Scots as a leid o eddication

In this airticle, we’ll leuk at the faisibility o the uiss o Scots in eddication. Syne whan haes it been uised in eddication? In whilk wey it is uised in eddication? An is it siclike wi ither leids?

For tae answer thae quaistens, we can leuk at the history o Scots an its uiss in eddication . . .

Fae the middle o the nineteent hunneryear till the end o the twintiet hunneryear, Scots wisnae gien a place in Scots schuils ava; it wis whiles doun-hauden even.1

On the ither haund, Scots wis a fair feck mair uised in Scots schuils afore the 18t hunneryear, as we can see fae this quote fae The Register o the Privy Seal o Scotland:2

“Ane instructioun for bairnis to be lernit in Scotis and Latene…” (1559)

Maist ferlie amang the legal mentions o Scots in eddication airticles is the legislation estaiblishin schuilin ootthrou Scotland. Schuils in ilka pairish, ’ithin the means o the local cooncil, wis fordert by the 1616 law. This wis follaed by the 1646 law whaur the cooncil wis ootricht obligate tae big an mainteen the schuils. The last o the 17t hunneryear laws wis the 1696 act3 that stuid on the record beuks till 1872.4

We can see that, contínuin on fae the 1559 statement, the leids uised in the air Scots schuils wis Scots an Laitin:5

“Mr. Adame . . . takis . . . vpone him the charge of ane scoolemaister . . . for learning of Scottis and Latine;” (1646 quote fae the Minute beuks o the Burgh o Kirkcudbright)

This law wis byordinar important for eddication history, as it wis the first law that estaiblisht schuils outthrou a kintra.6 The law meant that Scotland coud be amang the first kintras in the warld whaur maist fowk wis líterate.7 This is forby thocht o as bein a catalyst for the Scots Enlichtenment. An it’s throu thir laws that the Scots eddication seistem, richt eneuch, gained a nameliheid o bein democratic, in the sense that it wis appen tae aw the fowk, an no juist the hie heid anes.8

This law wis a skaith an aw, housomeiver: the 1616 law wis misfortunate for Scots Gaelic as the law disnae forder the Gaelic, anither hamelt leid o Scotland. The law wis e’en designtly cockit at the Gaelic, ettlin at its eradication.9

Gaelic is the extant leid that haes been uised in Scotland for the langest time. Gaelic, like ony leid, pits owre thochts in different weys fae whit ither leids dae, an produces the associations o thochts that ither leids disnae.10

Sae, on the ae haund, the air Scots eddication laws wis innovative legislation producin a nation hunneryears afore ithers, an pruif o the fact that the writers didnae denigrate thair ain leid. On the ither haund, it is misfortunate pruif that the writers o the selsame laws denigrate a hamelt leid an cultur o the kintra. It can e’en be hypothesised that it wis this skaithin attitude taewart a pairt o Scots cultur that hinderly remuived Scots fae Scots schuils.

Sicweys we can see that the place o Scots in the Scots eddication seistem haes chynged ’ithin the past hunneryears syne the pittin in place o the first kintra-wide eddication seistem till bein pairtly re-introduced in this hunneryear.

It’s faur fae impossible tae see Scots as a leid o eddication, gien its place at the springheid o Scots eddication.

It haes its relation wi sociolinguistic phenomena an polítical decísions, like the decísion anent in whilk leid bairns will be eddicate. It can occur acause o sociolinguistic phenomena whaur fowk is rewairdit for giein up the leid o thair mithers an faithers. Whither it’s throu the eddication seistem or legal seistem, Scots haes been affroadit. An economic incentives wis gien tae ‘speak proper’.11

There is mony ither leids whaur tendencies can be estaiblisht atweesh the population that speaks the doun-hauden leid an the unnercless, the doun-hauden clesses.

As can be read in Hagège’s Halte à la mort des langues (‘Reest the deith o leids’), uiss o a leid in schuils is ane o the factors that mean it can contína existin, an even floorishin. Likeweys, the doun-dingin o the uiss in schuils can be a factor in connachin the leid.12

Onywey, ony leid can be uised in eddication.

Even gif theoretically the wirds is missin, we can find thaim. Leids can be developit for tae conteen the wirds thay need: we can see this process in ither leids. Ae ensaumple is the Icelandic, whaur thay invent new wirds aften for tae fit in wi the phonological, lexical an grammatical contex that exists awready. French an Inglis wisnae leids uised in eddication in the air Middle Ages aither. An, efter, screivers in Inglis an French haes taen wirds fae Laitin, bigit new wirds wi hamelt material amang ither techniques for giein a leid a haund. An wirds is bein inventit thir days in Inglis an aw: ‘blog’, for ensaumple, wisnae kent a few year syne. But thae leids were developit; thair growth wis fordert.

