Creative Scotland pushing for revival of Scots language

First ‘scriever’ Hamish MacDonald says Scots ‘deserves and needs to be celebrated’

18th-century philosopher David Hume regarded Scots as merely a “corrupt dialect”. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

18th-century philosopher David Hume regarded Scots as merely a “corrupt dialect”. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

 

For a government document, Scotland’s policy of “wurkin wi pairtners tae heize up the status o Scots language amang folk an toons” has an unusual ring to it.

But cultural agency Creative Scotland makes no apology for adopting a bilingual format to call for more collaboration to raise the status of a tongue once championed by the 18th-century poet Robert Burns.

“Scots is pairt o oor historie an oor cultural heritage, wi rich oral an scrievin tradeetions that ur still gey weel alive theday in oor sang, drama, storytellin, the makin o fulms, braidcastin an leeterature,” the agency says.

As part of a drive by the Scottish National party government to raise the profile of Scots in schools and cultural industries, the first “Scots scriever”, or writer, takes office this week.

The appointment of Hamish MacDonald to a two-year residency at Edinburgh’s National Library follows a long decline in the use of Scots – which, like English, is derived from the Germanic languages of the Anglo-Saxons.

Scots has a long literary tradition that includes works by the 15th-century King James I of Scotland, 19th-century author Walter Scott and contemporary novelist Irvine Welsh.

It retains a Scandinavian influence and rich stock of onomatopoeic words, including “blocher” – defined as the “act of making such a guggling noise as to indicate that there is a great quantity of catarrh in the throat”.

But since union with England made English the language of parliament and law courts, many in Scotland have shared the view of 18th-century philosopher David Hume that their native tongue is merely a “corrupt dialect”.

As Scots scriever, Mr MacDonald says he hopes to encourage compatriots to embrace their linguistic traditions. “There’s a living language, a living voice and a living expression that is part of a really fascinating, beautiful and expressive language,” he says. “It deserves and needs to be celebrated.”

The lack of a modern standard version is a challenge for Scots promotion, with Creative Scotland acknowledging that the “Central Scots” it used in its policy statement is far from universal.

Literacy expert Tommy MacKay welcomes the greater use of Scots but says that rapid anglicisation of spoken language in most Scottish communities means Scots can no longer be considered a living tongue.

“That’s a lost cause,” he says.

– (Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2015)