Why Scots is a language

The Scottish Government has recently announced measures to support the Scots language. The measures are mild, and the Government has specifically stated that no extra funding is being made available. In a normal country they’d attract criticism on the grounds that they go nowhere near far enough and are a ridiculous tokenism for a language which has a million and a half speakers in Scotland and which is understood by many more. But this isn’t a normal country, this is Scotland – which is inhabited by Scottish people, people who’ve moved to Scotland to make their lives here, and by ProudScotsBut.

The measures fall a long way short of recognising Scots as an official language, far less do they make Scots medium education obligatory, yet they’ve been greeted with the usual howls of denunciation from the Cringing Factions of ProudScotsBut. Scots isn’t a language, it’s a dialect, their cringes cry, despite having not a clue on how linguists determine that a speech variety is a language in its own right. And in this instance, the world of linguistics is pretty determined that Scots is a language.

Despite the academic consensus that Scots is as much a language as Portuguese, Slovak or Frisian, this doesn’t stop the Arty Buggers and the Political Nae Sayers. When you’re a ProudScotBut you are suddenly overcome with the magical ability to pontificate on topics which you know bugger all about. ProudScotsBut know far more about the subject of Scottish languages than people who have devoted their careers to studying it. We’re back to that typically North British combination of wilful ignorance and overweening arrogance which pretends to occupy a moral high ground that exists only in their own heads.

The two key terms in deciding the question of language vs dialect are Abstand and Ausbau. Abstand refers to raw linguistic difference, it is German for “standing off”. If speakers of speech variety A can’t understand speakers of speech variety B, then it’s reasonable to consider them different languages. Linguists have developed tests for mutual intelligibility which are used when developing literacy programmes in unwritten languages which exist as chains of dialects. In such languages, neighbouring dialects can be mutually intelligible, but dialects which are further apart are not. Typically, linguists look for around 70% mutual intelligibility before considering two related varieties as the same language. Where intelligibility is lower than this, speakers require different written forms.

There’s a problem here, because all Scots speakers understand English. We’re exposed to it from an early age on television, in films and on the radio. Scots speakers without exception understand English with native speaker competence. That means that linguists can only test people from outside Scotland. Few such tests have been carried out, however the few which do find that English speakers without prior exposure to Scots understand less than half of what is being said – and this is when they are listening to modern urban Scots varieties. When exposed to more traditional Scots varieties, intelligibility drops dramatically.

Scottish people find it difficult to comprehend just how foreign non-Scots find the Scots language. Partly that’s because when we compare Scots and English we automatically compare Scots with Scottish Standard English, but Scottish Standard English is itself a variety of English which is heavily influenced by Scots. It’s English spoken with the phonetic system of Scots, and also allows a significant number of Scots vocabulary items and uses Scots syntax.

Technically Scottish Standard English is an institutionalised xenolect, which sounds like something spoken by space aliens who have escaped from the asylum. And when you listen to modern ProudScotsBut proclaim that Scots isn’t a language, you could be forgiven for coming to that conclusion.

Modern Scots exists as a series of dialects which form a clear and distinct group which is sharply distinguished from anything else which could be described as English. Uniquely in the “English speaking” world, Scots does not merge geographically into the dialects of Northern England. The Scottish-English political frontier is also a very marked linguistic frontier.

But intelligibility and linguistic differentiation are not the only criteria for deciding whether a linguistic variety is a language in its own right. Culture plays a vital role too. Unlike a dialect, a language is consciously elaborated for a range of social uses – it has Ausbau, German for “building out”. Dialects – at least non-standard ones – are typically restricted to the domestic and the familiar. However, Scots – uniquely for a so-called “English dialect” – has registers. Registers are different forms of a language which have different social uses. So for example there is everyday spoken Scots, but there are also a number of varieties of literary Scots. Previously there was a legal Scots too, used in Scottish courts. No English dialect possesses anything like this.

