss of the first [r] by dissimilation.

Some speakers have a distinct schwa-glide between [ɛ] and a following consonant, thus D12, D13, D14, D33 and D39 all have [grɛəs] for grass.

The /ɛ/, which is mostly near cardinal, is realized as a closer vowel [ɛ̣] with D20 and as an opener one [ɛ̢] with D24, the latter being probably due to the influence of Belfast speech.

The word farm crops up sporadically as [fɔ:rm] instead of, or in competition with, the usual US [fɛ:rm].

List 5

Here we have words with ME/MSc ū, which generally becomes [ü:] in open syllables, in hiatus, and before voiced fricatives.

Following a yod or a palatalized consonant, a fronted variant, [ÿ:], occurs.

In complementary distribution with [ü:], in closed syllables, or, generally, in situations other than those defined above is a short, more open short variant, [Ü], and before [r] in all positions a long, even opener allophone, [ø:]. Morphological additions to a word form do not alter this patterning, thus [ˈsmü:ðər] < [smü:ð] smooth; but #203 and #204 are frequently [ˈsÜðər] and [ˈpÜðər], as they are solid morphemes.

The US vowels are in contrast for the most part with UHE /əü/ but for #202, 203, 208, 212, 213, 215, 237, 241, 260 with UHE /o/, and for #221, 222, 223, 236, 245, 255, 256, 258 with UHE /ʌ/.

List 6

ME/MSc ǐ following [w] generally gives [ʌ] or its rounded equivalent [ö] in US, as in Scots over against UHE [ɪ̈], [ɛ̈], [æ̈], etc. In the case of twenty we must suppose a preliminary raising of e to i to explain the form [ˈtwʌnte], Some of the US dialects have [ʌ] in words with initial orthographic wr, in which the w is now silent. Hence the change ǐ > [ʌ] must antedate the loss of the initial [w]. In Donegal [röst] wrist is particularly common, as is [ˈrʌŋkl̩] elsewhere.

This change may represent the end result of the stages [ɪ] > [y] > [u] > [ʌ]. As a dialect marker it is not too effective in Donegal, where the local Gaelic seems often to have a similar conditional change, e.g., bhfuil (is) is not [wɪ̈lˊ] but [wölˊ] in many places.

The words any and many, or rather Scots ony and mony, have the forms [ˈɔ:ne] and [ˈmʌne] in US, the stressed vowel of the latter having probably developed from [ɔ] through [u] to [ʌ].

Items #294 through #299 represent words in which ME/MSc u — after lengthening — gives UHE [əü] (or [o:] in the word mourn) but US [ʌ].

List 7

Items #306 through #335 exemplify the characteristic Scots change by which ME o > ɑ before or after labials. This change, which does not affect UHE, is well represented in US, not only in words which form part of the general vocabulary, such as:

but also in dialect words, such as:
[kɑ:p]'caup'[slɑ:p]'an opening into a field'

In items #338 through #345, US, like Scots, has kept unrounded /ɑ/, in contrast with UHE /ɔ/ before the velar nasal /ŋ/. One general exception in US is #341, which is [strɔ:ŋ] and not [strɑ:ŋ]. The variant [ʍɛ:ŋ] often occurs for #342 in US.

The ME sequence > US /wa/, as in Scots, in #346 through #358, though we must assume quit to have gone through the stage [kwɛt/ before emerging as [kwɑ:t]. UHE is not affected by this change.

List 8

Items #362 through #370 bring out the contrast between the reflexes of ME -al, which gives UHE [ɔ:l] over against US [ɔ:], with ostensibly more archaic variants such as the Laggan [a:] or the widespread NE Ulster [ɑ:] and [ɑw], all with loss of -l. Some speakers who use [ɑw] have [ɔ: ] as a special development after /w/ and /ʍ/ in words like:

[wɔ:]wall[əˈwɔ:]away[twɔ:] two

In #371 to 379, ME -al + Consonant gives mostly US [ɑ:], which in some of the dialects is in contrast with a shorter vowel [ɑ] or fronter vowel [a] in pairs such as:

[bɑ:k]balkversus[bɑk, bak]back

although in the Laggan occasionally this opposition may be marked mainly by a contrast in the consonants:


List 9

These are words in which Scots and US have /i/ in contrast with UHE /e/, /ɛ/, /əi/, /ɪ̈/. The Scots and US shortening of this originally long vowel is conditioned by the phonetic environment, [i] being now the main member, and the long variant [i:] being preserved only in stressed final open syllables, in hiatus, before voiced fricatives and before /r/. Compare [dif] deaf with [di:v] deafen.

