Learning Scots and ‘cultural appropriation’

Interesting debate on Facebook on attitudes to people learning Scots. One member of the Scots Language Forum wrote. “The hatred of Americans (Scottish Americans) being accused of ‘cultural appropriation’ and ‘pretending to be Scottish when you’re not’ is aff the charts folks’. He emphasised “outside of this group”! the writer continued, 

“…. Bring up Scots, write in it, then be outed as American and you get the culture-gestapo saying ‘you cant use that, you dont know how we really speak etc’.. Major problemo for the Leid. Lame. It boggles the mind.. as if they think all Americans only speak English… and are completely ignorant of our cultural diversity and traditions. As if all 1st generation born stop using their cultural heritage… bizarre”.

The group was a bit shocked: “Never understand why people are so precious. If someone tries to learn another language, dialect or whatever, or even falls out of everyday use of their mither tongue and steps back in, it should be welcomed not derided”.

The persistent downgrading of Scots as a geographically-restricted ‘dialect’ was another possible issue.

Personally I think it’s got a lot to do with the difference between a language and a dialect. Despite the fact that linguists say this or that way of speaking is a language ( I think this even applies to Gaelic) sometimes, and in the case of the various manifestations of Scots, I’d say quite often, the people who speak it every day think of it as a dialect. What does dialect mean? ‘A particular form of a language which is peculiar to a specific region or social group’. So the way people speak varies from place to place and why would you speak in the way of people from Aberdeenshire, (or Norfolk, or Tennessee or anywhere you like) if that isn’t either where you come from or where you are? I’m not saying that is what I think, but that is part of how I can make sense of what you are talking about.

Another contributor recognised the reaction was really part of a deeper problem.

Yeah, I think you need to understand that Scotland is a sort of colony. Being proud or (worse) dispassionate of tokens of cultural Scottishness in one’s self, other than those that denote wide but safely abstract reading, is widely regarded as either false, politically motivated, or as shibboleths of a lack of proper manners or education. If you disparage one native language as the bad English of the barely literate, and another as the wan tongue of the noble savage, safely confined to history, how do you then view an American who shows an interest in those things? Surely such a person is not rational, a con artist, or someone seeking to patronise? As these are the only mass media tropes of foreigners interactions with Scots speakers (look on YouTube for the endless ‘hilarious’ comedy sketches involving Scots speakers and air traffic control), it’s hard for colonised bigots to understand your motivations.

I added, “Some folk are genuinely bemused that people actually want to learn Scots. There is no tradition of Scots teaching, and the centuries-long stigmatisation scars attitudes. Thus anyone wanting to learn the language is may be treated with suspicion. It is their problem, though, not yours”. 

But the best advice was; “Ignore them. Get wired in and jist keep usin the Scots leid”.

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