Looking under the bonnet of language

Who needs linguists eh? Who needs to bother with all the bother of the academic study of language when we have the wit and wisdom of Stephen Daisley and his continuing crusade to deny the existence of the Scots language. It’s not a “real language” according to the erudite Daisley, it’s merely “slang English”. It’s not that the distinctions between slang, dialect, accent, and language have not been pointed out to Stephen in the past, it’s just that he steadfastly maintains his belief that his ignorance is more informed than any information that anyone might point out to him. You can supply him with academic references. You can point out facts. You can attempt to educate and inform, but Stephen will cling on to his prejudices like a lifebelt. They’re all that keep him afloat. He is the flat-earther of linguistic science.

One of his difficulties is doubtless that, unlike the black and white certainties beloved of the Daily Mail, there are no hard and fast boundary lines when we’re discussing the vagaries of human linguistic behaviour. The categories of slang, dialect, accent, and language blur at their edges. They overlap. They merge in interesting and complex ways. However there are vital distinctions between the categories and without understanding what those differences are, you cannot make any sensible contribution to the debate about language teaching in Scottish schools, or indeed anywhere else. Stephen’s inability to grasp the distinctions between them only proves the arrogant sclerosis of his own thought patterns. He’s not only determined to resist any of that vile linguistic science, he’s also determined to feel persecuted because of it.

Slang is a set of vocabulary which usually pertains to a particular social group within a speech population. It’s typically informal and is most often associated with distinct social groups or contexts. People who speak with very different accents and who were brought up with very different dialects can and do make use of the same slang. So for example there’s drug user slang, internet slang, hip hop slang, prison slang. Because slang is informal, it’s often confused with other speech varieties which are associated with non-standard usage.

Dialect is also typically used in informal settings. All forms of language are expressed in dialect, the standard language is merely a dialect which has been codified. Unlike slang, which is purely a set of vocabulary, dialect also involves grammar, accent, and syntax (the rules for combining words in a sentence) as well as vocabulary. Another important difference is that whereas slang is usually associated with a distinct social group or setting, dialect is most commonly associated with a particular geographical region.

A language is famously a dialect with an army.  There is no hard and fast rule to determine whether two closely related speech varieties are different languages or whether they are distinct dialects of a single language. As a rule of thumb, varieties which are not mutually intelligible are considered to be different languages. Scots is not easily intelligible to English speakers without prior exposure to Scots, so on that count Scots would be regarded as a different language from English.  However there are almost as many exceptions to this rule as there are examples of it.  Hindi and Urdu are regarded as different languages, but are mutually intelligible. Cantonese and Mandarin are as different from one another as English is different from German, yet both are regarded as dialects of Chinese.  The various dialects of Arabic differ from one another as much as Spanish differs from Italian.

Accent is closely associated with dialect and is often confused with it. However you can theoretically speak any dialect with any accent. Accent refers to how speech sounds are produced, but in dialect there is often a difference in the choice of speech sounds used in particular words or sets of words. It is perfectly possible to speak Standard English with a Scots accent, and by that I mean an accent proper to the Scots language. In the exact same way you can speak Standard English with a French accent, a Yorkshire accent, or a American Southern accent. It would be perfectly possible for someone with a non-Scots accent to speak Scots, but as Scots is almost never taught as a second language, this hardly ever happens.

When speaking Standard English, Scottish people typically have a very distinctive pronunciation of the sound written “ow” or “ou” in words like cow or house, but in dialect the choice of the sound used can also differ. In Scots, the sound written “oo” in English spelling is used in these words. If Scots were to be considered a dialect of English, this would be a dialectal distinction. Scottish Standard English is in fact pretty much Standard English spoken with the accent proper to Lowland Scots.

It’s because English speakers in Scotland most often use a variety of English which is itself heavily influenced by Scots that the linguistically naive, the Daisleys of this world, are so convinced that Scots isn’t a “real language”. They already use a variety of English which is part way towards Scots, and most often have a passive understanding of Scots even though they may not actively speak Scots themselves. However since they regard themselves as English monoglots, they tell themselves that since they understand Scots, it cannot be a proper language. The fact is that people without their exposure to Scots and who don’t use varieties of Standard English which are influenced by Scots lack the same understanding of Scots. It’s not that Scots isn’t a real language, it’s that people like Stephen lack a real awareness of their own linguistic repertoire.

How dare those evil nationalists torture him with linguistic reality. He’s an English language journalist, that’s all the qualification required to pontificate about language. This is a bit like claiming that because you have a driving licence, you are qualified to strip down an engine and rebuild it. Or saying that because you have a TV licence, then you understand the principles of electromagnetic waves, cathode ray tubes, and diodes. Language is a complex set of neurophysiological processes, most of which take place beyond the conscious awareness of speakers. That’s why we have linguists. Writers are people who drive. Linguists are people who know how to strip down and rebuild an engine.

