Spelling guide to Ulster-Scots vowel sounds

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

The simplest way of illustrating the vowel spelling systems used in Ulster-Scots today is by comparison with common English equivalents in the range of their shared vocabulary. It should be remembered, however, that some of these ‘homonyms’ can carry different meanings in Ulster-Scots from their English word equivalents.

Words spelt with the vowel ‘-a’ in English

The short a-sound in modern English is represented by e in Ulster-Scots, except where it precedes r, when it can be written ai. This distinction reflects the traditional orthography.

a) English ‘a’ → Ulster-Scots ai (before ‘r’)

sharp- shairp
arm - airm
art - airt
cart - cairt
charge - chairge
harm - hairm
part - pairt
farm - fairm

b) English ‘a’ → Ulster-Scots e

apple - epple
act - ect
cap - kep
ladder - lether
hammer- hemmer
after - eftèr
cat - ket

Notable exceptions (in accordance with the traditional spelling):

master - maistèr
father - faither

c) English ‘a’ → Ulster-Scots u

what- whut
was- wus

Words spelt with the vowel ‘e’ in English

a) English ‘e’ → Ulster-Scots i

ever- iver
never- niver
every- iverie
devil- divil(ment)
yet - yit

b) English ‘e’ → Ulster-Scots u

let - lut
were- wur

c) English ‘ea’ → Ulster-Scots ei

head - heid (rhymes with ‘heed’)
bread - breid
dead - deid

Notable exceptions (spelling only):

heard - heerd
thread- threed
deaf - deef
beast - beece

d) English ‘ea’ → Ulster-Scots ai

rear (verb)- rair (rhymes with ‘fair’)
beard- baird
heart- hairt
meal- mail
measles- maisles
seat- sait
sheaf- shaif
cheat- chait
treat- trait

Notable exceptions (spelling ‘a-e’ traditional):

beat (verb)- bate
meat- mate (loc. meat)
weak- wake

Notable exception (spelling and pronunciation):

tea- tay

Note: Although ‘heart’ does not have the same [ee] vowel sound as rear, cheat, etc. in English, the Ulster-Scots spelling and pronunciation follows the same ‘ea’ → ai pattern hairt.

e) English ‘e’ and ‘ea’ → Ulster-Scots a

well (noun)- wal
dwelling- dwallin
wedding- waddin
web- wab
wrestle- wrassle
twelve- twal
whether- whather
when- whan
where- whar
wet (adj.)- wat
weather- wather
wealth- walth
welcome- walcum
help- halp

Notable exception (spelling and pronunciation):

shed (noun)- shade

Words spelt with the vowel ‘i’ in English

a) English ‘i’ → Ulster-Scots ï

swing- swïng
stick - stïck
king - kïng
ring - rïng
big - bïg
bit - bït
six - sïx
pin - pïn
pig - pïg
thing - thïng

Where the Ulster-Scots equivalent of a word with short ‘i’ would traditionally substitute with an a, the diacritic may be retained (eg ‘quit’ → quät; ‘ministry’ → männystrie).

b) The short ‘i’ after ‘w’ or ‘wh’ is spelt with a u (eg ‘witch’ → wutch), as follows:

Willy - Wullie
wind - wun
whin (gorse) - whun
which - whutch
switch - swutch
whistle - whussle

c) English ‘i’ Ulster-Scots ee

swim- sweem
live- leeve
particular- parteeklar
idiot- eedyit
sick- seeck
jig- jeeg
swivel- sweel
pity- peety
artificial- artyfeecial

Words spelt with the vowel ‘o’ in English

a) English ‘o’ → Ulster-Scots a or ai (with same [ai] sound rhyming with ‘rain’)

The Ulster-Scots pronunciations associated with this feature are self-evident. The spellings are traditional, well-known and often used as ‘markers’ of Ulster-Scots writings and speech to distinguish Ulster-Scots from mid-Ulster English dialect. Historically the same vowel sound is represented in Ulster-Scots in two ways as follows:

English ‘o’ → Ulster-Scots a

stone - stane (rhymes with ‘rain’)
home - hame
bone - bane
one - aneyin
move - mave (local - County Down)

English ‘o’ Ulster-Scots ai (with the same [ai] sound)

rope - raip
soap - saip
both - baith
cloth - claith
most - maist
more - mair

b) English ‘o’ → Ulster-Scots a (sounding [ah] sound)

sob- sab (rhymes with ‘cab’)
long- lang
off- aff
open- apen
drop- drap (loc. drop pronounced [drawp])
shop- shap (loc. shop pronounced [shawp])
who- wha
two- twa
soften- saffen

c) English ‘o’ and ‘oe’ → Ulster-Scots ae

to- tae (rhymes with ‘say’: unstressed [ta])
so - sae
do - dae
no - nae
go - gae (unstressed [ga])
toe - tae
woe - wae
foe - fae

d) English ‘o’ → Ulster-Scots oa

lost - loast (rhymes with ‘coast’)
loss - loass
born - boarn
cost - coast
collie - coallie
corn - coarn
dog - doag (loc. dug)
bog - boag
rock - roak
pocket - poaket

e) English ‘-ow’ → Ulster-Scots -owe (sounding as in ‘how’)

grow - growe
bowl - bowle

f) English ‘o’ → Ulster-Scots i

brother- brither
mother- mither
other - ither, tither
son - sin

g) English ‘ow’ and ‘ou’ → Ulster-Scots oo

These two spellings in English are historically spelt one way in Ulster-Scots as follows English ‘ow’ → Ulster-Scots oo

town - toon
cow - coo
brown - broon
now - noo
allow - olloo
crown - croon
flower - flooer
power - pooer
down - doon

