A blether aboot standardisation

A perennial topic on Facebook’s Scots Language Forum.


A wid support sic an idea – A’m o the opinion we hae tae stert braidcastin in a formal version o Scots that disna slip back til Inglis. I wid prefer it tae even be braider than foo maist fowk in Scotlan usually spik. In the same wye as BBC English an Radio 4 news-readers spik English afa clearly an in a wye that hardly onybidy actually spiks unless in a “formal” situation. Tae help fowk ken the difference atween formal Braid Scots an informal we could then hae an equivalent o Radio 1 wi fowk spikkin Braid Scots bit wi less formal wyes o sayin hings like “d’a ken” insteid o “dinna ken” etc. We’re a lang wye aff fae this – bit in ma opinion we hae tae get fowk hearin braid formal Scots sae they hae the courage tae spik it in formal situations.

Nothing actively ongoing to my knowledge, although there should be. I’ve been convinced for a while now that a learners standard would be a good thing. There was a spelling committee some years ago that produced some fairly good recommendations, some of which I fed into the IndyLan project I’ve been working on for minority languages at Heriot Watt. It’s launching an app later in the year which will necessarily use something of a standard version although I imagine it won’t be to everyone’s satisfaction. The Scots Language Centre also gave some very helpful input via Dauvit Horsbroch.

I believe there are a few organisations working to have it legally recognised as an official language and if granted then they may need to work on standardisation. Interesting to hear how the Basque have it tho, discussion in my linguistics class was based around how do you choose which dialect is ‘right’ and the drawbacks that would have for the other dialects.

Standardisation has kind of gone out of fashion in linguistics circles, cos it was never a good idea to begin with.Classically, “standardisation” meant either picking one dialect or inventing artificial rules that didn’t represent anything people would actually say.The modern approach is to encourage convergence on spelling conventions, but not to declare a “standard language”.

(I wrote) Indeed, academia focuses on the passive description of the way individuals actually speak, their fluid performance in dialogue, with its messy diversity, and the ‘construction’ of language on the fly. Such multiplicity sounds splendidly progressive and liberating and, sure, challenges the concept of language as unified construct necessary for standardisation or planning. However, when language is reframed as an individualised performance space, the potential for any collective enterprise such as standardisation are blocked and the language community is de facto disempowered. So the outcome is the very opposite of progressive and liberating and privileges dominant linguistic power structures.

(in reply) Are you in favour of the same thing happening to Scots as happened to Breton? A “standard” form that’s not what anyone speaks, and leaves grandparents unable to talk to grandchildren?

That wouldn’t happen, in the case of Breton the difference isn’t between speakers of a standard language it is between speakers of Native Breton and learners – such a situation would not exist with Scots as the number of native speakers massively outnumber the learners an so a learner dialect will not develop in the same way.

Do you want Scots to be a national language? If you don’t then you can play this game of linguistic purity all you want, and ‘leave well alone’ but the truth is that Governments need to have standards when it comes to publishing documents, they need to know what is and what isn’t correct, they need to have standardised spelling – they also need exact language – for legal reasons, they need to know what words mean, they need to be defined properly – and that involves standardisations.

(I wrote) It is a bit of a myth to say Scots has no standards. It has (or has had) many, but none are fully comprehensive nor have been adopted officially. The linguistic structure (grammar) of Scots has been documented for well over a century. The first Scots dictionaries appeared in the 19th century and scholars recorded the spoken language in detail in the early 20th century. Scots has several modern English-Scots dictionaries both in book and online form. There is a healthy(ish) Scots publication market which – rather obviously – has to standardise to some extent. James Costa explained in 2017, “While there is no Scots standard ‘de jure’, numerous debates have come to shape sets of expectations, if not of norms, as to what Scots should ‘de facto’ look like…the writing of Scots is constrained by a number of covert rules, stratified through decades of academic and scholarly conversations. So, although there may be no ‘official’ standard in the strict ‘Académie française’ sense, through hundreds of years of printing Scots texts a soft orthographic or spelling standard has emerged. Clearly this is more subjective and opinion-focused than we would normally think of as usual, but written Scots certainly has conventions and traditions of its own which can be respected or ignored. Costa realises this presents a problem for writers; ‘It is a game, in other words, whose rules are more complicated than the absence of a standard would have new players believe’.

I’m just a little uncomfortable with the idea of every Scot being forced to learn Scots, or Gaelic for that matter. Here in Ulster, I live out in one of the rural heartlands of Ullans & it’s an absolute joy to hear it being spoken in its natural setting, by native speakers. At the same time though, on TV & Radio, we regularly hear people, often learned city folk, trying to speak it & there’s nothing guaranteed to give you the dry boak quicker! … I’m not sure we really want to lose the richness of the regional dialects just for the sake of some academic paper exercise &/or just to keep officials happy. … Speaking of official documents, they’ve become a bit of a joke over here now, with many documents coming out in triplicate – English, Gaelic & Ullans!

Aabdie thinks that whit thir grannie spak is the richt wey. standardisation is no a ploy an a heresy tae suppress individuality, it’s juist guid practical sense. An ye can teach it, tae!

Regional dialects are already well on the way to dying out, not only in Scotland but all over Europe.

In Finland, the government, media and education use a synthetic dialect that no-one naturally speaks. They have one of the most literate and prosperous societies in the world.

 In Wales the literary language is very different to the spoken language, very different indeed, it uses infixed pronouns that aren’t used in the spoken language, it uses verbal forms that are not used in the spoken language, the spoken language has remodeled the verbal system quite considerably – the difference between the written and spoken language is so great that it has been described as almost another language. The diglossia between spoken and written Welsh has no effect on spoken Welsh.

I lived in Germany. You would never think it had a standard form if you went around the market places and pubs. Tschuss.

(I wrote) Indeed, the modern standardisation of Basque provides a useful model. In the 70s the Basque Language Academy, following its post-Franco nationalist momentum, needed to ausbau (build up) a unified ‘official’ version of the language from half a dozen, and to a varying extent mutually incomprehensible, spoken dialects. The resulting Standard Basque or euskara batua was built up from the central dialect. Initially purists condemned it as an artificial ‘Euskeranto’ that would kill off genuine Basque dialects, but the so-called artificial variety is now used in education at all levels, in the media and for most writing. It has become the most used variant of Basque, especially for new speakers and in those towns remote from a rural dialect heritage. As far as I can tell, Standard Basque is now generally seen as having improved communication and solidarity between the different dialect groups and prevented the erosion of the whole language.

I think the problem with “standardising” is that there will always be groups who will be told that they’re doing it wrong. And because of the breadth of Scots varieties, any single standard will alienate more people than it includes.For example how to spell “1”, whether its yin, or wan, or ane, or ae would depend on which region you’re from, and some times which side of the river Clyde you’re from.There are a handful of cases or specific words where its arguable words ought to be standardised for clarity to avoid collisions, for example “canny” and “cannae”.

I think that part of any spelling convention should be the accompanying message that the convention is only there for the people who want it, and that other people who just to please themselves with spelling are free to carry on doing just that.

If they base it on the Doric then fine, itherwise awa an bile yer heid.

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