The trigger for La Daisley’s linguistic ire in a wee rant in the Mail was a recent report from a proper linguist who specialises in the study of Scots that teaching Scots in schools has a beneficial impact on children. He expressed utter incomprehension at the utility of engaging children in an exercise of translating English language texts into Scots. However the point of this exercise is to get children to think about how they use language, about how different forms of language are considered proper to different circumstance. It was about getting children to open the bonnet of the language car and to start to examine the engine instead of driving them with prejudice, snobbery, and an ignorant arrogance masquerading as erudition.

There is a legitimate argument to be had about whether Scots is a dialect, or more accurately a set of dialects, of English, or whether it’s a distinct language. Like all things in language it’s not a black and white question with a simple answer. However for a range of reasons I’ve set out in previous blogs, I come down firmly on the “Scots is a language” side of that argument, as do the majority of those who make a formal academic study of human language – including those who specialise in the study of English dialect.

However, what Scots most certainly is not is “slang English”. Slang does not encompass phonology – the rules of production of speech sounds. Slang does not encompass grammatical patterns which are distinct from the standard language in question. Slang does not encompass virtually the entire vocabulary of everyday discourse which is shared by an entire speech community. Scots does all those things. If we want to have a sensible conversation about the role of Scots in the curriculum, it would help if we started from a position of knowledge, and not from a position of prejudice.


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99 comments on “Looking under the bonnet of language

  1. Macart says:

    Mmmm… Nope! Nothing I could say about Mr Daisley. His ‘style’ of journalism. His employer and their record. His broad, fish supper coated shoulders or his general attitude when discussing anything Scottish (which resembles nothing less than a bulldog licking piss off a thistle), could be remotely helpful.

    I’m just going to grab a dram and some munchies. (cough)

    • mogabee says:

      Oh, I don’t know, that was pretty descriptive to those who haven’t come across him.

      I’m not sure if I can look at a fish supper again in the same light though. 😀

    • JGedd says:

      I agree, Daisley certainly has issues with Scottishness. As a relative of mine used to say ” it fair biles his pish”. Some time ago, Paul gave us his take on why Daisley has such psychic angst regarding all things Scottish, which I found very persuasive.

      Funnily enough, someone else who shares his visceral hatred of Scotland is James MacMillan, composer, hailing from Ayrshire. One wonders from what dark well-spring of the past such loathing of Scots and Scotland comes. Obviously, MacMillan recognises a kindred spirit, since recently he sent forth the news that he had dedicated a piece of music to Daisley which sent another British Nationalist, Muriel Gray, into paroxysms of joy.

      People are entitled to dislike the country in which they were born, after all, but such people usually leave it for another and put the past behind them. There is something special, though, about investing a lot of time and trouble in returning again and again to the same subject, like a dog to its vomit. Daisley is, of course, paid to spew out his bile, but he does give the impression that his regular animadversion of Scotland and Scottishness, never seems to drain the source of his bitterness – and it is deeply personal.

      • Macart says:

        The thing with the Daisleys of this world? They have a soapbox and they use it to cause harm to others. There’s only one thing you can do with that and that is to remind people he’s just a bod with an opinion.

        People need reminded that he puts his union jakey socks on one foot at a time. He’s a personal opinion and that is all. Expose his ‘humanity’, challenge his opinion, point and laugh at his prejudice and you burst the balloon. (there may or may not, be an intentional pun there)

        His opinion isn’t more important than yours and that such things as trust and respect are earned. They don’t come with a regular soapbox and a wage packet.

        The perspective folk need to cultivate when it comes to the meeja, is that we decide what we consider important in our lives and not Mr Daisleys of this world.

      • andimac says:

        Daisley, MacMillan, Gray – they’re all third raters in their respective fields. They think they’ve made it big in the Yookay: in reality, hardly anybody has heard of them. They’re insignificant cringers and their opinions and themselves should just be ignored. The fat ignoramus, Daisley, probably chugs off reading comments from “Nats” whom he believes he has outraged.

        • Chris M says:

          James MacMillan is not a third-rater. He is a genuinely great 21st-century composer, and is internationally recognised as such. He has some puzzling, hard-line and rather regrettable views on Scottish identity and culture, but that does not take away from his artistry. He also has a persecution complex about his Catholicism, but he is still a first-rate composer. He is one of only a handful of composers worldwide who make a living from their composition. Most composers have to take teaching jobs to supplement their income. Extreme brilliance often goes hand in hand with personality quirks!

          • andimac says:

            I’m aware MacMillan is internationally recognised but I certainly don’t agree that he is genuinely great: he is, perhaps a “petit maitre” but we shall have to agree to differ as to his status as a composer. Certainly, the fact that he makes a living from his compositions is no criterion as to his status as an artist. The history of all arts – musical, pictorial, sculptural, literary, etc – is replete with examples of artists who made livings, fortunes even, from their art but were often mediocre and many who were unrecognised, rejected, scorned even but were geniuses. Contemporary taste and recognition are never a reliable yardstick as to true greatness.

