2007 - 2021

Ayont the Fake and the Leal: Let’s Free the Leid

“This guy is faking it and I literally am struggling to listen to it.”

“I’m from Scotland, trust me, nobody talks like this.”

“The boy doesnae sound like he’s speaking Scots naturally he makes it sound pure put-on and that’s the point that folk start to take the piss and laugh at you for it.”

Thae comments (an mony ithers o the likes) are repones tae a recent BBC Social clip, featurin Lallans banter an blether bi oor ain Scots leid activist an jurnalist, Alistair Heather.

Siclike quotes wull be nocht new fir onybody that’s ivver ettlet at uphaudin the mither tongue. At first, eh didna e’en tak tent o them. Eh thocht Alistair’s video wis gey braa —an brave forbye— an that yon wickit comments were jyst fae that ayebidan crew o Unionist haters an Oxford Dictionar cruisaders. Houiver, as Alistair’s clip rose in views (raxin up tae hauf a million clicks), the nummer o hatefu an reekin posts kept birlin tae shitestormic magnitudes. Maist observes agreed wi ilk ithers: Alistair’s braid Scots wisna a proper language, it wis a fake, makkit up stew o cringewirthy wirds. Coorse, as a Scots enthusiast masel, sic sneerins gar’t ma bluid tae boil. Yet, that sae mony fowks —Scottish fowks— canna e’en staun the blate idea an soond o Braid Scots is challengin fir onybody wha cares fir the leid. Like mony ithers scrievers wha hiv publisht a piece short syne, eh hid tae gie it a saicont thocht.


Modren Scots, it seems tae me, drees fae a deep conterdiction atween its linguistic claim o authenticity (that o bein the true —leal— leid o the Scots people) an the unavoidable superfeeciality o ilka linguistic ettle. Like ony ither tongues that hiv ivver attempted at gainin a national or international rank, Scots necessitats tae bring wirds fae sindry airts an times thegither intae a pithy hail. Adeed, “Synthetic Scots” (itherwise kent as “Lallans”, “Braid Scots”, or “Re-Integrated Scots”), as it cam tae be caad ootthrou the twentieth century, means that preceese strive fir tae creaut a muckle national an literary medium wi wirds fae ilka Scottish dialects. Na’hin unco here. This is hou maist European tongues were draftit in the seeventeen an eichteen hunerts. We ken that. Tak Croatian, fir exemple: its modren grammar wis shapit in 1812 bi philologist Šime Starčević wi upkeep fae Napoleonic France (whilk saw his ettle as a sleekit wye tae shoogle the unity o Austria-Hungary). Hard tae dae faker nor yon, eh? But yon’s the quirk: we hiv hinsicht, noo, an the artificial side o leid buildin is mair kenable —an lauchable— nor it wis ane or twa hunert years syne. In ither wirds, the problem wi Modren Scots is that it is a linguistic biggin seekin a national staunnart in the post-modren era o national an linguistic deconstruction. Aa the myth-makkin an romantic blaflums that gang thegither wi leid politics is weel kent tae us the day (parteecular bi contemporar linguists wha hae lang waukent fae the dwam o their forebearers). Aye, it’s nae canny meddlin wi national linguistics whin aabody kens the auld tricks an scances ilka flaws o yers in braid daylight.

Siccar, it wad be easier bein superfeecial gin yer linguistic ettle wis uphaudit bi sword, siller, an state. Maist European leids were —an still are— fostert bi institutional strength an poo’er. E’en Scots, in the nineteen hunert, tastit the cultural moyen o Empire, fae India tae Suddron Africa, whaur it wis exportit amang ither couthie eetems o Breetishness. (Coorse, sic uphaud wis nivver intendit tae gie Scots fu creedit as a mensefu national leid, but it minds us that e’en the tongue o the unnerdugs can whiles be yaised as a tool o oppression.) The day, houivver, Scots daesna hae ony offeecial backin —fae naither the Scottish state nor ony muckle trust or cultural institution. We fin’ oorsel in this orra place whaur Scots, lackin baith strength an poo’er, canna be forgaithert wioot bein immediately pit doon bi a crood o angry flyters.


