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Ulster-Scots in the United Kingdom

Language designations:

  • In the language itself: Ulstèr-Scotch or Ullans
  • ISO 639-3 standard: This language has no ISO 639-3 code. It is included within the Scots language as a dialect with the following code: sco

Language vitality according to:

Linguistic aspects:

  • Classification: Indo-European → Germanic. For more information, see ulst1239 at Glottolog
  • Script: Latin

Language standardization

There is so far no standardized orthography1), therefore some recently published books have included a glossary at the end 2). However, the USAIG (Ulster-Scots Academy Implementation Group) published in 2012 a spelling and pronunciation guide (a digital edition was made available in 2013), in which it states that an “agreement on standard spelling for modern Ulster-Scots can be, and indeed has been, achieved” 3).


Language Area

Ulster-Scots is spoken in large parts of Ulster, in the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland, namely in the rural parts of the counties of Antrim, Donegal, Down, and Derry 4).

Percentage of the population who stated that they can speak Ulster-Scots in the 2011 census in Northern Ireland

Percentage of the population who stated that they can speak Ulster-Scots in the 2011 census in Northern Ireland.

Speaker numbers

There are quite diverse estimates when it comes to determine the amount of speakers. Some estimates place the number of speakers around 33,400 in Northern Ireland5), with the Department of Communities providing a very similar number: around 35,000 6). Other estimates place the number of speakers between 50,000 to 100,000 native speakers7).

Furthermore, the 2011 Northern Irish census showed that around 140,000 people claimed to have some ability in the language8).

Education of the language

History of language education

As many other minority languages, Ulster-Scots has been, until recent times, a stigmatized variety. So it is not surprising that children were discouraged to use it at school9). The official use of Ulster-Scots in educations has a very short history.

It is in the Belfast Agreement of 1998 that a need to support linguistic diversity was first articulated10). The process of devolvement through the successive agreements and acts that ended up with the establishment of the Northern Ireland Assembly have enabled Northern Ireland to take, among many other things, autonomous decisions regarding education and language policy.

In 2001 the British government ratified the Charter, including Ulster Scots in Part II. This has provided Ulster Scots with a certain degree of protection.

The singing of the St. Andrews agreement of 2006 (also known as the Northern Ireland Act of 2006), further confirmed this trend towards an expansion in the recognition and promotion of the language11). In the agreement it is specifically stated that “[t]he Executive Committee shall adopt a strategy setting out how it proposes to enhance and develop the Ulster Scots language, heritage and culture”12). In the same year a website was launched to help children learn the language13).

Legislation of language education

European legislation

Ulster Scots is currently protected by the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. This came into effect in 2001, and it is protected by Part II. Therefore all public bodies and their associates are required, for example, to accept correspondence in Ulster-Scots14).

However, as it is not included between the languages protected by Part III of the Charter, this does not guarantee the use of this language in education. The DCAL oversees the implementation of the Charter 15), tasks which are specifically undertaken by the Inter-Departmental Charter Implementation Group (ICIG)16).

National and regional legislation

Since the St. Andrews agreement 2006 language legislation was devolved from London to the Northern Ireland Asembly 17).

Presently, the Department of Education has a language policy that allows the use of Ulster-Scots for communication with it 18).

Support structure

The structure of the school system in Northern Ireland is rather complex, which becomes more so when it comes to the use of languages, including Ulster-Scots. The system itself is controlled by the Department of Education, which in turn is accountable to the Assembly, through the Minister of Education19). Furthermore, individual schools are run by a Board of Governors 20).

The Department of Education is supported by nine non-departamental public bodies, called Arms Length Bodies. Though one of these, the Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta, is dedicated to the use of Gaelic as a means of instruction, none of them is dedicated to Ulster Scots (which comes as no surprise since Ulster-Scots is only protected by Part II of the Charter).

In addition to the Department of Education, two other departments also have an important role on language policies in Northern Ireland:

The Ulster-Scots Agency

The Ulster-Scots Agency. This agency aims to promote the study, conservation, development and use of Ulster-Scots as a living language. It is funded by the Department of Communities and the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs in the Republic of Ireland21).

The Agency was established in 1998 as a result of the Belfast Agreement. Together with Foras na Gaeilge it composes the North/South Language Body (institution that coordinates language related issues between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland)22). The aims of the Agency are to “promote the study, conservation, development, and use of Ulster-Scots as a living language; to encourage and develop the full range of its attendant culture and to promote an understanding of the history of the Ulster-Scots”23)

The Agency offers workshops, school activities, and some educational materials, for primary and secondary education. The focus lies on cultural activities, such as dance and music, however and not so much on the Ulster Scots language.24).

Ministerial Advisory Group on the Ulster-Scots Academy (MAGUS)

Another institution that plays an important role in the planning of policies in relation to Ulster-Scots is the Ministerial Advisory Group on the Ulster-Scots Academy (MAGUS), which was formed in March 2011 by the Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure25). The MAGUS' purpose is to:

  • to produce a holistic multi-year development and research strategy for the Ulster-Scots sector,
  • to oversee the implementation of the strategy,
  • to progress the Ulster-Scots Academy approach,
  • to identify and support discrete projects under three streams of activity: language and literature; history, heritage and culture; and education and research,
  • to advise the Minister on these matters26).

The term of the Board of the MAGUS ended on 31 December 2015 27).