Many ProudScotsBut dismiss literary Scots, especially modern literary Scots, as an artificial language. However they are missing the point. ALL literary varieties are artificial by definition. Standard languages are deliberate creations, people sat down and invented them. They do not arise by magic because the Language Fairy waved her sparkly standardisation wand. Some modern European standard languages – for example standard Estonian, Finnish, Basque, or Romantsch – are consciously artificial creations. Estonian contains words which were invented out of nothing. Words in modern literary Scots are at least taken from some variety of the real language.

Scots also has a spelling system which is partially independent of English. Spellings like heid contain the sequence ei, used for a distinctly Scottish pronunciation of the vowel written ee in English spelling. The spelling ui in words like guid is used for a sound pronounced differently in different Scots dialects.

Scots has all the attributes of a full language. It has Abstand – it is linguistically clearly distinct from its nearest relative and not easily mutually intelligible with it without language learning. Scots has as much Abstand vis as vis English as Portuguese has with Spanish, or Danish has with Swedish. And Scots also has Ausbau, it has been developed as a language with its own spelling system, and contains distinct registers. There is such a thing as formal literary Scots, there is – or once was – legal Scots, there’s no such thing as formal literary Cockney or legal Geordie. That’s what makes Scots a language, while Geordie remains a dialect of English. Of course that doesn’t mean Geordie couldn’t be elaborated as language – it’s just that no one has ever been motivated to do so. Scots on the other hand were motivated to elaborate their speech variety as a distinct language hundreds of years ago – because they felt that they belonged to an independent nation, distinct from England.

And that brings us to the nub of the issue, the assertion that Scots is a language is also an assertion that Scotland is a nation, a different country. And that’s why the North Britons react so vehemently against it.

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90 comments on “Why Scots is a language

  1. Paula Rose says:

    Are you aware of the New Testament in Scots translated by W.L.Lorimer?

      • Ron Preedy says:

        I live in Germany, and our (catholic) church traditionally has the Whit Sunday reading – the disciples speaking in tongues – read in different languages. This year I read the lesson from the Scots New Testament to the university catholic chapel. Many attendees speak English as their native language (Africans, Americans), and they understood hardly a word.

        They did comment that it sounded wonderful, though!

  2. Mammy says:

    Happy birthday to you today

  3. BampotsUtd.wordpress.com says:

    Reblogged this on Bampots Utd.

  4. […] Source: Why Scots is a language […]

  5. Albaman says:

    Happy birthday Paul, was not aware that it was until other more knowledgeable folk wished you well.
    Nice article, have you spent time with Melvyn Bragg?, he did a series of programmes on the development of the English languish , spoken, as well as written, very interesting it was too, I ended up buying the book.
    I’d have thought that you would, if possible, joined the happy thousands in Barcelona, marching forwards to independence!!.

    • weegingerdug says:

      I would have done – but I’m in Barlanark not Barcelona.

      • daviddynamo says:

        Happy birthday, and better Barlanark than Barlinnie!

        As an aside, and because I’m a nosey parker – you recently stated (in talking to some geezer on Twitter) that you knew six languages: which ones are they? I would guess Scots, English, Gaelic, Spanish, Catalan, and the school fave, French…

        • weegingerdug says:

          Je parle le français comme une vache espagnole mouée. Mais je parle le portugais et un peu du norvégien – et l’espagnol, le catalan, et les langues écossaises aussi.

          • Tris says:

            Ça, c’est pas mal pour une vache espagnole. Mes sincères félicitations!!

            Bon article.

            Je vous souhaite bon anniversaire.

            Encore 21?

          • daviddynamo says:

            It’s all Greek to me! OK, here’s a current Brazilian tv commercial, making fun of a misunderstanding of a French expression “Merci beaucoup”, which sounds a lot ruder in Portuguese. https://youtu.be/uNGu1g3lBgQ

            Staying with Portuguese, the current UK ambassador to Brazil, Alex Ellis, arrived in 2013, and shortly afterwards he was interviewed on TV Globo’s Jo Soares talk show. Ellis had previously been ‘our man in Portugal’, and, good for him, he was talking in fluent Portuguese. However, he had a strong ‘European Portuguese’ accent, and I’m not sure if he had been informed of the totally different accent(s) that are used in Brazil.The presenter and the audience didn’t warm to him, I got the impression they were not impressed by his accent.

