Scots, "linguaphobia" [Long]
|Date:||Monday, August 21, 2000, 17:54|
> I think I need an explanation on this Scots language. I would
> have guessed that were some kind of Gaelic, but that's called
> 'Scots Gaelic', right? So Scots is a lingo too different from
> English to be a mere dialect or just accent?
Well, is Scotland at least, this is quite a contentious subject!
Basically, Scots is what developed out of the Northern dialect(s) of
Anglo-Saxon, whereas "standard" (southern) English developed out of southern
dialect(s) of Anglo-Saxon. There was also a lot of Norse influence on Scots,
as compared with English, due to sizeable Norse settlements in what is now
Scotland (and Northern England too, I think). The main differences between
Scots and English are in pronunciation and lexicon, but there are some
differences in grammar and syntax as well.
In addition, older Scots developed an orthoraphy that was distinct from
Middle English in a number of ways, the most notable (IMO) being the
continued use of the letters "thorn" and "yogh" in Scotland for a long time
after they stopped being used in England; when printing pressed came around,
the letter "z" was often used to replace "yogh", resulting in spellings like
"ze" and "zear"/"zeir" for "ye" and "year"! Another distinctive spelling was
"quh" where English used "wh", for example in the question words:
"quhat"/"quhit" (what), "quha" (who), etc. Also the ending "-cioun" for
"-tion" in French/Latin loan words ("nacioun", "temptacioun", etc.) None of
these spellings are used in Modern Scots, however!
Basically, after the Treaty of Union in 1707, southern English replaced Scots
as the language of government, education, and so on, and Scots tended to be
regarded (and still is, by too many people) as a something of a collection of
"backward peasant dialects" of English. Children who went to school saying
they lived in a /hu:s/ were told "No, you live in a /haus/". And you don't
"gang awa", you "go away". To this day there's a sort of diglossia in much of
Scotland where people will use a lot of Scots within their family, for
example, but at work, or out in public, they will "speak proper".
The result of all this today is that there is no "standard" Scots to speak
of, but a number of different regional dialects, and most Scots speakers
actually speak a mixture (in varying degrees) of Scots and English. It seems
that very few people are able (or willing) to speak in pure Scots -- those
who do tend to be quite old and live way out in the countryside. There's
something of a movement now to seek recognition of Scots as a separate
language, get financial support for Scots language projects, and so on, but
it's something of an uphill struggle. Many people still consider Scots "just
a dialect of English" or "English with some funny words thrown in". It
doesn't help matters, IMO, that many political activists campaigning for
Scots routinely water down and Anglicize their Scots in order that their
articles and speeches be more or less immediately comprehensible to non-Scots
speakers, which leads people to say "So that's Scots? See, it is just a
dialect of English!". Whereas if they would really use the full register of
Scots lexicon and idiom, a lot of people wouldn't understand them without a
translation, but I think it would really help their cause of getting Scots
recognized as a language separate from English.
Here's a rather sad commentary on the current situation: a good friend of
mine at university (I went to university in Scotland, in Aberdeen) who is a
native Scots speaker and political activist for Scots, founded a
Scots-language history journal called "Cairn". I think they're up to volume 3
or 4 now, and they publish scholarly articles on all sort of historical
topics, written in Scots. When the first issue was published, my friend and
his colleagues were very pround of themselves for producing the first
academic writing in Scots to be published in almost 300 years. However, all
the attention they got had nothing to do with this fact; they kept getting
letters from other Scots academics arguing over their orthography! They got
all sort of grief for not spelling certain words the way some particular
scholar thought they ought to be spelled, and very little attention paid to
the content or importance of what they had accomplished!
Another sad fact is that a lot of people who campaign for Scottish Gaelic
also campaign against Scots -- there's a lot of "no, *WE'RE* the true
language of Scotland", "No, *WE* are!" going on -- Gaelic activists have a
vested interest in preventing Scots from getting any sort of recognition,
because that would result in Scots-language programs getting some of the
funding from the government that Gaels want for themselves. Since I am
interested in both Gaelic and Scots, and would like to see both languages
thrive, this competition against each other instead of working together as
the two traditional languages of Scotland makes me quite sad.
> And close enough to Frisian for some comprehensibility!?
> Tell me more about this, please.
I don't know much about this, other than one of my Scots-speaking
aquaintances (and another Scots political activist) told me that he had had
this conversation. I wasn't there so I have no idea how much
comprehensibility there truly was. However, a number of the Scots activists I
know are interested in Frisian, as the "next closest Germanic language" and a
fellow minority language.
> I, personally, am sick of linguo-centrism in Iceland and the
> indoctrination present in our school system.
I would be interested in hearing more about this "indoctrination". I have
read, of course, about the Icelandic intelligentsia wants to keep the
language "pure", and that there's a commitee or organization of some sort
which comes up with "pure" Icelandic terms for new technologies, and so on.
But what sort of indoctrination do you get in schools?
> Would the Americans here be offended if I stated that there
> seems to be a considerable sentiment of "linguaphobia" in
> American society?
This one wouldn't; in fact I agree with you. And as somebody who loves
languages, I really don't like it.
> I mean, isn't that an outright violation of American law (e.g. the
> oft-quoted "freedom of speech" article)?
Personally, I believe that "freedom of speech" entails the right to be free
to speak in whatever language you choose!
But there is a lot of antipathy towards anything not English in the society
at large, I think. (And I found this to be true in the UK too, not just the
I still remember vividly one occasion, many years ago now, when I was riding
the subway into town, and there were a bunch of rowdy Israeli kids who were
shouting and yelling at each other in Hebrew. An old lady sitting across from
me leaned over and said that the level of noise was disturbing her, and would
they mind please keeping their voices down. Fair enough, I thought, they were
being rather loud. But then she turned to them again, and added "...and
you're in America now! Speak English!"
I couldn't believe she said that.