The Scots language

I write as a private individual with a passion for the Scots language, the ancient state language of Scotland in pre-Union times and the language of writers from Dunbar and Lyndsay, through Burns, to Lochhead and Kelman today. My own knowledge of Scots was learned from my father and grandfather, and despite my "posh" mother and teachers' attempts to beat "that slang" out of me, I can and do still read and write in Scots. Sadly however I have lost the spoken idiom of my father. The decline of spoken Scots is a national tragedy, and it would be a disaster if Scots were only to survive as an arcane literary curio. One key to a Scots language revival lies with the IT sector and the media - which currently spends millions on Gaelic broadcasting services to only approx. 60 000 speakers. I know many more people who speak Scots or Urdu than Gaelic, and yet I cannot recall one second of publicly-subsidised broadcasting in those languages. I do not wish to belittle the beautiful Gaelic tongue, but it doesn't take a genius to see the inequities at play here. Media organisations and software developers should be encouraged to up the profile of the language and the creation of more Scots-friendly products and relevant content. For example, there is a Gaelic option in Microsoft Office, there are options for Urdu and all seven different dialects of the Scandinavian Sami language, but no option for Scots. Given that studies show around 1.5 million citizens still speaking some form of Scots, this situation is quite scandalous. If a threatened, non-indigenous community language was being officially neglected in the way that Scots has been, then rightly there would be a national outcry. There is currently a consultation by a Scottish Parliament working group to add a question on Scots to the 2011 Census in order to gain information on the state of the language.

Sent by: Colin


Saim Dusan Inayatullah, Sunshine Coast, Australia 2011-04-15

Anni, this really hits on the difference between the political and linguistic definitions of a language. Under the political definition, Swiss German is not a language because its speakers don't consider it so. However, linguistically it certainly belongs to a different language than Hochdeutsch due to a lack of mutual intelligibility. The same is true for Scots and English, except Scots unlike Swiss German is threatened, and attitudes towards it in Scotland are changing. Something to think about.

And to Ewan: this is patently untrue. Every language variety has grammatical rules and structure, even marginalized one. I think you mean *formalized* grammatical rules, which hardly ever reflect the way a majority of people speak (you end sentences with prepositions and split infinitives, right?).

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Anni Rudin, Seltisberg (near Basel, Switzerland) 2010-09-20

"Who decides whether a dialect is a language?"
Bravo Mr. or Ms. Stuart from Mulhouse! He (or she) mentions an important fact I miss in the publications. Dialects should not be mixed up with languages. I don't know who officially decides but if my native dialect Swiss German is only spoken and not officially written, doesn't it prove it's a dialect?

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AC, scotland 2010-07-23

I think this is very important to Scotland and our culture. To lose our native language that was spoken in Scotland for centuries before union with England would be a tragic loss.
The UK government and EU now recognise Scots as a language and with the SNP government in power I think now should be a great time to stop the decline and maybe revive our languages, both Scottish Gaelic and Lowland Scottish. By far the most important ways of doing this are through the Media and Eduacation. But first we need to get people to recognise it as a language. There is a definite line between Lowland Scots, Scottish-English and English-English just as there is between other similar language like Danish and Norwegian.
Norwegian was once in the same state, almost wiped out by Danish and they have totally revived their language since independence at the begining of the 20th century.

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Aidan Work, Dominion of New Zealand. 2009-08-29

Colin, isn't the Scots language also more properly known as the Scots-English language?

The Scots language is undergoing a revival alright - in Ulster, not Scotland!

Who else is in agreement with me on this?

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Seamus, Glasgow, Scotland 2009-06-30

As an Irishman with a Scottish father I would say Scots should be an Offical Language of Scotland along with Scots Gaelic like English and Welsh in Wales.

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Ewan Mcneil, Inverness 2009-06-24


Scots has no grammatical rules or structure. English, Polish, Gaelic, Portuguese etc do.

Those are the facts. It's a nice dialect and I hope it survives.

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Malcolm, Argentina 2009-03-31

I'm Argentine of Scots descent, have tried to lear gaidhlig, and have a smattering of Scots from my father. I try my best to transmit the little Scots I have to my children, and get them to hear gaidhlig in the bargain. But it is not an easy thing. Spanish is their first language, and teaching them English for me is a priority. English will be much more useful to them here.
The same reasons that led Scots immigrants in Argentina to drop their native Scots or gaidhlig and learn english are still here. You give your kids the languages that will give them the best chances.

If Scotland's govt cared abt her native languages, and relations with her diaspora, as other countries do, my task would be a little easier.
as things stand, i'll be glad if my kids end up speaking good english, and know that their greatgrandparents, spoke another language, and that they gave them up for economic reasons.

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Ken 2009-02-09

While languages are historically interesting, the main objective of modern language should be to improve spoken and written communications, which are bad enough even when we all speak the same language. I lived in central Scotland for 21 years and didn't notice a Scots language. There were plenty of Scottish words around an English base.

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David 2007-09-24

Ewan, I think defending Scots from persecution is quite justified. I don't care if you call it a language or a range of dialects. I bet Polish has a lot of words and grammar shared with Russian, Slovak and other European languages. Yet you spell it differently, pronounce it differently and have many of your own words and forms, and it defines a Polish community. The same is the case with Scots, which is descended from Anglo-Saxon - it shares a huge number of words and forms with related languages - particularly Frisian and Modern English, but also Dutch, German and Danish. To forcibly replace Scots with modern standard English is a tragic loss to Britain and Ireland. (By the way, did you notice that academic linguists don't really classify things into languages and dialects - to them they are just varieties and families - for example Geordie, standard American English and Scots are all varieties in the Anglo-Frisian family - it doesn't help much with language politics, does it?)

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William 2007-09-24

As with many languages which have a common base, Scots and English will be very similar in many cases. The same is also true of Spanish and Portugese. Languages will also develop. What is the Russian for Coca Cola ? If a language has enough difference to make it unique, as Scots does - anglified or not, it is a separate language and should be given a place. The place of Scots however, is not as an alternative to English, which is a world language. We are lucky to speak one of the main languages of 'business' as native speakers and should value and promote the advantages it gives us. Scots should be regarded as a language to be used as an equal to English when Scots coverse with Scots.

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