            Brazilian tv shows almost zero programmes from Portugal, and in the only one I have seen, they dubbed the actors’ voices from European Portuguese into Brazilian Portuguese! Maybe it’s a way of sticking two fingers up at their former colonisers.

            That was interesting, but the funniest language-related thing I saw on Brazilian tv was in 2011. There was a football match between Scotland and Brazil, and a channel had the bright idea to invite a couple of expat Scots (not tv presenters, just ordinary guys) into their studio to comment on the game. Scotland lost 2-0, the guys’ faces were tripping them, and one of them gave the classic verdict on the Scotland team’s performance – “that was pish”!

  6. macart763M says:

    The proudscotbuts really don’t like the idea of difference. Wee souls.😀

    Vive la difference!

    Happy birthday Paul and many more of them.

  7. Az says:

    Enlightening reading, thanks Paul.

    The only bit I was unsure of was the idea that “Scots… were motivated to elaborate their speech variety as a distinct language hundreds of years ago”.

    I had always been under the impression that Scots formed as a language distinctly and separately from English, but that this had taken place over approximately the same period.

    Both languages, as I understood it, had formed from roughly the same influences but in different measures. Like having two separate recipes that contain the same ingredients but in completely different quantities. Then down the line the two languages began to converge due to proximity and mixing of the populations, before the remaining Scots was thrashed out of our ancestors and “The King’s [Queens’s]” forced upon them.

    I could be wrong about that but I hope I am not.

    • weegingerdug says:

      You’re not wrong. The distinct evolution of the two languages is how their “Abstand” arose.

      What I meant by being motivated to elaborate their speech variety was an attempt to explain Ausbau. Scots speakers consciously sought to enrich and develop their language. They borrowed words from French and Latin and other sources to express new concepts, and they did this without reference to English.

  8. Golfnut says:

    Great article. I always had difficulty reading Burns at school, at least on the rare occasions that we were required to, but when it was being spoken, read out, I understood it very well. It was after all, to a degree, the language we used in the playground.
    Your piece on Weegie grammer should be read along side this. The argument that Scots is just uncouth English is rightly put to the sword.

  9. […] One parish minister in Aberdeen, for example, writing in the 1790s, noted “…We cannot give a better example…of the advances…which we are daily making towards English. Scots Culture – Names in Scots – Places in Scotland. Parliamo Scots? Descriptive Adjectives. Why Scots is a language « Wee Ginger Dug. […]

  10. It was in the context of Scots/Gaelic being undermined, that English began to be called Scots:
    “Thairfor that they shall send thair bairnis being past the age of nyne yeiris to the Scollis in the Lawlandis, to the effect thay may be instructit and trayned to wryte and reid and to speake Inglische; and that nane of thair bairnis sall be served air (heir/oighre) unto thame, nor acknawlegeit nor reid as tennentis to his Majestie unles thay can wryte, reid, and speik Inglische.” (Act of Privy Council of Scotland 1616)(Collectanea de Rebus Albanicus p 121)

    • weegingerdug says:

      Scots was being called Scots almost 100 years before that quote you give. The earliest citation in the Dictionary of the Scots Language is 1531. By that time the most important linguistic differences between Scots and English had arisen. By 1616 an injunction to “wryte, reid and speike Inglische” would have been taken in its modern sense – as English. Specifically in this instance the then recently published King James Bible. (published in 1611)

      Scots was not called Scots in a deliberate attempt to undermine Gaelic. This is a myth, and an unhelpful one in the context of modern attempts to foster and promote both of Scotland’s languages. If Gaelic and Scots are seen in competition, both lose out.

      Scots adopted the name Scots for the simple reason that its speakers were members of the Scottish nation, and by the 1500s what they were speaking was clearly a very different linguistic animal from English.

      • In “The Golden Targe” by William Dunbar.he makes a parallel between the sun and Geoffrey Chaucer, ‘of oure Inglisch all the lycht’. Clearly, Dunbar didn’t think he was writing in ‘Scots’. It was other, lesser writers who began to call Dunbar’s ‘Inglisch’ by the title of ‘Scottis’.