Notable exceptions (spelling and pronunciation):

crow - craa, craw
blow - blaa, blow
snow - snaa, snaw
row - raa

English ‘ou’ → Ulster-Scots oo

cloud- clood
round- roon
about- aboot
out- oot
our- oor
house- hoose
mouse- moose
mouth- mooth
doubt- doot
council- cooncil
plough- ploo

Notable exceptions (spelling and pronunciation):

found - fun
soul - sowI

h) English ‘oo’ → Ulster-Scots ui

One of the best-known conventions for representing Scots vowel sounds is the -ui-equivalent to English ‘-oo-’ as in ‘good’ → guid. However, there are different local pronunciations of guid as [gid], [geed], [gud], etc (rhyming with English ‘hid’, or ‘need’, or in some areas with English ‘mud’).

book - buik
boot - buit
good - guid
goose - guiss
moon - muin (loc. meen)
root - ruit
school - schuil
poor - puir
blood - bluid

Notable exceptions (spelling only):

foot - fit

Notable exceptions (spelling and pronunciation):

took - tuk
look - luk
door - dure, (loc. dorr)
stood - stud
floor - flure, (loc. flare)
wood - wud

The shortened vowel sounds suggested by tuk and stud are also reflected in the spelling conventions of wud, cud, shud:

would - wud
could - cud
should - shud

i) English ‘-old’ → Ulster-Scots -oul (with an ‘ow’ sound)

old - auldoul
cold - coul
hold - houl
bold - boul

j) English final ‘-ow’ → Ulster-Scots -a and -ae

elbow - elba
fellow - fella
yellow - yella
hollow - holla
narrow- nerra
swallow (n)- swalla

Notable exceptions (spelling and pronunciation):

follow - fallae
window - wundae
swallow (v)- swallae

Words spelt with the vowel ‘u’ in English

a) English ‘u’ and ‘ou’ → Ulster-Scots i

run - rin
sun - sin
summer- simmer
such - sitch (literary: sic)
cup - kip
couple - kipple

b) English ‘u’ → Ulster-Scots ü (denoting [uh] pronunciation)

push - püsh (rhymes with ‘hush’)
pull - püll (rhymes with ‘hull’)
bull - büll
bush - büsh
butcher - bütcher
sugar - shüggar

Loss of final ‘-e’ of English words to signify a vowel sound change in Ulster-Scots

The dropping of final ‘-d’ in words like ‘find’ and ‘blind’ → fin and blin represents an actual vowel sound change in Ulster-Scots. Similarly, the vowel sound change in the following words can also be represented by the omission of the final ‘-e’.

take - tak
make - mak
dare - dar
wade - wad
wake - wak
scare - scar
aware - awar
broke - broke (local: brok)

Note: Divid appears to follow a similar pattern, but is the Ulster-Scots form of ‘divided’ rather than ‘divide’. Time only has a spelling and pronunciation change when used as a suffix in compounds like: ‘simmertim’, and ‘onietim’.

Long ‘a’ represented by á, aa and aw

In Ulster-Scots (and in Scots), the letter ‘a’ is generally pronounced [ah] (rhyming with ‘ma’ and not with ‘may’). However, the [ah] sound in words such as ava (pronounced [a-va]), can contrast with a longer [aw] sound in other words such as awa (pronounced [awah] or [awaw]) and anaa or anaw (‘and all’). Sometimes an accent to indicate the lengthened sound of this vowel may be encountered:

awá- away
twá- two

However, this is generally avoided by modern writers, and is not recommended.

Long ‘i’ represented by medial ‘y’

Another situation where accented vowels have been used is to indicate which particular vowel is stressed or lengthened in speech. For example the word ‘minister’ is often written meenister in Scots, but in Ulster-Scots speech the pronunciation is closer to [manny-stther] with some stress along with a change in pronunciation on the second vowel. In certain cases, medial English ‘i’ (and to a lesser extent medial ‘a’, ‘e’ and ‘u’), are represented by medial y in Ulster-Scots.

minister- mannystèr
covenanter- coveynantèr
ridicule- rïdicule, (local: redycule)
residence- resydence
accident- eccydent
animal- annymal
barrister- barrystèr
beautiful- beautyfu
manifest- mannyfest
maximum- mexymum
pitiful- peetyfu
uniform- unyform
crucify- crucyfie
sacrifice- secryfice

The use of medial ‘y’ in this way can also include massycrae for ‘massacre’ and monnyfectèr for ‘manufacture’, where ‘y’ is used in place of ‘a’ and ‘u’.

Long ‘o’ → Ulster-Scots ó (in English ‘-oa-’ words)

Shared English/Ulster-Scots words with an ‘oa’ spelling such as ‘road’, ‘boat’, ‘goat’, ‘coat’ etc, are pronounced locally [row-ad], [bow-at], [go-at], [co-at] in Ulster-Scots. In these situations, some writers have used an accent to indicate a vowel which is pronounced distinctly and separately from the adjacent vowel. As this is a local feature, it is only recommended for use by writers intending to indicate their local dialect.

road- róad
boat- bóat
goat- góat
coat- cóat
toast- tóast
NextModified consonants in modern Ulster-Scots
PreviousRepresentation of vowel sounds in modern Ulster-Scots


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