In this unit you will learn about the status of the Scots language in contemporary Scotland. You will consider where Scots is currently spoken, heard and seen in written form. You will also explore public attitudes towards the Scots language and how the modern Scottish state supports its Scots speakers. To help you review what you have learned, you will be asked to reflect on the future of the language.
Today, Scots is perhaps at a crossroads in its long history. Although its profile is arguably higher than at any time in the last twenty-five years, Scots speakers continue to face indifference, and at times even hostility towards their language. Over the first five sections in this unit - Mooth, Lugs, Een, Hert and Heid - you will think about the present situation of the Scots language and be able to assess its status within Scottish society. The final section will invite you to consider the future of the Scots language.
Important details to take notes on throughout this unit:
Before commencing your study of this unit, you may wish to jot down some thoughts on the five important details we suggest you take notes on throughout this unit. You could write down what you already know about each of these five points, as well as any assumption or question you might have. You will revisit these initial thoughts again when you come to the end of the unit.
A Scots word and example sentence to learn:
The word’s origins lie in the Latin word 'conductus'. ‘Conduit’ is a borrowing from Old French into English. The Scots word cundy is derived from Old French 'conduit' which meant 'a pipe or channel for conveying water'. Although used in other parts of Scotland, the word cundy is closely associated with Dundee.
The Cundeez is a popular local punk band from the city. Sheuch, a synonym of cundy, is a pivotal word in William McIlvanney's famous classroom scene “Ah fell an bumped ma nose in the sheuch, sur" when eponymous hero Docherty's teacher alludes to Scots being 'the language of the gutter'.
The Census of 2011 reported that over one and a half million people in Scotland identified themselves as Scots speakers. This first Census ever to include a question about Scots revealed a language community which represents about one third of the Scottish population. It confirmed Scots as the country's second largest language group after English.
The Census found that almost half of the people living in the council areas of Aberdeenshire, Shetland and Moray were Scots speakers. It also recorded large numbers of Scots speakers in Glasgow, Fife and Aberdeenshire.
While clearly there are a great many Scots speakers in Glasgow and Aberdeenshire, it may be tempting to conclude that Scots is spoken in some areas and not in others. But if it did nothing else, the 2011 Census demonstrated that Scots is spoken all over Scotland. There were close to 100,000 Scots speakers in the capital city Edinburgh. Even in the predominantly Gaelic-speaking Western Isles where the lowest percentage (7.4%) of Scots speakers was recorded, the figures showed almost 2,000 Scots speakers living on the Outer Hebrides.
These national statistics on Scots proved beyond doubt that the Scots language is a significant part of many people's lives in Scotland. This was the question on the Scots language included in the Census:
The question provided a comprehensive picture of the areas in Scotland where Scots is spoken as visualised in this map of Scotland. A full breakdown of the Scots language Census results can be read in 'Area Profiles' on the Scotland's Census website.
One initiative that actually led to the question about Scots being included in the 2011 Census was the 2010 study Public Attitudes Towards the Scots Language, as part of which Scots speakers were asked when they speak the language. The summary of the survey’s findings can be found in this Scottish Government’s report.
Now undertake your own survey of attitudes towards speaking Scots or a language other than English. You have three options:
Here are the four aspects we would like you to include in your mini-interview/survey.
Ask one Scots speaker / or someone who is bilingual…
The Scots language can be heard in almost every community in Scotland. For many it is an integral part of Scottish life and is heard on a daily basis in the workplace, at sports and communal events, in shops and in the family.
However, in spite of the 2011 Census recording a total of 1,541,693 Scots speakers, it is often said that nobody really speaks the Scots language. Bearing in mind what you know or will be learning about Scots vocabulary and expressions, put this to the test by opening your ‘lugs’ and listening to how Scottish people actually speak. Although 'The Banter Boys' from the comedy sketch show 'Chewin the Fat' (which is discussed later) may well spring to mind, you will be able to assess for yourself the veracity of this commonly held belief that there are no speakers of Scots.
Where there are Scots, you are likely to hear Scots being spoken, either by Scots on holiday and by Scots émigrés in England, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United States and other countries. There are also approximately 16,000 speakers of Ulster Scots - the Scots language as spoken in parts of Ulster in Northern Ireland.
The Scots language continues to be a central force in Scottish Theatre. Liz Lochhead's 'Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off', John Byrne's 'The Slab Boys', Gregory Burke's 'Blackwatch' and Ishbel MacFarlane's one-woman show 'O is for Hoolet' are but a sample of the many plays which channel the dramatic spoken power of the Scots language to audiences across the country and around the world.
Scots is heard on Scottish radio and television, although perhaps not as often as it might be. What is clear is that the number of programmes made in or about Scots currently do not reflect in terms of percentage the number of Scots speakers reported by the 2011 Census. When Scots does feature in Scottish broadcasting, it is generally heard in one of two kinds of programmes: radio phone-ins and comedy shows.
Many callers to phone-in discussion programmes are Scots speakers, although presenters usually speak only in English. One noteworthy exception is BBC Radio Scotland's popular football phone-in programme Off the Ball whose presenters Tam Cowan and Stuart Cosgrove habitually speak in Scots. Other examples of such phone-in shows can be found on BBC Scotland and STV websites and iPlayer.
Since the early years of television, broadcasters have packaged the Scots language almost exclusively as comedy. Watching a selection of video clips of, for example, Stanley Baxter's Parliamo Glasgow, Scotland the What?, Scotch and Wry and Rab C. Nesbitt will give a sense of this tradition. More recent Scottish comedy programmes - Chewin the Fat, Still Game, Limmy's Show and Burnistoun - often offer a nuanced self-referential approach to the Scots language as demonstrated by the Burnistoun character 'Real Guy' played by Robert Florence.
The Scottish broadcaster Billy Kay has over a thirty-year period consistently presented radio programmes on a wide range of issues in his own Ayrshire Scots. He notably hosted Scotland's only ever dedicated television show in Scots called 'Kay's Originals'.
The Scots language has been the subject of a small number of educational programmes including Haud Yer Tongue (Channel 4, 1999) and Scots Scuil (BBC Scotland, 2012).
Scots can be heard regularly on the long-running BBC drama River City. Many of the programme's characters are Scots speakers and use the Scots language to express the full range of the human condition.
In addition to River City, the only other current regular broadcast in Scots is the internet radio programme Scots Radio. Frieda Morrison has been hosting this unique radio show since 2013, presenting in Doric and interviewing Scots-speaking guests covering an encyclopaedic list of topics.
Writer and commentator Gerry Hassan has described a "chasm in how culture in Scotland is represented and reflected back to us in the media and in particular, broadcasters. I am thinking of culture in the widest sense...encompassing...our histories, traditions, voices and languages. The diverse, fascinating and challenging world of Scotland culturally just doesn’t gain adequate coverage, representation or time on BBC Scotland or STV.This means that many of us are alienated from the modern Scotland we live in beyond our experiences." (Gerry Hassan, Scottish Review, 2013)
In order to explore the representation of Scots language in the current Scottish everyday life further, research any one day of Scottish radio and television listings. For example, you could review the listings of some of the Scottish radio stations catalogued here.
This is our model answer. Your answer might be different.
People in Scotland do not hear much Scots spoken on their radios or televisions. While old television programmes which do use Scots are sometimes repeated around the New Year period, these are usually comedies. Most days there is no broadcasting in Scots at all.
It could be said that this contrasts strongly with the 2011 Census which recorded over one and a half million Scots speakers or one-third of the population of Scotland, many of whom are television viewers and/or part of the radio audience.
There is a long tradition of literacy in the Scots language passed on from the Middle Ages to Robert Burns in the eighteenth century down to the present day. There are a number of different kinds of Scots language texts which are widely read in Scotland today.
Arguably, the most significant increase in availability and quality of Scots language publishing in the last fifteen years has been seen in books for children. Itchy Coo, an imprint of Black & White Publishing, was co-founded by this present writer and writer James Robertson with the aim of producing 'Braw Books for Bairns o Aw Ages'.
Since 2002, Itchy Coo has published over 60 titles and sold in excess of 250,000 books, the majority of these to schools. Itchy Coo's most read titles include King o the Midden, Blethertoun Braes, A Wee Book o Fairy Tales in Scots and Scots translations of Roald Dahl novels, Julia Donaldson’s The Gruffalo and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stane.
Today a new generation of young readers has access in education and at home to a wide range of books and reading opportunities in Scots. It is also interesting to note the enduring popularity of The Broons and Oor Wullie cartoons written continuously in Scots since the 1930s. Visit the National Library of Scotland’s Oor Wullie website to explore different volumes of the cartoon published over the years.