  11. Albaman says:

    I Have a felling that this subject will run, and run, with more folk joining in, as interest gathers.

    • weegingerdug says:

      The weird thing is that there is no controversy in academic linguistic circles about the status of Scots as a proper language. There is only controversy amongst people who know feck all about the subject but who insist – for political reasons – that Scots is just a dialect.

  12. mearnsgeek says:

    There’s definitely a fine line between dialect and language.

    As a Fifer who’s now in Aberdeenshire, I would be perfectly understanding if someone wanted to make a case for Doric being yet another Scottish language.

    • Doric is a separate language from Scots IMHO. But even within the Doric there are differences. The Doric of Buckie is different from the Doric of Banff or the Broch, Peterheid or Aberdeen. Doric is a fantastic living language that should get as much funding as Gaelic.

      • Big Dod says:

        Never a truer word said. Doric is brilliant but, like Scots, it’s somehow frowned upon. Like it’s inferior. Every 2 or 3 miles it changes. It is a living language as you say and probably has more speakers then Gaelic

      • hektorsmum says:

        Only in this land of our would we have three languages, those Mountains obviously got in the road.

      • Doric should get as much support as Gaelic but there is something in the argument that just calling it Scots will dilute that support.

  13. Steve Asaneilean says:

    Thanks for this Paul – excellent stuff – both the piece and your comments.

    It’s high time Scots got appropriate recognition and it’s high time speakers of Scots and Gaelic got together to defend our linguistic heritage.

    Talking of which a number of years ago I was in the Danish town of Ribe where I got talking to an elderly man.

    He recounted stories from his own grandfather who had been a fishermen in the north of Jutland. Occasionally boats from Aberdeenshire harbours would see out rough weather in Danish harbours.

    The two sets of fishermen speaking Doric and Jutland Danish could understand each other quite well (though I am not sure if they would have reached the 70% threshold)

    • jacquescoleman says:

      When I watch Wallander and the other Danish progs on TV I am quite astonished at the many similarities in between Scots and Swedish/Danish

  14. broonpot says:

    Thank you. You have explained the technical aspects clearly and succinctly. It has prompted me to try to reassess whether or not Neapolitan which is often ridiculed by “northern” Italians is in fact a language as opposed to a dialect.

    I have to work very hard to speak “proper” Italian with friends and neighbours and continually lapse into my secondary mother tongue, particularly after a glass or two of chianti. Your article will make for a difficult but entertaining discussion with some of my South Italian friends next month.

  15. adam591 says:

    ProudScotsbut, Proudscotbuts or Proudscotbutts, are these related but distinct cringers?

  16. Saor Alba says:

    Thanks Paul for an extremely interesting post and I wish you a very happy birthday and many happy returns. Regards to the dug!

    Mais quel surprise – tu parle le portugais et un peu du norvégien! Sont ils plus difficile?
    Je comprends bien pourquoi tu peux parler l’espagnol, le catalan, et les langues écossaises.
    Si je ne me méprends pas, c’est Magnifique!

    • weegingerdug says:

      I learned a bit of Norwegian and Old Norse because I was interested in the linguistic history of Scotland. They’re not that hard. If you speak Spanish, Portuguese is dead easy. I know a little bit of Dutch and German too, but don’t claim to speak them. Or French for that matter. I can read an Italian newspaper but have never studied Italian – but you can work it out if you know other Romance languages.

      • Saor Alba says:

        Fantastic Paul!

        I taught Biological Sciences most of my life and, as I get more time now to do more things for myself, I am taking much more of an interest in languages, which I never developed to any extent at school. That’s why I find these posts so interesting.

        However, my main interest has been improving my French. Consequently, I have started immersing myself in French Literature, French Poetry and French music. I love the fact that France is one of our oldest allies.
        I dabble a little with Italian and Spanish as well and I agree with your point about Italian. These are very useful to me when on holiday, but because they are at a basic conversational level for me, I am prone to mixing them up from time to time

        Fortunately, my son, daughter and some of my closest friends (some who are linguists) and former colleagues share the same interest in Languages and I can bounce off them as well.
        I commented on Bella the other day, that I have an English friend (and Exam Board colleague) in Essex who has a great interest and affection for Gaelic and the Scots language. I tend to keep him informed of what is happening up here as he is totally sympathetic to our wish for Independence.

