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  • Writer's pictureThe YSI

Scots Language Board: What you need to know

In Scotland, we’re richtly prood o wir diversity. Amangst the 5.4 meillion folk thit bide here, we share coontless culturs, beliefs, an tradeitions, an celebrate whit gars us sindry alang wi whit we hae in common. But wir diversity is aiblins best shown aff bi wir multilingualism.

Baith in the past an the present, Scotland haes spake a hale fouth o leids. Nooaday, a stravaig doon ony Scots high street will show ye thit awthin fae Spanish tae Farsi an fae Polish tae Arabic haes a place in communities aw ower the kintra. But settin aside thae leids brocht tae us bi new Scots, Scotland enjyes haein three indeigenous leids: Inglish, Gaelic, an Scots. Awmaist awbody kens o the first twa, but Scots suffers fae a lack o veisibility an status thit causes a fair wheen folk tae be confused aboot exackly whit Scots is.

Scots is a Germanic leid, relatit tae an sharin common roots wi the Inglish in the same wey thit Spanish an Portuguese or Danish an Norweigan are relatit. Let’s be clear aboot ocht: Scots is a leid, no a byleid o the Inglish, and no slang. Thon’s a fact, uphaudit widely bi linguists, meanin thit thae folk thit deny it shuid be haudit in the same contempt as thae folk thit deny climate science.

Durin the Middle Ages, Scots wis yaised in ryal coorts, legislation, an the airts. But whan Jamie VI muived his coort fae Embra tae Lunnon in 1603, the leid fell intae gradual decline, as mony thocht thit lairnin the Inglish wad be the best route tae fantoosh ryal wark doon sooth. Nanetheless, the leid bides on in mony communities the day, wi ower 1.5 meillion folk bidin in Scotland identifyin as Scots speakers in the 2011 census. Thon maks it Scotland’s seicont maist spake leid. Ye micht hink, thairfore, thit proteckin an promuivin it wad be a priority fir governments. Linguistic richts, efter aw, are human richts.

But in the twanty year sin devolution, Scots Government action on the leid haes bin at best leimitit, an at waur completely absent.

Grantit, some guid steps hae bin taen, sic as the creation o a ‘Scots Language Qualification’ an the introduction o ‘Scottish Studies’, an the settin up bi wey o Education Scotland o a wab o ‘Scots Co-ordinators’ forby. But the oweraw state o the leid hasnae chynged. Scots lacks statutory recogneition or protection an haes neist tae nae veisbility in the public sector. Funnin fir Scots organisations sic as the Centre fir the Scots leid hasnae been muckle mair nor pocket siller, an ower aw Scotland thair isnae a single scuil giein Scots medium education, e’en in pairts whare maist folk speak Scots.

The ootcome o this is a gey dour pictur fir the leid. Wi government action sae feckless, maist o the wark is left tae private organisations an individual advocates. These folk hae daen some braw wark fir the leid, but thair’s anely sae muckle thit private sector action cin dae. Coordination atween sindry groups cin be a richt sair fecht, an lack o siller is an ayebidin roadblock.

Scots haes pruived itsel tae be a thrawn auld leid, an gey few are suggestin thit it’s near tae deein. The muivement fir promuivin an proteckin Scots isnae aboot keepin the leid leivin fir its ain sake. It’s aboot ocht mair important nor that: richts an equality.

The YSI trowes thit leid richts are human richts, an thit linguistic equality is crucial in biggin a fairer society. It’s fir that thit we support the creation o a statutory Board fir the Scots Leid.

A Board fir the Scots leid braidly sib tae the Bòrd na Gàidhlig wad finally pit Scots on a formally equal fuittin wi Scotland’s ither indeigenous leids. Like the Bòrd na Gàidhlig, a Board fir the Scots Leid cuid be componed o experts an advocates wi responsibilities an functions set oot in legislation. Bringin the gither sic folk an gien thaim a yearly budget wad alloo fir an unprecedentit level o coordination an cooperation, an fir a unitit approach wi the smeddum o government backin.

