339371_10150956601888300_1416585463_oBilly Kay’s 6 part archive series on the history of Scots, The Scots Tongue is currently being broadcast on Radio Scotland. A new seventh programme will be added to bring the story up to date.

The Scots Tongue spiers whit the future hauds for the mither tongue o ower a million an a hauf Scots fowk in the 21st centurie, fowk like you that micht speak the leid ilkae day, but hae nae kennin o ocht belangin the braw leiterature or gowden history o the langage. I wad be gleg tae haud forrit scrievin tae ye in Scots, but jalouse that maist o ye wad finnd it a sair chave tae follae whit I am threapin on aboot, as gey few Scots are leiterate in their ain leid …sae like Chris Guthrie in Sunset Song I’ll gae ower tae English…

“…you wanted the words they’d known and used, forgotten in the faroff youngness of their lives, Scots words to tell to your heart, how they wrung it and held it, the toil of their days and unendingly their fight. And the next minute that passed from you, you were English, back to the English words so sharp and clean and true for a while, for a while, till they slid so smooth from your throat you knew they could never say anything that was worth the saying at all.”

Personally, I am delighted that my second language is English – as a lingua franca in the world today, it is a perfect medium of communication. But, I know the power and pathos of Scots and I want future generations to be bi-lingual in Scots and English, or Gaelic and English in the Highlands, so that like me they find it easier to learn other languages and communicate confidently with the world.

There’s still a lot of ignorance out there. A member of the Parliament’s Cross Party Group on Scots once asked a Scottish Executive Minister if he had received the bi-lingual invitation to come to a meeting of the Group and received the reply, “Oh, that thing, with the funny writing. Yes, I threw it in the bin”! When I hear stories like that and feel alienation from my fellow countrymen, I remember

Hugh MacDiarmid’s humorous response to the same conundrum…

“Mercy o’ Gode, I canna thole
wi sic an orra mob to roll”
“Wheesht! It’s for the guid o your soul.”
It micht be for the guid o my soul, I’m jist no shuir whit it’s daein tae ma heid!

However, to paraphrase another wonderful poet who was also steeped in the great Scots ballad tradition… the times they are a changin!

In the early 2000’s there was a debate anent a Census question on Scots, the idea was treated with disdain and ridiculed by many in the main three unionist parties who voted against the idea en masse. In the 2011 Census however, there was a question on Scots and the whole parliament responded positively to the proposal.

There are now Scots Language Co-ordinators in the schools, a Scots Scriever, Hamish MacDonald based at the National Library of Scotland, Scots Ambassadors promoting the language such as singers Robyn Stapleton and Sheena Wellington, as well as yours truly. I end the final programme ends with these words:

Scotland maun cherish an haud deir its native leids gin we’re tae be ocht ava as a nation. I’ll lea ye wi a wheen veices whae aw howp that as faur as Scots is concerned, MacDiarmid’s prophetic lines will bear the gree in years tae come:

For we hae faith in Scotland’s hidden poo’ers,
The present’s theirs, but a’ the past an future’s oors.

Billy Kay, author, Scots The Mither Tongue

Three programme have already been broadcast, and you can hear them by clicking here


For all of Bella Caledonia’s Scots section click here: