Gaelic Scots and Other Languages

scrabble in scottish

Last week the National Records of Scotland released long-awaited data from the 2011 census concerning Gaelic, Scots and other languages used in Scotland.

Although the Scottish census data is a rather crude instrument for measuring language skills and language use – it is not possible to differentiate between fluent and non-fluent speakers, to measure the relative frequency of language use, or to validate respondents’ claims – this information is nevertheless extremely valuable. Politicians and the media set great store by the census results, so their policy significance can be considerable.

Gaelic organisations and campaigners had been bracing themselves for a significant drop in speaker numbers, possibly below the psychologically challenging threshold of 50,000, and were mildly encouraged by the census results. Between 1991 and 2001 the number of Gaelic speakers declined by 11.1%, following a 16.8% drop between 1991 and 2001. The decline between 2001 and 2011 was much smaller, only 2.2%, from 58,652 down to 57,375. Promisingly, the proportion of Gaelic speakers in the younger sections of the Scottish population (those between 3 and 19 years of age) is increasing, with the decline concentrated in the older sectors of the population.

The drop-off in the older age groups was inevitable, as almost a quarter of all Gaelic speakers recorded in 2001 (14,357 people) were aged 65 or over. While the growth in younger speakers is a positive indicator, it would be a serious mistake to equate children who acquire the language in schools in urban areas, living in homes and communities where there are few opportunities to use Gaelic, with older, first-language speakers living in predominantly Gaelic-speaking areas where Gaelic is widely used in the community. The fact that only 52% of people in the Western Isles can now speak Gaelic is profoundly discouraging. The distribution of Gaelic speakers has become increasingly national rather than regionally concentrated; only 51.7% live in the main Gaelic areas (Argyll & Bute, Highland and the Western Isles), down from 56.8% in 1991.

On closer inspection, however, the pattern of increases and decreases is difficult to understand. The number of Gaelic speakers went up in 20 local authority areas and went down in the other 12. Unfortunately, the other 12 included all the heartland areas, including most strikingly the Western Isles, which lost 1,657 Gaelic speakers, a 10.5% drop. Disappointingly for Gaelic policymakers, there seems to be little obvious correlation between local Gaelic promotional activity and changes in speaker numbers. Despite the impressive growth of Gaelic education and a thriving Gaelic arts scene, the number of Gaelic speakers in Glasgow went up by only 0.03%; in Edinburgh the increase was a mere 25 people, 0.008%. The number of people claiming to be able to speak Gaelic actually increased most significantly in areas where there is very little local provision for Gaelic: up by 35.4% in Moray, 37% in Orkney and a remarkable 59.7% in Aberdeenshire.

The data in relation to Gaelic literacy is also mixed. While the total number of people who said they could read Gaelic declined by 5%, the number of people who could speak, read and write Gaelic increased by 3.1%. The written word has become increasingly important for Gaelic, partly due to the impressive growth of Gaelic prose writing in recent years, partly to the expansion of electronic communication such as social media. Improving Gaelic literacy and increasing the number of people who can participate in these activities is vitally important.

Some of these apparent disparities and anomalies may be clarified once more detailed information is released, particularly in relation to patterns of skills among different age groups. Some slight upward adjustment to the speaker numbers quoted here will also be required, as the data released to date include an undifferentiated category of 1,678 people with unusual combinations of competences in Gaelic, such as being able to speak and write the language but not read it (a peculiar skills set claimed by 319 people in 2001).

The census also produced data on Scots for the first time, following a successful campaign by Scots organisations for the inclusion of a question in this area. The headline figure of 1,537,626 speakers (30% of the population) was much in line with expectations, and in particular with a comprehensive estimate carried out in 1996 by the General Register Office for Scotland. The geographical concentration was also plausible, with the highest proportions of speakers in Aberdeenshire (49% of the local population), Shetland (49%) and Moray (45%).

However, as was pointed out in the pre-census report prepared for the National Records of Scotland to test the census questions, there is still significant confusion in the Scottish population concerning the precise meaning of the term ‘Scots’ and in particular in relation to the boundary between Scots and Scottish (Standard) English. In light of this problem, the question testers warned that the census question ‘will not yield any meaningful data on Scots and potential data users should be made aware of this’.

The census data certainly reveal a number of anomalies in relation to Scots. Almost 80% of those who said they could speak Scots also claimed that they could also read and write Scots. This figure is highly implausible given that these literacy skills are very rarely taught in Scottish schools. Another anomaly is the low proportion of respondents who said they could understand Scots but not speak, read or write it, as compared to those who claimed all four skills. In Scotland the the number of ‘understanders’ was only a little more than a fifth the size of the ‘speak, read and write’ group, while in Northern Ireland the proportions were very different: the number of ‘understanders’ of Ulster-Scots was almost six times as high as those who claimed they could speak, read and write it.

More generally, it was remarkable that 62% of the Scottish population claimed they had no skills in Scots and could not even understand spoken Scots. In preparation for the census, the Scots Language Centre ran an effective informational and promotional campaign to illustrate different varieties of Scots from different parts of Scotland. The speakers chosen could by no means be considered challengingly ‘broad’ and it would be surprising if anyone who had lived in Scotland for any amount of time would genuinely be unable to understand these examples of ‘Scots’.

In addition to asking specific questions about English, Gaelic and Scots, the census also included a new, open-ended question asking ‘Do you use a language other than English at home?’. 93% of respondents indicated that they used only English. The ten most widely used languages identified were, in order, Scots, Polish, Gaelic, Urdu, Punjabi, Chinese, French, British Sign Language, German and Spanish, all with over 10,000 speakers.

This question gives rise to difficulties of interpretation. The most obvious way to understand the question is whether the respondents uses a particular language with other people who live in the same home. Interpreted in this fashion, none of the 832,000 Scots who live on their own could give an affirmative answer to the question. On the other hand, if an affirmative answer is permitted when the language is used with regular or occasional visitors, then there is a problem with comparability: a person who speaks almost exclusively Gaelic in their daily interaction with their partner and children is equated with someone who uses only English for these purposes and only speaks Gaelic to relatives who visit on Sunday afternoons.

Again there were specific anomalies. For example, while the number of Polish users (54,186) tallied neatly with the number of people born in Poland (55,231), the number of Russian users (6,001) was almost three times as high as the number of people born in Russia (2,180), while the number of German speakers (11,317) was less than half the number of people born in Germany or Austria (23,275).

The most striking anomaly was the figure reported for Scots, for which there were only 55,817 responses. This represents only 3.6% of the total number of recorded Scots speakers. As it is nonsensical to imagine that 96.4% of Scots speakers do not use Scots at home, the most plausible explanation would seem to be that respondents did not perceive Scots to be ‘a language other than English’ for the purpose of this question. This interpretation aligns with a key finding from the Scottish Government’s report on Public Attitudes to the Scots Language in 2010, in which 64% of respondents agreed with the proposition ‘ I don’t really think of Scots as a language – it’s more just a way of speaking’.

The figure for Gaelic, 24,974 users, was more plausible, bearing in mind that few Gaelic speakers live in all-Gaelic households. More detailed data – through a focused survey of the kind recently conducted in Wales – is needed to obtain a more meaningful picture.

