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Scots: an ayebidin kist o Scotland aforesyne

Thochts anent the unique role o the Scots leid in Scotland’s bygane, and whit wey it haes a gey special role tae play in communicatin Scotland’s heritage the day.

Scots is Scotland’s past

Scots can niver be juist a medium throu which tae communicate Scotland’s past — for Scots is Scotland’s past. Hale centuries o Scottish history haes taen place in the Scots language; hunners o thoosands o Scots haes líved an dee’d and focht and luved in the Scots tongue. Forby Scots isnae juist oor past. Scots, and Scots speakers, ar aye a muckle pairt o modern Scotland.

In thon sense, the spoken Scots leid represents an intangible oral connection atween us the day and the fowk that daundert the closes o Embra and pleucht the fields o Perthsire and biggit the ships o the Clyde decades forby centuries syne. Scots haes lang filled the lugs o oor kintra.

At the ae time, Scots in scrievit form constitutes a tangible connection wi oor ancestors oot-throu the ages. Muckle amoonts o scrievit Scots haes owercome doun the centuries: fae the byordinar Barbour’s Brus tae the poyetry o the medieval makars, the records o Scotland’s historic burghs, courts and pre-Union Pairliament, and the mair hummle but juist as precious and insichtfu records o trade and iveryday life. We hae been readin and scrievin Scots, for aw sorts o sindry purposes, fae lang, lang syne.

Scots is Scotland; and Scotland is Scots

The fower main dialects o Anglo-Saxon
The fower main dialects o Anglo-Saxon. Graphic credit: Eilidh Douglas.

Forby Scots is a language anely throu Scotland’s nationheid. As wi English, the prehistory o Scots is as ane o the fower main dialects o Anglo-Saxon. This norland dialect (Northumbrian) becomes linguistically sindry fae its neebour dialects as a result o the encoonters and relationships o Scotland, the nation, wi Fraunce, Scandinaivie, the Law Kintras, Gaeldom, and sae on.

Equally, it is throu Scotland’s nationheid that this iver-mair linguistically distinct variant o Anglo-Saxon taks on the kenmerks o a language o state, heezin it for aye abuin the status o a mere dialect.

This symbiotic relationship atween Scotland the nation and Scots the language means that uisin Scots tae tell Scotland’s story gies it a pouerfu and visceral immediacy that lowps ower the centuries and brings fowk closer tae the past.

I mak siccar

For exemple, lat’s tak the story o the Kirkpatrick faimily motto, that relates tae Bruce’s killin o the Red Comyn in the kirk at Dumfries. I hae scrievit makkit-up information board text in Scots, English and German by wey o illustration.

The story gangs that Bruce cam oot o the kirk and telt his men that he had slain Comyn, whaurupon Roger Kirkpatrick taen oot his sword, shoutit, ‘I mak siccar’, and gaed awa in tae finish him aff: hence the faimily motto.

The story goes that Bruce came out of the church and told his men that he had slain Comyn, whereupon Roger Kirkpatrick took out his sword, shouted, ‘I mak siccar’ (“I’ll make sure”) and went in to finish him off: hence the family motto.

Wie es in der Geschichte heißt, kam Bruce aus der Kirche heraus und sagte seinen Männern, er habe Comyn erschlagen, woraufhin Roger Kirkpatric sein Schwert zog, schrie, “Ich will sicher sein !“ und hinein ging, um ihn endgültig zu töten: daher das Familienmotto.

As is kenable, tellin Scotland’s past in Scots requires faur less mediation. Here, for exemple, there’s nae need tae hae an intrusive, otherin owersettin o ‘I mak siccar’. The faimily motto, on which the story turns, is in the same language as the ane bein uised tae tell it — that is, Scots. Forby the ‘kirk’ wad hae been ‘the kirk’ tae Bruce and his men, juist as it’s aye ‘the kirk’, and no ‘the church’, tae modern Scots speakers the day.

Siblike, gin we tak the notorious Black Denner o 1440, that taen place at Embra Castle, the mid-fifteent century Auchinleck Chronicle tells hou:

William of Douglas Archebaldis son … XVIII yeris of age … was put to deid at Edinburgh. And Malcome Flemyng of Beggar was put to deid in that saymn place within thre days efter.

Narratin this story in modren Scots wad, ance mair, require haurdly ony mediation: “deid” and “efter”, for exemple, ar aye iveryday wirds in modren Scots.

For the Scots speaker the day, readin anent Bruce “comin oot o the kirk” or Douglas bein “put tae deid” will siccarly connect wi them mair directly and viscerally nor readin anent Bruce “coming out of the church” or Douglas bein “put to death”. It maks Scotland’s history soond mair like their ain history — which it is.

Makkin mensefu and pouerfu connections

Uisin Scots tae communicate Scotland’s past means modren Scots maun daunder ower fewer metaphorical brigs for tae connect wi the fowk and events o the past. This maks for mair mensefu and pouerfu connections wi the people and communities that interact wi heritage sites in Scotland — mony o them will be speakers o Scots.

Scots is the maist widely spoken language in Scotland efter English. In the 2011 census, that includit a question on the Scots language for the first time, 1.5 million fowk reportit that they could speak Scots, and 1.9 million reportit that they could speak, read, scrieve or unnerstaund it. Forby the real figures ar likely tae be even higher, due tae trauchles aroond comprehension o the question.

