Understanding and speaking Scots and English

Stooshie an Stramash
Stooshie an Stramash, a photo by Scots Language Centre on Flickr.
Scot Independence Podcast 19 is an interesting chat with Michael Hance from the Scots Language Centre.

At one point they discuss what should be done to improve the prospects for Scots, and one thing Michael stresses is that schools should stop telling kids Scots words are wrong.

I have a lot of sympathy for this view, but as a foreign learner of Scots I have some concerns, too.

When I moved to Scotland in 2002, I couldn’t understand half of my Scottish colleagues at all (the other half had such a posh pronunciation that I could just about follow what they were saying). It only lasted a few weeks before I was more or less able to understand them, but it just shows that a strong Scottish pronunciation of English (we’re not talking about Scots here!) is enough to complete confound a foreigner. It’s also obvious that my parents are still struggling to understand their daughter-in-law and their grandchildren (when they aren’t speaking Danish, of course), although they have such a posh pronunciation that some Scots think they’re English.

After getting used to the Scottish pronunciation of English, building up a decent vocabulary of Scots work took a long time (and there are still many I don’t know).

The reason I’m mentioning this is because Scottish people often forget how hard is is to understand Scots if you haven’t lived in Scotland. It can be very difficult even if you’re a native speaker of English, and it’s practically impossible if you’re a non-native speaker.

If we start encouraging young people to speak Scots in public, the effect will be that they will find it harder and harder to use their language abroad. It would be a bit absurd if Scotland became the only place in Europe where nobody speaks English.

I guess the solution would be to encourage Scots/English bilingualism. I’m not sure whether that should be done through English-as-a-foreign-language lessons at school, or whether there’s another way.

I guess Scotland could learn some lessons from Switzerland:

Unlike most regional languages in modern Europe, Swiss German is the spoken everyday language of all social levels in industrial cities, as well as in the countryside. Using dialect conveys neither social nor educational inferiority and is done with pride. There are only a few specific settings where speaking Standard German is demanded or polite, e.g., in education (but not during breaks in school lessons, where the teachers will speak in dialect with students), in multilingual parliaments (the federal parliaments and a few cantonal and municipal ones), in the main news broadcast or in the presence of German-speaking foreigners. This situation has been called a “medial diglossia”, since the spoken language is mainly the dialect, whereas the written language is mainly Standard German.

What the Scottish Highlands could have been like

Scotland - Grampian Highlands
Scotland – Grampian Highlands, a photo by Humpalumpa on Flickr.
Iain Macwhirter recently wrote an interesting blog posting comparing the Scottish Highlands with the French Pyrenees.

He’s bemoaning how the latter is still populated and full of affordable housing. As he ways, “[o]ne of the reasons I love the Pyrenees is that it’s what I imagine the Highlands of Scotland would have been like had the people not been cleared from the land to make way for sheep and deer.”

This sentiment reminded me of a song by Màiri Mhór nan Oran that we learnt when I attended the Gaelic summer school at the University of Edinburgh a few years before I moved to Scotland. I’ve forgotten the exact words, but I still remember her despair at seeing perfectly viable farms with replaced with sheep.

I don’t know how realistic it would be to reverse the process, but it shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. The Central Belt is overcrowded, and it would be great if people started moving back to the Highlands.

“Trods alt det” af Rabbie Burns

I Danmark er det eneste kendte Burns-digt vel Skuld gammel venskab rejn forgo, men Jeppe Aakjær var faktisk en stor beundrer af den skotske barde og oversatte mange andre af hans digte.

I Skotland er A man’s a man for a’ that vel stort set lige så berømt some Auld lang syne, og det var også blandt de digte, som Aakjær oversatte.

Desværre oversatte han det dog til rigsdansk, ikke til jysk, og resultatet er et ret højtideligt sprog, som ikke er nært så mundret som den skotske original og Aakjærs jyske digte.

Men i det mindste havde han styr på versefødderne, så oversættelsen kan synges lige så godt som originalen:

  1. Om en af ærlig Fattigdom
    gav Kampen op, og alt det,
    den Stymper gaar vi udenom,
    i Nøden stolt trods alt det.
    Trods alt det og alt det,
    vort sure Stræb og alt det:
    Din Rang er blot Dukatens Præg,
    dens Guld du selv, trods alt det.

  2. Og er vor Dragt end lidet fin,
    vor Kost kun knap og alt det,
    giv Taaber Silke, Skjælme Vin,
    en Mand er Mand trods alt det.
    Trods alt det og alt det,
    trods Gøglets Glans og alt det,
    Retsindets Mand, om nok saa lav,
    er størst blandt Mænd trods alt det.

