Aw Aboard! The fecht for the Scots language stairts the day!

‘Tae popular acclamation!’ Noo there’s a thocht tae quicken the hert. A roarin croud isnae jist for Hampden when we’re takkin oot a guddle o P.E. teachers an pairt-time posties; but the second tae last place ye’d expect yin (coontin the Mitchell Library an New Douglas Park on a Setturday) is shuirly an SNP conference meetin whaur a motion cawin for a Scots Language Board is due tae be proposed. An yet, this verra efternuin, sic a motion wis carried bi vyces alane – a fittin omen for a debate aboot whit fowk are an arenae alloued tae be heard fae in oor modern Scotland.

Coorse, there are aye fowk oot there fawin ower theirsels tae tell ye that there’s naethin new unner the sun, an that SNP conferences hae been passin Scots language motions an then forgettin aw aboot them syne Day Dot… Which is aw true, ye ken, but the age o Trump an Johnson seems like an unco time tae be makkin Public Service Annooncements on the perfidy o politicians. These are strynge times, an it needsna tak the Oracle o Delphi tae mind us o the muckle gap atween whit oor leaders promise an whit’ll they deliver.

Sae, aye. This Scots Language Board business micht gang straicht tae the dowp-end o the policy pile, there tae malinger eternally amidst the stourie smirr o Ideas whase Time Has Yet Tae Come – universal basic income, socialism, equality. Or then again, mebbes a Board WILL be set up, but wioot the siller, pouer or remit tae dae onythin but man a booth at community centre conferences an high schuil careers fairs…

The Bòrd na Gàidhlig sets oot the template for whit an equivalent body for the Scots language wad an could be ettlin tae achieve. The lang, slaw deith o a language is a kittlie thing tae reverse, but the example of Scots Gaelic has makkit it gey clear that wi popular will an political capital – an a wee bittie money – the question is nae langer whether a language can be brocht back fae the brink, but how best it can be duin. An the three areas o public life a Scots Language Board will need tae get tae grips wi richt oot the gate are exactly the same three whaur Gaelic has cairved oot sic an inalienable place for itsel in modern Scotland – media, education, an the airts.

Contra the BBC’s dwab insistence that Tam Cowan an the occasional wird on River City coont for somethin, there is simply nae Scots on TV or on radio. Nane. The BBC, like mony ither public bodies, hae lang hidden ahint government inactivity tae justify this dumfoonerin absence o ony pretence at equality – unless an until somebody at Westmínster or Holyrood stairts haudin oor feet tae the fire, they say, Scots spikkers are getting hee-bluidy-haw for their license fees. Nae force but the yins that drive the mercat can compel maist media ootlets tae provide content in Scots – but the BBC hae an express responsibility tae mak shuir their ootput adequately represents Scotland in aw its diversity, which they hae signally failed tae dae. Ilka bairn that has grown up in this kintrae these past hunner years, hearin their ain language naewhaur but in their ain hoose an in the mockin tongues o teachers an politicians, has the BBC tae thank for thon. Och, ah ken, ah ken – braidcastin isnae a devolved maitter. But saft pouer gets things duin an aw, sometimes. A Scots Language Board wad chynge the gemme for Scots in the media, an even jist that wee bit visibility wad be a shot in the airm for the language that’d mak Popeye’s spinach luik like Asda’s ain brand energy drink…

