The fourth ECRML ‘report card’ for the UK has just been published outlining how the UK government and devolved administrations have been meeting their commitments under the ECRML Charter. In my the post What is the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages? I described how the Charter monitors the actions of signatories to safeguard and promote regional or minority languages. In the UK Scots, like Ulster-Scots, Cornish and Manx Gaelic, is afforded much less support than the so-called “Part III” languages Welsh, Scottish Gaelic and Irish despite having far more speakers than those three favoured languages put together.
To be fair when the report was being compiled last May the 2011 census figures had not yet been released. The Council of Europe experts “stressed the need for an assessment of the number of speakers as an essential basis for developing a comprehensive language policy” and although they actually had “an estimate of the number of speakers of Scots“, presumably from the surprisingly accurate 1996 survey, they may have been dissuaded of its veracity.
In the previous 2010 report there were no recommendations for Scots apart from “adopt a strategy to enhance and develop Ulster Scots, in co-operation with the speakers”. The new report notes the position of Ulster Scots has improved since, thanks largely to the proactive role of Tha Boord o Ulstèr-Scotch (Ulster-Scots Agency) to broaden the acceptance and the use of Ulster-Scots in everyday life.
One of the principles of the Charter is the recognition of the regional or minority languages as an expression of cultural wealth and this time the experts. in the 2010 report the experts had noted “a stronger recognition of the Scots language” and now “further positive developments” such as the Government-funded research into public attitudes to the Scots language seen as “recognition of the language’s importance to contemporary Scotland“. The Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o Riches digitalisation and cataloguing of recordings from all over Scotland were also mentioned.
The experts were advised that in 2010 the Scottish Government’s Ministerial Working Group on the Scots Language published its report and recommendations, setting out proposals to enhance the status of Scots and promote the use of all its dialects. The work of the Group focused on sectors that have the potential to increase the use and status of Scots, including education, broadcasting, publishing, literature and the arts. These are actually many of the areas ‘Part III’ reporting would address, were Scots to have that status. (The Scottish government response is also interesting.)
The 2010 report had considered that “efforts were needed to encourage and sustain Scots as a community language and to support and create conditions for Scots-speakers to value and use their language, and especially strengthen the position of Scots within existing language communities“. The authorities reported on various steps taken in the intervening period in addition to those mentioned above such as:
- the 2009 Audit on the Scots language which provided baseline data for further research, discussions or policy;
- the realisation of a Scots Language Conference, held at the University of Stirling in February 2009 (the only one so far as far as I know);
- the inclusion of a question on the Scots language in the Census of 2011, moreover “in order to make the census more successful a campaign to raise awareness on the Scots language question took place” including the Aye Can website;
- the opening of the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum and a project featuring more than 5,000 artefacts, including original manuscripts;
- the organisation of the General Teaching Council for Scotland Awards to formally recognise the work of a group of teachers on Scots. It is reported, rather weakly that “some measures are taken to offer teachers the teaching of Scots as a Continuing Professional Development Programme“.
- Scottish Studies is being developed as a strand in the curriculum in order to improve the knowledge of Scottish history and culture.
During the on-the-spot-visit in May, the experts was “made aware that for the moment there is no recent Scots Grammar book and that a revised Scots Grammar book and a concise Scots Dictionary will be prepared“. In fact Christine Robinson’s Modren Scots Grammar was published in 2012 and the Essential Scots Dictionary, originally designed for school use has been available in various forms for a decade. In my opinion it is really alarming that teachers on the ground do not know about these resources. However last year Education Scotland advertised positions for a network of Scots language co-ordinators to work with education authorities and schools to provide support in developing learning, teaching and assessment of the Scots language, so this situation may improve.
Over in Northern Ireland representatives also flagged the need for qualified teachers in order to be able to revitalise Ulster-Scots within mainstream society in Northern Ireland and it was pointed out “none of the colleges that provide further and adult education offer Ulster Scots language classes” (although there is now at least a course at Queen’s University Belfast). In general the experts were concerned that “Ulster Scots still remains absent from public life” though noted Ulster-Scots Academy was among other things promoting Ulster Scots as a language via summer schools and festivals and that a new Ulster-Scots Broadcasting Fund had been established in 2010.
It is actually hard to conclude much from the ECRML report. Without the stricter “Part III” reporting Scots and Ulster Scots can be treated quite superficially. It seemed that some of the information reported for Scots was quite sketchy and hastily done. The experts were quite critical of the fact the UK return was 10 months late. Moreover it was recognised that due to the political situation in Northern Ireland it was quite difficult to provide information. Interestingly as part of the commentary on this specific problem is the quote “UK Government takes its responsibilities in relation to language promotion and development seriously“.
One important point that is very relevant to Scotland is that the experts were “concerned to learn that speakers of regional minority languages continued to be portrayed in a negative way in the media“. In the findings they made the point that “There is still a need to raise the awareness of the English-speaking majority population about the UK’s regional or minority languages as an integral part of the UK’s cultural heritage, especially in education and media“.
The 2014 findings are worth presenting in full. The report “recommends that the authorities of the United Kingdom take account of all the observations and recommendations of the Committee of Experts and, as a matter of priority:
- continue taking measures to strengthen Scottish Gaelic education, especially through the training of teachers and the production of teaching and learning materials;
- adopt and implement a comprehensive Irish language policy, preferably through the adoption of legislation providing statutory rights for the Irish speakers;
- take concrete steps to further increase the use of Welsh in health and social care;
- strengthen its support for the work done by the Ulster Scots Agency and take measures to establish the teaching of Ulster Scots;
- establish and maintain support from central government for the Cornish language;
- ensure that the present cuts in public spending do not have a disproportionate effect on the protection and promotion of minority languages.“
…and where is Scots, by far the most widely spoken minority language in the UK? Not even mentioned. Again.