Strategy to Enhance and Develop the Ulster-Scots Language

In January 2015, the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure, Carál Ní Chuilín, launched the ‘Strategy to Enhance and Develop the Ulster-Scots Language, Heritage and Culture 2015-2035'28). As from May 2016, the Strategy's implementation falls under the sphere of the Department of Communities29). The objectives of this plan are to achieve:

  • an increased public recognition of and respect for the Ulster-Scots language, heritage and culture at home and abroad;
  • an increased positive attitudes towards the Ulster-Scots language throughout all of the community;
  • an improved visibility of Ulster Scots through increased access to quality public service broadcasting;
  • a sustainable, vibrant and high quality Ulster-Scots community sector and infrastructure;
  • the establishment of a quality, thriving, sustainable Ulster-Scots Academy;
  • an increased visibility of and accessibility to quality Ulster-Scots provision in the education system;
  • an agreed standard written form of Ulster Scots; and
  • quality Ulster-Scots language, heritage and culture research findings which are disseminated widely and impact positively on the future of Ulster Scots. 30).

As a result of the implementation of this Strategy, positive results are expected in the area of education31).

Education in practice

Ulster-Scots is available as a subject in primary school education. The Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment allows schools to opt for providing Ulster-Scots as a subject for the whole school, or just one key stage or year group32). Ulster-Scots language medium education is, so far, not available.

Learning materials

Learning materials for Ulster-Scots in primary education have been developed by the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA).

Learning resources and educational institutions

The following institutions provide language education and learning resources:

Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA)

The Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment has on its website materials available to learn the language as well as to learn about the community33). However, this is a program intended to revitalize the language, with the medium of instruction being English and the material available is for primary school (ages 6 to 11)34).

Within the context of the Strategy 2015-2035, the CCEA is developing fifteen units of work for post-primary schools35), which would mean a significant extension in the availability of Ulster-Scots in the curriculum. This work has been undertaken at the University of Ulster36).

The teaching of Ulster-Scots does not limit itself to getting students to become literate and proficient in the use of the language, but there is also a strong focus on culture.

Ulster Scots Agency

The Ulster-Scots Agency offers to organize after school clubs, school drama, and both music and dance workshops37).

The Ulster-Scots Agency gives a prize to schools that are committed to the teaching and promotion of Ulster-Scots. This prize is called the Ulster-Scots Flagship Award. The program enables primary schools to develop high quality educational opportunities for children in order to learn about the Ulster-Scots heritage and culture38).

One of the last initiatives launched by the Ulster-Scots Agency is the Ingenious Ulster Science Roadshow, which “encourages pupils to engage with science by learning about famous Ulster-Scots scientists and inventors”39). Fifty-six schools are involved in the project40). The objective behind this project is to show the role that Ulster-Scots can play in a wide range of subjects41).

Other useful links:

Mercator's Regional Dossier:

Read more about Ulster Scots education in Mercator's Regional Dossier (2020).

1) , 16)
Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. (2010). Minority Language Rights: The Irish language and Ulster Scots (p. 31). Belfast: Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. Retrieved from
NvTv, N. V. (2016). In Focus: Ulster Scots Education Discussion. Retrieved from
Herbison, I., Robinson, P., & Smyth, A. (Eds.). (2012). Spelling and Pronunciation Guide. The Ullans Press. Retrieved from
4) , 7)
Montgomery, M. (2006). The morphology and syntax of Ulster Scots. English World-Wide, 27(3), 295–329.
Scots. (n.d.). Retrieved May 1, 2017, from
Development and use of Ulster-Scots | Department for Communities. (2015, August 6). Retrieved May 25, 2017, from
Gardner, P. R. (2016). Ethnicizing Ulster’s Protestants?: Ulster-Scots education in Northern Ireland. Identities, 0(0), 1–20.
About Us. (n.d.). Retrieved May 28, 2017, from
The Belfast Agreement - GOV.UK. (n.d.). Retrieved May 25, 2017, from
The Ulster-Scots language, heritage and culture strategy | Department for Communities. (2015, August 6). Retrieved May 25, 2017, from
Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006. (n.d.). [Text]. Retrieved May 24, 2017, from
BBC NEWS | UK | Northern Ireland | Ulster-Scots launch schools site. (n.d.). Retrieved May 25, 2017, from
14) , 18)
DE language policy | Department of Education. (2015, October 23). Retrieved May 20, 2017, from
Home. (n.d.). Retrieved May 25, 2017, from
The St Andrews Agreement, October 2006 - GOV.UK. (n.d.). Retrieved May 25, 2017, from
19) , 20)
Perry, C. (2016). Education system in Northern Ireland. Retrieved from
21) , 23)
Ulster-Scots Agency - About Us. (n.d.). Retrieved May 28, 2017, from
22) , 26)
Campbell, K., Eydmann, S., & Gunn, L. (2013). Research Scoping Study: Ulster-Scots Music Traditions. A Report for MAGUS and DCAL. Retrieved from
Website of the Ulster-Scots Agency Retrieved May 28, 2017, from
MAGUS - Creativity NI. (n.d.). Retrieved May 25, 2017, from
27) , 28) , 29) , 30) , 31) , 35) , 36)
Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. (2016). Strategy to Enhance and Develop the ULSTER-SCOTS Language, Heritage and Culture 2015 – 2035 One year on. Belfast: Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. Retrieved from
32) , 33) , 34)
CCEA. (2016, May 10). Ulster-Scots for Primary Schools: Shared Language, Culture & Heritage [Text]. Retrieved May 25, 2017, from
Ulster-Scots Agency - Education. (n.d.). Retrieved May 13, 2017, from
Flagship Schools Award. (n.d.). Retrieved May 28, 2017, from
39) , 40) , 41)
Agency Launches Ingenious Ulster Science Roadshow. (n.d.). Retrieved May 28, 2017, from
languages/ulster_scots_in_the_uk.txt · Last modified: 2023/04/04 14:05 by ydwine

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