Tae coonter this, mony Scots forespeikers hae turnt tae forrit their leid wi anither kind o peremptor plea: that Scots is the real an genuine vyce o Scotland’s fowk. Syne the leid isna uphaudit bi the state, its virr, they think, maun lie amang the people itsel. “1.5 million fowks speik Scots accordin tae the 2011 Census”, ye’ll hae hearken some o us say. Aye, it’s a braa nummer, but whit kind o Scots is that aboot? Fu on Lallans as yaised bi Scots makkars an Bella scrievers? Eh jalouse na.

Forbye, as we’ve jyst seen wi Alistair’s video clip, the main quirk wi brandin Scots as the people’s leid is that it sairly backfires. “The people’s leid, ye’re jakin ay? Nab’dy speiks like that in this kintra”. Aye, ye get it: unfreends o Scots can also yaise the ploy o authenticity. Nae ainly can they yaise it, but they hiv the hail strength o the status quo, the hail linguistic hegemony ahint them: fae Holywood tae BBC an schools —the hail lot. It’s nae wyce fir Scots pairt-takkers tae invoke “the real vyce o the fowk” whin the staunnart o whit is ‘real’, ‘leal, an ‘proper’ is definit bi a muckle stranger poo’er structure.

Whit syne? Shuid ‘Synthetic’ Scots bides awaa in the cloods as a kinrick fir ootlaas an dreamers? Shuid we jyst stop fashin aboot that Scottish Renaissance whigmaleerie that howpt tae mak Scots the new pillar o national culture? Harry Giles, yin o oor best contemporar Scots poets, recently exheebitit Scots as a ‘Science Fiction project’: a pastless form, prood o its artifice but ill-kyndit tae ony myths o purity an authenticity. Coorse, Scots —either braid or synthetic or anarchistic— maun be that thrawn platform fir art an poetry tae mak an brak ilka marches.

But can Scots still fin’ a wye tae connect wi the feck o the kintra —wi aa thae fowks that say “aye” an ‘’cannae”, fae time tae time, tho “dinnae tawk like that in real life”? Here, some Scots forbearers aften turn intae poleetical an cultural labbyists. “A Scots Bill, a Scots Curriculum, a Scots TV, a Scots Academy. Yon wad be braa, wadn’t it? Yon wud shairly mak people chynge their mind, eh?” Aye, but this, yaince agin, means speirin fir the auld fashiont pooer an strength tae impose a tapdoon staunnart. Nae ainly Scots hisnae sic moyen, but e’en gin it hid, yon wad face evendoun ill-will fae baith Scots makkars an artists (wha’d want tae keep Scots a fykie an rebel medium) an ither Scots speikers (wha wadna relate the wye they tawk wi ony offeecial artifice).

Mair nor ony ithers argie-bargie, the staunnart stooshie his been sinderin the aareadies marginal Scots community fir mony a decade noo. Here agin, the ayebidin fecht atween whit’s fake an genuine is kenspeckle. Makkars scorns Scots labbyists fir proponin artificial rules that micht hinder the freedom o their art. Scots labbyists sneer at poets fir bein ower plastic wi the leid an pittin ither fowks aff. Meantime, ither fowks mock baith makkars an pro-staunnart labbyists fir meddlin wi whit they see as pehs in the skeh that are cut aff fae general demotic speech (whitever ‘general’ an ‘demotic’ micht mean). In ither wirds, aabodie see ilk ither as a muckle bunch o fakers —an sic the story his ayeways gane fae Alistair’s video back taeBurns himself (that muckle ‘Heaven-Taught’ faker).

Gin we ivver want Scots tae thrive, we maun fin’ oor way oot the deid-end flyte o authenticity an artificiality. Yin wye tae dae that, is tae gie ower the lang-lastin illusion that somewhaur —oot there—in Rabbie Burns’s Standard Habbie or in North-East Doric or in demotic Weegie or in Limmy’s vines or in Henryson’s plays is a truthfu wye tae be an speik Scots. Whaurever we may leuk. whaurever we may dig, there isna sic a thing as leal or genuine Scots. Tak Burns: he mixes Ayrshire dialect wi Doric an English —fake bampot! Tak the North-East: wha speaks the best Doric? Is it doon in Aberdeen? Or is it in Peterheid? Or in Kinraddie? Or in Gushetneuk mebbe? But wha speaks true Doric in Gushetneuk? Tell me! Is it Johnny Gibb or Jeannie Wallace? Nae! Johnny is fakin it, he owerstresses his “fit” and his “fan”. Aye, but Jeannie says “away” fir “awaa”.

