Ulster-Scots is a regional variation of Scots, which originated from the same medieval Anglo-Saxon language which also spawned modern English.
Alongside English, Lowland Scots (Lallans) was introduced en masse to this region during the Hamilton and Montgomery Settlements (from 1606) and the official Plantation of Ulster (from 1610).
As English became the language of commerce and government, Ulster-Scots, alongside Irish, became marginalised and largely restricted to the countryside and the home. Ulster-Scots has remained a vibrant spoken language in rural Ulster, particularly in Co. Antrim, Co. Down, Co. Londonderry and Co. Donegal. It is distinct from English in many aspects of pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar.
Under the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages, approved in 1992 and signed by U.K. and R.O.I. governments, Ulster-Scots became an officially recognised regional language of Europe.
Ulster-Scots language has a distinct literary heritage, not least the tradition of the “Rhyming Weaver” poets. This movement was at its height between the late 18th century and the early 19th century. Local bards such as James Orr (Ballycarry), Samuel Thomson (Carngranny/Templepatrick), Hugh Porter (Moneyslane), David Herbison (Dunclug/Ballymena) and Sarah Leech (Raphoe/Donegal) were part of a literary movement which had much in common with the writing of Robert Burns, James Hogg, Allan Ramsay and Robert Fergusson in Scotland.
Other forms of Ulster-Scots writing evolved throughout the 19th Century, with the development of the Ulster-Scots “Kailyard” novel, pioneered by authors such as W.G. Lyttle and Archibald McIlroy. Ulster-Scots was also used as a medium for political satire in the local press by exponents such as John Weir, W.G. Lyttle and John McFall. These men commented on local events in colourful written Ulster-Scots under the pseudonyms “Bab McKeen”, “Rabin Gordon” and “Aul Han” respectively.
Ulster-Scots writing has enjoyed something of a renaissance in recent times. James Fenton’s The Hamely Tongue and Philip Robinson’s Ulster-Scots Grammar have done much to build on Prof. Robert Gregg’s seminal academic research into Ulster-Scots as a spoken language in the 1950s and 60s. The legacy of the Rhyming Weaver tradition continues in the work of a number of contemporary Ulster-Scots poets.