            • hettyforindy says:

              Very well said andimac, absolutely. Fashion is fickle, including with the arts, or maybe especially in the arts. The competition is fierce as well. Sometimes it can even get ugly.

            • Chris M says:

              Hi andimac. Yes, we can agree to differ. I think it’s a great shame that he is so negative about Scottish identity. We can split hairs about whether or not he is great, but he is a major Scottish talent, and it’s sad that he suffers so badly from the cringe. Given his intense Catholicism and Highland name, I wonder how he gets on with his fellow Britnats of the orange hue?

        • Jan Cowan says:

          Andimac, never having read Daisley I think I must agree with you. Sounds like he simply lacks confidence and like Macmillan gains a little by attempting to ape those who hail from south of the border. Sad.

  2. donald6 says:

    Was it Byron who said of English accents, that when one Englishman enters a room the others instantly despise him when he opens his mouth?

  3. Well-said, Paul. There’s no doubt that Scots is a language. The depth and breadth of its canon, both written and spoken, is unmatched by any of the neighbouring Germanic tongues except ‘standard English’ itself.

    Also, Scots is largely unintelligible to speakers of those neighbouring languages. We can see that clearly in the confused, outraged incomprehension of its deniers. If there’s a better definition of a language than that, I’ve yet to find one…

    As for Daisley? Well, he’s special. At some point in his life, for reasons known only to himself, he chose to be ‘British’. He adopted all of the traditional British signifiers: Conservative politics, unquestioning deference to the established powers and, above all, an intolerant hatred for all the non-English cultures of these isles.

    I would call him a simple cultural imperialist.

    Now, if someone could explain why the Catholic schools of Lanarkshire can produce people like Daisley and dearie me, Liam Fox, I would be very grateful.

    • weegingerdug says:

      Stephen Daisley went to the same school as me – 20 years apart mind you. I’m a fair bit older than him. So it’s not entirely the fault of a Lanarkshire Catholic comprehensive education.

      • Stephen’s origin story remains untold for another day, then…

      • JGedd says:

        And then, of course, there are the Loyalists of the Orange Order and some prominent sympathisers in the Tory party, none of whom, I think, attended Catholic schools yet seem to share Daisley’s dislike of Scotland.

        Come to think of it, I wonder how Daisley and MacMillan seem to blank out the fact that they are on the same side as the Orange Order?

        • JGedd says:

          Oh, and one more point. Andrew O’Hagan, who interestingly has almost the same background as Macmillan – Catholic, and brought up and educated in Kilwinning and similarly scathing about Scotland’s aspirations once – delivered that inspiring and moving address at the Edinburgh Festival recently, in which he expressed his change of heart towards Scotland’s independence.

    • Kenmath says:

      I’d contest Citizen’s statement above that “Scots is largely unintelligible to speakers of those neighbouring languages.” I had a friend from Flensburg, a German city right on the border between Germany and Denmark, and when he spoke in his local Jutland dialect and we spoke in Scots we reckon they were about 80% mutually comprehensible.

      I’d like to suggest that Daisley should spend a week on a Buchan farm and see how much he understands the locals. For the rest of us it would also be a week free of his ranting in the press.

      • Morag Kerr says:

        When I went off to holiday in the Netherlands as a student, my mother said, just speak to them in Scots and they’ll probably understand. She was kind of right.

        Mind you, I’m not sure she meant that “Poke o chips” would be understood as “Paquet frites” in Brussels….

        It was.

        • donald6 says:

          Or Pom Frits: MacFarlane and Lang for Brits. Even oor rhyming slang is different from the Cockneys.

        • aitchbee says:

          From the other perspecitve, I have an Italian friend who had learned English from primary school and had had no difficulty with speaking and understanding English when he moved to London for a while. When he came up to Scotland he was flummoxed. One day he turned to me and asked ‘what language do you speak up here?’. For all his long years of learning English and speaking/understanding it fluently in London, he couldn’t immediately understand Scots. It didn’t take him long to pick it up, but for a while we had to remember to drop into English when speaking to him.

  4. TSD says:

    Billy Kay says that Scots is its own language and that’s good enough for me.

  5. Patience is a Virtue says:

    ‘If you are for English verses , there is, on my part an end of the matter … I have not that command of the language that I have of my native tongue. In fact, I think my ideas are more barren in English than in Scottish’


  6. Neil Anderson says:

    Stephen Daisley; yin thrawn, glaikit, dightit gowk. Noo, whit’s a language foreby?

  7. Indyvids says:

    If children start to learn a second language before the age of 8 it switches something on in the brain which makes it easier to learn other languages later in life. This is why learning other languages in primary school should be part of the curriculum in any outward looking society. It is also why the English are so famously crap at languages, they don’t start learning other languages till secondary school and then it is usually taught as rules of grammar rather than a means of communication. The Scottish government should wake up to this and start preparing our citizens for a role in the wider world.