An sae on, an sae on, an sae on…


Whit we aa need tae learn —an learn agin—, aa o us, houivver little or muckle Scots we speak, is that Scots is aa’hin but a pure medium. There isnae yin set o texts or yin wye o speakin that can possibly accoont fir the leid as a hail. Coorse, that’s nae ainly true fir Scots. E’en the Oxford Dictionar an the Académie française, twa o the maist pooerful linguistic institutions in the warld, canna mak on tae represent aa there is tae Inglis or French. The leid forerins the rule, but unlike a rule, the leid is impure an malagroused.

Scots isnae fake or genuine; Scots happens —fae time tae time, fae phrase tae phrase, fae line tae line.

Aa o us —Scots makkars, rebels, braidcasters, jurnalists, an pairt-takkers —oor task (gin we hiv yin) is tae mak siccar that fowks aroon us tak tent o Scots whin it happens. It is nae a definition, nae a model, nae a Scots Bible that we need fir the leid. It is a consciousness. Scots maun mak its wye up fae hame tae hert an heid. Ilka platform, ilka wird is wirth promeuvin. Ilka happenin o Scots can be a door tae a new ward.

But there isna need tae push people ben. Onybody wha lives in Scotland aareadies his a foot in the door. Onybody wha’s ivver said “dinnae” —e’en yince— his aareadies makkit Scots happen. We needna drag fowks tae the Lallans kitchen, but we maun lat them ken whaur they staun. Whaurivver ye are, whamivver ye be, gin ye said “aye” whin eh said “nae”, syne, AYE, ye belang, somehou, tae the warld o Dunbar an Harry Giles.

Maist importantly, we maun unnerstaun that whitivver its form, whitivver its airt, there isna sic a thing as bad or fake Scots. The raison ahint this is that there isna genuine or proper Scots either. Scots, as we ken, nearly deid fae the fash o propriety —the ainership o the yird an the correctness o the tongue. “Speik proper!” They said. “Aye, YE, ower there, YE that ain na’hin in this warld (nae e’en a proper leid) Yes, YOU. If you want property, speak properly!” We ken that auld sang, dinna we? Weel syne, oor lang ettle fir Scots revival shudna be tae mak whit’s improper proper agin. Insteid, Scots is aboot gittin rid o propriety aa thegither. Radical stuff, aye.

Scots isna aboot reality, essence, truth, an ainership. Scots is faur mair muckle nor that. Scots is aboot a new wye tae live. It is aboot that orra wird that gar ye tae pit yer foot on the thrashel o a new galaxy o continua —a new kinrick o mairchless possibilities an boundless blendin. Wull ye step in wi baith feet?
Fae “aye” tae “ayebidan”, Scots is yin o thae antrin wynds o freedom that lend itsel tae us an tak us yonder awa, ower there, ayont menses an tenses, ayont richt or wrang, ayont the fake an the leal.

Oor ainly job is tae hold the door tae this ither warld an mind fowks aroon us that they’ve aareadies stepped in. Whither they bather enterin isna oor problem. Yet, the door maun staun, an aa o us that care maun hear the caa —aa thegither.

Comments (20)

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  1. Jeanie Deans says:

    Ae wey tae win forrit wi the ” linguistic claim o authenticity (that o bein the true —leal— leid o the Scots people) an the unavoidable superfeeciality o ilka linguistic ettle” is at the least tae get yersel a copy o the1921 Manual Of Modern Scots. Learn tae follae Scots grammar and idiom whan ye’re writin rather than yer habitual Standard English grammar etc. syne whit ye come oot wi will be likely mair authentic and less superficial.

    1. Thomas Clark says:

      Unless, o coorse, ye think ‘authenticity’ is no whit matters – which is jist whit Paul is sayin here.