An act o preservation

But uisin Scots isnae juist aboot sharin Scotland’s past mair effectively — it’s aboot preservin it forby. Scots is an unjoukable pairt o Scotland’s heritage, and sae uisin Scots is, in itsel, an act o preservation o thon heritage. And we ken, wi dowie hert, that Scots needs tae be preserved. Fae bein the unthreapit language o the state in the Middle Ages, for aw sorts o reasons that we’v nae the time tae gang intae here, the place o Scots in Scotland the day is shooglie. Its language status forby its gey significant role in Scotland’s history arnae weel kent. We aye hear Scots bein dung doun as a dialect o English or, warse, as slang.

Tho it’s owercome gey weel as a spoken language, gien the sair fecht it’s tholed, it’s no widely uised the day in scrievit form — partícularly no in mair formal settins.

It’s a dulesome fact that maist Scots speakers arnae líterate in their ain leid — and micht no even realise that they speak a distinct language. They’ll niver hae been taucht anent it, or hou tae read and scrieve it, and they willnae be uised tae seein it scrievit doun.

In this context, scrievin in Scots at aw is aften seen as a radical, unexpectit and whiles even a polítical act; and daein sae in a public-facin heritage context — that is, a formal, authoritative, semi-academic settin — aw the mair sae. Houiver, tellin Scotland’s story in Scots is haurdly radical. It is nae mair or less remarkable nor communicatin Germany’s past in German or Russia’s past in Russian.

Elevation forby validation o the Scots language and its speakers

A tea touel wi ‘auld’ Scots wirds prentit on it
A tea touel wi ‘auld’ Scots wirds prentit on it.

Naetheless, acause mair formal scrievit Scots isnae widespreid in Scotland the day, and acause mony speakers dinnae recognise whit they speak as a sindry language, its formal uiss onywhaur can serve tae heeze up and validate the language and its speakers.

For mony fowk, readin Scots in a heritage context micht be the first time that they encoonter the language in extendtit scrievit form, and the first time that they realise that whit they speak isnae slang or dialect or a hantle o regional quirks tae be pit on a tea touel, but a national language wi a rich and prood history.

Education and attainment

And whaur Scots speakers begin tae ken the wirth o whit they spek, sae, as weel, dae they begin tae recognise their ain self-wirth.

Studies haes shawn a strang link atween engagement wi Scots in the scuils and increased attainment and self-esteem, in partícular amang pupils in puirer and mair urban areas, that aften hae high nummers o Scots speakers. Mair and mair scuils across Scotland ar takkin tent o the benefits o teachin in and anent Scots, and seein scrievit Scots in ither formal settins will eik on tae and unnerline thon clessroom learnin.

Tak tent or it’s tint

A bit scrieve in English and Scots anent the Jordanhill Cross at the Govan Stanes exhibítion
A bit scrieve in English and Scots anent the Jordanhill Cross at the Govan Stanes exhibítion.

It’s ayont clear that there ar mony compellin reasons tae uise Scots in a heritage context. Houiver, the muckle potential it hauds isnae bein makkit the maist o in the heritage sector in Scotland the nou.

At heritage sites oot-throu the kintra, ye micht see the antrin historic quotation or heidin in Scots, but embeddit in itherwise English interpretation boards and, mair aften than no, wi’oot muckle by wey o explanation or owersettin. Forby mony sites produce quizzes in Scots for bairns and, o coorse, ony self-respectin castle gift shop offers a mug or a magnet wi some couthie Scots wirds.

Nou, while ony Scots is better than nae Scots, it’s aye maistly the case that Scots is kept ower there, in a separate wee box, while the “real” interpretation is in English. Fully bilingual signage or interpretation boards ar aye gey rare. Houiver, we ar stertin tae see chynge, and there ar some braw exemples o a genuine dual-language approach, whaur Scots is pit on an equal fittin wi English, sic as the National Trust For Scotland’s Robert Burns Birthplace Museum or the Govan Stanes Project. In an online context, the National Library o Scotland’s Wee Windaes resource is smashin, and Scotland’s national archaeology organisation — DigIt!Scotland — recently furthset its first iver Scots airticle, wi an English version alangside it.

A dual-language approach — the wey forrit?

It wad be awfu braw tae see mair organisations and sites takkin at least a dual-language approach as we gang forrit. On the ae haund, thon wad delíver accessibility, inclusion and enhanced líteracy for baith English and Scots speakers. While English speakers micht can follae muckle o the Scots, they willnae get it aw, and sae haein baith tae refer tae will enhance their unnerstaundin o Scots forby their appreciation o the differs atween the twa languages. Símilarly, while Scots speakers micht can follae even mair o the Scots, lack o líteracy in the language, even amang the braidest o its speakers, means that haein the English tae refer tae will enhance their líteracy in, and unnerstaundin o, scrievit Scots as weel.

Juist as important, a dual-language approach unnerlines the fact that Scots and English, thou gey closely relatit, ar different languages. Uisin Scots anely, or unowerset Scots quotes and heidins, on the ither haund, leaves it in thon fykie fickle o bein close eneuch tae English that fowk can kin o read it, but no sae close that fowk can fully unnerstaund aw o it.

Scots: an ayebidin kist o Scotland aforesyne

The gey special place o Scots in Scotland’s past, alang wi its unique status in Scotland the day, means that there ar stentless mony braw reasons tae uise Scots in a heritage context — and gey muckle tae be gained fae daein sae. Scots is oor heritage and, for nou, we can aye threap it as oor present forby. We maun mak siccar that it bides thon wey intae the future — forby that we mak the maist o it. Tak tent, or it’s tint.