2007 - 2022

English Speakers! We Want YOU!

We ken the nummers back tae front bi nou. Oot o five million fowk bidin in Scotland, 1.6 million self-identify as speakers o Scots. That’s hauners eneuch for ony fecht, eh no? But still it leas us wi a wheen o chiels wha dinnae speak Scots, or think they dinnae, or wish they didnae. (Like onybody, ah ken a Pythonesque bauchle or twa spends hauf their life tellin ony puir sowel wha’ll listen that they dinnae speak yon awfy Scots – in the guid, braid Scots their mither taught them.)
Masel, ah’m ayeweys inclined taewarts a wee bit o evangelism wi sic people – hiv ye heard aboot the guid news in the Scots Leid Dictionar? – but still ah’m awaur there’s a pickle o fowk wha, in aw guid faith, jist dinnae speak the leid. There’s nae creenge involved, nae denial o the self or onythin like that. It’s jist no something that wis pairt of their upbringin.

Ye’re mebbe yin o thae people yersel. Certes, if ye’re readin this, ah howp ye are. Nou, ah’m cawin ye English speakers here, but that’s no the full story. Ye’re speakers o aw kinds. Ye’re Urdu speakers, ye’re Polish speakers, ye’re German speakers, ye’re Welsh. An whitever yer story, there’s a fair wheen o ye oot there that are weel-wishers tae the Scots leid but dinnae ken whit tae dae aboot it. Ye’d like tae help, but ye’re no shuir hou.

Weel, gin ye think that yon descrives ye, this here’s oor recruitment call. Pictur, if ye will, this wee screed postit up ower the pyntin finger o Rabbie Burns, the glower o Shug MacDiarmid. English speakers o the warld! We want YOU tae jyne oor revolution! Tak the shilling the day, an help oor bonnie broukit bairn o a leid get back tae the tap table. We’ll even tell ye hou, in three easy steps.

Sae are ye dancin? Acause we’re askin.

1) Spreid the Guid Wird

In maist airts o life, ye ken, guid will disnae coont for ower muckle. ‘Meanin weel’ is the widden spoon o accomplishments, the consolation cuddly toy o the hapless an the hopeless. But politics is a warld o its ain, an a wee bit o guidwill fae ootside the camp can gan a lang wey taewarts grantin a cause a fair hearin oot.

It’s never been a want o money or kennin or even unnerstaunin that’s kept yin government efter anither fae heezin up the language. Whit’s aye pit Scots tae the back o the line has been the notion that non-speakers dinnae value it an are no scunnert whit befaws it. Let Scots speakers channer an yammer aw they like; sae lang as the high heid yins are afeart there’s votes tae be lost bi teachin schuilweans slang, they willnae lift a finger tae keep the leid alive.

Scots shoud get the same level o fundin as… Gaelic? Faslane? Finlay Carson’s website? No that it matters whit ye’re speirin efter, gin ye’re speirin in a guid Scots tongue. Well, you’re a Scots speaker, the faces read. You would say that. Sae it’s doon tae you lot. Ah’m no saying gan awa an scrieve tae yer MP or yer MSP or whaiver, awbeit ah widnae stop ye. But gin fowk are daein their pan in ettlin efter a wee bit tent for the tongue, please, like us, share us, retweet us. Let oor heid yins see that Scots is for mair than jist the speakers – for mair than jist the Scottish, even.

As Brian Clough yinst said, dinnae wait until we’re deid tae send us flooers. Gin ye think oor language matters, let us ken – an, mair important, let aabody else ken an aw.

2) Dinnae Apologise, Dinnae Explain

Whenever ye speak in Scots, there will aye be some guid sowels wha dinnae unnerstaun ye an act as if it’s their ain stupit fault. I’m really sorry, they’ll say. I’m so embarrassed. But leuk – yon’s nae cause for apology. If onythin, apologisin for no unnerstaunin Scots anely helps recast the issue intae somethin it’s shuirly no, a kittlie question o poleetical correctness an group identities.

It isnae your fault gin ye dinnae unnerstaun Scots, ony mair than gin ye dinnae ken Swahili or Aragonese. The anely reason that fowk say sorry, or think they’re bein ill-mannert bi no unnerstaunin, is that we’ve aw been fordert intae thinkin o Scots as a kind o socio-economic custom raither than a language, an that failin in its uptak is someweys disrespectful tae ither fowk’s cultur in the same wey as, likesay, weirin yer gutties intae a mosque.

There’s identity issues thirlt up wi the uise o Scots, nae dout aboot it. Tae growe up speakin Scots at hame an English at schuil can gar a life-lang psychodrama for ony bairn. But aw yon’s fir anither discussion. It disnae an cannae mak Scots intae some kind o wirkin-cless sacrament. It’s a tool like ony ither, for the uise of onybody that has the need o it – an no aabody daes.