      1. Godfrey Bertram says:

        If authenticity doesn’t matter can what is being produced by taking Standard English and simply changing words and spellings be described as Scots? Surely it is just Standard English that has been fiddled with to make it look like Scots? What is the point of that?

        1. Thomas Clark says:

          If people started describing Standard English with the spellings changed as Scots, that would clearly be a matter for the police.

  2. George Watt says:

    A weel thocht essay on the use o Scots the dey. Fit are fowk feart o? Feart thay haud ontae somethin wanchauncie frae the past? That wi the Scots leid thay micht find thirsels tae be nae the modren faceless, launless cratur, thay thocht thay wir? Or are thay feart o a wachauncie futur whaur thair boundries are chynged, the road thay trevell haes turnt a corner an heided atward ae diffrent airt? ‘Things faa apairt’ naewan kens fit the morn wull bring. Kennin yer Scots wullnae caus ye hairm, but it wull improve ye! Naewan haes ever suffert frae bein bilingual, instead thay hae apent new doors. Noo, is that ocht tae be feart o?

  3. Peter Shepheard says:

    An interesting article. But I do wish some who try to write in Scots would not write with such dense vocabulary that the point of the message is completely lost. Often very obscure spellings are used when the standard English spelling or a well used standard Scots spelling would be just as good. And using words from Old Scots, that have never been used since before 1700 is certainly going to confound any other than dedicated linguists. Here are some notes with reference to the online Scots Dictionary I took after trying to read a letter to the editor in the National.
    Scots Dictionary Online: http://www.dsl.ac.uk/

    Scots and other words used by Iain W D Forde of Scotlandwell in a letter to the editor of the National Monday 22 October 2018.

    Just thought it might be interesting to see if I could understand the letter with the help of the online Scots dictionaries. I doubt many would bother! Perhaps the editor/ subeditor of the National could not be bothered to check if the letter was comprehensible.

    Word searches in the Scottish National Dictionary (since 1700) and Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue (up to 1700)

    upheizin / heizin
    No results in either dictionary.
    But found under Heeze and Heisin other related spellings.

    In the Scottish National Dictionary

    No results in either dictionary.
    Presumably meant to = Usual

    No results in the Scottish National Dictionary.
    i.e. The word has not been recognised as used in print since 1700
    Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue (up to 1700)
    erest = Earliest

    In the Scottish National Dictionary

    No results in either dictionary.

    No results in either dictionary.

    Rare spelling of new in both dictionaries.

    Derived from mense. Presumably = Sensible

    A rare, little used speling of week with no usage since 1929.
    More usually wik or weik – and more readably too.

    Incidentally, I never sent these comments to the editor or the author.

  4. Bill Middleton says:

    This piece sounds to be written in the DORIC most prominent in the NE of Scotland (Aberdeenshire especially).

  5. Alf Baird says:

    “Onybody wha lives in Scotland aareadies his a foot in the door. ”

    Naw thay dinnae. Maist heid bummers comin tae wark here irna e’en fi Scotlan an nane o thaim ivver hae tae hiv oor leid in thair heids nor dae thay bather pittin it in thair heids oneywey. Thon says it aw. Thay dinnae respectit oor leid becaus thay dinnae hiv tae.

    Aside from that, in order to respect our human rights Scots language evidently requires parity with English and Gaelic which would only ever be achieved with, inter alia: a Scots Language Act; Scots language taught from nursery to high school; Scots Language TV Channel; Scots Language Degree courses; etc. etc.

    Far from “Oor ainly job is tae hold the door tae this ither warld” the brutal reality is that the Scots language door (in terms of people learning grammar, reading and writing) is firmly shut in the faces of Scots, usually as soon as they enter the school ‘system’, an whair anely Englis is garred doon thair thrapples.

    1. Chris Connolly says:

      I don’t know (Ah dinnae ken) what a heid-bummer is but it doesn’t sound like a compliment. It sounds like a xenophobic insult to me. The notion that incomers to Scotland have no desire to learn Scots is no more true than any other sweeping generalisation.

      Currently Scots is a minor language, certainly, but that’s why essays and articles in journals like Bella and The National are important; they help support the movement to keep it alive. If some momentum can be created then perhaps more people will make the effort and, even one day, learn Scots (or their local variety of it) in schools.

