Radge Against the Machine: Deid Wirds, Deid Warlds, an Why Scots Maitters
Ah ken we’ve still the stoppage time tae rin, but in review, 2018 wisnae a bad wee year for Scots. Kick things aff wi Matthew Fitt’s gallus translation o Harry Potter, that threw doon ilka rule aboot sale fígures for buiks in Scots an danced jigs on thaim, an fínish up wi Ally Heather’s BBC Social videos, that telt hunners o thoosands o fowk that whit they had been speakin aw this time wis a language, an sowt tae be prood o – weel, that’s no a bad day’s wark for a Friday, an atween times there wis eneuch braw stuff fae eneuch braw fowk that tae name thaim aw wad be tae shame the rest. It’s been a year o renewed confidence in oor language an in oorsels, an mair fowk than ever hae damned the torpedos an scrieved their Scots whaurever they’d a mind tae dae it – on Twitter, in The National, richt here at Bella Caledonia (read our Scots content right here). As oor leid gets on its gladrags an dolls itsel up for 2019, the grand comin-oot shindig o the UNESCO year o indigenous languages, the status report is guid: the gatekeepers micht still in place, but the back door’s lyin aff its hinges, an there’s wan hell o a hoolie gaun on inby.
Aw braw that, richt eneuch – but then again, so whit? Whit odds is it tae onybody, as the Doomsday Clock shoogles on taewarts its nae-deal Brexit, whit language we’re shoutin it doon in? Wha’ll care if the roadsigns are aw in Scots when, come 2019, there’ll be nae caurs, or roads, or places left wirth drivin tae?
Weel… aye. But language aye maitters, an nae mair sae than at times o national crisis. Turn on BBC Pairliament ony time this past twa weeks an ye’ll hae seen that for yersel. The warld’s langest-rinnin sitcom is nearin cancellation, an ilka piece of dialogue is jist a wee bit o fan-service, a reminder o whit ye uised tae love aboot it before ye got intae The Wire. It’s mood-music for the express elevator tae the Bad Fire noo, wan sad last Concerto for Dug Whistle an Gasbag.
Nane o which is new, like… Naebody says whit they mean onymair, an politics as we ken it is aw aboot proxies. Dingin doon women bi slashin at childcare, diminishin the richts o wirkers bi girnin aboot bureaucracy, marginalisin minority communities throu the hunner cuts o it’s-PC-gone-mad. Double points forby if we can pull aff the auld coin trick o attackin somethin bi lettin on tae defend it – if we can twa-fit democracy in the name o that democracy, wield the appearance o injustice against the fact o it, or shout fowk doon wi oor freedom o speech. An it’s been gey weird this year tae watch as isolationists o ilka kind – national, racial, cultural – twistit themsels in fankles tae shut doon Scots, arguin on the basis that Scots excludes an disconnects fowk fae each ither; that the wey we communicate, in fact, precludes communication.
An it’s this that maks Scots that vital richt noo, even tae chiels wha think they’ve nae skin in the gemme – fowk wha dinnae speak it much, or even at aw. Richt eneuch, the wey we treat the Scots language has aye been a staun-in for the wey we’d treat the wirkin-cless fowk that speak it, gin we thocht we could get awa wi it. But jist as crucially, the wey we think an talk aboot Scots reflects the wey we think an talk aboot language as a hale – oor orra relationship wi the wirds we uise, as individuals an as citizens.
There’s yin currency lossin value faster than the pound, an it’s the language o oor public discoorse. The coded vocabulary o oor political memes – “strong and stable”, “Brexit means Brexit”, “I’m very clear”, “I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again” – are detachin frae the notion o language the notion o meanin. Statements made in baith oor pairliaments are void, literally empty – spent frae the moment their speakers spit thaim oot, like a wad o weel-chowed chuggy. An it’s spreidin, faur ayont even the stenographers in the media. Jump on Twitter the noo, an airt thaim oot – 137 fowk, or 2.5k fowk, or 37k fowk, aw vacantly moothin somebody else’s wirds; wirds that, God bless ‘em, micht weel hae been true – hell, micht even hae been important. But wance they’re intae the mooths o the bots, thae wirds are deid as ye like.
By bots, o coorse, ah dinnae jist mean the drones we’ve aw heard aboot on social media. Ah mean the drones in suits, the drones on panels, the drones on TV. The drones in pairliament, thae Jumbotronic hype-men for whitever they think they jist heard said. The drones in Cabinet, wi the physical charisma o an Easterhoose bus shelter an the emotional range o Metal Mickey. Maist o aw, the drone at Number 10, yon whirrin, hauf-deid HAL, desperately haudin shut the pod bays doors at Dover. Ah’m talkin aboot the drone o white noise, the drone that’s pittin us aw tae sleep, the drone that’s like a bomber owerheid. The drone, ah mean, o English.
Ah’m no sayin, by the by, that the jig is up for the language o Shakespeare an Dryden, that their poetry has perished frae the Earth like the Norwegian Blue. But whit ah’m sayin is that the variant o English uised in public life is gubbed ayont aw fixin. It’s penny stocks, noo, junk. Mind Jerry Seinfeld’s definition o garbage – if it’s touchin garbage, it IS garbage. Tae deploy mair English in the cause o savin English is jist guid money flung doon efter bad.
It’s a hale new language we’re needin, an wad ye believe that we’ve wan jist sittin richt here in the back, hairdly touched? Let me no owerstate the case here, but ah’m lookin at Scots an ah’m thinkin shuirly it’s the reid threid oot o the tortured, modular labyrinth o oor English, the fresh smeddum tae oor tired ideas, oor exhausted imagery. Micht Scots be the frequency that cannae be tuned oot, the wave on which we can smash throu the wainscots o oor pairliament, yon soond-pruif impediments tae the voices o the voters? An even if it wis, weel, how wad we ken?
Stephen Hawking said that ilka equation he put intae his buiks haufed the sales. The same principle has lang applied tae Scots in public life – every single wird costs ye hauf yer listeners. This attention-tax on the uise o Scots has lang seen oor public figures haunle it tentily, if at aw; an aye wi yon self-conscious, self-reflective irony, aye in the bathetic ghetto o quote merks that segregate it fae the proper, English wirds. But ye dinnae need tae pit yer lug tae the tracks tae ken that there’s a slow train comin. The trust o the ordinary voter is a line o credit that has lang been owerdrawn. An when the crash comes, an the gless cheques are shattered, an aw the empty slogans o the past are bounced back tae their senders, dinnae be surprised if the shibboleth o Scots is whit is oor politicians come up wi as collateral. Try tae keep yer jaw fae aff the grund if the first thing that happens, wance Scots is fund tae hiv some value, is that a Ruth Davidson or a Jackson Carlaw stairts peddlin it doon the mercat wi the bootleg empathy an the knocked-aff sports socks…
Weel, beauty provoketh thieves sooner than gold, the Bard said, an if there’s as mony fowk in 2019 fawin ower themsels tae poach oor leid as there are strivin efter oor oil or oor watters, ah jalouse we’ll be daein awricht. But the vocabulary o theft here is wrang. Scots belangs tae us aw. Lat’s no hae ony mair gatekeepers, or credentials – lat’s no hae ony mair tellin each ither wha’s alloued tae uise oor wirds, an for whit. That’s aw by wi. Language is the anely resoorce we hiv that growes wi uise. Sae in 2019, uise it weel, uise it wisely, uise it ony wey ye like. But, ken. Jist uise it.