Ceci N’est Pas Une Leid

Say we hidnae aw decidit that Scots wis a language. Say it hidnae been estaiblisht – tae the saitisfaction o aw concernt – that Scots hauds doon a patch on the same Wikipedia page as German, French an Esperanto. An say, for whitever reason, the notions o experts on this an ilka ither subject cairit sic sma bit wecht anent the helium-inflectit zeitgeist o the times, that we’d tae wirk oot for oorsels whit the kenmerks o a leid were.

Whaur wad we stairt? Whit, wad we aw agree, maks a leid a leid?

Ah’m no airtin oot hoo mony angels can fit on the heid o a pin, here. Ah’m no speirin whit oor linguists think. It’s no that ah’m myndit tae set aff the philosophers an the academics, like – it’s mair that we’ve awready got thaim onside, faur as ah can tell. An yet still, we’re askin – whit, in oor ilkaday experience, allous the legitimacy o Scots tae remain an open question? Whase are the testimonies we’re bidin on? Whit trials is it we’re needin still tae pass?

Set by, for a meenit, the question-beggin bell-endery that means we cannae hae a language until we’ve an estaiblisht media, polítical recognition, associatit bodies etc, an that we cannae hae thae things until we’ve a language. Let on, for a whiles, that Scots isnae fankelt in some Josef K labyrinth o smirkin bureaucrats an wan-wey corridors that rin roond an roond like Escher stairwells. In ither wirds – pretend that things are fair. An tell us, whit mair dae fowk want fae us? Whit mair dae fowk need?

Mebbes, likesay, a thrivin líterar tradítion – respectful o its past, howpfu o its future? An wi eneuch siller in place tae mak shuir that onybody wi a mind tae mak a lívin scrievin, spikkin, chantin, or braidcastin in the leid widnae be as weel jist cuttin oot the middle man an baffin themsels ower the napper wi a chair-leg.

Mebbes, for ensaumple, a wheen o its ain byleids? Byleids o sic cultural importance that some o thaim hae transcendit even naitional boonds, an cam tae staun shorthaun for the leid an for the kintrae as a hale?

An mebbes – maist important o aw – lairners. Spikkers that wirnae born tae the tongue. Mechanisms tae ease their transition. Raisons hou they should fash theirsels wi it. An aw the hertenin an uphaudin that’s due sic fowk – an a wee bit on tap, for their troubles.

One Scotland’s Dear Haters campaign kivered a wheen o bases this week. Racists, transphobes, homophobes, bigots, ageists, disablists; aw richtly cawed oot for attitudes that are no acceptable in oor modern Scotland. But in a week whaur a public demonstratioun o faith at a party conference stirred up a national stooshie, an the argie-bargie ower the philosophical/polítical status o a belief in Scottish independence wis kinnelt wanst mair intae flame, it’s wirth takkin note that no anely has discriminatioun on the basis o language been alloued tae gang unchecked bi oor politícal heid yins, but forby that it’s thae verra politícians – Alex Cole-Hamilton, Murdo Fraser, Neil Findlay – wha are aft as no the warst offenders.

Hou lang is it gonnae tak tae pit this aw richt? Weel, hou lang hiv ye got? If it’s twa or three meenits, that’s aw it’ll tak tae lug intae oor editors, Ally Heather an Tam Clark, wha got thegither for a wee spraff aboot Scots, spikkers, an Selkirk FC at the Belladrum Festival in August.




Comments (7)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published.

  1. SleepingDog says:

    I wish Scots was called something other than “Scots” because it makes it currently very hard to search the Internet for the language rather than people.

    Anyway, since I was part of a discussion around WW1 letters and people tracing their family histories, what languages/dialects did Scottish WW1 soldiers use when writing back home from the front? I imagine that military censorship imposed some conditions, while literacy levels in Scotland suggest that soldiers may even have been more capable of writing their own letters than their modern age-equivalents. There would have been lots of other impacts on language, including military terminology, exposure to and mixing of different English and non-English languages and dialects, new swear-words and humour, even the sounds of battle.

    Of course, a Scottish soldier might write poems in Gaelic, Greek or Latin, but here I am more interested in broad trends.

    If Scots-speaking soldiers wrote home in English, say, why did they do that? Coercion or preference? What about letters from home? What influence did belonging to a British Army make? What influences have carried on from those times?

    My view is that along with negative reasons for people dropping Scots for English, there could have been positive reasons too (which may or may no longer apply).

    1. Graeme Purves says:

      During the First Battle of Flanders my grandfather was nearly shot because the English troops who came up to relieve his unit couldn’t understand his Scots and thought he must be speaking German.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Graeme Purves, thanks for that. And if your grandfather had a close escape, I imagine some others did not in similar circumstances.

        Perhaps also the units were more dialectically homogeneous at the start of the war, later becoming more mixed as replacements were directed wherever there were heavy losses. The WW1 comic series Charley’s War also makes the point that there were some native German speakers in the British Army, who would obviously be useful in overhearing enemy discussions and interrogating prisoners. Their accents may have caused suspicion too; perhaps they pretended to be Scottish when similarly challenged? I suppose some German words percolated back home to Blighty as well.

        1. Tam Clark says:

          Ah’ll no lat on tae ken ocht aboot WWI… But yon’s an awfy guid story aboot yer grandfaither, Graeme. Thanks for yon.

  2. Davie Cunningham says:

    Get them telt ma laddies! Guid craic an a sherp wee lead-in airticle. It’s a bluidy birlin-door,the ay-an-oan fecht tae convince folk..an ilk time ye think the leid’s won oot the flair sterts widdershinnin aw ower again….but yin day,yin day………!! Keep up the bonnie fechtin mes amis.

    1. Tam Clark says:

      Ye’re no wrang, Davie – ye never are! Muckle thanks as aye for yer uphaudin o the leid an its spikkers. Whiles it micht seem like we’re jist cryin intae the spirewind, but we’re gettin there, mun, we’re gettin there!

      1. Davie Cunningham says:


Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.