2007 - 2021

North by Northeast

A significant new initiative is launched this week to support and develop the Scots language.

On the 28th of March a new body will be launched to improve the attitude to, visibility and promotion of the Scots leid. The North-East Scots Language Board will have its official launch at the University of Aberdeen, the spiritual and administrative heart of the body. It will be based out of the Elphinstone Institute at the University of Aberdeen, but its executive board includes representatives of Robert Gordon University, Aberdeenshire council and a member of the media.

According to the 2011 census, 1.6 million people in Scotland speak Scots, but the figure is likely higher than that. The greatest concentration of Scots speakers are found between the waters of the River Tay and Moray Firth. In this area 50% of the population use Scots.

It is to represent this region that the North-East Scots Language Board has been founded.

The North-East is very much the heartland for Scots, as the Hebrides are for Gaelic. For this reason the NESLB will focus resources on improving the status and use of Scots in the area.

Bella’s Scots editor, Alistair Heather said:

“It has similarities to the Gaeltacht in the west. However, the Gaeltacht was unaware of itself until quite recently. Folk in Harris thought that people in Oban and Ullapool spoke totally different, incomprehensible Gaelic to them, and were just through-and-through different. Then Radio nan Gael came along, and let all the folk of the west hear each other’s’ Gaelic, and listen to their thoughts and realised how similar they were. Through this, the Gaelic revival was born.”

The intention is not for the focus on the North-East to be to the exclusion of other areas (yes Ayrshire I’m looking at you), but to offer a foothold / stronghold that could be replicated elsewhere.

This isn’t a Scots ghetto but a Northern Powerhouse, to coin a phrase.

Dr Tom McKean, Director of the Elphinstone Institute and member of the NESLB, outlined his aims:

“The Board, wi representatives fae the Varsity o Aiberdeen, Robert Gordon University, Angus, Moray, Aiberdeen City and Shire, alang wi fowk fa either public bodies an the media, will heeze up aa the dialects o North-East Scots, fae Doric tae Mearns, fae Aiberdeen tae Angus. Through wirk wi scuils we’ll mak the tongue mair accessible tae bairns, an through media, tourism an signage we’ll mak Scots mair visible tae aabdy that bides here. We are launchin a new Scots Leid course at Aiberdeen. Soon, students fae aa owre the warld that attend varsity here will be able tae study an learn the Scots leid.”

The NESLB will also be working with partners to foster the development of a national board.

Michael Hance, Director of the Scots Language Centre welcomed the launch of the new organisation. “As an Aiberdeen loon masel I’m affa pleased tae hear aboot this initiative in the North East. There’s nae quaistion that locally based language projects maks sense. Scots is maistly understood by fowk in the form o dialects an if we’re tae mak progress wi winning respect an support for the language it has tae be daen at a local level,”

Hance went on to praise efforts to establish a national language board. “I’m extremely enthusiastic tae hear aboot it. Gettin fowk thigether fae roon the country tae discuss weys tae encourage an support the language canna be onythin but a guid thing.”

The North-East Scots Language Board will launch on the 28th of March, at Kings College Conference Centre, Old Aberdeen, at 1pm. It will include guest speakers such as Billy Kay. The event is open to the public. Speakers and supporters of Scots, and those with a keen interest in the celebration of Scotland’s unique culture are particularly welcomed.

More details here.

Comments (19)

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  1. Alistair Livingston says:

    I see Ayrshire is mentioned, but I hope Galloway is not forgotten. Although there were still Gaelic speakers in Galloway in 1438, there were also Scots speakers – in Whithorn for example.