An as for schuils… Weel, michty. We’re killin oorsels ilka day ettlin oot spirit-levels for the Easter road slope o a playin-grund that separates Eton fae Easterhoose – yin education minister efter anither has thrawn awthin they could think o (an the jawbox forby) at the policy waw, howpin for somethin tae stick. But the notion that teachin wirkin-cless bairns in the language o their middle-cless peers micht in ony wey be educationally disadvantageous is sowt that gets laughed oot the place in a cuttin wind o scorn an sarcasm. Good luck applying for a job in nedspeak, oor weel-wishers cry. Try sealing a deal with Japanese businessmen in your kiddie-on slang. Which is aw fair eneuch, ah suppose… The oors ah’ve spent starin at a letter template in Word an tryin tae mind whit the English is for ‘Awricht troops!’, ah’m never getting back. But still. If we’re sincere aboot wantin tae gie wirkin-cless bairns the best chance we can in life – an ah dinnae ken, ah micht be readin the situation aw wrang, mebbe we arenae – it’s plain as parritch that we hiv tae stairt bi turnin the language they’re ashamed tae speak o intae a soorce o genuine pride. Tae fankle atween twa languages is a mervel tae see in ony bairn – a Scots Language Board will be able tae legitimise thon, lattin oor weans ken that, even gin their education will aft as no be led in the international lingua franca o English, their lives dinnae hiv tae be.

By the by – dae ye ken hou much money Rabbie Burns is wirth tae the Scottish economy? Naw. Oor government daes. They’ve duin studies on it an awthin. Pure millions, it is. Thraw in a hantle o oor ither Scots scrievers – Irvine Welsh, James Kelman, Kathleen Jamie, Liz Lochhead – an ye’re talkin aboot a naitural resoorce that’d lea a gap the size o Darién’s in oor national economy gin it wis tae disappear owernicht. The notion that Scots an Gaelic dinnae pey their ain wey is gied the lie ower an ower again bi the thoosands o tourists wha are drawn here ilka year bi oor creative traditions – oor ballads an poems, oor stories an sangs. But livin traditions quickly become deid yins, an wioot the same financial support the Bòrd na Gàidhlig has been able tae ensure for its scrievers an sangsters, the rich culture that has lang sustained oor poorest peoples, as weel as aw the siller than gangs wi it, will be buried that deep ablo the soil that no even the maist determined o frackers’ll be able tae airt it oot. Again – wioot a Scots Language Board tae protect the interests o oor creatives an makars an awbody that benefits fae thaim, the exhaustion o this national treisure, an the income stream it provides, isnae jist a possibility but an inevitability. An it’s aye cheaper tae tend the gairden ye’ve got than it is tae growe a new yin.

Weel, aye, aye. But still an aw – sae whit? Whit odds is it the difference a Scots Language Board wad mak if aw thochts o it are gettin cowped in an Aiberdeen midden the morn alang wi the paper chains an conference programmes? John Steinbeck wance said that there are nae poor fowk in America, jist temporarily embarrassed millionaires. In Scotland, we’ve the opposite problem – we’ve nae winners in bonnie Caledonia, jist muckle haufwits heidit for a faw. There’s nae sic thing in Scotland as an open door, jist wan that’s shuttin. An richt eneuch, the ingang that has opened for the Scots language the day is awready swingin tae. But space for a fit in the door is aw Scots spikkers hiv really asked for – an, gawin bi the smeddum o the wans ah ken, ah we really need.

It’s a fair scunner that yin o the maist wame-turnin o purportedly pro-indy sentiments has found its hermit-crab hame in Scots. ‘Wheesht for indy!’, cry the purple-pussed fowk that hae never stapped rinnin their mooths aw their days. Weel, at a conference haw in Aiberdeen this efternuin, there wis tae be nae wheeshtin. Throu the totiest wee crack in the door, fowk fae aw ower Scotland, fowk o ilka race an religion, language an culture, sexuality an gender, shoutit oot for Scots. The gatekeepers hae been chased awa. Noo for the gate.


Image: Calum Colvin

Comments (19)

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  1. Gordon says:

    I’m all for Scots, which here in the NE is distinctive, and very much alive and celebrated (keep up, min, ken). To suggest that an SNP conference motion is its saviour is utter shite. I won’t have our tongue high-jacked for political purpose. And we need to think very deeply about a Scots Language Board, because I’m far from convinced that Gaelic has been well served by its equivalent.