The policy implications of the census are less than entirely clear. Although the Sunday Post duly ran a hostile article with the headline ‘£400m pumped into Gaelic, despite fall in speakers’, much worse could have been expected had the census results been less promising. The official target set out in Bòrd na Gàidhlig’s National Gaelic Language Plan 2012-17 is that speaker numbers in the 2021 census should return to the 2001 level of 58,652 and increase thereafter. This now looks achievable. Particularly in light of the growth among younger age groups, the Bòrd and Gaelic campaigners can be expected to argue that the current policies, especially the promotion of Gaelic in the education system, are working, albeit slowly, and that additional support will only improve these results.

The ramifications for Scots are less clear. Since the SNP came to power in 2007, the Scottish Government has expressed support for Scots and established a Ministerial Working Group on the Scots Language, which issued a set of (fairly mild) recommendations in 2010. Yet the SNP government has taken no major initiatives in relation to Scots (or, indeed, Gaelic), with the relatively minor exception of appointing a number of Scots Language Co-ordinators to work in schools. Although the census results are much in line with the assumptions that have underpinned government policy on Scots since the late 1990s, it can be anticipated that some Scots language campaigners will now use the concrete data from the census to press for improved provision. Already the Scots Language Centre has written to Transport Scotland to ask how signage in stations might be adapted to reflect local data on Scots language ability.

Finally, the finding that 12,533 people use BSL at home will certainly encourage campaigners for legislative recognition for BSL. Following a formal consultation earlier this year, Mark Griffin MSP will shortly be introducing a bill in the Scottish Parliament to promote the use of BSL by requiring the Scottish Government and public authorities to prepare BSL plans.

Much has changed in Scotland’s linguistic makeup, with the transformation in the prospects for Gaelic particularly striking. Writing in 1958, the eminent scholar Kenneth Jackson, Chair of Celtic in the University of Edinburgh, expressed his belief

‘that Scottish Gaelic will be quite extinct by the middle of the next century, unless some new factor is introduced which radically alters the present situation’.

He foresaw that Lewis would be ‘the last refuge of the language, and those who wish to study it in the middle of the next century may still find there a few people who can remember it’.

In 2013, the 61 Gaelic primary schools and units across Scotland welcomed almost 500 incoming primary 1 pupils – children born in 2008, or fifty years after Jackson made his prediction. Whether this transformation is radical enough remains a matter for debate, but there is certainly a good deal to celebrate.

Comments (66)

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  1. Michael says:

    ‘The speakers chosen could by no means be considered challengingly ‘broad’ and it would be surprising if anyone who had lived in Scotland for any amount of time would genuinely be unable to understand these examples of ‘Scots’. Well, yes you’d think so, but as I discovered when I first worked at the Scottish Arts Council such an assumption is not always confirmed by experience.

  2. Nick Durie says:

    I do not understand quite why you are continuing with the highly political and linguistically flawed assumptions behind the NRS report disputing their own figures, A Scots language question was resisted every step of the way. Now that we have a census figure which tallies with the GRO’s (the previous census body) figure on the number of Scots speakers (can they be wrong twice), you are somehow lending credence to their decision to ignore their own findings and continue with the prejudiced assumptions in the face of all the evidence. In what other scientific field is a de rigeur to attack the results from repeated experiments when they do not support the untested and frankly bigoted assumptions of the researchers?

    Why is only Scots subject to this kind of subterfuge? I know my tapadh laits from my beanachad laits. Maybe I’m a Gaelic speaker? Maybe people like me give false info on the Gaelic stats? Or course nobody says stuff like this (well nobody outside of the Hootsman’s article comments) because it it BIGOTED HAIVERS.

    It is a shame to see you indulging in the same Scots baiting. You should know better.

    1. Muc Mhara says:

      You seem completely oblivious to the spelling of ‘tapadh leat’ and ‘beannachd leat’ and so, it does raise the question as to whether you are really aware of there true meaning of the words

    2. Muc Mhara says:

      You seem completely oblivious to the spelling of the words ‘tapadh leat’ and ‘beannachd leat’ and so it does raise the question as to whether you really know their true meanings, and therefore your point would be rendered invalid.

  3. Akerbeltz says:

    They can be wrong twice if the sample you’re asking is still misunderstanding the question. It’s a bit like asking British Chinese whether they speak Chinese. The answer will invariably conflate speakers of Cantonese, Mandarin, Wu, Hakka and Hokkien because most people from that background will not distinguish, when asked that question, these languages but will lump it all together under Chinese for sociolinguistic reasons not dissimilar to that of Scots/Scottish English speakers. Most Chinese regard Cantonese et al as dialects of Chinese. Whereas from a purely linguistic point of view, they are undeniably highly divergent languages. So it doesn’t matter how often you ask Chinese people this question – until such time as you make it abundantly clear what you’re asking them to report, they will (unintentionally) misreport.
    Regarding the discrepancy of Polish/German users, I have my thoughts (unsubstantiated) but it would seem that the Polish community frequently seems to arrive as family units or form social units within the Polish community. Whereas Germans tend to arrive alone (to study/work) and then partner with locals rather than Germans, so unless your partner happens to have learned enough German, the home language will default to English more so than in the case of Poles.

  4. Nick Durie says:

    This is random. The two results were arrived at through thoroughly different methods. The 1996 GRO study was done using focus groups and the GRO came up with the figure. The 2011 figure was ordinary Scottish people self-identifying as Scots speakers. It was not some random opinion poll. This idea that it’s open season to attack the single biggest vindication of the continuing existence of Scots, against tsunami of pressure to the contrary casts a dark shadow over Scotland intelligentsia. Just how far will they be willing to lie to prevent Scots from gaining public parity? The reality is that this is all about class, and social status. Your learned professor above rubbished the figures because they scare him. If that’s not the case, then what is the actual reason for this bigotry? Because that is definitely the most generous interpretation for this anti-Scots bigotry and distortionism.

  5. Dave Coull says:

    I kent braw fit the question meant. There wisna muckle doot aboot it. Aye, richt enough, I canna write Scots the richt wye. Naebiddy ever telt me hoo tae dae that, The skill I went tae, ye got a wallop roond yer lugs for speakin Scots. This census, as weel as the een afore, shows there’s still a bodie fowk speakin Scots. Foo is abiddy trying tae play that doon?

  6. Akerbeltz says:

    I don’t know what methodology the focus groups used but having been to focus groups myself, they can range from being highly organised and effective to a total shambles. The fact something was done by focus group or self-identifying survey does not vindicate the data in itself.

    But I find your conclusion slightly offensive – neither Wilson nor I have suggested that such figures, high or low, should be taken as an argument for or against better provision for Scots. Far from it, even if we knew for a fact there were only 500 speakers left, it would be all the more reason to do something fast, the way I see it.

    In language planning, working with poor data does not serve the language well. You end up spending meagre resources in the wrong places. So questioning the validity of the data (any dataset in fact) is an exercise that SERVES Scots speakers. Just grabbing a set of figures you like the look of does a disservice to the future of the language.