        My daughter has recently become engaged to a lovely German lad called Marc and I am now learning German (still at the very early stages), and finding it to be very good fun. I hope to bring this up to the level that my French is at. Marc speaks perfect English, but I do believe that it will be good for him and me if I can chat to him in German. So this will become equally important for me (and my daughter) to learn.

        Your reasons for learning Norwegian and Old Norse are very sound. I am fond of the Scots language and making gentle inroads to Gaelic language, by utilising my Gaelic speaking friends and some websites. I may try to introduce the Scots language to Marc. That will be interesting.

        I do appreciate very much all of your posts as your skills with and command of the English language are there for all to see and instills that feeling that you can say much better, what we would all like to express. You have my admiration for that. One of the great things about the YES movement, the referendum and the drive towards Independence for Scotland, is the sharing and learning that has taken place. Your site is always my first port of call.

        I do hope you have had a good day Paul, and that the Dug has enjoyed your birthday as well.
        Thanks for your reply and best wishes to you and the Dug.

        Saor Alba

  17. gn2 says:

    The fishermen post is interesting.
    Some time ago I watched the excellent Swedish/Danish TVshow The Bridge.
    Bairn, kirk and braw were some of the words I didn’t need the subtitles for.

    • hektorsmum says:

      Aye I know those too, having been in Sweden and learning how close our ties were you could see how those words and usage may have come about.

  18. Midgehunter says:

    Happy birthday Paul and good luck with your writing becoming more popular.

    Abstand is one of those words in German which can be used in countless ways.

    “Standing off” would be more appropriate as in physical distance – A ship standing off the coast / Ein Schiff hält Abstand zur Küste.

    With raw linguistic difference, the distance developing between a language to a dialect and further to a language would be better described as “Abstand zwischen” – “distance between”.

    E.g. “Der Abstand zwischen Sprache und Dialekt.”

    Apologies for being “Pedantisch”. 😉

  19. Guga says:

    Talking of languages, I always understood that the words “ProudScotsBut”, “North Briton”, “Quisling” and “Uncle Tom” meant the same thing.

  20. Hope you had a great birthday, Paul. I’m one of that generation who learned Latin at school. Dead language. Useless. Yet decades later I realise that my smattering of Latin has let me understand many words in French, Portuguese, Spanish and Italian. So not such a dead language after all. Brought up to ‘speak proper’ meant I missed out on much Scots, though I delight in using the words I know, especially when writing. Keeping the flag flying through the occasional word dropped into prose.

  21. Caledonian supremacist crap. It’s not a language it’s a dialect. You need to read Parliamo Glesca from the great Stanley Baxter to unnerstaun’the duffersnce ya tumshie heid.

    • John Kerr says:

      Oh dearie me. Cringe,cringe, fawn, fawn. I normally never reply to trolls, but in your case……
      “The great Stanley Baxter” who came out against Scottish independence from his home in London, just before the referendum. I thought he’d died years ago, well he did – frequently, but he got his reward after the referendum with a re-run of his shows on the ever impartial BBC. What is the name for someone who sells out their own country for personal gain? Hmmm!

    • kailyard rules says:

      Well in your case the emphasis is on ” duffer “.

  22. Adam says:

    Belated happy birthday Paul. Very interesting article, would wikipedia be a good starting place to learn a bit more? I am finding it interesting in the way you talk about languages branching out. Is this the same with overlaps like in danish/swedish/norwegian as would be with Scots and English. I’m currently having to learn bits of technical Norwegian for work and its odd how some words just stick out and you seem to know them without prior knowledge. Ot sure if that’s because we have knicked phrases and words from them previously or vice versa

  23. Marconatrix says:

    The trouble is for Scots to be taken seriously by the Establishment (Government, Schools etc.) like a ‘real language’ it would need to be standardised to a large extent, and that I fear would start a decades-long row as everyone (and their dug) would be rooting for their ain leid to be chosen. The powers-that-be would then play divide and rule and ensure that any funds available when into keeping the arguments going rather than actually promoting the language.