A Board fir the Scots Leid isnae a siller bullet, but it’s an important first step taeward linguistic equality. It sens a clear message thit the Scots Government cares aboot leid richts an is willin tae welcome Scots back ben whare it belangs: on the public stage. An whit better time tae sen thon message nor 2019, the UN Year of Indigenous Languages?

Suin, A reckon, Scotland will rejyne the warld as an independent kintra. Whan that happens, it shuid be as a kintra thit taks tent o its diversity an promuives fairness an equality. Bi treatin wir leid wi thae values, we cin show jist hou serious we are aboot biggin a better society.



In Scotland, we’re proud of our diversity, and rightly so. Amongst our 5.4 million inhabitants, we share countless cultures, beliefs, and traditions, and celebrate what makes us different just as much as what we have in common. And little showcases our diversity quite as clearly as our multilingualism.

Both in the past and the present, Scotland has spoken a plethora of different languages. Today, a wander down any Scottish high street will reveal that everything from Spanish to Farsi and from Polish to Arabic has a place in communities all over the country. But setting aside those languages brought to us by new Scots, Scotland enjoys the presence of three indigenous languages: English, Gaelic, and Scots. Almost everybody is familiar with the first two, but Scots suffers from a lack of visibility and status that causes a lot of people to be confused about exactly what it is.

Scots is a Germanic language, related to and sharing common roots with English in the same way that Spanish and Portuguese or Danish and Norweigan are related. Let’s be clear about something: Scots is a language, not a dialect of English, and not slang. This is a fact, widely supported by linguists, which means that those who deny it should be held in the same contempt as those who deny climate science.

During the Middles Ages, Scots was used in royal courts, legislation, and the arts. But when James VI moved his court from Edinburgh to London in 1603, the language’s status fell into gradual decline, as many realised that learning English was the best route to cushy royal jobs down south. Nonetheless, the language lives on in many communities today, with over 1.5 million people living in Scotland identifying as Scots speakers in the 2011 census. That makes it Scotland’s second most spoken language. One might think, therefore, that its protection and promotion would be a priority for governments. Linguistic rights, after all, are human rights.

But in the two decades since devolution, Scottish Government action on the language has been at best limited, and at worst completely absent.

Granted, some positive steps have been taken, such as the creation of a ‘Scots Language Qualification’ and the introduction of ‘Scottish Studies’, as well as the establishment through Education Scotland of a network of ‘Scots Co-ordinators’. But the overall state of the language has remained unchanged. Scots lacks statutory recognition or protection and has next to no visibility in the public sector. Funding for Scots organisations such as the Scots Language Centre is little more than pocket money, and in all of Scotland there is not a single school providing Scots medium education, even in areas where the majority speaks Scots.

The result of this is a rather bleak picture for the language. With government action so lacklustre, much of the work is left to private organisations and individual advocates. These folk have done some stellar work for the language, but there’s only so much that private sector action can achieve. Coordination between disparate groups can be a real challenge, and a lack of money is a perennial roadblock.

Scots has proved a resilient language, and very few are suggesting that it will die out soon. The movement for the promotion and protection of Scots is not about keeping the language alive for its own sake. It’s about something far more important than that: rights and equality.

The YSI believes that language rights are human rights, and that linguistic equality is crucial in the creation of a fairer society. That’s why we support the creation of a statutory Scots Language Board.

A Scots Language Board broadly similar to the Bòrd na Gàidhlig would finally put Scots on a formally equal footing to Scotland’s other indigenous languages. Like the Bòrd na Gàidhlig, a Scots Language Board could be composed of experts and advocates with responsibilities and functions set out in legislation. Bringing such people together and providing them with an annual budget would facilitate an unprecedented level of coordination and cooperation, allowing for a united approach with the clout of governmental backing.

A Scots Language Board is not a silver bullet, but it’s an important first step in the direction of linguistic equality. It sends a clear message that the Scottish Government cares about language rights and is willing to welcome Scots back to its rightful place on the public stage. And what better time to send that message than 2019, the UN Year of Indigenous Languages?

Soon, I believe, Scotland will rejoin the world as an independent nation. When that happens, it should be as a country that facilitates and celebrates its diversity and encourages fairness and equality. By embedding those values in our treatment of language, we can show just how serious we are about creating a better society.

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