An, as Du Bellay says in his Défense et illustration de la Langue française, that is mibbe the main thing that lats a leid be uised in a partícular contex: whether its uiss is fordert.13

Scots is a leid that, while it can be associate wi a lack o eddication thir days, is nae less suitit tae sítiations o eddication. Acause ony leid can be uised for eddication, nae leid is wirth less. An it isnae juist a leid that can theoreticly be uised for eddication, but it wis ane o the twa leids uised in the first modren nationwide eddication seistem. This is a fact that can be uised tae shaw that Scots haed its place in the Scots eddication seistem, syne the air laws anent eddication in the Middle Ages. It can forby be uised tae shaw that Scots misfortunately haed its place in the cultural displacement o the Hielands. The lang an the short o it is that Scots can be uised in a eddication seistem nae less nor ony ither leid.

James McDonaldJames McDonald is a Scots polyglot steyin in Réunion. He is keen on different leids, inspecially local leids, an thair forderin, whether it’s Scots, Gaelic, Réunion Creole or ither leids. He wirks in schuils, helpin bairns wi thair hamewirk an giein chess lessons. Ye can contact him on jmcd89 [AT] googlemail [DOT] com.


Scots Inglis
affroadit discouraged
air early
atweesh between
byordinar extraordinary
connachin destroying
designtly deliberately
doun-hauden oppressed
ettlin endeavouring, trying
forder(t) promote(d), drive(n) forward, help(ed) on
hamelt native
hinderly eventually
housomeiver notwithstanding, nevertheless
hunneryear century
leid language
nameliheid reputation
nor than
reest bring to a halt
selsame very same
skaithin harmful, damaging
springheid source, origin
syne then, ago, since

The porage revolution: Hou porage cam tae mak Scotland habitable

Five thoosand year syne the human warld birlt aboot a different axis. Doun in Egypt the Pharos war biggin their muckle pyramidal kists, drawin their pouer fae the fertile launds abuin the Nile. The great Sphinx wis appearin oot fae ashlars o sandstane the size o hooses. Naebody speirt efter wha buir the gree in terms o humanity in thae days; it wis clear. The Egyptians, ane o the great cívilisations, haed taen their place as the heid o the species on earth. They kent wha the Gods war, whit their leid wis, an generally kent wha wis wha an whit wis whit brawly. The rest o us sprauchelt, heid doun, throu the dub an mire, up tae wir oxsters in ignorance.

Ye can think o Egypt as the epicentre o human development o the day, an aa ither human actívity bein ripples oot fae thon soorce. The tottie wee wave o humanity that raxed owre the continent tae exhaust itsel on Scotland’s strands wis minor indeed. Than mair nor iver we war the pure ends o the earth.

It wisnae lang syne afore that Scotland haed been scaured by three miles o hyper-cranreuch in the Ice Age. Maist o Europe haed been in lockdoun as fowk tyned the means tae live in the freezin climate o the day. As the ice meltit an life cam back tae the laund, an as the fowk o Europe keekit oot o their cave shelters in the Pyrenees, it wis anely the bampots, zoomers an gowks that fund theirsels stravaigin sae far north as oor frozen shores.

The ticht glens o the sooth Scotland borderlands war guid for the “drive an sett” huntin tactics o wir ancestors. A wheen o hunters wad yowl and screich loudly an breenge doun the glen, garin aa the herds o beasts flee flichtit afore them. At the fit o the glen the chiels wi the spears wad hunker doun in cover an wait, an they’d pick aff the animals as they scuddit by.

These fowk haed a roch time o it. The population o Scotland wis tiny. Nae mair nor a puckle o lairge faimily groups gangin aboot gaitherin berries an huntin boar. The laund in thae days wisnae exactly conducive tae a lang an couthie life. The diet wis healthy eneuch, but it pit a stap tae ony population growth, for ae guid reason. The berries, nuts an meat wis owre muckle for a bairn tae eat. Therefore, bairns haed tae feed on their mither’s milk till the age o fower. Lassies arenae sae likely tae hae anither bairn aucht them gin they’re feedin fae the breist. The life expectancy o a lassie in thae days seems tae hae been nae mair nor twinty-fower year or thereaboots. Sae gin they maun hae spent fower year raisin ilka bairn, they cannae hae mair nor three bairns afore they dee theirsels. Add tae that a heich rate o premature bairn deith an ye ken that e’en sae muckle as uphaudin the population at its low level wis a sair fecht.

Life went on in siclike a fashion for owre a thoosand year an mair. Humanity tried tae impose itsel ontae the Scots landscape but aye fund itsel deid aamaist afore it wis alive, like a body ettlin tae fill a bath wi the plug oot. Survival wis aa that fowk coud aspire tae, leave alane developin airt or cívilisation.