  2. John M Tait says:

    An whit wad siccan a Scots Language Board consist o? Aa thae anes that haes been threipin for decades fornenst aa the means o heizin up a language – grammar, orthography, oniething that can raise the heid o a language abuin the stank an mak it POSSIBLE for it tae be teached an siclike. Thay’r the anes that beirs the gree in Scots, an that haes estaiblished thairsels in that posietion bi denigratin an caain doun aa thae anes – like mysel – that wad hae duin the like as purists, prescriptionist, an obsessional individuals that wad hae blaudit Scots – an bi that thay mean, blaudit its propensity tae be seen as a language o disreputabielity that can be exploitit bi the maistly English speakin poiets, academics an siclike that haes a vestit interest in it bein a tongue o the stank an midden. It’s no that thay dinna say the like ootricht! See my wabsteid ablo, an leuk for my airticle on Robertson, that haes estaiblished hissel as the doyen o Scots bi means o threipin for it tae bide as a language o disreputable contrast tae standard English – his ain native tongue! An if onie grammar or orthography or siclike wis greed on, it wad be the feckless dialect-based approach o the SND, designed – like thay say thairsels – tae mak shuir that Scots bides at the level o a hobby.

    An aye, I did write ‘teached.’ Thae same ‘scrievers o the leid’ that haes estaiblished thairsels as the factotums o Scots haivers on aboot whit wey Scots shuidna be prescriptionist or purist or naething, but whan the likes o mysel – a native speaker o ae tradietional dialect that speaks anither ane ilka day – writes ‘teached’ on a forum, I get my heid chowed that sair bi ane o thae ‘scrievers o the leid’ that I left the group. Watch yersel, that ye dinna pit in onie actual native Scots expression that isna conform tae the ‘scrievers o the leid’s’ vestment interests in definin ‘Scots’ as re-heated keelie-isms punctuatit wi archaisms that haesna been seen or haurd for centuries, thair ain neologisms, onie English mak or expression that thay like, aa bourached thegither intae a Frankensteinian monstrosity that is nou whit’s meant bi ‘Scots’, an that onie Scots Language Board will estaiblish as a norm, in whit I caa ‘Back Passage Prescriptionism.’ Coorse this is whit wad happen, cause the ither wey for the Scottish Government tae haud Scots doun is tae mak shuir that thaim that claims tae be heizin it up is haudin it doun tae, an inasfaur as thay dinna manage that, ar promotin a ferlie that belangs in a gothic novel.

    Thares a lot mair on my wabsteid (an no, I dinna mean ‘muckle mair’.) Leuk for whit happened whan I tried tae estaiblish Scots as a subject in the UHI, for example, an hou the doyens o Scots made shuir that that wadna happen. Or whit wey I quat haein oniething adae wi my ain Shetland tongue, an whit wey Bruce Eunson cam tae be peyed tae contribute tae its decline, as he said hissel in black prent. But eneuch o that. My advice tae yersel is tae decide nou aither tae bou the knee tae the pantheon o Fitt, Robertson, et al, an write Frankensteinian, or – faur better – forget aboot the hale thing an finnd anither hobby.

    1. Thomas Clark says:

      The Scots Language Board micht be a non-stairter, but it’s guid tae see the Straw Man Board is alive an weel.

      1. John M Tait says:

        Sorry – not familiar with this website, and I’ve just realised, one, that Thomas Clark is probably the writer, and two, that this is a reply to my post rather than a general comment. So, might I ask what you mean by straw man here? I mean, I know what a straw man is, I mean, what is it that you’re referring to as a straw man?

        1. Tam Clark says:

          The Scots language warld ye describe, this yin that’s stapped-fou o tattie-bogles – it’s no whit ah recognise. The warld ah ken is yin whaur honest fowk are daein honest darg for sic little siller as’d mak nae odds. Ah ken ah cannae persuade ye o thon, acause The Internet, an acause fae ma life ah scrieve tae ye in your life. Ah jist dinnae get it, is aw.

          1. John M Tait says:

            Afore I gang on, I’v tried twa-three times tae post anither reply tae this comments section, an it’s no kythin? Am I daein somethin wrang?