    Al that this present letter heris or seis, wit ye us Thomas McIlhauchausy, prior of Quitheren, til haf giffen an inquwist on our baron court of Qwithern of the best and the worthiest thar beand, til Paton McMarty, of the Schapel of Sanct Molinor and the croft lian in our land of Culmalow, the qwilk inqwist sworn fand that the said Paton McMartyn was nerest ayr and lachfull to the said Schapell and croft wyth the pertinens and til haf gus in the comon of Culmalow til aegt som and a neit and hir folowaris and a sow and hir brud and a gus and hir brud. In witnes of the qwilk thing at the inqwest of diverse gentil and sundry otheris thar beand we haf set our sel at qwitthern the xi day of the moneth of Juni the year of our Lord mc ccccmo and acht and thirty yer, before thir witnes- Rolland Kenedy, Eben Galnusson and also Eben McGaryl and mony others.

    From Wigtownshire Charters Reid R ed (Edinburgh, 1960) p.32

    1. Ally says:

      Hiya Alistair (braw nemme by the way 😉

      A National Board that can gie representation tae aabdy that identifies wi Scots owre the hail country is o course a hoor a challenge, but its ane we are meetin heid-on.

      The regional board is achievable an can be a base an an inspiration fir them wha are warkin intae similar dreils in ither airts.

      It is also the NE raisin the flag as speirin “wha else in Scotland is wi us?”. It’ll gie the fowk we need tae big a national board the chance tae shaw theirsels an mak connections.

      Galloway certainly wilnae be forgot.

  2. Alf Baird says:

    While this is a welcome initiative, Scotland really needs a ‘Scots Language Board’ for all Scotland, and a statutory regulatory body (as for Gaelic and English languages) rather than a department of a university. Moreover, Scots is spoken throughout Scotland and given population distribution it is highly unlikely that most Scots speakers reside between the Tay and Moray Firth, which seems to be implied here as some sort of geographic justification for the location of this ‘board’. Whit aboot Fife, Lothians, Borders, Stirlingshire, Ayrshire an Galloway an aw thay fowk bidin aff the Clyde – dae we no spik Scots? Reference is made to the census data of 1.6 million Scots speakers, yet there is barely a third of that number living between the Moray Firth and the Tay. While thon’s a braw staert tae remeed a lang affront, Scotlan aye haes need o a ‘Scots Language (Scotland) Act’ an ayeweys will.

    1. Ally says:

      Hiya Alf! Glad tae hear we hae yer support fir the NESLB.

      We aa ken that Scots is a national tongue, an therefore maun hae a national board.

      as the airticle makes clear “The NESLB will also be working with partners to foster the development of a national board.”

      This isnae some pipe dream. Its gey near tae completion.

      But gin a single region needit pu up its ain socks an get its house in order, its the north-east. Sae mony spikkers, an sic a deep heritage in the leid here, its a braw place tae stert. We hae a collaboration atween Uni o Aiberdeen, Robert gordon Uni, Angus Moray Aiberdeen city an shire cooncils, alang wi near a hunger individuals an organisations. We’ll get this baa rollin, an the national board will be able tae draw on the momentum an evidence fae the NE.

      Keep yer een oot fir the National Board.

      1. Alf Baird says:

        Cheers Ally, an mair pouer tae yer elbae. A’ll be leukin oot for thon degree coorse tae dae masel, awfu flochtit aboot thon. Braw stuff!

  3. SleepingDog says:

    If Scotland is going to *develop* a language, perhaps we could create a new one, along the principles proposed by famous Fife author Iain M Banks (the Culture’s Marain).

    Defaulting to non-gender-specific pronouns, being clear and unambiguous yet still “appeal to poets, pedants, engineers and programmers alike”, and “places much less structural emphasis on (or even lacks) concepts like possession and ownership, dominance and submission, and especially aggression”. Ideal for talking to dolphins, aliens and intelligent machines.

    I mean, it could virtually wipe out trolling at a stroke. 🙂

    1. Ally says:

      Guid thinkin, but I cannae be arsed wi the trauchle.

      Scots has way mair tae it than just wirds. Theirs a hail history an tradition tae it, fae aa the great literature, the Vernacular revival, funny Scots fitba signs an sangs, weel-kent phrases sic as “pus like a weel-skelped erse” an “ye cannae shove yer granny aff a bus”

      Nae, ye couldnae replace Scots wi a rickle o deid wirds that ye just made up.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Ally, many lands make light work. Perhaps an international endeavour could weave tomorrow’s language in entangled enlightenment?