    • Alex Wright says:

      That’s an interesting fact. Unfortunately, although we were the most enthusiastic self educated group of bairns, who put our heart and soul into learning a different language, we were about ten. Whegot ega fegufegan shegame.

      • donald6 says:

        I am telt that children who go to Gaelic nursery and schools have a distinct advantage, not only to learn in other languages, nut in their way of thinking.

  8. Brian Powell says:

    Daisley, Torrance and a cluster of journos in the Telegraph, Herald, Scotsman and now the Times suffer from a loss of place, they have been left behind.
    The self image as the Scottish voices has been shattered and now they whine: miserable, malice ridden and vindictive.

  9. m boyd says:

    Language I thought was always developed by interaction between different peoples or conquest. Scots developed through the Germanic invaders that arrived on these shores in the 6th century interwoven with the then cultural admix that was especially influenced by the Flemings later on. I dare anyone to watch the Belgian tv series Salamander and deny the influence on Scots of the Flemish intonation and language. The Scots word Oot, for eg, is clearly the Dutch for Uit (gang). In my own town we have the Nethergate ( low gate) see Nederland, the Overgate (above gate), the fleshers square ( Fleischer in German). The language was well established before Union with England and is clearly more Netherlandic Flemish in origin than the Anglo Norman French that has influenced the English. Put bluntly we are the true heirs of the Germanic language in this country and not the Norman French subjugated English.

  10. Golfnut says:

    Maybe Daisley could tell us just where and how the Queens English became the gold standard, who decided what, and which Queen should we blame for that God awful Essex hehaw or the monotone bbc dirge.

  11. Cloggins says:

    Fabulous and fascinating subject which has occupied me for some time. Originally speaking Dutch, learned German at 6, French at 8, English at 12; then some Latin, Greek andTurkish, followed by Spanish and now Scots.
    The latter is a difficult one as the grammar is so close. Whenever you try to say something in Scots you feel people will think you are taking the piss at their accent, because you are deviating from the familiar pattern of proper English. The easy way oot is to speak English with a midatlantic intonation, trying not to sound too beeb or too provincial. There are no winners in this game – you will always sound snooty. I have inlaws who speak Scots and I will have to adapt. At times it is uneasy. And I fully understand how difficult it must be for linguistically challenged Englishmen to make themselves understood without feeling silly. And having to pretend they understand what you just told them.
    The fact that a great number of words in Scottish are directly derived from Dutch, Flemish, Danish and German makes the language familiar for me, but unspeakably foreign to the English.
    There is no doubt at all that Scotland is blessed with three languages. Gaelic which is remote and self contained. Scottish, spoken by half the Scots on a daily basis but lacking uniformity of spelling. And English which is used as a lingua franca by all. Many English speakers living in Scotland have no feel for Scottish and stay in their own safe britbubble. The divide might be more social than linguistic.

    Bilingual signs in Gealic are not the answer. Signs in Scots would. It does not matter that there are fowr spelling varieties for one word. As long as the message gets through.

  12. Alf Baird says:

    Language oppression is a well established ‘British’ colonial strategy, ‘Russianization’ even.
    Scotland’s cultural cringe and No voting (i.e. lack of confidence etc) is largely a result of the absence of Scots language teaching.
    Many Scots can speak Scots but they remain ignorant on how to read and write in Scots, because the state does not lairn Scots bairns their ain mither tung in schuil. An Scots are telt bi oor colonial maisters thair ain langage is ‘slang’.
    Scotland’s largest ethnic immigrant group and elites (i.e. the English) do not therefore need to assimilate (i.e. learn Scots language) because the prevailing emphasis is that only English language allows people to ‘get on’ in life. Which implies those only having Scots language are discriminated against.
    Ultimately, if Scots fowk kent thay hid thair ain langage, thay’ed shuirly tak thair ain nation bak an aw, swift-lyke tae.

    • That was going to be my comment also, Alf Baird. When my husband started school (in 1944) he had no English at all and spoke only Gaelic. Only English was accepted at school so he had to learn it PDQ or be punished. As a result he can neither read nor write in his cradle language at all and has missed out on a wealth of wonderful literature and poetry as a result. Language oppression is the first step towards cultural genocide! Ask the First Nations of Canada ….

    • Maureen Luby says:

      Hi Alf. My granddaughter has been learning Scots in school (East Kilbride). We have bought her all the Roald Dahl books that have been translated e.g ‘The Eejits’ (The Idiots), ‘Geordie’s Mingin Medicine’ )(George’s Marvellous Medicine) etc.A wee bit of light at the end of the tunnel.

    • cirsium says:

      Also, Prussianisation. An example of the colonised mindset is the October 2013 statement of Lord Robertson during the IndyRef 1 campaign “In Flanders, in Belgium, they say “why can’t we become an independent state?” Or Catalonia, in Spain, where a million and a quarter people marched down the streets. They say they want to become an independent state, but they’ve got language, and culture, and all these sort of things — we [Scotland] don’t have any of that.”