            Oniewey, I’ll pit in yer comment sae’s I can follae mysel:

            ‘The Scots language warld ye describe, this yin that’s stapped-fou o tattie-bogles – it’s no whit ah recognise. The warld ah ken is yin whaur honest fowk are daein honest darg for sic little siller as’d mak nae odds. Ah ken ah cannae persuade ye o thon, acause The Internet, an acause fae ma life ah scrieve tae ye in your life. Ah jist dinnae get it, is aw.’

            I think it’s like onie ither thing. Gin ye conform, follae the pairty line, dinna rock the boat, an dinna try tae dae oniething that’s no alloued – like trying tae actually tak meisures tae emancipate Scots – than ye winna come ower it. But it’s a maiter o attitude, is it no? Like Michael Gove sayin we’v haen eneuch o experts. (I pat in a post aboot the siemilarity atween the Scots sietuation an populism, but it’s no kythed.) Ye’r takkin a postmodernist, touchy-feely viewpynt (‘my life tae your life’) whaurbyes I’m quotin actual black prent – the bittie whaur James Robertson says ootricht that he wants Scots tae be disreputable, for example, or on my wabsteid, the bittie whaur Christine Robinson expliecitly condemned orthography an oniething like that, an divertit a hale effort – that I’d pitten a lot o wark intae – intae the ettlin o ‘doing real sociolinguistics’ – ie, heid-meisurin the Scots speakers for PhD ettlins. The mistak I made wis tae treat Scots like a language. Nou, ye can say – like monie a ane duis – that Robertson or whaivver is fine chiels – but that disna alter whit thay’v written in black prent, or whit thay an thair acolytes dae if the likes o mysel pynts it oot. As lang as ye can ignore the black prent, an believe that the Robertsonians an ‘scrievers o the leid’ is the dugs’ bollocks an thaim that wad treat Scots like onie ither language in the hale warld, an disna believe it shuid be a medium for disreputabielity an heid-meisurin, is ‘linguistic fascists’ that wad blaud its disreputable strynds, ye’ll dae aaricht.

          2. John M Tait says:

            BTW – anither pynt. I’v read throwe yer airticle an hinna fund oniething that gars my teeth dirl. I dinna agree wi aathing in it – for example, that Irvine Welsh an James Kelman is guid examples o Scots writers. For ae thing, Kelman says hissel somewey or anither that he writes in English. But the Scots itsel is the kynd that I think shuid be encouraged – it’s naither the ‘scrievers o the leid’ kynd o thing nor a ettlin tae write expository prose in urban colloquialisms – apairt frae the odd ane, the kynd o thing that I micht dae mysel even in English. But this isna uisual. Some o the airticles I read in the national, for example is in guid Scots. But some o thaim that maks the maist sang aboot bein Scots teachers an writers writes the warst Scots, an teaches it tae ithers. An for some raeson that I canna fathom, whiles the warst prose is written bi thaim that haes come tae be kent as Scots poiets. Hou can ye pit Scots forrit gin ye canna say whit it is an whit it’s no, lat alane whit’s guid an whit’s bad?

          3. Tam Clark says:

            Weel, thon’s the thing. Ah dinnae think ‘awthin wi an accent’ is Scots. Ah dinnae think aw Scots is guid Scots. Like maist fowk, ah want oor staundarts tae be heicher. An ma preferred method for makkin thon happen is increased support fae the Scots Gov; support for a Scots Language Board, support for Scots líteracy, support for Scots in schuils an in the media, etc. Ma lugs are aye open tae ither ideas.

          4. John M Tait says:

            “Weel, thon’s the thing. Ah dinnae think ‘awthin wi an accent’ is Scots. Ah dinnae think aw Scots is guid Scots. Like maist fowk, ah want oor staundarts tae be heicher. An ma preferred method for makkin thon happen is increased support fae the Scots Gov; support for a Scots Language Board, support for Scots líteracy, support for Scots in schuils an in the media, etc. Ma lugs are aye open tae ither ideas.”

