Taking the leid: Scots needs more promotion at a national level
Scots words - Image credit: lanan via Flickr
“It was old Scotland that perished then, and we may believe that never again will the old speech and the old songs, the old curses and the old benedictions, rise but with alien effort to our lips.”
So predicted one of the closing passages of Sunset Song, but fortunately that ‘old speech’ is still heard.
A couple of weeks ago, Aberdeenshire Council’s Education Committee voted unanimously to support proposals to bring Doric into schools and to promote the Scots language more widely in the region.
The new language guidelines will incorporate the language into the curriculum, working with partners such as the Elphinstone Institute on materials for teachers, and also develop a Doric trail and support traditional music in the area.
They will give schoolchildren in Aberdeenshire the right to teaching about, and in, Doric for the first time.
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Across Scotland, 30 per cent of the population identified themselves as Scots speakers in the 2011 census, and in Aberdeenshire the figure was almost half, 49 per cent, yet there is no public body equivalent to Bòrd na Gàidhlig responsible for the promotion of Scots at a national level.
Scots tends to feature as part of culture studies, through Burns poetry or folk music, but not so much promoted as a living daily language.
Organisations are not expected to have a Scots language plan, it is not taught as a discrete Higher or as a standalone degree – although it is an option as part of some language and literature degrees.
Schoolchildren can’t be sent to a Scots-medium primary and non-Scots speakers can’t learn it at a night class and then try out their newly acquired skills.
Using Scots in public life is still uncommon – and apart from the token swearing-in ceremony, neither Scots nor Gaelic is used in the chamber of the Scottish Parliament in the way that Welsh is in the Senedd and looks set to be in the Welsh Grand Committee at Westminster.
Scots often suffers from a problem of lack of high register, and trying to use it in official documents involves inappropriate-sounding terms, using ‘high heid yin’ for chief executive or – my personal favourite, which a friend spotted in an Ulster Scots document from Northern Ireland – ‘children with special educational needs’ translated as ‘wee daftie bairns’.
Even the term ‘Doric’ was originally used to imply rustic and teuchtie – as opposed to the Attic of big city Athens. And this will remain unchanged if it is not taught or used in official contexts.
In the same week that Aberdeenshire Council made its decision, the draft third five-year National Gaelic Language Plan was also launched.
Since the first Gaelic plan in 2005, BBC Alba has exposed people throughout the country who might not otherwise have taken an interest in the language and provided the opportunity for exposure to a wider vocabulary than would be used in normal conversation.
At the same time, the Gaelic arts are increasingly popular and more and more children are going through Gaelic-medium education.
And while there is still much to be done for Gaelic if centuries of decline are to be reversed – and children who learn Gaelic only in school do not have the same level of proficiency as native speakers who have spoken the language in their families and communities all their lives – progress is being made.
The next language plan looks, among other things, at increasing early-years childcare through the medium of Gaelic so that children are not first exposed to it when they start school.
In 2015 the Scottish Government published its Scots language policy, and Education Scotland also has a Scots language action plan, but if we are not to see the words of Sunset Song become a reality in our lifetime, more work like Aberdeenshire Council’s plans to promote the language need to be put in place for Scots at a national and regional level to give it the use and recognition it deserves.