3) Learn the Leid

Like ony guid charity mugger, ah’m gonnae tap aff ma spiel bi shootin for the muin. Speakers o ither tongues can dae a lot tae help, nae question o that. But the single biggest thing that onybody can dae tae help the leid is learn the leid.

Ah ken ah’m pittin ye on the spot here. Naebody’s speirin ye tae sign yer life awa, commit tae a coorse in twal easy instalments, or stairt daein aw yer Facebook updates in Doric. But gin ye’ve picked up a poem, a proverb, or even jist a wird or twa o Scots, nou’s the time tae pit them oot there, get them intae general circulation. An if ye hinnae ony Scots sayins o yer ain, here’s a haundy ane tae stairt ye aff – tak tent or it’s tint. Uise it or lose it.

Whit pits maist fowk aff learnin Scots isnae the time or darg that it involves. There’s loads o resources oot there – 1.6 million o them, at last coont – an it’s mebbe never been easier for learners tae pick up the leid fae scratch. Nah, whit staps fowk in their tracks is the convoyin bogle o cultural appropriation. It’s no ma place, fowk will say. Ah dinnae want tae offend onybody, fowk will say.

But forget aw that. Bi uisin the tongue, ye’re no appropriatin it, ye’re normalisin it. Ye’re makkin it intae a leid like ony ither, yin that’s learnt an spoken in aw the sindry accents o the kintra. An gin ye’re wirrit that ye micht be daein it wrang, weel, we’re aw daein it wrang. The anely thing mair ordinar tae a language than its everyday uise is its everyday misuise. It’s mair o that we’re needin, no less.

An as for it bein awfy haird tae learn anither language, weel, wha’s kiddin wha? Gin ye’ve read this faur, ye’re haufwey there awready.


There’s nothing mair by-the-by in sport these days than supportin a second team. Yer Man Uniteds, yer Barcelonas; they’ve millions o life-lang supporters wha’ve never been tae the fitba grund an never seen them play. Be cynical if ye like. But we’ve ower much luve in oor herts, these days, tae save it for jist the yin cause.

Sae, English speakers, Polish speakers, gabbers o Punjabi an Cantonese. Aw we’re askin is, think o Scots as bein yer second team. Jyne the club, add us tae yer wee portfolio o things ye care aboot. Ye micht never learn the history, or mak it tae a gemme, but dinnae let that stap ye fae weirin the kit an follaein the Twitter an celebratin oor victories like they wir yer ain. Acause they are. Yer first team – weel, yon’s an accident o birth. But it’s yer second team that’s wha ye’ve chose tae be.



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Comments (14)

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  1. Adrian Roper says:

    Ah’m wie ye, Tam, aw the way. An ah’m fae Wales. Gie us yer email address an ah’ll send ye a poem ah screived in Scots aboot Mary Hamiltoun haein her heid taen aff by Peter the Great.

  2. Jamie Smith says:

    Weel pit!

  3. SleepingDog says:

    I have learnt something of variants of English or translations with Welsh or Irish Gaelic names/spellings in the past to read folk tales, myths and legends, or plays and literature from past centuries with different usages. If people are going to pick up Scots, then I guess they should be offered some reward in accessing cultural artefacts. But if their motivation is not that great, then I think you need to provide easier gateway routes than poems (I did a Burns course and would not have understood some poems without substantial assistance, partly because one used a specific vocabulary of Ayrshire agricultural terms).

    Following Bella Caledonia’s recent statement on direction, I think this needs to involve more of the visual arts, including comic strips, animation, and from my perspective very importantly computer games (with cross-generation appeal). Ideally these would have resonance with both Scottish and universal themes. I think that non-urban, historical and mythic settings may have an advantage for gateway creations. If you consider how much linguistic underpinning went into JRR Tolkein’s Middle Earth stories, and how readers accepted/embraced these foreign languages right up to the present when popular computer games are being based on that world, then perhaps we are awaiting a similar endeavour in Scots (possibly in conjunction with Gaelic and other languages in a multi-lingual world setting). Star Trek’s Klingon language is another example of how linguistic diversity in a cultural product is (presumably) seen to add authenticity, diversity and texture.

    (This is different from localisation — also a good idea — where an artefact can be experienced in a choice of languages/dialects.)

    So: gripping content; re-usable worlds and conventions so learning is built upon; visual support for learning new and skipping by difficult words; some multi-lingual artefacts to take the strain out of interpretation by interspersing more familiar language; some interactivity (in games, perhaps choosing the right object by Scots name); relevance to some rooted Scottish culture without sacrificing universality; full accessibility support (subtitles, glossaries, phonetics); integration with modern digital technology; cross-generational appeal to boost discussion/reminiscence.