Many Scottish writers continue to choose Scots to express their view of the world. Some of the best known poets and authors writing in Scots today are Billy Letford, Hamish MacDonald, Janet Paisley, Sheena Blackhall, Alan Bissett and Kathleen Jamie. There is also an established and continuing tradition of translating from other languages into Scots. Among the most notable practitioners of this art form stand Brian Holton translating Chinese poetry into Scots and Gordon Hay translating the New Testament and Charles Dickens into Doric.
National competitions such as the James McCash Poetry prize and the Wigtown Scots Poetry Prize receive annually a considerable volume of high-quality writing in Scots. And it is significant that many young people are finding their own voice in Scots poetry and prose. A showcase of new Scots literature by young writers is available to read here: http://skoosh.scotshoose.com/
Since the Referendum on Scottish Independence in 2014, written Scots has been seen more regularly in the print media and online. The National newspaper has published a weekly Scots column since January 2016. Bella Caledonia, a pro-independence online publication, has also been frequently posting articles in Scots.
Social media is another platform where people choose to write and communicate in Scots. The 'Scots Language Forum' on Facebook encourages members to write solely in Scots. Police at a station in Fife - the council area with the second highest number of Scots speakers after Glasgow - have recently been engaging with their community in Scots on Twitter. Many people, all across Scotland, will use Scots when writing instant messages to one another. Comments posted on places like Facebook or other discussion fora can also be full of Scots language.
We can also find written Scots in the community as Scots language is embedded in the urban and rural place names of Scotland. Scots is seen today in the names of streets in many Scottish towns, for example, Kirk Vennel ('Church Alley') in Irvine, Lang Stracht ('Long Straight') in Aberdeen, Gallowgate ('road to the gallows') in Glasgow, Tolbooth Wynd ('Town hall Lane') in Leith and The Sinderins ('parting of the ways') in Dundee.
Although many Scots street names have avoided anglicisation, it is worth considering the fate of Baxter's Wynd in St Andrews which a council decision rendered 'Baker's Lane'. However the town of Keith in Moray has recently positively discriminated in favour of Scots by assigning words like sodger ('soldier'), fairmer ('farmer') and ploo ('plough') to previously unnamed streets.
The Scots language is very much in evidence in the landscape of Scotland. Law (hill), knowe (rounded hill), brae (slope), burn (stream) and linn (waterfall) are just a sample of the huge number of Scots words found in place names all over the country.
Although not an entirely new phenomenon, the use of the Scots language by business owners and the general public has become more widespread in recent years. The last decade has seen a growing trend by business and store owners of incorporating the Scots language in shop names or products.
Several firms have promoted positive Scots words like guid (good), braw (fine or excellent) and fantoosh (fancy) as their company name.
There has been a corresponding increase in use of the Scots language in public signage. From homeowners giving their house a Scots name, to people writing Scots in advisory or information signs, there is a greater visibility of written Scots today in communities around Scotland. This can be seen in signs such as Oor Hoose, Nae smokin and Weet pent. Edinburgh Castle has recently added Scots to its languages inviting visitors to Come awa ben.
Campaigns have also made effective use of Scots to engage the public. Two of the most memorable are Scrap Trident's slogan Bairns Not Bombs and Shetland Amenity Trust's long-running environmental awareness initiative Dunna Chuck Bruck (Do not litter).
Now scan the text in this section, Een: where Scots is seen in written form, again and select your personal ‘Top Five’ examples of written Scots language in Scottish culture today.
When ranking these examples, think about the impact each might have on making Scots a more prominent aspect of Scottish life and normalising Scots as an indigenous language of Scotland.
The Scottish Government in 2010 commissioned the study Public Attitudes Towards the Scots Language (Scottish Government, 2010); its purpose was to "inform policy development for Scots". This impeccably produced study provides a fascinating insight into the opinions and perceptions about Scots among its sample of 1,000 survey participants. It remains the only study of its kind on Scots commissioned by the Scottish Government or any other body.
The study asked respondents to agree or disagree with a number of statements including:
"When people use Scots it doesn't sound nice - it's slang" (26% agreed; 63% disagreed);
"I don't really think of Scots as a language, it's more just a way of speaking" (64% agreed; 30% disagreed).
The data collected by the study on people's opinions about Scots was authoritative and credible. Its key finding in 2010 - that 30% of the participants thought of Scots as a language - would be borne out by the 2011 Census' results showing over 30% of the Scottish population identifying themselves as Scots speakers. (The press at the time chose to highlight the 64% who did not think Scots was a language.)
The study also recorded a minority who considered Scots to be 'slang'. However in the present context of the continuing debate around Scottish Independence (note that both the Public Attitudes study and the last Census were published prior to the Referendum in 2014), opinions about Scots have been expressed in the less measured environment of social media and also in the press.
