4.4 Dialect diversity and bilingualism

Dialect diversity is important in understanding why almost no Scots speaker considers themselves to be bilingual – certainly not in the way a speaker of English and German, or English and French is classed as being bilingual.

Scots went for centuries as being a language which should only be used in the home, as a language of the streets, even considered by some to be nothing more than slang and simply bad English. Although this was – and often still is – a common perception, the language continued to be spoken, and in certain regions, was spoken a great deal. Within the regions, speakers were – and, again, often still are – in the habit of labelling the language as “their” local dialect.

Attitudes towards the language, even amongst many of its champions, rarely sought to unite the regions, instead preferred to maintain within its quarters and boundaries. Modern day Scotland is not a place where being a speaker of English and a speaker of a local dialect offers individuals the tag of being bilingual.

The child who grows up with a Scottish father and a Norwegian mother - learning English and Norwegian from birth - is viewed as bilingual and different from the child who grows up speaking both English and Scots, regardless of whether they learned their Scots from one of their parents, from the community, or whether they learned their English at home or at school.

An interesting linguistic example, common across Scotland today, is the child who was born in Scotland after their parents emigrated from Poland. This child often grows up learning Scots in the community, along with learning Polish at home and English at nursery and school. The value of each of these three languages changes in different social situations, and each language has a value, but the child is rarely viewed as being trilingual. Instead only their aptitude for English and Polish is valued and/or acknowledged within Scotland.

Activity 9

In this activity you will further explore the concept that speakers of a Scots dialect as well as English (or another language) should be considered bilingual.

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Part 2

In this part of the activity you will take a closer look at the links between speaking a dialect and being bilingual. Read the text Scots dialects 'as good as a second language'.

After reading it, decide whether the statements below are True or False according to the BBC News text by Ken Macdonald.

Q1: Being fluent in both your dialect and standard English means your brain handles both as if you were speaking two different languages.

a. 

True


b. 

False


The correct answer is a.

Q2: 'Switch cost' – how much effort it takes for someone to change from speaking one dialect to another.

a. 

True


b. 

False


The correct answer is a.

Q3: In 'monodialectals' – who speak one dialect less fluently – it's the same as when people switch from their dominant language to the second one: it takes longer.

a. 

True


b. 

False


The correct answer is b.

b. 

The correct answer is false. It takes longer to switch back into the dominant language.


Q4: Dr Kirk’s research has shown that speaking and switching between two languages can stave off brain decline.

a. 

True


b. 

False


The correct answer is b.

Q5: Dr Kirk’s research has shown that people who speak dialect often do not realise they are speaking a variation of another language, in the case of his research, the Scots language.

a. 

True


b. 

False


The correct answer is a.

Q6: Switching between languages exercises your brain.

a. 

True


b. 

False


The correct answer is a.

4.3 A brief history of the Shetland dialect

4.5 The 2011 Census