Representation of the [yih] sound in Ulster-Scots (palatisation)

SourceUlster-Scots Language Guides: Spelling and Pronunciation Guide
AuthorIvan Herbison, Philip Robinson and Anne Smyth (editors)
PublisherUllans Press
EditionFirst Edition
DownloadsMOBI (Kindle) → EPUBPDF

The [yih] sound in Ulster-Scots was once represented by the letter ‘yogh’, firstly as ȝ and then z in historical documents. As outlined in Part 1 above, it is represented only rarely now in modern writing, apart from its use in place names and surnames. The sound, however, remains in the spoken language, sometimes being represented as ‘y’ in a similar way to the way ‘y’ is used in the beginning of some English words such as ‘year’ and ‘yellow’.

a) Palatisation after initial consonants

The English pronunciation of certain words like ‘new’, ‘tune’ and ‘Duke’ include a [yih] sound after the consonants ‘t’, ‘n’ and ‘d’. This, of course, also applies in Ulster-Scots, but it extends here to words like neuk (‘nook’), teuch (‘tough’) and deuck (‘duck’). While some writers have revived the Older Scots letter ‘yogh’ in modern Ulster-Scots (and this includes ze and zeir for ‘you’ and ‘year’, etc.), the existing spelling conventions of ‘neu-’ or ‘new-’, ‘deu-’ and ‘teu-’ are adequate in most cases. Similarly, when the consonant ‘f’ is ‘yoghed’ in Ulster-Scots, a ‘feu-’ spelling is often sufficient, eg feuggie (‘left-handed’).

duck (noun) - deuck
tough - teuch
enough - eneuch
nook - neuk
hook - heuk

Note: The verb ‘duck’ is jook.

Some writers also prefer to represent the intrusive [yih] sound in words like feuggie, teuch or eneuch by using a ‘j’ or a ‘y’: fjuggy, tjugh, enyuch. This is consistent with the well-known Mid-Ulster English forms [gyarden] ‘garden’ and [cyar] ‘car’ for the same feature as it appears there. Indeed, a considerable number of Ulster-Scots words are best spelt with the consonant followed by a ‘y’ when the subsequent vowel is other than [oo] and another vowel is necessary. Examples include:

myowt- whisper, small sound
nyaff- perky wee nuisance
nyim- tiny piece
nyir- nuisance
nyirm- whinge
nyirps- annoyance
nyitter- complain
nyam- make the sound of a cat

A ‘neu-’ type spelling is preferred rather than ‘ny-’, except where the subsequent vowel sound is not [oo] (and is not followed by a vowel), or where confusion with another English word might result. For example, neuk, speuch and feuggie; but nyirp (not neuirp) and nyuck (not neuock).

b) ‘Yoghing’ vowels at the start of words

When certain words begin with a vowel letter they are spelt y- if they are pronounced with an initial [yih] sound in Ulster-Scots. For example, ‘ewe’ and ‘one’ are yowe and yin. Some of these words have a [yih] sound at the beginning in English too, of course, as with words such as ‘you’, ‘your’, ‘year’ (ye, yer, yeir).

Some words which do not begin with a [yih] sound at the start in English, are nevertheless modified in traditional Ulster-Scots. So ‘ale’ occurs as yill in some Ulster-Scots poems, and in earlier documents ‘earl’ is yirl or yerl. More familiarly, ‘earth’ becomes yirth or yird. Some Scots and Ulster-Scots words which are not shared with English are also modified in the same way. ‘Eagle’, which is earn in Scots, can also be yirn or yearn; ae, which is the adjectival form of ‘one’ or ‘a single’, is often yae; ‘one’, otherwise, has become yin in Ulster-Scots (although the ‘standard’ Scots form is ane), and ‘once’ is yinst.

The words thon (‘that’) and thonder or thonner (‘over there’) are used interchangeably with yon and yonner.

c) Palatisation after ‘l’

The consonant ‘l’ is followed by a [yih] sound (and by the letter z) in certain Older Scots words such as tulzie, culzie (‘welcome’) as well as in place-names such as Culzean, and surnames such as McFarlzean and Bailze. The north Antrim form of ‘kaylie’ is kailye (‘ceildhe’, ‘visit’). The word tulzie (‘dispute’, ‘quarrel’), pronounced [tul-yeh], is found in an early Donegal Ulster-Scots poem of 1720: ‘To redd the Royal tulzie sets thy muse’, while over a century later (in 1846) Robert Huddleston of Moneyreagh in county Down penned the line: ‘Or else the tulzie gangs mair t’ugh’.

In modern Ulster-Scots, when a vowel is preceded by palatisation after medial ‘l’ in certain words, this feature is represented by the insertion of y:

pollute- polyute
column- colyeum
flu- flyue
flute- flyute
glue- glyue
blue- blyue, bue

Note that the form bue for ‘blue’ retains the yogh sound even when the ‘l’ is lost.

d) Non-palatisation in words ending in ‘-ture’

In certain words like ‘picture’ and ‘nature’ which in English have a palatisation after the ‘t’ [tyure], the Ulster-Scots equivalents do not, but instead have an interdental [tthur] pronunciation.

picture- pictèr
nature- naitèr
manufacture- mannyfectèr
furniture- furnitèr
mixture- mixtèr
NextThe spelling system of The Hamely Tongue
PreviousModified consonants in modern Ulster-Scots


The Ulster-Scots Academy has been an integral part of the Ulster-Scots Language Society since 1993. The name "Ulster-Scots Academy" is registered to the USLS with the Intellectual Property Office.

Ulster Scots Academy


A new edition of Michael Montgomery’s From Ulster to America: The Scotch-Irish Heritage of American English recounts the lasting impact that at least 150,000 settlers from Ulster in the 18th century made on the development of the English language of the United States. This new edition published by the Ulster-Scots Language Society documents over 500 ‘shared’ vocabulary items which are authenticated by quotations from both sides of the Atlantic. A searchable online version of this dictionary is now also available here.


The Ulster-Scots Academy is currently working on the digitisation of Dr Philip Robinson's seminal Ulster-Scots Grammar and the English/Ulster-Scots part (with circa 10,000 entries) of a two-way historical dictionary of Ulster-Scots. These projects are planned to be completed and available on the site in 2016.



This site is being developed on a purely voluntary basis by the Ulster-Scots Language Society at no cost to the taxpayer. USLS volunteers have been involved in preserving and promoting Ulster-Scots for more than 20 years. All donations, however small, will be most gratefully received and contribute towards the expansion of the project. Thank you!

This site is being developed by the Ulster-Scots Language Society (Charity No. XN89678) without external financial assistance. USLS volunteers have been involved in preserving and promoting Ulster-Scots for more than 20 years. All donations, however small, will be most gratefully received and contribute towards the expansion of the project. Thank you!

(Friends of the Ulster-Scots Academy group)