  7. Nick Durie says:

    Why is this data any poorer than Gaelic data? You have seen the question right? The opt-ins for Gaelic mastery were exactly the same as Scots. If the Scots data is flawed why can my claim that I can say an diugh or whatever and am therefore a Gaelic speaker not cast exactly the same doubts. And I am personally offended at what I can only describe as overweeningly condescending bigotry. The idea that 1.54 million people ticked a box saying they could speak Scots is because they are too stupid to know that, really, they don’t is just about the most condescending thing I have read about Scots since the NRS put out their bigots refutation of their own data.

  8. Michael says:

    The surveys in the 90s were carried out by Prof Steve Murdoch, Dr Caroline Macafee and Dr Dauvit Horsbroch in association with staff at the GROS and Historic Scotland. The survey methods have been accepted as sound. The focus groups required participants to undertake various tests designed to determine the degree to which they might be described as Scots speakers. The tests involved examining participants’ capacity to understand written and spoken Scots. These tests took place at various locations throughout Scotland. My understanding is that the language used in the tests was what Wilson might describe as ‘broad’. That two methods of data collection produced broadly similar results is of course not conclusive proof of anything but to take the view that both sets of results can be dismissed on the basis of untested assumptions is untenable. And let’s not go down the road of examining the Gaelic figures because then we might have to discuss the well known phenomenon of respondents exaggerating their capacity in the language believing that doing so ‘helps’ it get more funding, better support from government and so on……

  9. Nick Durie says:

    Never a truer word said Dave. Ye’re richt. Scots fowk is some dammart people that canna work oot whit a question means. Fowk was speirt the question the same wey they were speirt at aboot the Gaelic and the English, and the’r deil a body claimin the’r ocht wrang wi the figurs there, eh.

  10. Akerbeltz says:

    Speaking involves more than being able to say an-diugh or dreich…

    Gaelic and English do not sit on a linguistic continuum. There is a very abrupt and obvious difference between saying “Bha mi fuireach ann am Barraigh nuair a bha mi òg” and “I lived in Barra when I was young”. No-one, even a non-linguist who has never seen Gaelic could look at those two and say, these look similar. Gaelic sits on the Goidelic branch of Celtic and you have to go back to Indo-European for the first common ancestor, Gaelic is Verb-Subject-Object, English is Subject-Verb-Object, Gaelic lenites, English doesn’t. So it is very easy for someone to judge whether they speak it or not. Sure, they may be a few learners who over-estimate their skills and some natives who under-estimate them but on the whole, if you’re a Gaelic speaker, you know it.

    The mere fact that there was a campaign beforehand trying to help people decide if they actually spoke Scots or not illustrates to anyone that it is nowhere near as clear cut with Scots and English. Both share a common ancestor either in Old English or Common Germanic, either way, the common ancestor is a lot closer than Indo-European. Both Scots and English are Subject-Verb-Object, they share a lot of the sound system and vocabulary, they broadly have the same grammatical categories and structures. Taking a sentence from the Scots Wikipedia (on a non-technical topic) “Historie is a term uised ti descrieve information aboot the bygane” it is much harder making statements about the linguistic distance between English and Scots. There is not a single root in that sentence which a monolingual English speaker could not guess at. Turning to the nearest living relative, Dutch, the distance is much more obvious – “Historie is een term die wordt gebruikt om informatie over het verleden descrive” but still the commonalities are much easier to see that between English and Gaelic.

    Delineating the distance or proximity between closely related languages is almost always fraught with difficulties even for linguists – see Serbian and Croat, Danish and Norwegian or Indonesian and Malay. Take your pick. If linguists can expound on the differences and similarities between closely related languages without always being able to come to a clear conclusion, then what hope does Joe Average have? This is not stupidity (your words), it’s simply a lack of information which on the whole, is not the fault of the people of whom this complex question is asked.

    1. am Morair Moireach says:

      Their common ancestor is late medieval English not Old English. English was the name used by speakers of Scots Inglis until centuries after Old English had disappeared. Old English in Scotland evolved into Middle English just like across the border where the same dialect was spoken.

  11. Nick Durie says:

    Yes. I know that. But what is to stop me being ignorant and saying cos I took a Gaelic class one time that I speak Gaelic? Perhaps I am too stupid to know the difference between passing familiarity and fluency, like, say all those stupid Scots speakers who got it so glaringly wrong that it they confirmed previous findings on the number of Scots speakers?

  12. Akerbeltz says:

    Theoretically, nothing. I never claimed (and neither did Wilson) that all those reporting as Gaelic speakers are equally fluent. No-one working in the field of reversing language shift would ever claim that. Once you look at figures like that in detail, it becomes very obvious that it covers a wide range. For example, in the 2011 survey of Basque (which goes into a LOT more detail), of the 27% of all inhabitants reporting as bilingual, only 26% are Basque-dominant speakers, 30% are balanced bilinguals (i.e. speaking both Basque and Spanish/French with equal skill), the rest are Spanish/French dominant speakers.

    I know that, you know that, Wilson knows that and everyone working in the field. The point is, the vast majority of those filling in the census form don’t. That makes it hard to take data at face value where you’re relying on the informant to make a difficult judgement.

    If the survey asked people to evaluate if they had a healthy or unhealthy diet, would you trust the answers? Probably not and rightly so because while the medical profession has a definition of a healthy diet but many of us are vague on the details because it’s a complex question with no clear benchmark known by the majority of people.

    The 1990 data may have been kosher, it sounds like it. But how exactly were they scaled up?

  13. setondene says:

    I can certainly read and write Scots. Partly, this was taught at my secondary school in the 1960s, and partly through reading magazines like Lallans, plus Scots literature, for many years. Contrary to what many state there is a degree of standard orthography for Scots, for example puir is pronounced pair. I agree with Wilson that many will not have understood clearly some of the questions related to Scots but don’t lump everyone together as being ignorant of our own culture.

  14. Akerbeltz says:

    Crikey why is everyone taking stuff personally here. Yes, there will have been very literate and linguistically aware people answering the questions both for Scots and for Gaelic. Along with those who know less, right down to those who can barely comprehend the question. Assuming a normal distribution, both the highly knowledgeable and the highly ignorant will have been in the minority whereas the vast majority will have been in the middle – THOSE are the people where we can’t be sure that they are any good at self-evaluating, the people who DON’T subscribe to Cothrom or Lallans, those who weren’t lucky enough to have had classes in Gaelic or Scots.

    1. setondene says:

      I think what I’m saying is that the education system is not as completely hopeless as people have been making it out to be. Judging from the cultural coverage on a number of pro-independence sites recently, Scottish culture and language seems to have been covered in a patchy and often inadequate way over the last half century or so. However, despite everything, there has at least been some impact on the population. This might indicate that there hasn’t been a ‘unionist’ conspiracy to remove Scottish cultural elements, but rather a kind of self-policing ignoring of it depending on how much cringe there was in a locality/school/teaching complement. If you see what I mean….

  15. DDH says:

    Just a small point, but the number of Russian speakers being 3 times higher than the number of people born in Russia isn’t really remotely surprising when you think about it. Russia isn’t the only country in which one finds people whose native language is Russian. Scotland has a significant population of people from CIS and former USSR countries, in all of which there is a significant percentage of people who are ethnically Russian and/or speak Russian as a first language. Indeed, of the Baltic Scottish residents I know personally, a significant proportion of them have Russian as a first language and their country of origin’s nationally official language as a second which they learned in school. For instance, I believe in Estonia the number of people who speak Russian natively and Estonian as a second language approaches 50% of the population. So Scotland having 4,000 people resident here born outside Russia but still most fluent and competent in Russian seems very plausable.

