2007 - 2021

A Scots Manifesto

saint-andrews-day-doodleAs Scotland cringes and girns its wey through anither St Andra’s Day, Thomas Clark lays oot a road map for the Scots leid.

Weel, that hale St Andra’s Day business wis a load o fash ower naething, wis it no? It ayeweys is. If it hadnae been for Google, an its dodgy animation o a saltire anenst a wheen o Balamory landscapes, ah micht no even hae myndit it wis oor national day.

Ah’m no girnin, like. Whit there wis o St Andra’s Day wis eneuch tae pit ye aff fir life. Ah mean, even at the best o times the boys athwart the Irish Sea hiv got us beat hauns doon when it comes tae this kind o thing – an, in case ye hivnae noticed, these are no the best o times. The maist we could pit on, bi wey o entertainment, wis the usual hantle o poleetical cairpetbaggin, the noo semi-annual laundgrab for oor national seembols. Tap o the caird wis a richt wee stushie ower the saltire, baith sides glaumin theirsels a haunfu an pullin awa like wifies at a jumble sale. Ah dinnae ken how the judges wound up scorin that yin, but there wis plenty mair prizes up for grabs, an efter a wee roll in the stour maist o the heid bummers cam awa happy eneuch wi their winnins.

Burns, the kilt, auld Wattie Scott – aw duly claimed, aw taen awa. Anely yin item, yon conteenual white elephant o Scottish cultural identity, wis baggsied bi naebody. An for the thoosandth year in succession (but wha’s coontin?) the gift o Scots wis passed on bi oor high heid yins in much the same vein as a deid bird trauchelt in bi an unfavoured cat.

But so whit, eh? Hell mend them, that’s whit ah say. Tae be appropriatit asa seembol is haufgates alang the road tae bein established as a relic; an ah’m no wantin ma language stuck in a museum, no while ah’m still uisin it. Seembols hiv got their place in the warld, but ye ayeweys hiv tae be speirin efter whit they seembolise. Gin we leave the meanin o Scots in theweaponisin hauns o the politeecians, the leid is liable tae become naething mair than a Scout badge, a muckle foam finger its speakers use tae point at theirsels. The medium, in ither wirds, will become the message.

“an ah’m no wantin ma language stuck in a museum, no while ah’m still uisin it. Seembols hiv got their place in the warld, but ye ayeweys hiv tae be speirin efter whit they seembolise. Gin we leave the meanin o Scots in theweaponisin hauns o the politeecians, the leid is liable tae become naething mair than a Scout badge, a muckle foam finger its speakers use tae point at theirsels. The medium, in ither wirds, will become the message”

So in order tae prevent that, ah’ve devised masel a wee manifesto o $ve points for the futur o the leid. Ah’m no recommendin it for public uise – like ma singin, it’s nae better than it needs tae be tae please masel. But it’ll dae tae be gettin on wi.

1. Scots is a language.

Ah mynd o a detective story, wan o thae Faither Broon yins, where auld Broony blaws the whistle on a kid-on priest when he teirs intae the notion o reason. That’s ‘bad theology’, he tells the assembly, an nae wicelike priest wad dae it.Ah kind o jalouse the honest faither wad be left staunin on his heid bi some o the havers that’s passed as ‘guid theology’ nouadays, never mind the violence that’s been done tae the notion o reason. But the point is this- a priest that sets hissel anenst reason is on the same shoogly peg as a Scots speaker that claims Scots is no a language.Nou, ah’m somebody likes tae juist go wi the 1ow. Live an let live, that’s aye been ma motto. So gin aabody else is satis$ed that Scots is a language, ah’m happy tae mak it unanimous. It’s juist… Weel, ah’m no awfy certain that it’s a helpfu conceit tae hing ontae

Ye see, when ah meet a prood speaker o an English dialect, a Yorkshireman or a Geordie or whit hiv ye, an they hail me as a fellae traiveller, ah find it awfu haird tae juist say tae them “Aye, but the difference atween me an you is that Scots is a language. Awa ye go back tae yer dialect cupboard.” When it comes tae that kind o argument, ah’m mair used tae bein at the pointy end o the sword, an ah’m mair comfortable there anaw.

The odds atween a leid an a dialect micht be important legally or historically, but in maist ither weys the difference is semantic an, weel, trivial. Scots is first an foremaist a mode o communication, an the meisure o its wirth is no in hou mony linguists or politeecians concur that it’s a leid, but in the notions that it’s employed tae set forrit. Richt nou, ower mony o the things Scots is used for are aboot pittin doon fowk wha dinnae scrieve Scots accordin tae the rules, which is tae say everybody wha wis never taucht it formally, which is tae say everybody. An that’s nae guid.