            The boddom line is this: the things ye’r speakin aboot – staundarts, govt. support, language boards or ither offiecial organisations, lieteracy – aa hings on twa-three heuks. Tae hae siccan a offiecial approach tae Scots, he maun treat it like onie ither language that haes offiecial support. Derrick McLure specified it langsyne – I canna finnd his exact wirds, tho I thocht thay war in some obvious place on my wabsteid, but the main gist wis that ye stert bi formalisin the spellin an grammar. Cause if ye dinna dae that, ye dinna hae a foond tae wirk fae or bigg up on. Ye canna hae lieteracy or offiecial support withoot staundards o grammar an orthography, except offiecial support for delieberate functional illieteracy, like maist o the ettlins anent Scots is evenou. Ye only hae tae leuk at onie language in the hale warld that’s been emancipatit frae the stank – frae Faroese tae Finnish – the anes that stertit tae dae the like aye kent that that wis a thing thay maun dae. The narrative wi Scots haes been, for the last twa decades an ayont, that thae things is unnecessar at best an detrimental at warst – that some wey or anither whit haes heized ither tongues oot o the stank an the midden wad blaud Scots. Whit wey is that? Cause, whitivver thay say tae the contrat, thay dinna think on Scots as a language in its ain richt, but a medium – like Robertson says expliecit-like – for writers, academics an siclike tae exploit or heid-meisure in.

            Nou, the relevance for chiels like yersel is this. Ye can gang alang wi aa the ‘activist’ ettlins – demandin this that an the ither for support for Scots – but thaim that beirs the gree, an that wants tae keep thair Cinderella language i the keetchen an the byre, kens ye can threip an roar aa ye like, but ye canna get naewey, cause they’ve made gey shuir that this language will nivver hae claes or shuin that can dae nae ither wey. Ye can roar aa ye like that dialects shuid be as important as langauges, or that anes wi nae grammar or spellin that naebodie kens hou tae write shuid be as weel thocht on as English for writin airticles an readin oot the news, but ye micht as weel threip that spuins is as guid for pentin wi as brushes. Cause the populists o Scots haes taen awa the only foond that can be biggit up on.

            Tak Robertson again. When it soondit fine an subversive, he wrate a airticle threipin for Scots signs. But whan the SLC asked him tae write aboot it again, he threipit fornenst it, sayin that Scots speakers wadna like thair language tae be uised in siclike a offiecial settin. Like aa populists, he’ll steer whan it suits him, an than steer the ither wey whan it disna. The saicont airticle shuid be on the SLC wabsteid – I canna mynd whaur the first ane wis. Leuk closer at the writins o thaim that’s thocht tae be the doyens o Scots, an ye’ll see that thair hale ettlin is tae keep Scots at a level whaur the likes o yersel can activate aa ye like, but ye winna an canna get naewey, cause the prerequisites haes been flung oot the windae.

  3. Gordon says:

    Here’s an example of what can be done without a Language Bioard and ‘creatives’ bumming off the public purse (and note that I contribute but am in no way resposible for setting up Mither Tung Monday)

    1. That seems great Gordon – but why are you so negative about the prospects of a Scots Language Board?

    2. That seems great Gordon – but whay are you so negative about the prospects of a Scots Language Board?

      1. John M Tait says:

        Again – I realise I’m not Gordon, but see my post above and the link to my website.

        As I see that it is politic to write English rather than Scots in this section, I will do so. I have no objection to a Scots language board in principle, as Gordon seems to. The problem is that any such board would consist of the same people who have argued for decades against any means of emancipating Scots, who have argued in black and white print that it should be deprived of any of the characteristics of any other language in order to preserve its connotations of disreputability, and who are now in control of all the Scots language organisations. My phrase for it is ‘tods tentin yowes.’

        1. Hi John – why is it automatic that: “any such board would consist of the same people who have argued for decades against any means of emancipating Scots, who have argued in black and white print that it should be deprived of any of the characteristics of any other language in order to preserve its connotations of disreputability, and who are now in control of all the Scots language organisations”?