    Oh, and the nearest living relative to both Scots and English is in fact the Frisian languages, not Dutch.

  16. Seon Caimbeul says:

    I challenge Nick Durie to find any fault in this article. It offers a well reasoned assessment of recent census data in the context of the likely policy implications for language revitalisation in Scotland.

    It contains no attack on Scots of any kind.

    It looks as if Nick Durie hasn’t bothered to read it before commenting on it.

  17. Tocasaid says:

    Interesting piece from Wilson some interesting but also over-sensitive comments below it.

    I didn’t tick the ‘Scots’ box for a variety of reasons.

    – It may not be popular amongst ‘Scot Nats’ but I see Scots/Scottish as being Gaelic, as it was for centuries. Part of the problems Scots Gaels face is that many Scots don’t recognise it as Scottish, which is ludicrous given its history. This gives rise to mucho ignorance and bigotry from both Scotsman readers and ‘Scots activists’. Michael Hance, author of the other article dealing with the census and language is off that view as well – he stated that ‘Gaelic was traditionally spoken in the north and west of Scotland’. Surely news to those, still living, whose parents and grandparents would’ve been native speakers of Arran, Lomondside, Stirlingshire, Perthshire, Easter Ross, Caithness and Aberdeenshire Gaelic.

    – Two, as Akerbeltz states, no-one can easily identify what is ‘Scots’ and what is ‘Scots English’. Not just the proles but even pro-‘Scots’ academics like J. Derrick McClure in his ‘Why Scots Matters’ publication states that ‘the line between Scots and Scottish English is difficulte to determine’. This isn’t surprising given the proximity of Scots/Inglis and English. I’d also contend that this is further confused by the influx of vocabulary from other dialects of ‘Anglo Saxon’ – Hispanic, Afro-American and even Cockney being particularly strong. Sure, I use words like dreich, mingin and clarty but equally many ‘English’ speakers I know also use words like loch, sporan and ‘slainte mhath’ without having attended any night classes in Scottish/Gaelic. It doesn’t make them speakers of Gaelic though.

    We DO have our own form(s) of Anglo-Saxon but what it is or even the correct name is not clear. As far as I understand – and I welcome correction here – there is no standard word for ‘one’. Is it ane, een, yin or wan? There also seem to be those who contend that Shetlandic is a language in its own right – I don’t know. Is it? And what about Doric and Lallans? Different tongues or the same?

    And, says who?

  18. Nick Durie says:

    “why is everyone taking stuff personally”

    Could it be because for over 100 years Scotland’s anglophone establishment has not only been trying to do Scots in, but has actively been denying its existence? And then some people who appear to hail from said establishment back up the establishment when they dispute the figures on the one question they fought tooth and nail to avoid being asked in the census, for the simple reason that it demonstrates something they find deeply uncomfortable: that 1.54 million Scots speak Scots.

  19. Nick Durie says:

    “I see Scots/Scottish as being Gaelic”

    Then yer bum’s oot the windie pal, acause it’s no. Scots is anither leid awthegither and it’s manifest til awbody here that you dinna ken whit ye’re talkin aboot wi threipin that. Scots has been cried Scots sen the days of Gawain Douglas.

    “We DO have our own form(s) of Anglo-Saxon but what it is or even the correct name is not clear. As far as I understand – and I welcome correction here – there is no standard word for ‘one’. Is it ane, een, yin or wan?”

    Traditionally wrutten ‘ane’, and pronoonced efter the dialect. The aulder modren orthography was aye mair standart (and pan-dialectical) nor the modren ill-educate haivers ye whiles get wi aw kin kind o orrae ‘phonetic’ spellins. That’s just a featur o no haein a public presence and haein deil a haet lair in the clessroom. Tae the 30s ye wad coud aye read Scots in newspapers. No theday. Syne the dammart spellins A doot.

    ” There also seem to be those who contend that Shetlandic is a language in its own right – I don’t know. Is it?”

    Naw. It’s Insular Scots efter it’s traditional nem. Back in the echteent century the war 5000 words that clung on fae Norn (the auld leid they spak there afore the isles was colonised in the 15th and 16th centuries). Whiles this colours the language there, and the intonation is aw Norse, but the fowk at speaks Scots there eenoo speaks a form o Scots.

    “And what about Doric and Lallans?”

    Lallans isnae a dialect. It just means ‘lowlands’ speak, and for ordnar is just uised for Scots letters. Doric is the North East dialect o Scots. It’s academic term is mid Northern Scots.

    1. Tocasaid says:

      So what differentiates ‘Scots’ from other Anglo tongues? Why would Shetlandic be lumped in with Borders ‘Scots’ and why would this be totally different to the dialect of Northumberland? And does not ‘Anglophone’ include ‘Scots’?

      Enlighten me.

      1. am Morair Moireach says:

        “Tradietionally, the Shetland tongue wis jist caad ‘Shaetlan.’ It wis contrastit tae ‘Scottie’ that wis whit we caad whit fowk frae the Mainland spak. This reflectit the tradietional identity o Shetlanders – my faither wad hae denied ootricht bein Scottish, an a lot o (likely maistly aulder) Shetlanders still dis. ‘Shaetlan’ wis maistly felt tae be a dialect o English, and/or a corruption o Norn, dependin on yer viewpynt. ”

  20. Akerbeltz says:

    For goodness sake, will you stop suggesting that anyone here would consider it BAD news if there WERE that many Scots speakers? It may be news to you but there are many parts of this world where people routinely speak 3 or more languages natively. There is NO reason barring prejudice which would prevent English, Gaelic and Scots thriving in Scotland side by side. I *resent* your continuous accusations that we would like to somehow gloat over the demise of Scots. How can you possible have derived such a twisted message from a simply attempt to analyse the crude figures of the census in more detail? You’re beginning to sound paranoid.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      I’m not sure why Scots and Gaelic are perceived as being in opposition. Culture’s not a zero sum game. Look at how Maclean and MacDiarmid collaborated for a shared commitment to a wider (radicalised) Scottish culture.

  21. Seon Caimbeul says:

    “I’m not sure why Scots and Gaelic are perceived as being in opposition. Culture’s not a zero sum game.”

    Good question. I think the answer lies in the strategies of the language promoting bodies. Gaelic organisations have built around grass roots initiatives such as the Gaelic medium playgroups movement. They recognise that their language is endangered and try to take sensible steps towards its revitalisation.

    Some Scots language bodies have adopted the strategy, applied earlier in the North of Ireland, of pretending that Scots is not an endangered language, that we don’t need Scots medium education or broadcasting or a Scots medium infrastructure. As one director of a Scots language organisation told me, “we don”t need to learn it because everybody speaks it anyway”! In recent years some have taken to complaining about the support given to Gaelic. They see it as a zero sum game where there is only one slice of a small cake to go round and they want a bigger bit. As the same person told me, in English, “You mark my words, this whole Gaelic edifce will soon come crashing down!”