So aye. Scots is a language, an that’s the end o that. Big hauns aw roond, weel din tae aw concernt. But let’s crack on.

2. Gin Scots is a language, it’s the language that we’re speakin nou.

Ah heard a wee lass in the library the ither day explainin tae her pal how this Roald Dahl book had aw the wrang wirds in it. She didnae ken the first thing aboot Scots, apairt fae how tae speak it an read it an like as no tae write it, but she had a guid shot at describin it onywey.

“It’s… It’s as if somebody’s wrote it doon,” she said, “The wey that juist normal people talk.”

An ah cannae beat that. Gin Scots is onything, it’s got tae be the wey we’re aw talkin richt nou. Awricht, gin we’re wantin Scots tae be how James VI wis spraffin fower hunner year ago, that’s fine. Or if we’re thinkin that Scots is six fowk in Aiberdeen self-consciously sayin “square-wricht” when they mean “jiner”, weel, that’s okiedokie tae. But whit we’ve got then is no a language; it’s a hobby.

Definin Scots has lang been a kittlie business. Ye never hiv tae leuk faur for a weel-meanin citizen tae tell ye whit isnae Scots, mind. Yon is Scottish English; yon is Glesga slang; yon is juist a mixtur-maxtur. Scots, bi implication, is whitiver’s left efter the censor’s capped his red pen. Weel, intae the vacuum o ideas, ah bung this yin; definition bi usage. Fae here on in, Scots is whit happens when A) Somebody self-identifies as a speaker o Scots, an B) They open their yap. It’s no perfect, but ken whit, at least it’ll gie us a language that stems fae people, no fae dictionaries.

3. Dialects first. Scots leid second.

Twa hunner odd year ago, the lawyers an politeecians an royalfowk o Scotland decidit amang theirsels that the Scots language wisnae fit for purpose ony mair – it wis awfy parochial – so they papped it in the midden an forgot aw aboot it.
So whit kept it alive fae then tae nou? Naethin but the spoken dialects o the wirkin classes. Borders Scots, Glesga Scots, Dundonian an Doric an Orkney Scots; these were the life-support machines that saved the tongue fae oblivion. These are the reasons wiv a language left tae talk abbot.

O coorse, when the absentee landlairds o the leid finally came back, it wisnae tae dole oot haunshakes an pats on the back. Raither, the tacit implication wis that Scots had been alloued tae run tae rack an ruin like an auld hairst-field, an that somethin wad need tae be done tae strauchten oot the guddle. Frae the sindry strains o local dialect that had been permittit tae sproot up, some new Procrustean Scots wad hiv tae be synthesised, an aabody encouraged tae speak it.

Ah said afore that ah wisnae keen on ony kind o linguistic hierarchies settin language ower dialect, an onywey, the fact is it’s local raither than national pride that’s kept Scots alive this lang. So bearin in mind the primacy o dialect in the story o Scots, there’s nae reason no tae juist cowp yon pyramid for guid.

“Dialects are whit maitters in Scots, local yins, even personal yins. The Scots leid itsel is no the destination, juist the gateway, like the basic edition o software that’s had aw the features stripped oot, an entry point for beginners. An sae lang as oor dialects are mutually intelligible, which they are, ah ween we’ll get alang juist fine.”

Don’t get me wrang. There micht be plenty o guid reasons tae devise a Standart Scots, an ah’m no arguin that there shouldnae be ane. It’s juist that, faur as ah can see, there willnae be mony guid reasons for a speaker o an existin dialect tae learn the standard, an we micht as weel get that made plain richt frae the get-go.

4. Scots belongs tae naebody.

Language is chyngin, thanks tae mony things, no least o aw the Internet. Sae faur that’s been the stairtin-point for a lot o breest-beatin aboot the decline o standarts an no an awfy lot else. The notion that there micht be some kind o artistic or even practical value in adaptin or ignorin the rules is somethin that disnae really much get air time. But there are possibilities there, an whit we really need tae explore yon possibilities is a leid that exists purely in the frontier territories, oot in the linguistic badlands unclaimed bi governments.

Champions o the Scots leid are ayeweys ettlin efter weys tae posit Scots as nae mair nor less than a fully viable alternative tae English. That’s fine, but it ayeweys winds up brandin Scots as a sort o piggyback product, an English Lite, or Ah Cannae Believe It’s No English! It wad be faur better gin we stairtit flaggin up the weys in which Scots is different, an this is the big yin; that naebody else wants it.

