If ye dinnae ken what Scots is, it’s the leid o the Scots fowk. Fae Scotland, ken?

Scots has been a written language since medieval times, but it lost much of its social prestige as a written language after the Act of Union (1707), when it became fashionable for young, upper middle class, trend-setting Scottish people to speak English as if they were from the newly reinforced center of political and economic power, London (and I don’t mean they spoke Cockney, either). The language of London trickled down to the middle class, until there was a quite the social bias against speaking Scots.

And so Scots became, for a long time, the language of home and hearth, street and field. But not the language of books, school, academics, politics, or finance. There was an institutional bias against Scots, and it was not used formally in politics or education. Children were scolded– beaten even– for using Scots words and grammar in school. It never died out, but with some notable exceptions, it wasn’t much of a publishing medium for a few hundred years. Many Scots speakers do not think of Scots as a language; it’s quite common for them to describe it as “bad English.” It doesn’t help that some linguists still do too.

Now, however, as you may know, especially if I’ve bent your ear on the subject, Scots is flourishing, and so its prestige is rising again. It’s been building for decades. And to ring in the 21st Century, there is a spate of fiction, poetry and drama writing, a slew of new childrens’ books (indeed, childrens’ presses), language learning materials, and so on.

There’s still room for growth, though; the Scottish Parliament has a Cross Pairty Group on the Scots Leid which has written a document called “Scots: a Statement o Principles” that you can download here; and there’s a link to the SCPB Leid Policy here, which outlines which languages are used in the Scottish Parliament, and when. The language of the Scottish Parliament is mainly English, though debate is allowed in Scots as well as English, and in other languages (for example, Gaelic or British Sign Language, in which case translators are provided).

All this is progress. The day the Scottish Parliament re-convened on 12 May 1999 (the previous meeting adjourned on 25 March 1707), Dr. Winnie Ewing greeted the Parliament in English and Gaelic. Scots, spoken by more people in Scotland than Gaelic, was not officially used in this address. According to the documents above, Scots has some limited role in the new Parliament, and given the way things are going for Scots, it is bound to grow, as it should. On the other hand, the European Parliament, which has many official languages, does not give official status to many minority or regional languages, especially those that aren’t official languages of the various nations; Scots is one of those.

But now, there is a Scots-language Wikipedia at http://sco.wikipedia.org. There are other wikipedias besides the one English speakers are most familiar with. The Scots one differs from some of the wikipedias in other languages, because its the first Encyclopedia in the Scots language in the world. It also differs from these other wikipedias because Scots is not yet a codified language. Scots speakers aren’t in 100% agreement about how to represent their language in writing. (This may sound strange to you, but look at books written just a few hundred years ago in English, and you’ll see more than a little variety in how words are spelled, for example.)

Despite any minor disagreements, though, communication is flourishing. And it’s braw.

braw: a. Fine, elegant, beautiful, excellent
ken: v. know
leid: n. language