    1. Thanks – all good – “I think this needs to involve more of the visual arts, including comic strips, animation, and from my perspective very importantly computer games” – Yes and yes to this (but we need the support to do it!)

  4. Matt Seattle says:

    In my recent musical anthology for Border pipes (Geordie Syme’s Paircel o Tunes) I was guided in my musical choices by Rob the Ranter, the Border piper who features in Maggie Lauder’s song.

    Rob being an 18th century character from the Border, it was important that his guidance should be couched in a recognisably Border voice. Bein Inglis masel wi a shoogly haud on the Scots leid, A speired at ma freins Brian Holton (Gala) an Ian Landles (Hawick) ti help wi the ongauns.

    We do what we can in our own way. Oo dae whit oo can efter oor ain wey.

  5. Robert Peacock says:

    I did my undergrad dissertation on Scots, and use a few phrases here and there but if I try full Scots sentences in my Yorkshire accent it just sounds like I’m taking the piss! Don’t know how you get round that! So, aye in theory, ah wid love tae speak Scots but ah cannae!

    1. Seumas MacDhòmhnall says:

      Gif the accent’s the maiter, there be nae problem writin, wad there?

    2. Ally says:

      Aaricht Rab?

      I bide in aiberdeen, whaur there’s loads o white settlers up fae England. The majority hae sterted usin Scots wirds, phrases an aa the rest. They dinnae sound lke they are takkin the piss, an they get kudos fir daein it.

      Dinnae worry aboot the occasional wee dick that gies it the “yir English yir no allowed tae spik like us” crack. That’s their sense o cultural inferiority spikkin, naethin else.

      Also; braw airticle Tam, weel dune!

      1. Robert Peacock says:

        Aye, ah ken whit yir sayin Ally. Ah guess there’s nae harm in giein it a try!

  6. James Lynn . says:

    Keep up the good work .
    I enjoyed reading it and understood most of it . Pleade keep me imformed

  7. Alf Baird says:

    Aye yet nae seegnal nor snifter o ony Holyrood ‘Scots Language (Scotland) Bill’, e’en efter 10 year o an SNP admeenistration. Plain as parritch thon fouterin Cultur Secretar an Langage Meenister daesna conseeder Scots langage sae wirthy o an Act o Pairlament lyke thay MSPs aw votet fer Gaelic awfu swith-lyke tae bak in 2005. Thon wifie shuid be gey affrontit tae sling a deifie tae oor leid an haud it doon, juist lyke oor Westminster colonial maisters wid nae doot approve whan thay haud it doon lang afore. Oor fowks cultur is oor langage, an oor langage is Scots! Whaurs oor Scots Language Act?

  8. Ned McNedderson says:

    Aw whit man? How is there no a fuckin ginormous pile o’ articles in pure ned dialect ya fuckin rockets? Pure shite man. Yer maw.

  9. SleepingDog says:

    Having given this some thought: Scots may also be (in a minority of cases) the language of abuse. For those who are experiencing and escaping from (verbal) abuse (male or female), language hurts. Without attempting to make a wider point, I think that linguistic cruelty (or indifference) should be considered as relevant here.

  10. Race MoChridhe says:

    Tam, A’m wi ye, pynt bi pynt an aw, bit A think thair’s a dimeension o the problem that’s owerleukit heir. Gin ye’ll indulge me a few meenits tae read a lang reply, A’d lik tae mak a crave in repone tae yer ain an tak yer thochts oan it.

    Ma mither’s faimilie cam tae Americae afore the Revolution, but thay niver forgat Kintyre. Lik millions o ithers heir, thay tellt tales o the brawness o Scotland an makkit thair pilgrimages tae the clan’s auld castle (hauden nou bi the Trust). On this cheek o the sea, thay kilted thairsels, trained as pipies, organised Scots gemmes in thair touns, an rade verse at Burns’ Nicht, but wi ilka passand generation, the wirds o thae poems becam derner an derner until thay war readen, lik the Vedas o the Hindus, mair for the mystic virr o thair soond nor for onie meanin. As a bairn at New Year’s, ma prood “Scottish” mither tellt me that the wirds “auld lang syne” were “English so old nobody remembers what it means”.

