David Leask. HeraldScotland: Chief Reporter.
Coming up: a wee tweetstorm some things I don’t understand about the politicisation of the Scots language. Please help. First an admission: I’ve no particularly interest in Scots, other than growing up surrounded by the leid in two different forms.In fact, I find myself drawn to foreign languages, not indigenous ones & am a translator as well as a reporter to trade. But I’m fascinated & increasing alarmed by attacks on once oppressed indigenous languages, Gaelic & Scots, after a period of consensus.This is not at all healthy. Of course, people live with the baggage of historic state-sanctioned prejudice against local speech. And, of course, such prejudice is intertwined with crude class snobbery (Scots in particular is associated with urban poor or rural folk).Combine this bigotry – because that is what it is – with poor levels of general linguistic knowledge & we have a problem.
But something else has been added to the mix recently: out sometimes toxic indyref-politics. This is the bit I can’t understand. But every Wednedsay night The National, our strongly pro-Indy sister paper tweets an excerpt from a column written in vernacular. The response is astonishing. No doubt this is partly because partisans opposed to Indy despise the partisan pro-Indy publication. In fact some unionists hate the National so much they call it “McPravda”, as if such absorb abuse was more acceptable than, say, “quisling”.
Usually the responses are embarrassingly ignorant, declaring words to be fake because they are cognates of English. Obviously, academics or working linguists explaining dialect continuums to people with powerful prejudices has had no impact. But, for avoidance of doubt, calling Scots in any of its forms “fake” is not a credible stance, it’s just linguistic ignorance.
Some genuinely feel that a synthetic fake Scots is being imposed on them as part of some SNP plot to create difference. We can probably wrote those off as folk who are unfamiliar with the country they live in – or never mix with folk of lower classes. And I’m sure there are Scottish nationalists who do feel the need for Indy to protect their language & culture. Some of those Yessers undoubtedly champion their languages, even in Gaelic, one they can’t understand for political reasons. But almost all Scots is spoken or written well outside the political space inhabited by some of those who hate the language. In fact, Scots is most widely spoken in some of the most unionist places in the country, including Orkney (where I was born). So years ago Tories founded the Scots Language Centre & Labour recognised Scots as a language in international treaties. Nobody worried.
What then is the upside for unionist activists going on Twitter or down the pub & disparaging written or spoken Scots? In fact, the British nationalist “yeuch Scots is ugly” vote is particular lay small in Scots-speaking unionist heartlands like Orkney. Successful British unionism has always driven by respect for diversity & for minorities. Why change this winning recipe? That I don’t get. Any explanations for this curious new pathology in otherwise successful, inclusive unionism would be most welcome.
Apologies for the unusually long Twitterstorm. It’s now over & normal service will resume.