As the Egyptians slaikit their drouthy thrapples wi reid wine an furnished their hooses wi gowd, the tribes ablo the northren lift in Scotland war thirlt tae a tuim-wamed, short existence.

The revolution that gied thae few faimlies the chance tae growe an pit doun real roots in their hame cam fae the Fertile Crescent. The launds kent the day as Syria, Jordan, Egypt an the rest war pairt o a braid agricultural cívilisation whaur wild gresses war cultivatit an stertit tae gie furth the calorific cereals. That ae development chynged aathing, especially for launds ootwith the Fertile Crescent, especially for Scotland.

Ideas o cereal hairsts spread owre Europe. Fowk wha haed been thirlt tae an aye-flittin life o hunter-gaitherin suddenly fund that they coud settle an area. Thae barleys coud be grund doun tae a paste an gied tae bairns as porage. Mithers coud stap giein them breistmilk at the age o twa, giein them the chance tae get back oot gaitherin, or tae hae mair bairns.

It wis this revolution that gied the puir shiverin craiturs wha bade here the chance tae upbig their populations, big wee widdin hooses an stert tae ferm efter a fashion. Huntin wis certainly a guid soorce o calorific meat, but it wis cereals that gied them the foondation o society.

Than it aa explodit. Fae this base, fermin grew mair complex, cívilisation stertit tae appear. Excess wis produced. Fowk haed free time for the first time in Scottish history. They uised the time tae humph muckle stanes thegither intae stane circles. They also ettled at unnerstaunnin the birlin o the heivenly bodies abuin their heids. It gied fowk a chance tae experiment wi airt an for heirarchies tae emerge.

Suin Scotland wis hame tae complex clan seistems, whiles fechtin, whiles wirkin thegither. Sodgers an wee kings emerged, aa on the foondation o cereal. The early stane-age fowk developit intae the North-Sea traders o the Pictish kíngdom, wha skelpit the Roman airmies, sendin them sooth tae think again. They did the same for the English in the early days, strikin oot fae their ain fertile crescent atween Caithness, throu Aiberdeen an doun tae Embra. They jyned up wi the Scots o the wast an thegither they made the kíngdom o Scotland as we ken it.

Whan ye glower oot owre a bare cairngorm glen, or the icy plashin watter o some lawland burn an ye speir at hou fowk coud bide here in thae lang syne days, mind aye that it wis humble porage that made it possible.

Alistair HeatherAlistair Heather is the Scots Editor at Bella Caledonia. He studies History an French at Aiberdeen University, an warks wi the Elphinstone Institute promotin the cultur o the North-East. Gie him yer chat @historic_ally on Twitter.


Scots Inglis
craitur lamentable person
sprauchle move laboriously
skelp strike
lang syne long ago
to ettle to attempt
hairst harvest

The ghaist lichts

Ma mither wis fae the North-East o Skye. A clachan cried Stenschol at Staffin. She aye mindit me o ae nicht in the 1930s, whan she wis a lass o mebbe 25. Her auld mither caad oot tae her an the ither young fowk that war ben the hoose that nicht: “’Mon owre an see this!” Her mither — ma grandmither — wis pyntin oot the scullery windae.

The hoose they bade intae leukit oot owre the Trotternish ridge, a muckle formation o black craigs an braes o staney rickles that lours owre the north o Skye.

Doun the daurk face o Ben Edra, whaur naebody wad be in the nicht, wis a stream o lichts. Wee dottit ghaist lichts comin doun the side o the law. It wis like a fairy airmy wis on the mairch fae the glen tae the plains ablo.

Queer tho they maun seem, thae lichts war real eneuch. A wheen o Skeanachs saw them. Mony o them are alive tae this day. Gin ye’re in Staffin, speir efter Lachie Gillies. He’s lívin still, an he saw it aa.

In thae days, fowk creditit the tales o ghaists an siclike supernaitural things mair nor we dae the day. Fowk gied mair room in their herts an heids tae the naitural warld.

Aabody wis sayin efter the lichts war spottit: “Something’s gaun’ae happen. Thae lichts war a sign, or a warnin.” A sign o whit, naebody coud claim tae ken.

A few weeks gang by and they appear again. “Come here till you see this,” says ma grandmither ance mair, an ance mair the bairns keek oot the windae ontae the daurk Trotternish ridge. The ghaist lichts are back, streamin aff the law like a fiery flottila doun a mountain burn.

Time passed. The 1930s turned tae the 1940s. Fowk aye spak o the lichts, but the war in Europe cowpit the naitural runnin o things, an mair pressin maiters cam tae the fore.