    I have formed the view, from speaking in Scots to representatives of a number of Scots language organisations, that there has been a recent influx of middle class aspirants who do not speak Scots, have no intention of learning it but see a career trajectory for themselves if they can, by any means, secure government funding. I see this as influenced by developments in the North of Ireland following the peace process.

    That is a great shame. A small minority of people in Scots promoting organisations are determined to set Scots on a destructive path of pretending that we have 1.5 million speakers when the real number who can actually speak the language must be very small. Scots needs real intervention, real, effective strategies, we need to record its remaining fully able speakers, train playgroup leaders and teachers, have Scots medium educatiion and broadcasting as part of normal everyday life.

    We need real language revitalisation for Scots, not a pantomime of posturing and whining that other people get more than we do.

    This antipathy to Gaelic is a very recent import from unionist Ulster. where culture is, unfortunately, seen as a zero sum game.

    1. am Morair Moireach says:

      Antipathy to Gaelic is one of the things I find most off putting about the Scots language movement.

  22. Andrew Morton says:

    It’s entirely unsurprising that there was pressure to drop Scots in favour of ‘proper’ English. When Dr Johnson said, “The noblest prospect which a Scotchman ever sees, is the high road that leads to England.” He was speaking the unpalatable truth, that, with most high value jobs being in London, it was necessary to speak the language of the dominant culture to get on. It isn’t necessarily a conspiracy against Scots when parents and teachers say, “If you speak like that you’ll never get on!”. I myself had two languages, one (Scots) for when I was with my friends and English in front of my parents and teachers.

    In the early part of my career, in the 1970s, I travelled in the Highlands and Islands meeting clients. One winter afternoon I was meeting a haulage contractor at his house in Elgol in Skye. He hadn’t arrived when I got there so his wife gave me a cup of tea. Her two young children were playing on the floor with their toys and speaking to each other in Gaelic. She told them off for not speaking English, and when I told her that I didn’t mind, she said, “It’s not on account of your being here that I told them off, but if they don’t learn to speak English they won’t get a decent job.”

  23. Dave Coull says:

    There are many dialects of the German language.

    There is a huge amount of variation between the different dialects of the German language

    There are dialects of German which are more different from “standard” German than Dutch is.

    Yet Dutch is a language, and those more different dialects are just dialects.

    How can this be possible?

    Because the bluidy Dutch government says so, that’s how.

    The government of the independent Netherlands says Dutch is a language. Therefore it is taught in schools, it is used in government publications, etc. And if the UK is sending an ambassador to the Netherlands, then, even though most Dutch folk are quite fluent in English anyway, the ambassador better be able to speak Dutch.

    Therefore Dutch is a language, and those dialects of German are just dialects of German.

    Just suppose King James VI of Scotland hadn’t been so obsessed with the larger kingdom he inherited after thirty eight years as King of Scots.

    Just suppose he’d authorised an Authorised Version of the Bible in Scots, instead of English.

    Just suppose the language that Scots heard over the centuries when they went to the Kirk on Sunday, the language of God and serious things, had been Scots, instead of English.

    Okay, it didna happen. But we’re going to be an independent country again very soon.

    Maybe we can learn something from the Dutch.

    1. Tocasaid says:

      Agree so why isn’t Doric a language? And why is Shetlandic different from Northumbrian Anglo-Saxon?

      1. Dave Coull says:

        Dutch is a language because the Netherlands is an independent country, and the Dutch government says that Dutch is a language.. Dutch schools teach the Dutch language with standardised Dutch grammar and spelling, official business is conducted in Dutch, and when the UK or some other country sends an ambassador to the Netherlands he or she is expected to be able to speak Dutch reasonably well. The dialects which you mention are dialects because none of these things apply.

    2. Tocasaid says:

      Dave – so what about Gaelic then? And Basque? Where are their nation states?

      Indeed, the Gaels have their nation state taken from them. We were the original Scots and our language was Scottish until… Inglis became ‘Scottish’.

      Anyway, never mind Dutch. What about Shetlandic and Northumbrian ‘Scots’? What about Sorbis is eastern Germany?

      It doesn’t matter what ‘officialdom’ decrees. What do you think?

      1. Dave Coull says:

        You certainly weren’t the original inhabitants of this land. Us Picts were here before you.

      2. Tocasaid says:

        Picts? Aye, whatever… though aren’t today’s ‘Picts’ the native Gaels of Skye?

        What about my queston? If Gaels, Sorbs and Basques don’t have armies, then are they just dialects?

        Certainly, Gaelic used to have a nation, kings and armies and its name synonymous with ‘Scottish’. Divide and rule saw that connection end, much to the detriment of Gaelic/Scottish.

        1. Dave Coull says:

          I would have thought Skye was one of the LEAST Pictish areas of the country. Loads of incomers from Norway and Ireland…….

      3. am Morair Moireach says:

        Gaelic is the original Scots language. The Scots being Gaels.Pictish was probably a lot nearer to Gaelic than it was to Lallans English dialects and the evidence for this is the rapid change to Gaelic and embracing of Scottish identity by Picts.

  24. bellacaledonia says:

    It’s utterly divisive to separate Scots and Gaelic. Nobody benefits. Unity in diversity springs to mind. Let’s learn from wiser heads?;jsessionid=F43EAE687A03976C993F2DD9E7748CC2?cc=gb&lang=en&

  25. setondene says:

    The big decennial increase in Gaelic speakers in Aberdeenshire mentioned by Wilson might have been down to oil-related migration. Possibly the same for Moray, but don’t ask me about Orkney (though I’ve come across a number of Orkney Gaels in my time).

  26. Neil McRae says:

    Back to the original essay – surely only in Scotland would a further 2.2% decline in Gaelic speakers be heralded as “a good deal to celebrate”! Perhaps Wilson MacLeod is referring to the much-spun increase in the percentage of young Scots under twenty who are Gaelic speakers, which he cites. What he does not mention is that this increase was only 0.1%! I wonder what this will boil down to in terms of actual numbers, when the full figures are released.

  27. Arthur Cormack says:

    Going the right way though, eh, Neil? So much for ‘nervously awaited’ census results! Nothing wrong with a bit of positivity for what is an achievement. Loads still to do, of course.

  28. Nick Durie says:

    bella: absolutely.

    Call me an unrepentant modernist if you like, but I think Dave’s point about the bluidy Dutch government is where it’s at. English is a state language in Scotland. It should remain so. It is the mother tongue of some 3.5 million Scots. We have made some pissy steps at making Gaelic a state language. These have arrested its demise, but not improved the situation much. At the moment I cannot go to any school in Scotland and find it is possible to learn Gaelic. There are only special schools for it. The focus from government often seems in the past to have been on ‘traditional areas’ (read the Western Isles here, not the Gaidhealtachd). This is despite the capital of the Gaelic language being, today, Glasgow. There are more speakers there than anywhere else. This position is not tenable with being a state language. The position should be as English: that it is possible to learn it at school, and use it with bureaucracies and so on. I have a feeling many people would learn Gaelic in this way. Most Gaelic schools today are oversubscribed.

    Next up Scots. 1.54 million people speak Scots. It should be an official language. It should have the same status and provision as English and Gaelic.