        Human language is a technology, and as such one instance can be compared with similar, and against a set of functional requirements. All words (save those representing actual noises like “miaow”) are just made up. Actually, even cat noises vary. What’s Scots for “miaow”?

        I hope that Scotland’s future will outlive its past. What such advanced Scottish culture might be in just a generation’s time, I don’t know, but it might require some break from the past.

        The Romans were held back by their rubbish, if signature, numerical system; the ancient Greeks by their architectural inability to arch (bet their igloos were a hoot). Imperial Britain struggled along with its embarrassingly irrational system of measurements, refusing to switch to the superior, French-originated, Système international d’unités. Such NIMBYism, sich decline.

        Older technologies, like the letterpress and hooky rugs featured in BBC’s MAKE! Craft Britain (why did they stick the textual equivalent of a union flag on their programme’s name, I wonder?) can be loving used to craft new works and keep alive connections with the past:

        As the Great Tapestry of Scotland keeps alive the craft of, er, embroidery. Thus Scots, and this new Board, have their place.

        A new language would not be a replacement, nor an upgrade, but a mighty global endeavour to meet the functional requirements of an advanced, future-looking Earth culture building towers towards the stars that would make any god shit his/her/their/its pants.

        1. Ally says:

          Absolutely nae idea whit ye’re on aboot, big man.

          1. SleepingDog says:

            @Ally, thanks for the feedback. Problem identified: incoherency/lack of clarity. Response: remedial action.

            I describe human language as technology. The international human languages of mathematics, science, logic and computing have been used to create the rockets that have launched humans and machines into space: where different systems have caused failures, like the Mars probe that crashed due to using incompatible measurement units (they should have all used SI units):

            Once more: standardisation supports diversity, in the same way that a global language of music supports the melding of different musical traditions to create new and variety genres.

            The allusion to a god being concerned (described by a metaphor) about towers to the stars refers to the myth of the Tower of Babel, which has recently featured here:
            and suggests that a common, global language would allow humanity to achieve great things.
            The difficulties of a language based on allegory is treated in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called “Darmok”:

            My suggestion is that we look at the functional requirements of language. The Scots language(s) appears to me to serve largely inward- and backward-looking functions. That is OK: some older technology is still (lovingly) used to connect with the past, to invoke shared feelings within a group, to provide education and entertainment. However, if we look to the future, as Iain M Banks has, I think our more general linguistic requirements will be somewhat more advanced, and we may want to think globally, digitally, rationally and experimentally. It may be worth considering that English currently appears to better unite Scotland and provide a gateway for Scots to the world than any other language (yet).

            So as we preserve the Scots language(s), built them into new digital media, create dictionaries and style guides, I think we should avoid burdening such language with the expectations that it will serve functions for which it was never developed. I would suggest that the concept of ownership of (or by) a language is a trap. And by understanding what we need languages for, and how they best work, Scots may look outward and forward, joining with others to develop the languages of the future.

  4. Scots Wha Hae... nae clue hou tae spell says:

    Great news… and glad to hear there will be a Scots Leid ‘Board’ for the whole country.

    I’d love to learn Scots but it’s always going to be a difficult task for those of us ‘wi oot a guid Scots tongue in oor heids’ without with a more regularised spelling system. I hope the NESLB will work with partners from around the country in using and developing a pan-dialectal spelling system that can accomodate all dialects (allowing for a few spelling differences here-and-there… e.g. Fit vs. Whit).

    Although there are 1.6 million+ speakers, the position of Scots is precarious. The rate of vocabulary and pronounciation loss between generations is astonishingly high – and this can only be exacerbated by the influx of people we will take in to grow our economy/look after our aging population. Standardisation by its nature implies a loss of diversity but to me it seems we either embrace standardisation or accept the loss of Scots in a few generations time. The cultural power and productivity of English is awesome… Scots won’t be the only one it squeezes out this century… unless that is we get organised

    1. Ally says:

      Hiya, you mak a wheen fine points there.