Negative views offered about the Scots language can be divided into two main categories: that Scots is not a language; and that Scots is an example of nationalist propaganda, as exemplified by the following statements.
"It is purely and simply local slang which differs throughout Scotland."
"Fabricated Scots is just another vehicle for tired old Nationalist grievance."
"Hilariously claiming to be bilingual because he can type like a jakey."
Many supporters of Scots put forward the views that Scots is a language in its own right, and that the Scottish Government should do more to support Scots, which is illustrated in the examples below.
"I agree that Scots deserves official language status. The value to the individual, the group and the nation is significant when all language groups are equal."
"A ‘Scots Language (Scotland) Act’ is necessar tae owercome ongoin discriminashun o Scots fowk, leid an cultur. That wid mak Scots ‘statutory’, an gie ‘Scots’ equaliti wi English an Gaelic (thanks tae the ‘Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act, 2005’)."
"Don’t let politicians lay claim to our words and wrap them in a flag but, if they try to, don’t let that be a reason to deny a big part of your country’s heritage."
And to underline the complexity of this issue, another type of comment on social media suggests that for some people their support or rejection of Scots may have nothing to do with politics as these two statements highlight.
"Why are you linking the Scots Language with Nationalism. It is the language of everyday like, not the language of division."
"This particular supporter of Scotland staying in the United Kingdom likes it when The National prints its articles in 'Scots', even though I don't agree with the vast majority of articles."
But without another study similar to Public Attitudes Towards the Scots Language, it is difficult to say with any certainty if public attititudes now are more positive or more negative towards Scots than in 2010.
Perhaps some conclusions can be drawn based on comments made about Scots on social media and in press since 2014. One is that support for the Scots language is more established and widespread today than previously. And that hostility towards Scots at the present time is less inhibited and more common than in the past.
The text in this section, Hert, clearly shows that for a language to become widely accepted in its own right it is a complicated matter, and that political, social and cultural context as well as long-held views and experiences have a huge impact on how people perceive the way others express themselves. The many views for and against Scots as a language in its own right and their bearing on the role of Scots in Scottish culture will be a theme running through this course.
To help you prepare for this discussion, take a note of the key arguments you have identified in this section of the course and also note down your own views at this point of your study.
Here just a few questions to get you thinking:
In 2001, the UK Government signed the Council of Europe's European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages, an aspect which you will study in more detail in the ‘Politics’ section of this course. By signing this charter, the UK Government recognised Scots as a language, and the responsibility for implementing the terms of the Charter for the Scots language passed to the devolved adminstration in Scotland. Currently the Scottish Government supports Scots in the following ways:
Following the commitment to Scots made by signing the Charter, the Scottish Government published a Scots Language Policy in 2015. Among other things, the policy recognised "Scots as one of the three historical indigenous languages of Scotland along with Gaelic and English" and acknowledged "the importance of recognising, promoting and developing the Scots language in all its regional varieties".
In terms of practical steps, the policy stated alongside other ambitions that the Scottish Government would endeavour "to create awareness amongst all stakeholder groups that Scots is one of the three historical indigenous languages of Scotland and should therefore be afforded equal respect" and encourage "all stakeholder groups to develop and implement Scots language policies".
Following the discussion in the previous section, you have read here that the Scottish Government has developed a clear policy with a rationale and a range of recommendations that will support the establishment of Scots as the third indigenous language of Scotland. In this activity, you will engage with the rationale and aims laid out by the government for supporting Scots, and you will compare policy objectives with the arguments for and against Scots from section 1.4 Hert: how people feel about Scots.
Take some notes with your own views on the following questions. You will come across these aspects in more sections of the course and can revisit and refine what you have written here as you go through this course.
Here the relevant extract from the Scots language policy 2015:
This section briefly lists the key reasons why the Scottish Government values and promotes the Scots language.
The Scottish Government recognises that the Scots language is an integral part of Scotland's heritage, national identity and current cultural life. The Scottish Government, working with other partners in Scottish public and community life, will be guided by the aims below:
(Scottish Government (2015) - Scots language policy: English version)
Here are some suggestions for possible answers to the questions posed in this activity. Your answers might be very different.
There is much overlap when it comes to the recognition of the validity of Scots language as a means of communication. Scots is seen as an equal language next to the other two indigenous languages of Scotland. The rationale, as well as pro-Scots arguments from this section, highlight that Scots is an important part of Scotland’s heritage due to the richness of the language expressed in many art forms. Scots is a long-standing part of community life in Scotland and is a language that exists in written and spoken form.