    Our country has always been a multilingual country. The UK is a monolingual environment. This has always been in spite of the many languages spoken in these islands. There is no reason for Scotland to make the same mistake. Moreover a number of Northern European neighbours are getting along with being bilingual or multilingual societies perfectly well.

    Andrew Morton: what is your point? “It isn’t necessarily a conspiracy against Scots when parents and teachers say, “If you speak like that you’ll never get on!”. — It is! Scotland’s command of English is under no threat from its command of Scots and Gaelic, nor has it ever been. Most Scots have spoken English perfectly well since the 1600s, in the way that most Danes or Swedes do. Scotland got along perfectly well having two administrative languages (Scots and Gaelic), and in the middle ages many officials and much of the ruling elite (and I’d suspect plenty of the common people) could speak both Scots and Gaelic, as people with truck between different speech communities continued to do in rural Scotland into the 20th century. Having command of more than one language is not a hindrance. It is a benefit.

    “a destructive path of pretending that we have 1.5 million speakers when the real number who can actually speak the language must be very small.”

    This is pathetic. The very best data that has ever been acquired on Scots broken down by council area now (and street level soon), where people had to actively tick a box, which came with explanatory notes, and around which there was a public awareness campaign. The results tally with a previous large scale study by the General Register Office. They conflict with the Anglophone hegemonic view and thus are rubbished by the civil servants who tested the question. Their argument: ‘My feels says this is wrong… From my civil service job in Edinburgh. The people must be mistaken.’ And you back it. That is belittling and daft. Why does the idea that 49% of Aberdeenshire speaks Scots and one in five Glaswegians speaks Scots bother you so much?

    Now a wee anecdote. I do a lot of canvassing for a YES vote in Glasgow. Most of the time my conversations are in English. Frequently however I become aware that I can conduct the conversation in Scots, if I wish. Sometimes I do. It depends on the context, I am more than willing to believe that 117487 Glaswegians speak, read and write Scots, but that 392,614 Glaswegians do not speak Scots at all. Many ordinary Glaswegians only speak English. There aren’t that many posh people in the city boundaries. Most of those live in a gerrymandered shire. So you are talking about 3 out of 5 working class families have no Scots at all. That has implications for Scots as a transactional language. But my own anecdotal experience (of having two Scots speaking conversations on my estate for example in brief canvassing sessions), and many other Scots speaking conversations throughout the city, but finding it relatively rare to see a transactional Scots in use, would seem to bear that out. As yet we also do not know the demographics, or whether there is much intergenerational transmission of Scots going on at the moment. It’s common to be downbeat about Scots, but frankly the results do not call for that kind of introspection. They call for action.


    1. Andrew Morton says:

      @Nick Durie.
      My point is that I don’t think that there is an official or unofficial edict, policy or drive to suppress Scots coming from either London or Edinburgh. There doesn’t have to be as we do it ourselves.

  29. Akerbeltz says:

    Nick, I’m sorry to say this but there’s no point in debating this issue with you. You clearly have no clue about the situation of Gaelic (note that one of the major gripes within the Gaelic world is the *neglect* of the Western Isles and West Highlands in terms of Gaelic development). You show a shocking ignorance of most aspects of linguistics and clearly are in “preach” mode. Which means this is the point where I go back to doing something real, like translating GIMP into Gaelic, and leave you to feel smug about the figures you want to believe in. I most fervently hope that there are more open-minded people working on behalf of Scots though, for the sake of the future of the language.

  30. Nick Durie says:

    “@Nick Durie.
    My point is that I don’t think that there is an official or unofficial edict, policy or drive to suppress Scots coming from either London or Edinburgh. There doesn’t have to be as we do it ourselves.”

    Doesn’t help that schools were under obligation to ‘correct’ Scots into English until the 90s, or that it has no status or public visibility, and nobody is taught it.

  31. Nick Durie says:

    “there’s no point in debating this issue with you.”

    Your starting point is the same as this article, that the figures are wrong because Scots are too stupid to know if they really speak Scots or not. If you are not going to move on that, then I agree, there’s not a great deal of debate to be had.

    1. Tocasaid says:

      Is Professor J. Derrick McClure and Scots academic a dafite then?

      1. Dave Coull says:

        What’s a daf ite?

      2. Tocasaid says:

        I like you Dave. You don’t do typos.

  32. Clive Young says:

    I jalouse that much of the annoyance from Scots activists here was the Daily-Mail-like spin Wilson McLeod put on the census outcomes, following the official line of highlighting the ho-hum Gaelic results and downplaying the truly astonishing Scots ones.

    The Gaelic results were predictably poor (the results were leaked last year). All that money spent and so little return. Never mind the headline ‘success’ of Gaelic schools opening for a handful of middle class parents in Embro an Glesca, the number of speakers in the heartlands seems to be collapsing. The figure of 24,974 speakers regularly using Gaelic at home is genuinely shocking for anyone who upports Scottish linguistic diversity. This is the time for soul-searching in the Gaelic lobby community, not self-congratulation. The apparent lack of much success in Gaelic revitalisation also bodes ill for Scots language activists’ hopes of that money should be invested in sustaining and developing their tongue.

    On the other hand the really big cultural story – that over a million and a half people self-identify with the Scots language is airily dismissed. Remember that’s well over *25 times* the number of Gaelic speakers. The establishment position has long been not that Scots should be *oppressed*, but that the language should be *ignored*, and to justify this the very existence of Scots is routinely denied. Such is the deep distain the establishment has for Scots that if people actually have the temerity to self-identify with the tongue as in the Census it is immediately assumed there must be something wrong with them i.e. “they didn’t understand the question”. Sadly we can see traces of this patronising attitude in McLeod’s article too.

    McLeod claims that the astounding result was “much in line with expectations”. I would challenge that, the 1996 GRO(S) survey he mentions accurately – almost uncannily accurately given the very different survey methodology – predicted the figures. But many Scots language activists scarcely believed it and I would say no-one in officialdom. This is the first time we have real data. As an aside the 1996 and 2011 comparison seems to show that unlike Gaelic and again contrary to expectations there has actually been no decline in the number of self-declared Scots speakers in the intervening 15 years. Again given the lack of public visibility (the pre-Census campaign aside) this is truly noteworthy.

    As the impact of the Scots results slowly begin to sink in, I suspect we will begin to see the NRS’ effective attempt to ‘cleanse’ the data (Scots was somehow ‘omitted’ from their press release) and frankly reactionary critiques such as this one to downplay or even rubbish the Scots results/speakers as the latest instalment of the ongoing discourse of discrimination that Scots has suffered for centuries.