      Incidentally, a reply to something written by Sara Clark (a Yorkshire lass writing in Scots, note) mentioned “Glaswegian slang.” I’d like to ban the word “slang” which simply means any deviation from the accepted norm. Basically, the rule seems to be that working class folk use slang while the ruling class speak properly. If we let others dictate to us in order to standardise language then we don’t just lose all the varieties of Scots but we can also say Goodbye to Geordie, Tyke, Brummie, Cockney and all the rest. This isn’t the time to throw up our hands in despair, it’s our opportunity to rescue these languages before they disappear.

      1. Alf Baird says:

        heid bummer (n) = manager (source: Scots -English, Engish-Scots Dictionary, Lomond books).

        Perhaps, Chris, this term is not meant to sound too complimentary, reflecting the Scots cultural/linguistic tradition not to be overly impressed by an individual’s status, no matter at what social ‘level’. Hence Scots is raither mair nor jist Englis wirds; indeed, ‘language is the expression of thought… and our description of the world… expressed in symbolic form’. Language thus reflects social knowledge. Hence often the meaning of Scots words will differ from English (or other) language ‘equivalents’ reflecting differences in culture (the causal-cultural theory of reference and meaning?). By refusing to formally teach Scots language to Scots bairns we are depriving them of this unique cultural knowledge (and language), whilst imposing a single (English) non mither tongue on Scots is no more than ‘enculturation’ (Bourdieu).

        1. Chris Connolly says:

          Thanks, Alf. Now you’ve explained what a heid-bummer is I know that I don’t care for them either. Glad we are on the same side & wavelength.

          All the best


          1. Alf Baird says:

            I believe the language and hence prevailing and indeed strengthening culture of our elites (senior managers/professionals, or indeed ‘heid bummers’) throughout the Scottish public and private sectors is holding back any real move to equality for Scots, Chris. As all of Scotland’s senior managerial positions are historically and remain today advertised primarily in the London press the consequence of this is that many if not most of Scotland’s ‘top managers’ are not Scottish and hence many if not most are not and will not be Scots language speakers. Many of the ‘rest’ of our elite tend to be ‘Anglo Scots’ whose depth of understanding of Scots language may likewise be limited (e.g. due to private schooling, family influence, privileged backgrounds etc, as per the findings of the Elitist Scotland? Report by Social Mobility & Child Poverty Commission 2015). What is the consequence of this when perhaps some 10,000 – 20,000 senior managers running most of Scotland’s public/social and business institutions, i.e. those on salaries above say £60k, many of whom have limited or even zero knowledge or understanding of the Scots language? Without any knowledge of Scots, daes a GP fae Hampshire aye understaund an auld wife fae Hamilton? Das a heid teacher fae Brighton aye unnerstaund a wee schuil bairn fae Banff? Daes e’en a jeedge fae Morningside aye unnerstaund a panel (accused) fae Muirhoose?

            The ‘enculturation’ that we endure in Scotland serves to impose the class of an elite (Bourdieu). The cultural capital of elites differs from the working class and in Scotland this differentiation is primarily linguistic. in this sense the working class have a culture imposed on them which is not their own and which makes them feel inadequate; hence the ‘Scottish cringe’ which is a language based psychological impediment imposed on Scots (speakers) by an elite. Culture necessarily creates and maintains power structures and the latter is based around language. In other words language is at the very root of the class system in Scotland. Language (reform) is therefore fundamental to ensuring equality for Scots, most of whom will never have equality based on the all too dominant (Anglicised) cultural capital of our elites, an increasing number of whom are not Scottish in terms of culture and language.

          2. Chris Connolly says:

            Thanks for a very thought-provoking reply, Alf. I have only been in Scotland for 7 weeks, have learned much in that time but still have a lot more to understand about the history of the Scottish working class and those who have tended to dominate and dictate to it.

            Where I live I’ve not heard anyone speaking in Lallans. Someone in Hawick said the day was dreich the other week, but it wasn’t that bad, actually. Not like today, when I was drookit after fetching the dustbin back in. The local folk in Annan have a beautiful soft accent but all their words seem to be English apart from a few differences like people “staying” in their houses rather than “living” in them as they do in England. I’d love to converse with people in Scots but I’m afraid of insulting folk by appearing to patronise them, which is the last thing I want to do. I can’t come here and start ordering folk to speak in Scots, any more than I should tell them who to vote for or which newspapers to read!