But ae still nicht in 1945 nae far fae the end o the war, a coorse haar smuired the hale o the isle. The lift owre Skye had been chowkit ootthrou the war years wi American planes fleein tae Europe, or back hame. An this nicht wis nae different.

Ma mither felt the plane gangin owreheid, an thocht tae hersel: jings, thon’s awfu low. It wis a plane stappit fu wi young Yankie pilots heidit tae Italy. She didna hear the explosion. She didna ken the plane had crashed on the Trotternish Ridge till she noticed the hale clachan in a rammy ootside.

The plane didna hae the hicht tae mak it owre the ridge, which wis lost in the haar. The plane breenged intae the heid o Ben Edra. Aabody on board dee’d on impact.

Ma faither, wi mair nor a dozen ither chiels fae the district, went up wi the polis tae tak the corps aff the glen. The carnage, aa the body pairts strewen owre sic a dulesome airt, wis owre muckle for ony man tae thole. It affectit ma faither deeply.

Ah mind hou he telt us aboot ae American sodger laddie that dee’d. This puir craitur had a gowden locket aboot his thrapple. The heat aff the explosion had sort o meltit it intae his flesh abuin his breist. The whummle o the crash had garred the locket open. On the left side o the locket wis a photae o a bonnie lass — the deid sodger laddie’s wife. On the richt o the locket wis a photae o twa bairns. The twa newly orphaned bairns o this puir sodger.

Thon aye stuck wi ma faither.

The carnage wis sae hellish that it teuk the polis an the local chiels a hale day tae gaither thegither the bits o airmen. The gloamin wis upon them afore they war fínished.

The wifies doun in the clachan war fashed wi the days’ events an steyed watchin the muckle law as nicht fell, feart for their husbands an brithers an bairns awa up there in the daurk.

The menfowk made their dulesome wey doun the path o Ben Edra by torchlicht, humphin the bitties o deed airmen wi them. The torches they cairit war vísible fae the clachan ablo.

Aa the wifies watchin Ben Edra saw the same thing. They saw the black o the Trotternish Ridge daurk agin the sky. An they saw these torches as a trail o dottit lichts runnin doun the law. They war fleggit hauf oot their minds: these war the ghaist lichts back ance mair!

Ma mither saw it aa an she garred me ken: the lichts this nicht buir by the menfowk war the same pattern, pace an nummer as the anes as she had seen a puckle year syne, whan her grandmither had caad her tae the windae tae see the inexplicable lichts on Ben Edra.

A wheen o Skeanachs buir witness tae these lichts. Ma grandmither saw it, wir neebours in the clachan saw it. Lachlan Gillies saw it. Tae this day fowk at Staffin still speak aboot the ghaist-lichts, an hou they predíctit the demise o thae puir American sodgers.

Telt by Alec MacDonald tae Alistair Heather.

Alistair HeatherAlistair Heather is the Scots Editor at Bella Caledonia. He studies History an French at Aiberdeen University, an warks wi the Elphinstone Institute promotin the cultur o the North-East. Gie him yer chat @historic_ally on Twitter.

Glossar o key wirds

Scots Inglis
ghaist spirit/phantom
law hill
clachan hamlet/village
muckle big
wee small
Skeanach (Gaelic) (somebody frae the Isle o Skye)
cheil man

Whit’s that wird?

Scots Inglis
gang (pronoonced ‘gang’ or ‘ging’)

Lat the auld witch burn — A tale telt by Marsaili MacLeod, a native o Strathnaver, tae Alistair Heather

Patrick Sellar’s auld hoose stauns on the toff’s estate doun the river Naver fae the clachan. The biggin itsel is cuttit intae twa; ae side is hame tae the ciobair — shepherd in the Gaelic — an the ithir side stauns tuim tae this day. It’s kent as ‘Patrick Sellar’s hoose’, and naebody will bide intae it. A hunner year an mair syne he wis pit in the grund in the kirkyaird at Elgin, an still there isnae a body wha’ll gang near the place. He wis taen on as Factor for the Duke o Sutherland, tae turn the laund at Strathnaver an thereaboot intae sheep ferms. Tae dae this he wis gied the richt tae evict the fowk wha bade there.

Mair nor a dozen brochs rise oot the earth tae gie witness tae auncient life in the strath. Viking place names gar ye ken that thae northren raiders had their time o ascendancy here an aa. The name Sutherland itsel is derived fae the Auld Norse for Sooth-laund. But at the stert o the 19t century Patrick Seller tried tae pit a stap tae the muisic o life that had pleyed in the strath for millenia. He wis efter replacin it wi the foolish bleatin o sheep an the cauld clink o siller in his pooch.

Haud on readin . . . “Lat the auld witch burn — A tale telt by Marsaili MacLeod, a native o Strathnaver, tae Alistair Heather”