      • Alastair Gunn says:

        Ah yes, one of those unionist arguments that collapses in a rather embarrassing heap when you look more closely at it! For if one accepts the idea that Scotland couldn’t possibly be an independent country because, amongst other reasons, it lacks it’s own language then in what position does that leave Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States of America?

  13. Alf Baird says:

    So, my proposed solution is to emulate what (bourgeois?) Gaels have secured, namely a ‘Scots Language (Scotland) Act which provides for:
    – Higher in Scots Language (as part of CfE)
    – Degree in Scots Language ( for those who wish to teach Scots)
    – Scots Language broadcasting channel
    – Scots Language Board ( to implement the above and more, funded)

  14. Alf Baird says:

    (Scots) Language is undoubtedly one of the keys to independence. Culture IS language, essentially, so without the Scots language there can be no (authentic) Scottish culture. Ken whit A meen?

  15. I think my education and profession – former United Nations translator – equip me to say pretty authoritatively that Scots is indeed a language. It is also one I wish I were more fluent in. Anyway, Paul is right on the money, as usual.

  16. Davy says:

    Weel I’m a Buchan loon and it is the Doric I speck, it has always been known as original old Scot’s to me. Folk like Daisley, well frankly the word earse in the Scottish spelling is an apt description of him and the rest of his yoon pals.

    And a bunch of right dirty earse’s they are too.

  17. chicmac says:

    Ignorance of the history of the Scots language is shameful, even if it is not the people’s shame but that of our establishment ‘correctors’ A.K.A. the SMSM.

    By illustration, here is a TV programme made in N.I. where, despite the political and historical sensitivities there, it is still deemed permittable. A surprising source no doubt, but nevertheless informative and entertaining in exactly the same way that BBC Jockland output is not.

    It still misses out a very important point though.

    By the time Malcolm III began the real spreading of ‘Inglis’ in Scotland (to further his ambitions of annexing Northumbria) Northern Inglis had already undergone a huge transformation due to Scandinavian invasions and influences. It was this ‘Inglis’ which was spread rather than the original Saxon first brought into the area some centuries before by the Bernicians.

    Also, in the ensuing centuries, the Scots version of Northern Inglis acquired thousands of Parisian French words as well as the Norman French brought by the Norman French to England, whereas in England there was political/cultural resistance to that. (‘The Brus’ being a prime example of the difference in use of Parisian French words).

    This was especially true in the South of England where the much more conservative West Saxon and the related Kentish continued to be used by the non ruling elite (who used Norman French).

    When Chaucer came along, or rather when he (and Gower) started popularising the use English (most of his life he had used French, Latin or middle-Italian) that really indicated the demise of those conservative Southern Saxon languages because Chaucer’s usage was far more related to Northern, or at least from the Midlands up, Scandinavian influenced versions of ‘English’.

    When you see things like ‘London English spread North’ it is really only from that point forward and even then arguably later. Before that, the influence was North to South. Chaucer himself spent several years in the service of the Duchess of Ulster and the de Burghs were closely related to the Bruces by marriage.

    To be fair, the transformation of Southern English by the influence of Chancery English may have already begun pre Chaucer, it is one of those chicken and egg things, but that changes not the message because Chancery English itself also invoked complaints from the more conservative speakers of the South for its inclusion of ‘Scotch’ words. Those pesky, prolific Scots Makars even included Chaucer as one of their own.

    Again, when Caxton decided to use those thousands of Parisian French loan words as already used by the Makars this also had a major impact on what was to become modern English.

    Paradoxically, Scots continued to evolve so in a sense became arguably less similar to modern English for a couple of hundred years or so until regnal and later political Union again reversed that trend.

    As pointed out in the above video, languages, by and large, do not recognise national borders. It is by far the norm. for nation states to have multiple languages within their boundaries.

    Mistaken national ownership of language can and does occur, leading to an artificially raised importance in terms of national cultural identity. Especially in nation states where the people are named after the language used like French, English or Welsh. Yes, ‘Scots’ is being used as a name for the Germanic branch language used in Scotland, but before that, it was used for the Celtic branch language used here when that was predominate. Naming the language after the people rather than vice versa seems to me an altogether more healthy World view.

    Hope to see you tomorrow (err tonight) in Forfar Paul.

  18. Cairnallochy says:

    The “oo” sound in Scots for the English “ow” sound is also a reflection of the point that Scots did not share the great vowel shift in English during the 15th or 16th century (I forget which). King Harold’s “huscarles” were occasionally given to “husbrikka”, the latter of which terms is a recognisable as a common contemporary offence ( although the modern offence may reflect the other Anglo – Saxon term which has come down to Scots as “hameso(a)ckin”.

    I once read an account of the linguistic and etymological contortions which lay behind the production of the first French Academy dictionary in the 1690’s, including the disagreements over the presence of the letter “g” in ” vingt” . This left me with the sense that standardised languages are essentially artificial constructs imposed on the living.