            Naturally, I am in favour of Scottish independence, but I keep seeing these stickers around saying “Yes” when they should say “Aye.” Even back in Sheffield, where I moved from, working class people say “Aye” or “Ah” rather than “Yes.” I don’t begrudge Gaelic-speakers having their own BBC channel but I don’t see why Scots-speakers shouldn’t have one as well. In a Perfect Scotland, our MSPs and other representatives would all use the traditional leid, at Holyrood and in the media; if it was good enough for Burns it’s good enough for everyone else, in my opinion.

            Well done to The National, to Tam Clark and the folk at Bella Caledonia for being unashamed in their use of Scots. And thanks again to yourself for a helpful response to my uninformed criticism.

    2. Stuart A. Paterson says:

      Hear hear.

  6. SleepingDog says:

    Even the Dictionary of the Scots Language calls modern Scots “dialects”:
    which puts it on the same level as Jamaican English, if you believe Wikipedia.

    If a word gains currency in (British) English, then its use in (Scots) English seems to me as seamless as in other dialects. This is important, for attempting to ‘Scotify’ terms like The Internet to “Ra Intranet” would lead to unnecessary confusion. So anyone speaking or writing about the modern world in a modern Scots dialect appears, to me at least, to be using a mixture of Scots-only and general English words and phrases.

    Does it matter that Scots is a dialect, or a collection of dialects? Does it help to spell phonetically when there are different regional pronunciations?

    Where does Scots link to, where does it take us? Even in Judge Dredd’s future world, Scots is largely contained within the borders of the Caledonian Habitation Zone:

    A real language would be escaping irrepressibly beyond national borders. I read too many articles in Scots that are about Scots linguistics, leading to a deadening repetition of vocabulary and argument. That’s partly my own fault. Partly not, I suspect.

    1. Thomas Clark says:

      What the DSL actually says is that Scots includes modern dialects – as most languages do.

      My knowledge of Scots is based mainly on real life so I can’t really help with the Judge Dredd stuff I’m afraid.

      1. Willie Steenson says:

        The recently published book ‘Modern Scots’ on one of a series of “Edinburgh Textbooks on the English language”.


    2. Graeme Purves says:

      Ah, the tasht auld dialect card! If the dialects spoken in the Borders, Ayrshire, Dundee, Angus, Buchan, Shetland etc. are no dialects o the Scots leid, fit are they? They’re no dialects o English, certie.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Graeme Purves, my mention of Jamaican English was in connection to its contribution towards what UNESCO, in awarding Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity status to reggae, called reggae’s “contribution to international discourse on issues of injustice, resistance, love and humanity”.

        I’m no expert on reggae, which according to Wikipedia is commonly “sung in Jamaican Patois, Jamaican English, and Iyaric dialects”. However, to be such a successful export, I imagine that artists sometimes consciously used language that would be understood, at least in part, by audiences abroad.

        The roots of reggae and Jamaican English go back to days of slavery, when Scots was a language of the oppressors. I learnt a new word, “Osnaburg”, yesterday, which is an anglicised version of Osnabrück (Germany) where such cheap fabric once came from, and refers to cloth often made in Scotland to clothe Caribbean slaves.

        In episode 2 of Slavery: Scotland’s Hidden Shame, presenter David Hayman and SNP Councillor Graham Campbell investigate Scotland’s legacy of slavery in Jamaica.

        If Jamaican reggae artists, who draw on many local and international influences, use their Jamaican dialect of English (once spoken by slavers and colonial oppressors) to express themselves and get their message out into the world, why try to separate Scots language away from English? Maybe we don’t have anything as culturally fine as reggae yet, but we can keep trying, surely.

        Or leave it to others. Sara calls Eric a galoot in The Huntsman: Winter’s War (2016) sort of thing. Shrek. How to Train Your Dragon vikings.

    3. Stuart Paterson says:

      Dialects has a fairly old & still current word in Scots – byleids.

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