      It is a sair chyav tae lairn Scots if ye didnae grow up aroon it. Couldnae agree mair. It can be done, but. Ane o the memmers o the North-East Scots Language Board is fae America, an flitted tae the NE tae learn mair aboot the ballad tradition. Efter thirty year immersed in the ballads an spikkin tae fowk here, he kens Scots fine. There’s many ither exaimples. But aye, it isnae easy.

      As pairt o the NESLB programme, we’ll hae a Scots Language Pathway that’ll gie fowk a chance tae lairn Scots fae bairnhood richt through. A Scots course should be ready at the University o Aberdeen soon, an I think the Open University hae something in the pipeline.

      Stannart spellin. This ane’s tricky. Basically Scots screivers warkin the noo (masel includit) hae spend years pittin thegither an orthography that seems tae them best tae express their thochts in Scots. It can be idiosyncratic.

      Stannarts dae exist, sic as the fine ane https://www.makforrit.scot/scots/stylesheet/
      Gin ye want a stannart tae follae, follae that ane. But dinnae expect ilka screiver tae ging oot an re-learn hou tae spell owrenicht.

      There’s nae real need tae destroy dialects wi stannart orthography.

      Keep at it, min, read screive an spik Scots as often as ye can!

    2. SleepingDog says:

      @Scots etc., lack of a standardized dictionary will indeed spell chaos for predictive text. And make digital operations like search more difficult and error prone. And collaboration more tricky. And quoting and other forms of inclusion more complicated and resource-intensive (as it is sometimes in repurposing older forms of English). And localization a pain. And providing a single public Scots form (on signage, say) an unsolvable test of diplomacy, as the form chosen will flatter and pit oot the respective tribes (and that’s not including dialectal differences).

      By the way, standardisation (by promoting ease of interoperable relations and thereby increasing complexity) generally increases diversity. Think of LEGO® blocks or DNA or the HTML that underpins the diversity of the web.

      1. Graeme Purves says:

        Ah! But the dae-it-yersel dialect hobbyists regard a standard Scots orthography as an anathema – a tool of linguistic fascism – despite the fact that almost every other modern language has one. It’s tae be each til their ain private Pitsligo!

  5. Graeme Purves says:

    I fail to see how a dialect group can advance the cause of a language.

    1. Willie says:

      I fail to understand your comment Graeme.

      Accent, dialect, language. Is there a connection?

      Your point caller, if you will.

      1. Graeme Purves says:

        Perhaps you need to get to grips with the relationship between a language and its dialects first, Willie?

  6. Abulhaq says:

    The DOST and SND are wonderful resources for language revival and development. The fact that Scottis was historically a living medium used in domaines beyond the purely literary, had a sophisticated high register and was developing a lexical and orthographic identity distinct from Inglis should silence the ‘why bother’ sceptics.
    Reviving, renewing, reinvigorating a language is a complex process. One that calls for imagination, invention and unorthodoxy. There are many successful European models eg Finnish, Slovak, Latvian to examine. It would be a major contribution to that process if there were a fully comprehensive ‘Inglis-Scottis Dictionar’.

  7. Rick H Johnston says:

    Ivvery journey sterts wi a first step.
    Whit haes hauden Scots upsteerers back ower the years is the issue o spelling.
    Whuther it’s ae spelling or anither fowk aften winna compromise.
    A standart canna be forced on onybody but a saftly saftly approach on the maist common wurds is shairly achievable.
    The Noreast prattick is a fell guid stert tho we shuid mind Scots is oor national leid an is spoken frae Berwick tae Shetland.
    I wi gey pleased tae at the importance pitten on publick signage.
    Fowk hae tae see as weel as hear thair ain leid.
    I’m fair leukin forrit tae hearin mair o this.

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