    Just look what happened when the Norwegians set about separating their language from Danish, and ended up with two languages for the price of one, which they never managed to unify. So now every Norwegian school kid has to master two alternative systems of spelling, grammar and vocabulary. And they learn good English to boot.

  24. mealer says:

    I find reading Scots very easy as long as I do it regularly.Which I don’t.And when I go back to it after a while I find it tricky at first.I speak a fair amount of Scots,but more with people my age and older.Less with people younger than myself.Use it or lose it? I use a lot of Scots when sending text messages.I always use a Scots word if it’s shorter.I feel comfortable doing so because,I think,texting is so informal.I wasn’t taught texting at school and so I wasn’t taught it’s wrong to text in Scots.This article is one of WGDs most important.

  25. Belated happy birthday Paul!
    Thank you for a very informative article – I only know a few words of Scots and Doric, and found it very difficult many years ago to understand my father-in-law who spoke fully in Doric. But I have always enjoyed the words, many of which express concepts or feelings which don’t exist in English.
    Yet I could never understand why people claimed Scots to be a language rather than a dialect, and your explanation here has finally solved that puzzle for me.
    I learned Gaelic at school, and also Latin and ancient Greek. In later life, learning French and Spanish, I have found the ‘dead’ language, latin very helpful as well as enhancing my understanding of English. I have been surprised to find some very similar words in gaelic and French e.g. eaglis/eglise, (church) and of course latin and gaelic grammar structures have been useful in adapting to French and Spanish grammar.
    Unfortunately, after spending most of my adult life in north-east Scotland, I lost most of my learned gaelic due to lack of use. Spurred by a recent certain website controversy over gaelic, I intend to re-learn gaelic as well as to attempt to achieve fluency in French and Spanish, and then to enjoy the literature of all three countries. Sadly I doubt if I will have enough remaining time to learn Catalonian as well, but who knows? Tailwags and licks to Ginger from Pili, Pajarita, Luisa, Rosarillo, Lili, Arran, Lottie and Zula, all from Spain also.

  26. Haivers Blog says:

    Great piece.

    Part of the problem here is (a) that Scots and English are undoubtedly related and (b) that to say that a tongue is a dialect “of” another suggests a hierarchical relationship, which is where the controversy lies.

    There was a time when Scots called their language Inglis, but that was before there was country called England, i.e. before “English” became a loaded term. (In the same way, an Austrian would have been happy being described as German until the German Empire came into being and changed the meaning of the term from an ethno-linguistic one into a political one.)

    It would make more sense now to say that Scots and (modern) English are daughter tongues of a common ancestor.

    As to language vs dialect, it’s an arbitrary distinction. As the old saying has it: a dialect is a language without its own army.

  27. jdman says:

    I have a question for you Paul,
    your maps (of which I have one in the lowland Scots and Gaelic, do you still produce them and would you get the royalties if they were sold?
    I was in an art shop yesterday and the woman who owns it (Enid Hutt) had quite a few maps on display, I wonder if you could mak a few bawbees from the sale of them?

    • Steve Asaneilean says:

      Gotta be careful with maps. The original OS maps are full of errors perpetuated to this day.

      And a recent modern Gaelic map of Scotland produced by the Gaelic college on Skye, Sabhal Mor Ostaig, is also riddled with errors and false suppositions.

  28. Wullie says:

    I was in a bar in France many years ago. Sitting at a very large round table, half the table were from Glasgow the other half from Germany after some time the Germans asked us what part of Germany do you all come from. We were a bit stumped to say the least.

  29. kailyard rules says:

    Where does ” Parliamo Glesca ” slot in? I used to hear it spoken profusely many years ago on the Costa Plenty before the mass summer migrations to the Costas del Credit.

  30. Daisy Walker says:

    I wish I could source and verify the following, which I heard at a gathering after a funeral on the Isle of Lewis…

    A scholar in Linguistics from one of the top Uni’s wanted to try and do a linguistically ‘dig’ to find out the roots of the oldest language, another scholar from a different Uni had developed the maths/computer program to do something similar with DNA viruses, etc.