    This is a common storie in Americae, no anelie for Scots, but for awbodie that cam frae ilka pairt o the warld. Tae Scots in Scotland, houaniver, A daena need tae tell it. Few fowks kens sae weel whit it is tae loss a leid, haein twice smidit thair ain and neir twice lost it. The wark that haes been daun in Scotland in the lest hunder year, baith tae sauf Gaelic an tae sauf Scots, is impressive, bit the fact bydes that leids leeve an dee bi the nummer o thair speakers, and that baith Gaelic an Scots need mair gin thay ar tae lest the neist centurie. Gaelic is a richt haurd sale tae thae that haena lairned it as weans, but Scots is couthie an fameeliar. For thae o us that haes awreadies been drount in the teem o Inglis, Scots seems, throu its common ruits, tae gie us back something o wirsels that we awn in the meetin. It is a hale ither leid appenan on a hale ither warld, an yet it disna feel fremit.

    A canna but think o the tens (aiblins hunders) o thoosands weirand thair kilts an tossand thair cabers in Americae an Canadae, in Australie an New Zealand, an in ither neuks of the warld anaw, that cud suin yaup for Scots buiks an magazines, for Scots radio an telly. The tens o thoosands that wad blythelie jyne thairsels tae a new generation o speakers an scrievers an play thair pairt in the restoration o Scots frae lichtlied dialect tae great warld langage. Thir is tens o thoosands that hae niver felt the “Scottish cringe”—tens o thoosands for wham Scots hae anelie iver been a leid o cultur an prestige, the leid o great makars an leegendar kings. Hou glad thay wad be tae lowp intae the fecht asyd thair beleaguered kin in the auld kintrae an tae skail ink for Scotland’s linguistic scowth!

    An yet thay staund stymied, hauflins bi the best ettles o thair kin. In Scotland, the strauchle is tae gainstaund the draig o Inglis—a strauchle fochten lang syne agin the imposeetion o a staundart form o speech an writin. A bodie hauds fest on the Scots lairned as a bairn, for it is the ae shuir rock in the mids o the rampagand watters o Englifeein. This lealtie is richt an halesome, an a wudna dream tae haud it agin onybodie. For the Scots in Scotland, the shuirest wey is, an maun aye be, tae speak the Scots thay heard at thair mither’s knee, sae a cudna gree mair wi ye whan, in yer Scots Manifesto [https://dev.bellacaledonia.org.uk/2016/12/06/a-scots-manifesto/], ye write that ‘Scots is whit happens when A) Somebody self-identifies as a speaker o Scots, an B) They open their yap.’ A’m sair waur, houiver, that yer ‘somebody’ isna me. It canna be me, kis gin it war, Scots wad, on a guid day, be a taupie pastiche o yaisage frae Burns, MacDiarmid, the SLS recommends, an Mary, Queen o Scots. On a bad day, or a unfameeliar topic, it wad be a fyachie American impersonation o Tim the Enchanter. Inglis is in ma bluid, and in ma mou it threitens aye tae consume Scots hale. Yer ‘somebody’ can be the refugee wha lairns ‘jaicket’, as ye hae merkit, or it can be Paul Malgrati, [https://dev.bellacaledonia.org.uk/2016/11/29/the-unco-leid-stravaigin-in-a-tongue-that-wisnae-ma-mithers/] the fremit student at Sanct Aundraes; thay come frae the ootland but byde in Scotland, and sae thay lairn in dialect, mebbes no frae thair ain mithers, but frae somebody’s.

    But ma mither didna speak Scots an neither did the mither o onybodie A ever met. Sae whan ye write that ‘there willnae be mony guid reasons for a speaker o an existin dialect tae learn the [hypothetical] standard’, whilk is true, again ye’rna knapand aboot me. Sae lang as mither’s-knee Scots bydes as the ae de facto staundart o richt an wrang yaisage, ma Scots, lik the Scots o thoosands lik me, wul be wrang bi defineetion. It is this taiglan dout, mair nor baise anent the leid itsel, that hinders wir ettles tae forder Scots in the ootland an tae inspire wir kin tae speak it prood. Insteid, wi find wirsels petrifee’d bi wir ain sense o fauseheid, afeart tae speak least we, in an wierdit jummlinn o dialects, mak o thaim a Frankenstein monster.

    Ma pleadin, than, tae ye an aw ma kin ayont the sea is this: help us tae help yese. Gie us a staundart Scots that we can speak amang yese siccarlie—a staundart no as something abuin the dialects, but as a dialect amang thaim, a dialect for the diaspora. Ye’r evendoun richt that ‘it’s local raither than national pride that’s kept Scots alive this lang’, but in the ootland things is different. Can yese no come thegither tae mak us this handsel—that the hale o Scotland shud, juist ance, speak tae us wi ane vyce as wir mither? Whan the wark is duin yese can gae back tae yer ain hooses in yer ain neuks o the kintrae tae speak an spell as yese please, an nane sall ginsay yer richt, but tae hae gien us forms for the wirds an a style on the page that we can ken in wir herts isna wir ain butchin, but yer bequest, wul mak aw the difference in the warld—a warld whaur Scots wul be heard on ilka continent.

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