Neither o oor governments is at aw interestit in Scots, an there’s nae authority wants tae tak on the responsibeelity o curatin it an teachin it, tellin fowk whit it can an cannae be used for. Ach, nou an then ye’ll get the odd body wants tae tell ye how tae spell “how”, but it’s no exactly the Oxford English Dictionary. It’s no the Academie francaise. Juist some wee bauchle wi ower much time on his hauns. Ye’re needin tae toughen up a bit if ye’re gonnae let that pit ye aff.

Because, like ah say, something guid micht come o fowk explorin the boondaries o Scots – artistically, ah mean, but in ither weys as well. If naething else, the notion that a thing willnae gaun automatically tae bits if there isnae an auld white carle in chairge o it wad be a guid thing tae hae representit in the actual warld, somewhaur or ither.

5. Scots belongs tae aabody.

An here’s the thing. Gin nane o aw that appeals tae ye – if ye’re the kind o chiel that likes things tae hae a bit mair structure tae them – ye can gan richt aheid an mak it happen. Naebody will stap ye. Sae lang as ye’re no kiddin yersel (or onybody else) that whit ye’re daein is in some wey prescriptive, ye can knock yersel oot. Acause gin ye’ve read this faur, an unnerstood the hauf o it (or even tried tae), Scots belangs tae you as much as tae onybody.
The free use o Scots micht no produce the great wirks o art ah howp it will. But tae be free in ony wey maks chynges in us, augments oor capacity for freedom in ither weys. The burden o proof is never anenst the side o liberty. Freedom disnae hae its reasons. Freedom is the reason.

An Scots is free. Fae the native speaker tae the refugee wha learns “jaicket” insteid o “jacket”, Scots belangs tae aabody. Maist things dae, o coorse, but yince they’ve fell intae the wrang hauns, it can be gey haird tae prize them back oot. An it’s gettin hairder. There’s no much a wean growin up in Glesga the day will get gied tae them on a plate, no even their mither’s milk. Mebbes no even a mither. But if a bairn has naething but a guid Scots tongue, she still has yin thing that nae English speaker ever will – a language aw o her ain.

Comments (7)

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  1. Alf Baird says:

    Whit yer saying is fine as it staunds. But A wid still insist on the need tae hiv a ‘Scots Language (Scotland) Act’, tae gie aw Scots fowk equaliti wi Englis an Gaelic. Till than, Scots fowk wid juist thole conteenual cultural owergang.

  2. Clive Young says:

    A doot ye’re luikin fur a response eh Tammas, sae I’ll pit forrit a wee bit differin view. No pittin yer wark it doon, BTW, there muckle A’m wi ye on.

    First aff this manifesto – an A ken it is personal – minds me o Creative Scotland’s 2013 Scots Leid Policie (awbeit rewritten in muckle better Scots), sae ye cud sey it sets oot the current ‘orthodox’ or cultural establishment view o the language.

    “Scots is whit happens when A) Somebody self-identifies as a speaker o Scots, an B) They open their yap. It’s no perfect, but ken whit, at least it’ll gie us a language that stems fae people, no fae dictionaries”.

    Am wi ye maistlie but, but TBH #scotsdicitionariesbad is a bit auld-farrant noo an gangs back tae the Lallans ‘dictionary-howkin’ stushie afore onie o us wis born. In fack there noo monie richt guid dictionaries (in book form an online) o modren spoken Scots. Jist takkin ane, the Essential Scots Dictionary cam oot as a scuils dictionary 20 year syne, is magic an there near naethin in it A dinna recognise frae ma ain spoken Scots backgrun (maistlie Fife/Pairthshire). Sae tae say ‘a language that stems fae people, no fae dictionaries” disna mak a hale lot o sense nooadays.

    “Dialects first. Scots leid second”

    A’ve warked aw ower Scotland the differences atween dialects is wey, wey ower-selt, tae ma lugs onieweys, an ‘pure’ Dundee/Aiberdeen/Fife is getting mair an mair hard tae find. Mairower dialectication, the haudin-doon o a stannert, leadin tae the brekkin-up o a aince unified tongue is form o control. We shud aw caw cannie aboot biggin thon dynamic up onie mair. Keeps Scots doon in the scheuch, whaur monie fowk wid like it tae stey. Naethin at aw wrang wi sindie spoken dialects o coorse but ye need written stannerts tae tak the tung forrit, there nae wey roon it.

