In August a member of the Scots Language Forum sent a letter to the BBC about their coverage of Scots.
I’d like to ask why Scots is not among the languages offered in news coverage at http://www.bbc.co.uk/ws/languages. I’m pleased that you offer news in Gàidhlig and Cymraeg, two of the UK’s minority languages. However, I’m not sure why Scots isn’t similarly included.
The 2011 census showed that the total number of people who said they could either speak, read, write, or understand Scots was 1.9 million (38% of Scotland’s population). Out of this figure the number of people who said they could speak Scots was 1,541,693 (30% of the population). You can see the data in map form at http://bit.ly/Scots_Map.
Scots is probably most well known as the medium of many works by Robert Burns, but it is used much more widely, including in written form. Examples include the Declaration of Human Rights at the UN website (http://bit.ly/DHR_Scots), a highly regarded translation of the New Testament (https://canongate.co.uk/…/194-the-new-testament-in-scots/), present day worship in the Church of Scotland (http://bit.ly/2vs3LC3), and a Wikipedia entirely in Scots (https://sco.wikipedia.org). There are also numerous adaptations of well-known fiction (e.g. http://www.mfitt.co.uk), including a translation of the first Harry Potter book out in October. This is not to mention columns and letters written in newspapers and on blogs.
Like Norwegian, Scots has many rich dialects, but that doesn’t prevent narrative and expository prose being written in it. It currently has no “official” standard form, but has a well-documented grammar (please see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modern_Scots).
Scots is recognised as a language by European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (to which the UK has been a signatory since 2000). It’s also taught in Scotland’s schools. It’s ISO code is “sco”. You can read the Scottish Government’s Scots policy at http://bit.ly/2wATvMO.
He received the following reply from Ian Small, Head of Public Policy & Corporate Affairs, BBC Scotland.
Thank you for your email of 1 September, which has been passed to me for my attention. Please accept my apologies for the short delay in responding to you.
You ask about the Scots language, relative, in particular, to the BBC’s news coverage – http://www.bbc.co.uk/ws/languages – and relative to the links provided at that website to online BBC news coverage in Gaelic and Welsh. In Scotland, the online news coverage we offer in Gaelic complements that offered via dedicated language services on TV and radio, via BBC ALBA and via Radio nan Gaidheal.
In terms of the Scots language, and as you note (and as the Scots Language Centre points out on its website), the language has no one standard form but consists, rather, of a number of geographically dispersed dialects or sub-dialects, each with its own characteristics. We make every effort to reflect this diversity – and the richness of the language – in our programme output, through our presenters, contributors and through the stories that we carry from across the country. Production centres, for example in Orkney, Shetland, Aberdeen, Inverness, Stornoway, Dumfries and Selkirk, ensure that the varieties of spoken Scots, distinctive to those areas, is reflected in the contributions they make to BBC Scotland output.
We actively encourage our on-air presenters to use their natural speech patterns in reporting and presenting and, as a result, the Scots tongue is to be heard, regularly, across all of our broadcast platforms, from broadcasters as varied as Bryan Burnett, Billy Kay, Johnathan Sutherland, Lesley Riddoch, Stuart Cosgrove and Tam Cowan.
The language is also to be heard in the contributions to our audience phone-in and participation programmes, such as The Kaye Adams Programme and Off The Ball, and in recent television and radio programmes such as Sanjeev Kohli’s Blethering Scots, the hugely popular The Mart and in Billy Kay’s seven-part Radio Scotland series The Scots Tongue.
You mention Scots as known through the works of Robert Burns. Our Burns archive, which is available online at http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/robertburns/ , offers over 600 pieces of his poetic works, offering students and others a comprehensive repository of the work of our national Bard.
Most recently, Stuart Paterson took up post as BBC Scotland’s Poet in Residence. Following on from an audience initiative by Radio Scotland’s Janice Forsythe Show, in which listeners were asked to send in their favourite Scots words, Stuart delivered his first poem, Here’s The Weather, on 28 September, a mixture of both English and Scots –http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05hgjh4
I hope this offers some indication of our continuing intent to seek to serve audiences with content that reflects their cultures, languages and heritage, while capturing contemporary issues of topical social interest. We take very seriously the issue you raise concerning the Scots language and we are ever mindful of the views of bodies such as the Committee of Experts on the application of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and the 2010 report of the Scottish Parliament’s Ministerial Working Group on the Scots Language.
Please be assured that we will continue to enhance our broadcast output in Scots and seek new opportunities to support and foster interest in the language.