    Finally, I always suspect that the the kind of attitude you are discussing is the preserve – or indeed one of the defining qualities – of the monoglot.

  19. emilytom67 says:

    A helluva lot of Scots are in thrall of the English,their knees buckle and bend when in the company of their superiors,that is until they get a few bevvies into them,they then go and make complete a–es of themselves,most of these eejits forefathers fought and died for them all over the world,yet lie down to them like fcuking patsies.

  20. bedelsten says:

    What maybe upsetting poor Stephen is research that suggests bilingual babies learn faster than monolingual ones and many youngsters in Scotland are bilingual – Scots on the street and English in the School. This may leave those suffering from monolingualism as, presumably, poor Stephen does, with a profound inferiority complex. Shame. And we should not mock the inflicted.

    As a test, consider ‘Johnny Gibb Of Gushetneuk’ which, I suspect, would challenge anyone to deny Scots (OK this is Doric, which, it can be argued, is a dialect of Scots) is not a language – in that it will probably be incomprehensible to many.


    Click to access JGPage001-006Chp01.pdf

    “HEELY, heely, Tam, ye glaiket stirk—ye hinna on the hin’ shelvin’ o’ the cairt. Fat hae ye been haiverin’ at, min? That cauff saick ‘Il be tint owre the back door afore we win a mile fae hame. See’t yer belly-ban’ be ticht aneuch noo. Woo, lassie! Man, ye been makin’ a hantle mair adee about blaikin’ that graith o’ yours, an’ kaimin’ the mear’s tail, nor balancin’ yer cairt, an’ gettin’ the things packit in till’t.”
    “Sang, that’s nae vera easy deen, I can tell ye, wi’ sic a mengyie. o’ them. Faur’ll aw pit the puckle girss to the mear?”
    “Ou, fat’s the eese o’ that lang stoups ahin’, aw wud like to ken? Lay that bit bauk across, an’ syne tak’ the aul’ pleuch ryn there, an’ wup it ticht atween the stays ; we canna hae the beast’s meat trachel’t amo’ their feet. Foo muckle corn pat ye in
    “Four lippies—gweed mizzour—will that dee ? ”
    “We’se lat it be deein’. Is their trock a’ in noo, I won’er ?”
    “Nyod, seerly it is.”
    It was in the part of June, 1839, and Johnny Gibb was preparing to set out on his annual journey to “the Walls at Macduff.” He was, at the moment of the reader’s introduction to him, employed, with the assistance of his servant man, Tam Meerison, in “yokin’ the cairt,” preparatory to starting en route. The time was 4’30 A.M.
    Johnny Gibb was the tacksman of Gushetneuk, a two-horse “haudin” on the property of Sir Simon Frissal of Glen- snicker ; and he and his wife had spent the greater part of a very industrious lifetime on the place.

    • chicmac says:

      Here is a theory of mine.
      The most important function of language is, of course, communication. However it can be argued that the second most important function is lack of communication.

      What I mean by that is that although communication of information between members of a group (tribe, nation, professional body, cultural sub group etc.) is obviously advantageous to that group as a whole, when considering rival groups, depending on circumstances, like for instance where the same resources are competed for, it at some point becomes advantageous or is perceived to be advantageous that information in the possession of one’s own group is best not shared with that rival group, if possible.

      We have the examples of various Cants devised by groups with such information protecting motives. Criminal classes, Gypsies, Sub cultures.

      If there is a group instinct, a tendency to create such information protecting changes in their language, then that could explain why diversity occurs and at the pace it does.

      In particular, I note, that the interrogatives, which are of course of utmost importance in the sharing of information, would be amongst the first, if there is legs to that theory, to undergo such change.

      Note the V to W shift from German to English interrogatives.

      In regard to the Doric, we also see a similar shift for the interrogatives from W to F. Far? Fenn? Fit? Perhaps that indicates that Doric was in the early stages of becoming a separate language from Scots???

  21. webmasterhill says:

    Just back from a week in France. While I was there the language issue occurred to me. Knowing the Daisly-like Scots-language denier mantras, I was struck how, if you apply that to English and French you might even claim each to be a slang version of the other. Look at the common words (only pronounced differently or wrong) – connection, correction, question, arrive, – common words spelt a bit different – vu, lac, montagne, bier – common words shared – parking, café, hotel. I guess, if you’re a crazed pedant, like Daisley of his chums, you could make a case like that.

  22. Andy in Germany says:

    If people want to debate ‘what is a language’ and put other languages of the UK down, we could start with English: My German teacher used to tell us that English is no more than a dialect of Middle German with a mix of French, poor Latin and the odd Greek word thrown in.

    It is also funny that no-one in Germany attacks our dialect in the south and claims it is pointless. Mind you they do take the p*ss frequently…

    • Andy Anderson says:

      I speak German poorly but like Germany. Was there last week on holiday. Just starting a Babel couse in order to learn German.