The views expressed in the rationale and in this section diverge when it comes to political views, as some critics appear to consider Scots a invented tool used by the Nationalist movement. Other critics worry that Scots is simply bad English and are worried that children will be exposed to the ‘wrong English’ in school when being introduced to Scots as a language
You will now read a short text about the future of the Scots language – in Scots. This may be the first time you have read non-fiction Scots writing – perhaps even your first time reading any Scots language. As this course goes on you will learn and read more and more Scots language.
First of all, we suggest you read the text without taking any notes – simply let the language speak for itself.
The Scots leid is at a sinderins. The gate Scotland wales for it noo micht see it at last roadit ontae safer grund or wandert intae a daurker mair drumlie airt awthegither.
By 2050, Scots could be as muckle a pairt o Scottish society as Català is in Catalonia, Fryske in Friesland in the Netherlands and even Welsh in Wales. Or thirty year fae noo, Scots micht weel be a leid wi a puckle speakers tint in society's shaddas and a generation fae deein oot.
Ae wey tae bigg siccar foonds for the future wid be tae gie Scots parity wi Scotland's ither leids. Bringin Scots up fae third cless tae first in the mind o the Scottish public through mair fundin, resources and legislation wid finally gie Scots speakers in Scotland the respect that society tae noo seems tae hae been haudin back fae them. If Scotland's 1.6 million Scots speakers are a wee thing blate tae spier government for mair and better provision for their mither tongue, democracy and social justice cry oot for it.
The ither possible gate tae tak is gey similar tae if no exactly the same as the ane Scots is on the noo. It's aw aboot a third o the haill nation bidin and dargin and peyin taxes in ilka pairt o Scotland but wi ainly sma gear fae the state for its leid, lauched at by its media, pouked by society for no speakin richt. If aye left as the puir neebor o Scottish culture, likely Scots speakers winnae care a docken and shaw the lave the thrawn resistance that's keepit Scots alive through waur nor this. But wee leids the warld ower are cowpin unner the wecht o fower or five global languages and it micht be gey hard for Scots tae jouk this trend.
But for the lack o some heavy liftin by the Scottish state, Scots speakers could awready be lookin forrit tae a bricht and mair hopefu future for their leid. Yet Scots could juist as easy stacher on and finn itsel at the end up jawin doon history's cundy.
As a second step, you could read the text and listen to the recording of it at the same time. Hearing the Scots words might help you understand their meaning as well.
As a next step, you might want to go through the text and highlight words or phrases that appear to be key to understanding the meaning of the text, and which you can then look up in the Dictionary of the Scots Language or other sources.
The final activity of this section is designed to help you review, consolidate and reflect on what you have learned in this unit. You will revisit the key learning points of the unit and the initial thoughts you noted down before commencing your study of it.
Before finishing your work on this unit, please look below at what you wrote in Activity 1, where we asked you to take some notes on what you already knew in relation to the key learning points of the unit.
Compare your notes from before you studied this unit with what you have learned here and add to these notes as you see fit to produce a record of your learning.
Here are the key learning points again for you as a reminder:
2011 Census Information and breakdown of statistics on Scots speakers by Area Profile.
The full text of the article Scotland’s comforting stories and the missing voices of public life by Gerry Hassan, 24th October 2013, Scottish Review.
Scots Hoose is a free online resource for children, young folk and new Scots writers.
The full report of Public Attitudes Towards the Scots Language (2010) published by the Scottish Government.
The full text of the Scottish Government's Scots Language Policy (2015) available to read in English and Scots.
Every effort has been made to contact copyright holders. If any have been inadvertently overlooked the publishers will be pleased to make the necessary arrangements at the first opportunity.
Grateful acknowledgement is made to the following sources:
Course Image: Supplied by Bruce Eunson / Education Scotland
Drain cover: © Copyright Roger A Smith. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike Licence. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
A gate way in Edinburgh castle: Otter at Dutch Wikipedia. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike Licence http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/
The 2011 Census question about language: Scotland's Census 2011. Scottish government. Reproduced under the terms of the OGL, http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/version/3/
Figure 3: Adapted from The Scots Haunbuik
Special edition bottled beer by the Tennents Brewery in Glasgow: Sylvia Warnecke
Fantoosh Nook, Station Road, Milngavie: Richard Sutcliffe. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike Licence http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
Dictionary of the Scots Language (used extensively throughout the course)