    1. am Morair Moireach says:

      When the general Register Office for Scotland tested the question in 2009 , it found the question to be flawed. It found that understanding of what is meant by ‘Scots’ is very varied and there is considerable confusion about the meaning of the term. There is a range of interpretations from those who think Scots is simply the version of English spoken by Scottish people (essentially English with a Scottish accent), to those who think it is a dialect spoken in particular parts of Scotland, to those who feel it is an old language that hardly anyone speaks any more. A further interpretation which emerged in this round of testing was that Scots means ‘bad English’ or ‘not proper English’ which people should be encouraged not to speak. The test report concluded that “the confusion about the meaning of the term and the range of interpretations which are applied will lead to inconsistencies in response (e.g. people who speak in very similar ways will respond differently). The number of Scots speakers will either be overestimated or underestimated, depending on which interpretation data users apply. Thus, the question will not yield any meaningful data on Scots.”
      The Scots Language Centre disregarded the Register Office’s latter observation and subsequent warning that ‘Data users should be very clear about the severe limitations of the data collected on Scots”, I began to cast doubt on the idea that there is any longer such a thing as a natural ‘Scots’ language as distinct from Scottish English (‘the version of English spoken by Scottish people’ – ‘essentially English with a Scottish accent’ – e.g. ‘Whit a dreich day!’) or the range of urban ‘creoles’ to which the marriage of Scots and English (both British and American) have given birth (e.g. ‘Aw ra best tae ye, an aw that, wi ra glesca patter, eh?’ ‘Fit ya dee’in?’ ).
      The fact that so many people still denied being able to speak Scots is rather suprising in light of how wide the term is.

  33. bellacaledonia says:

    I don’t believe that people filled in the form were too stupid to know what they were doing. I don’t believe that for a second and Michael Hance’s article [] outlines some pretty sound reasons why that should be.

    The reality is that in the past 30 years Scots has gone from being something we should be ashamed of (or certainly not interested in) to something we should be proud of and is a part of our ‘re-in-habitation’ of our own culture.

    Meanwhile, our gaelic language and culture is also in renewal – despite – as several commentators here have mentioned from an appalling low and battered place.

    I believe there are real signs of revival and that we will see this continue as demand (and provision) for our language is seen in our schools [ It is also about our local economy and access to housing, of that there’s no doubt.

    The need for cultural solidarity between Scots and Gaelic language campaigners is essential. Our history shows that we are easily divided, this favours no-one in this debate.

  34. Douglas says:

    This squabbling between Scots and Gaelic activists reminds me of Borges´s description of the Falklands War, “two bald men fighting over a comb”….

    Dave Coull is right, a language is, to all extents and purposes, a “dialect with an army and a navy” as somebody once put it, with what deciding where a dialect ends and a language begins being political, to some extent at least.

    Portuguese and Castilian Spanish share 80% of vocab and the two countries have been independent for centuries, and anybody who knows one romance language very well can make a reasonable stab at reading in another one. I know this from experience, like many other people do.
    But we talk about SPEAKING another language (not reading), and few Spaniards would understand spoken Portuguese, just as there are plenty of English speakers who find difficulty understanding Scots. The film of Trainspotting was subtitled in English speaking territories after all.

    But there is one key difference between Scots and Portuguese or Catalan say. The latter languages come with an authorised, standard grammar, spelling and orthography. The Catalans, for example, are a nation of grammarians and translators, they regard their language as being in constant danger, despite the fact that there are almost 8 million speakers and so they go to great pains to ensure it has a standard form, and very clear rules, at least in its official form. They are sticklers for the formal aspect of Catalan. Nobody can say that about Scots.

    They also teach Catalan all over the world.

    Where is Scots being taught exactly? And what is its standard form and orthography? How would a foreigner go about learning it? Which official authoritative grammar could he buy? How would he be able to distinguish himself from being a beginner, and intermediate learner or an advanced learner of Scots? Where could he test his knowledge?

    I know there are grammars out there, but they are not official grammars. In short, if we are going to take Scotland´s national languages seriously, we would be better served with a language and literature Academy.

    This is especially true of Scots. We need to take its formal aspect much more seriously, and there are lots of people in the Scots language community itself who are reluctant to do that. I read James Robertson saying somewhere recently that Scots is whatever a Scottish speaker wants it to mean, or words to that effect, and that this is somehow “democratic”. Eh? Which means what exactly?

    As for Gaelic, I would ask the Gaelic powers that be if there is any chance we can get Gaelic included in the Common European Framework of References for Languages so that people studying Gaelic can actually test themselves and get a certificate attesting to their knowledge and skills in Gaelic without having to hand over a small fortune to one of Scotland´s universities.

    Learning Gaelic at a Scottish university like SMO is very expensive and Gaelic in fact seems increasingly a luxury that few of us can afford. I am referring here to people like myself, who have an interest in it, but do not have the time or the money to complete SMO´s advanced course, which I was unceremoniously ejected from because I could not keep up with the course for a few months due to pressures of work. I don´t particularly want to learn Gaelic or anything else in the dry, rarefied, so often self’important atmosphere of academia and believe in the long standing Scottish tradition of autodidactism. .

    Here is the link for the framework if anybody is interested.

    1. Tocasaid says:

      Lots of bollocks here Douglas.

      Gaelic and Basque don’t have armies.

      And, learning Gaelic is expensive?! Many people learn Gaelic through local night classes as well as community education projects such as ALP in the west of Edinburgh. If you want to go to SMO, you can get grants and scholarships to help you. I met a guy some 20 years ago – long time unemployed from Craigmillar who had self taught himself Gaelic, thanks to local libraries. He had reached a good level of fluency too. And this in the dark auld days before BBC Alba and national coverage of Radio nan Gaidheal.

      1. Douglas says:

        T, it depends what you call expensive.

        I have spent a small fortune studying Gaelic, and living in the capital city of Scotland, there are precious few opportunities to practice it at all. That the powers that be in the Gaelic world are not paying somebody to run a FREE Gaelic conversation circle every night of the week is a mystery to me. What are they spending the money on? That would cost almost nothing, and who knows what might come of it….

        Scottish academia is a flourishing business these days,and I, for one, will not be handing over another penny to a Scottish university. SMO is a university first, and a bastion of Gaelic second, this I learned to my cost, but all universities are interested in making money these days more than anything else it seems to me. And there are a lot of great people up at SMO, I don’t mean to single them out especially.

        As for your man in Craigmillar, good on him, but don’t confuse the exceptionally motivated individual with a blueprint for the revival of Gaelic. And, by the way, how would he be able to demonstrate to a non Gaelic speaker his proficiency in Gaelic without handing over money to a Scottish university? He could sit a Higher I suppose, but until Gaelic is aligned to the same common framework used the length and breadth of Europe to demonstrate second language skills, self-learners have no way of demonstrating their acquired skills, which is demotivating. It is inconceivable that common European language framework is unknown to the powers that be in the Gaelic world, many of whom happen to work in Scottish academia, so I can’t help but see a vested interest at work.

        Finally, and I have mentioned this before, it is much cheaper to learn Catalan these days in the capital city of Scotland than it is Gaelic. Surely that doesn’t make sense?

      2. Andrew Watson says:

        Depending on where you are it can be bloody difficult to find a way to learn Gaelic. Living in Aberdeen, there’s not a single Gaelic course at the College, let alone an evening class run by it. There was an Ulpan class attempted but despite warnings they scheduled it to clash with the Aberdeen Gaelic Choir. Not exactly joined up thinking eh? You cannae learn a language in isolation- so structured, regular, affordable classes/conversation that continue and allow learners to progress together are really important. Well done the guy in Craigmillar but, being unemployed, he may have had a fair bit more time on his hands than others.