    The 2 met up and realised the computer program could be used for the language project in much the same way. They put it into practice, fully expecting one of the central european languages to be the source… but no, much to their surprise Scots Gaelic was the result.

    The person telling me this was a Gaelic speaker, well travelled, and when he thought about it he realised there was evidence of this, when he was in the Basque country he went to the bank, it was shut, however the days and times of opening were signed on the door – all the day names were the same as in gaelic.

    Sorry I can’t be more specific about details, should’ve paid more attention.

    Happy Birthday and best wishes as always. x

    • Steve Asaneilean says:

      I think you were told fibbies.

      For a start the Gaelic and Basque names of the week are not the same – Google the two and put the lists side by side.

      Gaelic is and Indo-European language and the origin of this group of languages has been well researched.

      Gaelic is old but not the oldest or original.

      In addition there are non-Indo-European languages in Europe that are probably older like Basque and Finish.

      And goodness knows about the age of some other aboriginllanguages around the world.

      Gaelic should be protected, supported and recognised as a crucial cultural component.

      But I can’t be bothered with anyone using it to try, however subtly, to express a degree of superiority (which is what your Uni folk sounded like they were doing).

      • Marconatrix says:

        If you want to claim that Gaelic is thoroughly Scottish, has a definite “Made in Scotland” written on the box, then you have to accept that although it was originally brought over from Ireland it was later influenced by Norse and Scots and quite probably Pictish and Strathclyde Welsh, and who knows what else, apart from simply ‘doing its own thing’ at times. In short it developed its own identity reflecting the experience of Scottish Gaels over the centuries.

        But if you go for the ‘Oldest Language’ nonsense, then you’re implying that it’s lived on almost unchanged over the eons, wich isn’t true (simply take a look at Old Irish!)

        But the point is, you can’t have it both ways, either Gaelic is a ‘living fossil’ of a language, or it is something ‘home-grown’, but it can’t be both!

    • Marconatrix says:

      Sorry just more mythology. Any linguist will tell you that there is more complete nonsense going around about Basque than perhaps any other language … although Gaelic isn’t too far behind.

      So for the record, the days of the week, English : Gaelic : Basque :-

      Sunday : Di-dòmhnaich : Igandea
      Monday : Di-luain : Astelehena
      Tuesday : Di-màirt : Asteartea
      Wednesday : Di-ciadain : Asteazkena
      Thursday : Di-ardaoin : Osteguna
      Friday : Di-haoine : Ostirala
      Saturday : Di-satharna : Larunbata

      Cailc is càise!

  31. epicyclo says:

    The answer to ProudScotButs is to reply to them in Scots. If they cannot answer in Scots, QED.🙂

    BTW It should real be ProudScotButts, ie with 2 ‘t’s, which more accurately describes an arsehole.

  32. Tinto Chiel says:

    Thanks for an intelligent and subtle article which makes the case for Scots most eloquently. As you say, those with the most to say when it comes to attacking Scots have usually the least knowledge.

    Now if you just tell us your address in Barlanark we’ll come round and give you your dumps…..

  33. bill says:

    they should teach English first then you would know where to use an apostrophe

  34. Massimo Grazione says:

    When I was at school (in England), one of the poems studied for GCSE-level was Robert Burns’s ‘Tae A Moose’. Helpfully, the original Scots was provided alongside the English translation. Scots was indeed considered foreign by the Anglophone English students, including those who spoke other languages at home. The teacher might have been of Scottish background himself, because he seemed fluent when reciting the poem in its original language.

    As I understand it, Urdu and Hindi are a bit closer to each other than Scots is to English. They only really started to diverge in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Urdu might have a bit more Persian influence whereas Hindi has had many of these Persian influences replaced with Sanskrit ones, but Indians and Pakistanis can reportedly converse with each other in the language(s). As the Dug pointed out, Scots-speakers and monoglot Anglophones can’t always converse well all the time.

