The Scots Column in The National

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Abstracts from the FRLSU event run back in August. Lots of interesting stuff, but J. Derrick McClure’s ‘The Scots Column in The National‘ especially catches the eye.

“The National, the only daily newspaper which supports Scottish independence, has (among other creditable features confirming its status as an organ of Scottish culture, such as regular articles on Scottish literature and history and a weekly full- page feature in Gaelic) a weekly essay in Scots. The principal author is the well- known poet and language activist Rab Wilson, but several other writers make frequent contributions. On examination, however, “Scots” as applied to these columns proves to be a highly flexible term. This is in principle neither unexpected nor undesirable: since at least the late nineteenth century, writers in “Scots” haveregarded themselves as entirely free to use any of the traditional rural dialects and urban basilects to be heard throughout non-Gaelic Scotland, written forms modelled on the language of the Vernacular Revival or that of the Stewart period, or individual experimentations often involving the use of recondite or even invented words; and the result of this freedom of choice has been a splendidly varied literary output. But the columns in the National turn out on inspection to rely extensively on eye-dialect (i.e. mis-spellings), to abound in random juxtapositions of classical vocabulary and contemporary slang, to use English words when familiar Scots equivalents are readily available, and in general to give a slapdash and improvisatory impression.”

The stock answer is that since written Scots is not standardised (and spoken Scots much less so), an airy disregard for anything like rules is simply true to linguistic facts; but the question arises whether the status and prestige of Scots is likely to be enhanced by writing of this kind, particularly in a newspaper which in other respects shows full recognition of the Scottish cultural traditions which its aim is to promote.

This paper will examine the language of the columns over some weeks, seek to discern any rules and principles followed by the columnists, and discuss the value of the features as a means of promoting the Scots tongue.

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