          1. John M Tait says:

            Because there’s no one else in the arena. The pundits of the Scots scene – James Robertson, Matthew Fitt, Christine Robinson, etc – have established themselves in positions where they either run or effectively command the agenda of every Scots language organisation. They have systematically denigrated everyone who opposed their stated aim to ensure that Scots remains at a a level of functional illiteracy valuable for its connotations of disreputability and general ‘up yours’ attitude. The Itchy Coo effort has promoted this philosophy, as has the SNDA, which simply brushed aside the efforts previously made to establish Scots as a functional expository language – see, e.g. Lorimer’s New Testament – in an explicit fight against ‘the purists,’ and published dictionaries consisting of inconsistent and illogical spellings giving the impression of an afterthought of English, again with the stated aim of retaining it at the hobby level. There are far more details on my website – Google ‘Scotsthreip.’ Clearly, if by a Scots language board is meant a organisation officially recognised by the Scottish government, then it is difficult to see why anyone who is not in this established position would be on it, and even if they were, they would quickly be eliminated by the aforesaid established figures, as I was in my short association with the UHI, and as I have been in my native Shetland, where I was characterised as ‘the man who disagrees with James’ because of my criticisms of James Robertson’s explicit written intention to ensure the disreputability of Scots, and asked to remove my criticisms of this from the net because said criticisms were ‘a lot of shite.’ The Scots Language Centre were asked to remove links to my writings, again by the Itchy Coo concern. Lallans magazine how has an editor who praises the fact that Scots has no standard form or spelling, and the Scots Language Centre is increasingly dominated by people who either follow this narrative explicitly, or who have invented their own Frankensteinian form of Scots based on a gruesome combination of urban colloquialisms and archaisms, totally devoid of an feeling for the language, which they teach as Scots in actual classes. The elevation of this deliberate functional illiteracy can be seen in the tokenistic articles in the National by ‘scrievers o the leid’ who, in almost every sentence, break some simple rule (by which I mean observed rule, not ‘prescriptionist imposition’) of Scots which has been documented for decades if not centuries, but which has been systematically suppressed by the current hegemony. The idea that Scots is ‘just starting’ is a result of the success of these people in destroying every attempt to emancipate it in the past. The attempts at expository Scots by people who have followed this narrative, and who imagine that they are innovators (I do not include Tammas, by the way, as he seems to have learned reasonable Scots against the odds, but there are plenty others) just means that they have succeeded in stamping it down below the level where it might be noticed.

            So, yes, there could be a Scots language board – if its stated purpose were to keep Scots at the disreputable level – which would suit the Scottish government, which has never taken any other view.

          2. Thanks John – I’m only partially aware of the different positions within the Scots language movement you describe – but I dont share your pessimism that a Scots Language Board couldn’t be an open forum and have these debates held and resolved in an open manner. It would seem to me there are two different paths/aims: one is popularising Scots language and taking it out of the cringe that its been held in for so long; and the second is formalising an orthography and standard usage.

            It would seem we have much better at the first of these than the second. But I dont see them as incompatible?

            However, as I said, I’m not an expert in these matters – so very happy to hear from those who are.

  4. Deik Fraser says:

    Haein a deek on airticles like this, fair gets ma dander up, pit yer fit in the door, naeb’dy kin sneck it.

  5. J Houston says:

    “there is simply nae Scots on TV or on radio. Nane” – This is one of the biggest falsehoods put about. There isn’t much on there, and a lot is inauthentic but there is actually *some*. Burns is commemorated every year on TV, and some other poetry occasionally appears. At Hogmanay, they even broadcast folk songs in it. Glasgow words appear regularly in the cheap comedies that BBC Scotland makes – “gonnae no dae that”? A word or two even appears in Star Trek films and TV – “A canna haud it captain” or “ma puir wee bairns”… Every time “Flower of Scotland” is sung before a sports match, you will hear some. You’ll also hear some in old interviews. Saying “nae Scots… nane” is a lie which doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

    Also, as some folk here say, be careful what you wish for. Most Gaels get little or nothing from Bòrd na Gàidhlig. It swallows up a lot of money for not much in return.

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