    • weegingerdug says:

      Urdu and Hindi are essentially the same language, but differ in their scripts. Urdu is written in the Perso-Arabic alphabet whereas Hindi uses the native Indian Devanagari script. The big difference between them is in their literary forms. Hindi borrows its formal vocabulary from Sanskrit, whereas Urdu borrows it from Arabic and Persian. On an everyday colloquial level speakers of the two languages understand one another perfectly – in fact you can’t always be sure if a person is speaking Hindi or Urdu until you’ve heard them speak for a wee while – but they have difficulties comprehending one another when dealing with more formal or literary topics.

  35. Mick the Irish Builder says:

    If it’s anything like Ulster Scots (and of course it is, since that’s why they call it SCOTS), then it’s certainly a language. When Hiberno-Irish speakers like me hear pure Ulster Scots, we can’t understand a syllyble. A bit like when the English hear US, really. The Good Friday Agreement does not recognize Ulster Scots as a language, but as part if the “cultural wealth” of the island. Surely Scots deserves at least equal billing?

    • BampotsUtd.wordpress.com says:

      Ulster Scots is not a lauanguge they are a creation to oppress Scots created by the britsh state to grasp Scots read lewis grassie gribbons sunset song to the lingo in that is Scots there is no such thing as Ulster scots that’s a myth there irish Scots

    • BampotsUtd.wordpress.com says:

      Is that u Rearpipe or Carson ? Trolling ? Sad

  36. Jan Cowan says:

    Enjoyed your really interesting post, Paul. Also interesting comments.
    Belated birthday greetings!

  37. Daisy Walker says:

    Re the comments about gaelic roots, many thanks for the comments. As I stated right from the start I wasn’t able to verify the source. For clarity, there’s a big difference between getting things wrong or inaccurate and telling ‘fibbies’ and likewise there’s a difference between discussing ideas, and research – however badly recalled – and attempting to claim superiority, that was certainly not the tenure of the discussion held and recounted, nor was it my intention.

    I think the historical roots of a language and the traces it leaves behind to be a fascinating subject.

    I very much enjoyed WGD’s factual description of why a language is defined as such.

    Thanks for helping to clarify this.

    Best wishes to all.

    • jacquescoleman says:

      There is a very long series of articles in Wikipaedia dealing with linguistics, languages and dialects. As a dabbler in linguistics myself I find the subject fascinating. And just remember that ALL standard versions of languages are made up languages derived from the original spoken versions.

  38. Matt Seattle says:

    As a relatively recent immigrant from England I can testify that Scots has a function which disturbs Unionists because they instinctively know, as do its speakers, that it is a conductor of the current which Doris Lessing (in the novel Shikasta) describes as “substance-of-we-feeling”.

    Wha can listen tae “Freedom Come All Ye” or “A Man’s A Man” an no stairt greetin?

  39. […] Like this: Jeremy Corbyn praised by Argentina's president Cristina Kirchner. Empire strikes back. Why Scots is a language. Fer whit it's worth… 2 lumps o coal in here, the rest is jist dross… ♫ Second poll finds […]

  40. Gordenry says:

    The question shouldn’t be “is Scots a language?” but “why do we care?”

    And the answer, of course, is because it suits particular groups of politicians to use culture as a vehicle for mobilising support. Take that away and we wouldn’t be arguing about it in the first place.

    And let’s be clear, this has nothing to do with the independence issue. I voted Yes in the referendum because it was a straight choice between two systems of government and I thought one would be better than another. I didn’t vote Yes to nationalism or because I spend all my time bitterly arguing about flags, pedantic linguistic concerns or a bunch of other irrelevant nationalist gibberish. The only people who passionately care about these issues beyond a small group of academics seem to be: 1) nationalists (Scottish, British, it makes no difference), and 2) people who become slowly annoyed by the tubthumping zealotry of British/Scottish nationalism and end up arguing with those in the first group (i.e. people like me).

    As an issue, it’s entirely irrelevant to how I and literally everyone else I know (most of them “Scots speakers”) go about their lives. If you divorced it from the political context (i.e. which brand of career politicians you happen to defend to the hilt 24/7) it’s an utterly trivial concern. Scots or the Scottish dialect (whatever you want to call it) exists. If we stopped using it tomorrow it would be because we no longer need it. So long as we continue to need it we’ll keep using it. Either way is fine by me.

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