      Anyway Andy your statement linking English to German is correct. English has its roots there along with Dutch and French.

  23. Marconatrix says:

    Honestly (and I’ve read quite a few linguistics books over the years), that was one of the clearest explanations of the differences between language, dialect, slang etc. that I’ve seen. Clear thinking and clear exposition of those thoughts seem to be rare commodities these days. Nice to seem you’re back on top form, WGD. 🙂

  24. Weechid says:

    Currently on I player. Deals in part, in an entertaining way, the great vowel change in English http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01sdty0

  25. Agatha Cat says:

    A language is a language if its speakers deem it to be one. Luxembourgish existed as “bad German” or a Rhineland “dialect”, until the 1990s when the government of Luxembourg afforded it official status. Many Yugoslavs spoke a language called Serbo-Croat until the 1990s and the breakup of the state. Now there are Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian and Montenegrin, all official languages, all following their own different paths of development. The Franco regime in Spain called Catalan “bad Spanish”. Frisian was “bad Dutch” or “bad German” depending on the part of Frisia someone lived. If Scots is “bad English”, then English must be “bad Dutch”, or can English ever be anything other than a magnificent vocal norm, the greatest gift the universe has ever been given.

  26. JockG says:

    Daisley is just a troll. This is spiteful stuff to appeal to the basest form of humanity, otherwise known as a Daily Mail reader. Ignoring his ill informed drivel is far better than sinking to his level by arguing the point.

    Daisley clearly has serious self esteem issues. He probably wants us to be angry with him but the only emotion he engenders in me is pity.

  27. I just tapped into the Jo Coburn/Sarah Smith Doublespeak item on the Daily Politics.
    Now this is how to manipulate the English language.
    As long as a BBC British Nationalist Propaganda merchant, and Coburn and Smith are pro Brexit British Nationalists par excellence, prefixes their latest SNP BAD item with ‘critics say’, then what the BBC actually announces is sold as the truth.
    Apparently we won’t be holding Indyref 2 until after the 2021 Scottish GE and only then if the SNP get a majority. Because Sarah Smith says so.
    NS and the4 BAED SNP are criticised by Sarah Smith, with noddy dogs agreement from JoCo in the Westminster British Nationalist BBC Studio, for not getting on with the day job, and education and health are shite Up Here by the way.

    No facts, no figures, just Sarah The British Nat mouthing headlines lies and exaggerations, with ‘critics say’ appended to somehow distance her from her clearly personal SNP BAD report.
    I know this thread is on dialects and language forms.
    But this blatant propaganda from the BBC in Plain English is the most insidious use of language to fool, bully, deride, and confuse, the issue of Scotland in the EU imaginable.

    Sarah Smith, we will be holding Indyref2 long before 2021, since England and Wales, your adopted Motherland, will be leaving the EU in March 2019, and we Scots who voted 62% Remain, demand the right to plot a different path.
    Good old BBC, it didn’t take them long to resurrect the ‘getting on with the day job’ trope did it?
    So there you have it.
    The official BBC announcement.
    There will be no Indyref2 until at least 2021 because Sarah Smith has willed it so.
    What a pathetic bunch of sell outs these Anglo Scots are.

    • Macart says:

      Heh. Usual suspects and their media moving into full spin cycle and they have reason to. The poor dears appear awfy nervous. Maybe just me, but that programme for government seemed to propose just that… a programme for government.

      Think about that, then ask yourself the obvious question. In fact pose yourself one or two more than that.

      How do you put clear water between two parliaments and two systems of government? How do you underline the case for independence without campaigning for it? How do you make clear the priorities and duties for a Scottish government?


      • Exactly, Sam.
        Nicola Sturgeon straddles two chariots, one as FM for Scotland, another as leader of a ‘UK’ Party fighting Scotland’s corner in the Brexit dogfight, but with one Finish Line in mind, an Independent Scotland within the EU.
        It is clear from Today’s BBC Westminster Bubblegum that the English Nationalist Establishment is being backed by the English MSM in their now inexorable drive out of Europe and into the arms of the US of A.
        It is also apparent that BBC will ignore Scotland and the wishes of its people.
        We don’t count. We will be subsumed into EngWaland when WM ‘takes back control’; or so they think.
        The sheer arrogance of Sarah Smith’s report outside the Scottish Parliament stretches any notion of a Frere Press.
        She is a bought and paid for Anglo Scot Mouthpiece.
        Baroness Smith in the offing, methinks.

        • Macart says:

          Never interrupt your opponent when they are making a catastrophic error. 🙂

          The meeja are over egging, as are the establishment parties. I think the FM caught them cold and its put the wind right up their wossiname. They don’t know how to respond appropriately to something they never counted on. Response? Deranged comes to mind.

          • If I knew how to do it, Sam, I would post an excellent gif which went the rounds recently, of a cartoon flock of headless chickens ….

            • Macart says:

              I think they’ve sussed the intent and not unsurprisingly are pretty much in a panic over it Wendy.