    “Ach, nou an then ye’ll get the odd body wants tae tell ye how tae spell “how”, but it’s no exactly the Oxford English Dictionary. It’s no the Academie francaise. Juist some wee bauchle wi ower much time on his hauns.”

    Er, whit aboot the Scottish Language Dictionaries scholarly wark tae document baith historical an modern Scots in a easy-tae-use form? Whit aboot the monie brilliant online dictionaries, grammars, thesauri and the Luath Scots Language Learner? Whit aboot the guid modern Scots prose o the Scots Language Centre? Is this aw the wark o “wee bauchles” that can jist be thrawn in the midden by some kin o linguistic relativism? Soons tae me a quick skite intae anti-intellectualism, jist whit we dinna need.

    In short Scots disna hae tae be a free-mairket jist-mak-oniethin-up ‘nae-stannerts is guid’ hauf-a-language onie mair. Ye can treat Scots thon wey fur braw artistic reasons if ye like, but it isna the ainlie wey, an fowk shud ken that.

    1. Tammas Clark says:

      Cheers fir yer thochts, Clive. Ah ween the odds atween us is mair a maitter o emphasis than content. Ah’m aw fir a Standart Scots, an ah’d tak it as read that dictionaries are guid an uissfu things. (Ah think Scots dialect is daein a bit better in the warld than you dae, but that’s juist ma experience.) Ah’m no fir the dingin doun o dictionaries; ah’m no fir the dingin doun o onythin, in fact. But fir reasons baith ethical an practical, the uisers o the leid hiv ayeweys got tae come first. Nae dout we’d mebbe differ on whit that wad leuk like, but ah jalouse we’d agree on the central pynt.

  3. A contrary view says:

    Good thought-provoking article… but I would tend to disagree with some of the ideas

    2. Gin Scots is a language, it’s the language that we’re speakin nou

    I worry about this one. Scots and English are closely related and often mutually intelligible. Some people speak one or the other as a mother tongue. Others are bilingual and can code-switch. But I think a lot of people in Scotland just speak a mish-mash of Scots and English, and don’t think about the difference except when they become aware somebody else does’t know a particular word.

    I foresee two futures for Scots.

    There’s one in which it slowly merges into global English as successive generations continue to lose their vocabulary in a media environment saturated with English. A vowel change here. A word substitution there. Small mutuations in the way people speak over time that increase mutual intelligibility with English. (It’s an unusual end as most languages to die in the 21st century (mostly languages of small ethic groups with little economic or cultural power) are likely to go extinct because they’re speakers switch to state-languages or global lingua francas, rather than imperceptabily merge over time).

    There’s another in which Scots speakers decide to get organised… just as the Norwegians did with nynorsk, just as the gaels did when they hashed out a standard from their dialects. They acknowledge the immense cultural productivity of English, its mutual intelligibility with Scots, the fact that most Scots speakers speak English, that the media environment is saturated with English. They ackowledge that each generation is losing more Scots vocabulary. That the prospects aren’t that great for the future and that a huge amount of work is required if Scots is to survive. That a lack of a standard stops adults learning, and it stops schools teaching. It affects the seriousness with which non-speakers treat or consider the leid. They realise that they need to reinvent Scots as a ‘minority language’, rather than a mass language everyone already speaks but can’t comfortably read or confidently write. That Scots needs ‘work’ (language planning)… just as Gaelic, French, Nynorsk, Hebrew and countless others have had all had.

    Just my two visions…

    1. norwaywalker says:

      It wisnae jist nynorsk that the Norwegians chynged efter independence. Syne that, mest o them spoke Danish, but wi their ain pronunciation. Much like Scots wi English.

      Efter independance, they made their ain leid – bokmål – wi their ain spellin an grammar. Nu they hae mony varieties o bokmål, each wi its ain wye o speakin an screivin.

      1. Alf Baird says:

        Braw stuff Norwaywalker, yer richt thair, an e’en a glaikit laddie lyke masel kens Danish an Nowegian tae bi soondin unalike. Scots fowk hae tae vailyie an respekt thair ain langage an thon stairts wi Holyrood bringin forrit a Scots Language (Scotland) Act. Ower tae ye Scottish Government ‘Language Meenister’, time tae muive yer easy-oasy airse!

  4. ramstam says:

    Politicians jalouse the issue o Scots tae be a minefield.
    Maist think it cuid loss thaim votes. I think they’re wrang but the political estaiblishment winna
    tak the risk. Discrimination on the grunds o the leid ye speik is shairly a human richts issue.

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