This generated some interesting discussion on the forum…
…without a standard, how would they manage to use Scots without excluding many of its users? It’s a personal and sensitive matter to many; they’d have to base it on a specific dialect and many people would always consider it to be the wrong one…why isn’t there a standard yet that the BBC can use?
Weel, if the threap o thaim maist influencial in Scots language promotion is aye aboot celebratin diversity an emphasin the differ atween dialects insteid o biggin on seemilarities an emphasisin the fairly homogenous spellins o the leeterar tradeetion ye canna faut the BBC whan it repones ” the language has no one standard form but consists, rather, of a number of geographically dispersed dialects or sub-dialects, each with its own characteristics. We make every effort to reflect this diversity”.
I think thay juist dinna want tae hae owre muckle Scots in the stuff thay pit oot, or thay want tae keep it tae comedy an poetry (naething wrang wi aither o thon, o coorse). E’en gin we did hae a “offeicial” staundart, I dout thay wad juist gie some ither excuse.
Aye – but a standard wadna jist be a standard. If thare wis sic a thing as a standard, that wad mean that it haed come tae be acceptit; an that wad mean that thare wis sic a thing as a Scots language muvement. In ither wirds, the existence o a standard wad reflect a different social sietuation that the media wad hae tae tak tent o. As it is, the wey that the media disna tak tent o Scots is jist a reflection o the fact that Scotland as a hale disna, an the want o a standard is jist a symptom o that.
Aye but ye’re nae looking at this fae the pynt o view o fowk that has the job o trying tae inform ithers – speakers maistly – aboot whit Scots is. An if ye dinna yaise a form that they ken theirsells – namely the dialects – ye aye face the accusation that it’s nae real or that ye’re disrespectful tae their form o Scots. The maist common complaint ye get whan ye dae onythin in Scots is ‘I dinnae say it like that’. The development o a staunart form is fine by me but up tae noo naebodie has asked for the siller tae dae it an naebodie haes been gien the authority tae dae it. Onybodie cuid stert the process or lobby ithers tae dae it if they liked. (Michael Hance, SLC)
The ‘A dinna say it like that’ comes frae the assumption that written Scots shoud be a (phonetically) accurate representation o the vernacular. In ilka day life English speakers disna speak like prent beuks aither but acause fowk is uised wi baith prent beuks an colloqiual speak in English they tend tae be unselconscious about the differ atween the twa.
I doot for me the ettle haes aye been tae create a sense o linguistic self-consciousness amang Scots speakers. If fowk think o theirsells as pairt o a language community then I doot the chances is that they micht mak demands as a language community. Aa this comes aheid o aathin else tae ma mind. (Michael Hance, SLC)
Nae staunnertisation, nae leid, thurby nocht ayont Scots bein mair nor a curio nor last item on the news.
Weel that’s jist wrang, nae haein a staunart form shuidna stop the BBC haein Scots on the radio, for example. Itherwise hou can ye hae Shetland dialect on Radio Shetland?….An seriously I dinna want tae burst onybodie’s bubble but if there wis a staunart dae ye nae jist think the BBC wadna say, ‘aye but naebodie speaks the staunart, it’s aa dialects’. The idea that this is a problem tae dae wi orthography jist disna match up tae reality an let’s them aff wi decades o neglect o Scots culture an language. This is aa aboot political an cultural attitudes. Their poseetion as far as I can see is Scots speakers is the reason there’s nae Scots on the BBC. The wey tae coonter that has naethin tae dae wi orthography it’s aboot asserting yer linguistic richt tae be heard. (Michael Hance, SLC)
Frieda Morrison set up Scots Radio as pairt o a initiative that cam fae the Scots Language Centre, for example. An ye ken whit, she manages tae hae aa kin o fowk on her programme speaking aa kin o Scots in spite o there bein nae staunart. I doot that’s because she disna hae tae mak up problems tae cover up her ain linguistic an social prejudices.
Aye weel, canna unnerstaun hou they hinna a programme like that on the BBC. It struck me as an easy an potentially popular wey tae present Scots. Weel, I did suggest it til them alang wi a daily five meenit news programme but they werena jntetestit. Onirwey it tellt me that the ae wey tae get onythin daen is tae dae it yersel if ye can….We even mocked up a news programme for them wi Billy Kay an Mary Blance daein the presentation. Jist sae as naebodie cuid say it cuidna be daen. An ken whit, Billy spak his ain dialect, an Mary fae Shetland, spak hers. The lack o a staunart made nae odds tae onybodie….Whit they’re sayin is nae differ fae whit opponents o Scots aye say, ‘ye’re makkin it up’ an waur as that ‘until you satisfy our (ever shifting) conditions of proof of your existence we will ignore and belittle you’.(Michael Hance, SLC)