        Regarding your comments on where to draw the line between Scots and Northumbrian; it’s actually pretty well attested. I remember coming across a pretty dull (absolutely muckle) statistical survey of word use in the Scottish and English Borders back when I was avoiding work in the university library, and it was pretty emphatic that the point where recognised Scottish forms stopped being used tallied almost exactly with where the border was. Furthermore, more words were shared by those on the extreme west and extreme east on the Scottish side than by those just over the Border. Billy Kay I think has done some similar work on this.

        It’s the same with every kind of Dialect Continuum situation. If we were back in a situation where Gaelic was still spoken as a community language in Galloway and Ulster we may well be debating whether it was right to call anything “Scottish” gaelic when speech in the Rhinns was possibly closer to that of Rathlin than that of Speyside. Indeed while it’s considered perjorative to call Scottish Gaelic “Erse” or Irish, throughout alot of Scotland’s history Scottish and Irish weren’t exactly opposing concepts and rightly so given closeness of speech. The classification of every language as a seperate language is a mixture of pretty sound linguistic rules and a large slice of national intent. I’m just not sure which of these two you’re disagreeing with with Scots.

        Personally it’s the overlap between Gaelic and Scots that interests me. Maybe that’s just the product of a garden full of ‘gollochs’ and a room like a ‘bourach’ as a child.

  35. Nick Durie says:

    Douglas, lots of sense being talked there! 🙂

    Mentioning Robertson is apposite. The man has written a bunch of children’s books, which is very useful (even tho the grammar is often SSE, not Scots). Totally agree about forcing the codification. Robertson’s views on that are sadly in line with the Establishment norm. Scots has a codified grammar. It just isn’t taught. The orthography has slipped from (at the time of national newspapers which published in Scots0 relatively standard, to a mixture of often daft pseudo-phonetic spellings that are often used to underline the status of the language as a kind of linguistic substrate, a patois for the badly educated.

    Nonetheless the conventions of pan-dialectical Scots letters are there, remain there, and have a long pedigree. Scots in the North East have pronounced guid as gweed since at least the 1600s. Yet only when the last Scots newspapers shut down do we see the search for ‘authenticity’ in spelling, rather than the need to provide pan-dialectical spellings, as had hitherto always been the case. A sair want o education, and a puckle bigotit norries forby A doot.

    Anyway. It’s time to move forward. The deliberate obfuscation on Scots given these figures cannot persist indefinitely. Particularly, as Dave says, we are about to become an independent country. Facts is chiels that winna ding.

  36. Douglas says:

    Nick, I´m not sure I necessarily share your optimism.

    Let´s say the figures are accurate, or as accurate as any figures are. What depth is there in the Scots people say that they speak? There can’t be much depth to it because nobody is educated in Scots, tested in Scots, and there is almost no Scots literary culture in prose, which is no surprise given there is no standard orthography which is universally recognized. It might be used in everyday speech, sometimes in theatre, or poetry, but the fact is Scots speakers switch to Scottish English when they write prose. This goes back to the Muir – MacDiarmid spat all those years ago of course, but the paucity of Scots prose has a very detrimental effect on its prestige.

    I suspect that most of those who identify themselves as Scots speakers use a thousand or two thousand words of Scots, far less than they can call on in English. This can hardly be a surprise given the circumstances. So, my suspicion is that you are talking about a very broad usage of Scots, but with no depth to it, and given the status of Scots, that is no surprise. Certainly, I couldn’t say with any honesty that I believe there are one and a half million Scots speakers like there are eight million Catalan speakers.

    I would say that if you want a renaissance of Scots, you would have to invent something new out of something old, a phonetics and orthography which corresponds to the way people speak. For example, if the Catalans distinguish between a hard c and a soft ç with a tail, Scots orthography should distinguish between the ch in much and the ch in loch. Why not? Kenneth White, who admires MacDiarmid, none the less pokes fun at him for wanting to go “back to Dunbar”, and with good reason too, life never goes back, it can only go forward, and so you need to recreate a new language from an old one. Maybe this is already happening, I don’t know.

    The story of the Catalan renaissance at the end of the nineteenth century is an amazing one by the way. Literary Catalan had fallen into decadence, nothing had been translated into Catalan for centuries, when a priest decided he was going to compile a dictionary of Catalan and posted an advert in the paper calling for people to write to him with words they used in their day to day life. He expected a few replies and was inundated with responses. Later, a Catalan literary congress was called, and people came from all over Catalonia, each from his own speciality and trade, with the words they used in Catalan in daily life. From this, they compiled a dictionary and established a grammar. There is something very democratic about that, and my fear with Scots, as with Gaelic, is that it languishes as a pursuit of the academics and specialists.

    As for the idea that some have mentioned that English should be relegated to the status of second language, this is a fantasy and sheer madness. English is the Latin of our times, and I agree with Bella, language is not a zero sum game. Under no circumstances would I jeopardise Scotland’s status as an English speaking nation. Why would anybody want to give up such an advantage?

  37. Steve says:

    Interesting. But ever since reading James Murray’s (‘the father of Scots language studies’) 1876 work Dialects of Lowland Scotland I’ve been a sceptic. Murray reviews the historical evidence in great detail and in essence concludes that Scots and English were always the same language. The name Scots just became popular as a patriotic synonym instead of English from around the time of Flodden – 1513. Before then it had just been called English, (oft spelled Inglis – just as it was in England too). Scottish dilaects are and always were simply those dialects of northern English encountered in Scotland. Extravagant claims such as ‘Scots was the State Language of Scotland’ turn out to be made by 20th century enthusiasts.

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  40. am Morair Moireach says:

    Every student who has studied English at a Lowland university is already familiar with The Golden Targe by William Dunbar. It makes a parallel between the sun and Geoffrey Chaucer, ‘of oure Inglisch all the lycht’. Clearly, Dunbar didn’t think he was writing in ‘Scots’. It was other, lesser writers who began to call Dunbar’s ‘Inglisch’ by the title of ‘Scottis’. The title of Scots should revert to its original owner if truth has meaning in modern Scotland.

    The comparison between Dutch and German in the “Aye can” section on how Scots is related to English is misleading, especially if Glaswegian is viewed as a dialect of “Scots” (it is more like a mixture of Lallans Scots and Scottish English in my view). The comparison of Dutch and Afrikaans would be far nearer to the relationship seeing as how both Scots and English are Anglic (or separate English) languages whereas what today is German and Dutch have never been as close because of the complex nature of Low German, Middle German and High German dialects and geography contributing in such a different way to their developments with Dutch and German having dialects in between them cushioning them from the same amount of cross fertilisation found in Modern Scots and English particularly. Just look at how Glasgow slang is influenced by modern English urban slang from America and London. These arent Northumbrian Middle English phrases entering the language but modern global variants of English which will at may in the end develop a new language as happened in the Rennaisance when what today is Scots came into completely separate existence as a language of literature, but it was never even then as separate as High German and Flemish since Low German and Middle German dialects meant that the dialects which formed the basis of Luther’s Bible(Eastern Saxon and Southern Bavarian) were unlikely to be directly in contact with Dutch the way Scots was with London English or “Southren” as I believe it was referred to by Scots speakers of the time. If Lallans Scots was Dutch then German would be related to it the way Frisian is to Cockney rhyming slang.

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