              They simply have no idea how to respond. 🙂

        • “Bought and sold for English gold …” there are still, it seems “a parcel o’ rogues” in our Nation!

        • Sarah Smith’s mother beat her to it! Been in unelected Lords 20 odd years and she’s still to give her maiden speech!

          Sarah Smith’s mother flies from Edinburgh down to London, every day the Lords sits, (at our expense) to claim her monthly expenses but makes no contribution, just sits there, mute as a post for 20 odd years.

          From memory I think Smith’s maw claims about £5200 per month the Lords sits. No bad.

          If Scotland became independent, Sarah Smith’s mother would lose her seat & privileges or she would have to move to England to keep her seat & retirement funded by rUK. She’s completely unelected and she never held public office in any way, shape or form.

          Sarah Smith clearly does not want her mother to become a liability to herself in her old age!

    • Jan Cowan says:

      Yes, Jack……..and Sarah Smith is one of the many reasons I don’t watch TV. But I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this blog and the many worthwhile comments. Thanks to all!

    • Andy Anderson says:

      That news article made me very annoyed.

      Who has been doing the day job for 10 years, the SG. Who has been going on about indyref, the WM parties.

      • Me too Andy! My 83 yr old mother was so angry at Smith’s usage of ‘get on with the day job’ (she & Coburn used it 6 times in total)! she stormed out the room saying ‘Jesus Christ – are we all Pavlov’s dogs? To be brainwashed? Never let me hear that woman’s voice again’.

  28. jacquescoleman says:

    I doubt if he’s paid very much now and not very often I’ll be bound. Maybe that is one of the sources of his bitterness. He thinks the Nats destroyed his ambition to be known as a great journalist. But the truth is he destroyed himself. Poor Daisley “I was a contender!”

    • Andy Anderson says:

      Great journalists with the Daily Mail? Never happens, as for Daisley he is a denier of his land, his Scotland. What a tube.

  29. Donald MacDonald says:

    You’ve studied this, haven’t you?

  30. Robert Kerr says:

    O/T, sorry.
    There was a one man Catalunyan presence in Glasgow Buchanan Street yesterday. I had a chat and shook his hand, wished them well on First of October and mentioned Paul and this blog.
    I showed him my lapel badge of the Saltire and EU Flag. We both agreed that the future of both our countries lies within the EU,

    Thanks again for your blog and all the contributors.

  31. Coincidentally, I was speaking yesterday to someone from Malta. ‘What is the language spoken on Malta?’ I asked. ‘

    ‘It has its own language, Maltese’, I was informed.

    ‘Really’, I said, ‘how fascinating. Does it borrow from other languages?’

    ‘Yes, but it’s closest relation is Arabic and indeed Arabic speakers coming to Malta are perfectly understood by a Maltese speaker. Malta of course does not use Arabic Script’.

    I was then shown a Malta Passport and written Maltese when I tried to read it aloud (and failing) did sound very like Arabic.

    I would not have dared, like the British Nationalist you write about, dreamed of insulting Malta by saying to my Maltese friend that Malta’s language does not exist and is just a dialect of Arabic!

    Where do all these British nationalist cringers come from? Scotland is plagued by them.

  32. BSA says:

    For people like Stephen Daisley everything we have must derive from England. Scots language is just part of the block grant ‘subsidy’.
    The Scandinavian languages are similar but none of these countries claims that the others are just speaking a dialect of their language. There is no overbearing neighbour denying their identity. The similarities between the languages do not prevent the Danes, for example, from calling their language Danish. They call it Danish because it’s the language that Danes speak. It’s all very simple and un self conscious in a Region of equals.

  33. Here was me thinking that English was merely a dialect of the Scots language.

  34. 1314 says:

    Aye oo.
    A’ oo?
    Aye a’ oo.
    A’ ae oo?
    Aye a’ ae oo.

    Because thir’s nae standert spellin/dialect mix o’ Scots, understandin the above* requires ee tae no jist understaund the spoken conversation, but tae ‘translate’ the spellin/dialect. That’s why articles written in Scots can be a real pain in the erse tae read – there’s nae standirt so yi’re busy translatin, and criticisin the spellin and dialect yaised – twae/twa, whair/whaur as no yir ain.

    *it becomes easier tae, tae (too, to) understand if ee’ ken it’s aboot an Aiberdeen worthy buyin’ a bunnet.

    ps onybody ken a wey o’ electrocutin’ the bastirt spell checker?

  35. Graham says:

    If you were being cynical – and truthful – you could say that Scottish and English are more and more just linguistic adjuncts of bastardised American verbal froth. Or suhhing. Dude. We are all yankees now tonguewise.

  36. CameronB says:

    Obviously, if one’s natural means of expression is considered subordinate to the dominant language form spoken, there will be a strong risk of harm to the individual’s self-imagination.

    This is a BIG factor behind the Cringe, IMHO. Can someone please ask David Torrence? He’s got a degree in psychology and shit, apparently.

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