Occasionally in words which may have a strong emotional connotation we find that the long quantity has been retained, perhaps for affective reasons, in spite of the following unvoiced plosives, e.g.:

[ˈkri:pe]'a type of low stool'

The long vowel has also been retained as a morphological marker or oristic signal which distinguishes pairs such as:

[di:d]diedversus[did]dead; deed

List 10

The older forms of these words (#451 — 483) had ɑ̄ as stressed vowel, down to ME/MSc. The UHE reflex is /o/ or /ɔ/ over against the US /e/ (or /ɛ/ before /r/). In some versions of US a schwa-glide develops before final consonants in stressed monosyllables, as in:


Contextual shortening or clipping of [e:] leads to [ɪ] in morphologically fused forms such as:

[ˈhɪte]<[ˈhe:ˌte:]have to
[ˈdɪne]<[ˈde:ˌne:]do not

Although own (adj.) is generally [e:n] in US, the numeral one (< OE ɑ̄n) is represented by [e:n] only in parts of Donegal. The usual US version elsewhere is [jɛ̈n] or [jæ̈n], which is in contrast with UHE dialectal [wɑ:n].(36)

Before /r/ the open vowel /ɛ/ occurs to the general exclusion of /e/:


The form [stre:] for straw seems to point back to an earlier strɑ̄; a — probably archaic — form [strɑ:] actually occurs in some US areas. The contrasting UHE dialect form is [stro:], probably from older N or W Midland English dialect sources.(37)

List 11

These words show typically [o:] in certain dialectal words and in a few words with UHE /ɔ/, especially before /r/.

List 12

Here are listed a number of words (#524 — 547) that had one of the diphthongs ei or ai in ME/MSc, and that still have (representing both sources) a diphthong, /əi/, in US in contrast with /e/ in UHE. This narrow diphthong is always found to be in significant contrast with a broader diphthong of the type [ɑe], [ɑɪ], [ɑi], [ai], etc., in another range of words (#549 —559).

This type of opposition does not belong to the UHE dialects proper, which usually have only one diphthong, of the type [əi], [ɛi], [æi], etc. USU and some versions of UHE on the fringe of the US districts, however, have a phonemically contrastive pair of diphthongs identical with the US pair but mostly with a different incidence (#560 — 565), thus:


In US eye is [i:] and I is usually [ɑ:].

In US and the other dialects which have two diphthongs, the phonetic environment may determine the choice of variant, final voiced fricatives calling for a preceding /ɑe/, thus (#566 — 569):


List 13

Items ##570 — 577 represent OE forms in -ald. In these US has consistently the reflex [-əül] (with loss of -d), although an additional form [-ɑ:l] crops up occasionally in old and cold. Apart from the forms with /ɑ/, these items do not give a sharp contrast with UHE, which may have /o/ but can also have a non-standard /əü/, ostensibly derived from Elizabethan or Jacobean English developments.

An /əü/ diphthong is characteristic of US in #578 — 611 (omitting #594). The post-vocalic l may be lost in #578, 579, 581, 582, 593. It is always missing in #590, a word which is very common in place-names and not equated with the SE word knoll. The usual UHE equivalent of these items has /o/.

Items #596 — 611 have typically /əü/ in US but /o/, /ü/, /ɔ/, etc., in UHE, if parallel forms exist.

List 14

Peculiarities in the US verb system include the special morphological fusions of verb plus, e.g., the enclitic negative particle /-ne/, often with altered base vowel:

[he: + -ne:]>[ˈhɪne]haven't
[he: + -z]>[hɪz]has
[he: + -z + -ne]>[ˈhɪzne]hasn't
[he: + te:]>[ˈhɪte]have to
[he: + -n]>[ə ˈhɪn]had (pp)
[de: + æ̈t]>[dɪt]do it
[mɑ:n + ne:]>[ˈmɑ:ne]mustn't
[kɑ:n + ne:]>[ˈkɑ:ne]can't

These are in contrast with UHE forms, similar to those of SE.

The forms of some strong verbs have special US developments:

give[gi: / gin] (pt & pp)
take[tɑ:k / te:n] (pt & pp)
begin[beˈgæ̈n / beˈgü:d] (almost obsolete)

The idiomatic is/are there? was/were there? in US are typically [ˈæ̈rˌðe:]? and [ˈwʌrˌðe:]?

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