  3. Se dristigt paa hin Herremand,
    betragt hans Pragt og alt det;
    har han end tusind Tønder Land,
    er han en Nar trods alt det.
    Trods alt det og alt det,
    hans Baand og Kors og alt det,
    et stolt og uafhængigt Sind
    har ikkun Smil for alt det.

  4. Baroner bages bedst ved Gunst,
    Lensgrever med og alt det,
    men det steg over Kongers Kunst
    at skabe Mænd trods alt det.
    Trods alt det og alt det,
    et malet Skjold og alt det,
    den klare Kløgt, den sunde Sans
    i Rang staar over alt det.

  5. Gid hver maa se det store ske
    — og ske det skal trods alt det!
    at Brav-Mands Dont Evropa rundt
    faar Hæd’rens Plads trods alt det!
    Trods alt det og alt det,
    den Dag er nær trods alt det,
    da Mand og Bror er samme Navn
    al Jorden om trods alt det!

Read Arc of Prosperity if you’re interested in Scottish independence

When I created my independence blog, Arc of Prosperity, I decided I would at first publish relevant posts on both blogs.

However, it’s not ideal that there isn’t a primary location for each post. For instance, it means comments on the same story aren’t always made in the same place.

I’ve therefore decided to put my blog postings about Scottish independence exclusively on Arc of Prosperity from now until the referendum.

I’ll post appetisers here, but you’ll be required to follow a link to read the full story.

Scottish Labour after a Yes vote



Johann Lamont
Originally uploaded by Scottish Labour

Scottish Labour seem to be spending all their resources on attacking the SNP in every way possible and on spreading fear and uncertainty about the prospect of Scottish independence. We haven’t heard much about their visions for Scotland after 2014, no matter whether we vote Yes or No, apart from their determination to introduce university tuition fees and possible also prescription charges.

However, I hope and believe they’ll change after a Yes vote. Here’s how I imagine the process would work:

The day after the referendum (autumn 2014) — Scottish Labour press conference with Johann Lamont, Alastair Darling and the Scottish members of the shadow cabinet in Westminster, Douglas Alexander, Jim Murphy and Margaret Curran. They declare that although they’re disappointed with the result, they will respect it, and they will work with the SNP and other Scottish parties to achieve the best possible deal for Scotland in the independence negotiations. Douglas Alexander, Jim Murphy and Margaret Curran resign from the Shadow Cabinet.

Late 2014 — Scottish Labour sever all ties to rUK Labour.

Late 2014 — The Scottish independence negotiation teams are announced. The SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon will head the main team, but Labour politicians get to lead several of the important teams, in particular Douglas Alexander who becomes the head of the foreign affairs team and Jim Murphy who is put in charge of the defence negotiations. Several Liberal Democrat and Conservative politicians also get chosen to lead negotiation teams.

Late 2014 — Several Scottish MPs announce they will apply for rUK citizenship and stand for Westminster seats in England. At the same time, some Scottish MPs representing English seats declare their intention to move back to Scotland and try to get into the Scottish Parliament in 2016.

Late 2014 — A few Labour MSPs give up their seats “for health reasons”. Douglas Alexander, Jim Murphy and Margaret Curran decide to contest these seats. They are duly elected without too much trouble.

Early 2015 — Johann Lamont decides to resign as leader of Scottish Labour because her leadership was too closely tied to the failed Better Together campaign. Douglas Alexander, Jim Murphy and Margaret Curran all decide to run for leader. After an intense campaign, Jim Murphy becomes the new leader of Scottish Labour. [I’m not implying here that Jim Murphy is Labour’s best politician, but he happens to be my local MP.]

7 May 2015 — Westminster elections. By common consent, all main parties in Scotland decide not to put up challengers to the incumbents, given that independence is now only a year away.

April 2016 — Scottish Labour launch their manifesto for Scottish Parliament elections. Now that they can develop their own policies without undue interference from London, they’re suddenly against tuition fees and prescription charges again.

1 May 2016 — Independence Day.

5 May 2016 — Elections to the Scottish Parliament. The winner is unexpectedly Labour, and Jim Murphy becomes Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Scotland.

More devolution will never happen



The Scottish Parliament
Originally uploaded by mariancraig

Sometimes you find interesting articles in unexpected places. For instance, The Sun carried a piece yesterday called “Why promise more devolution when it will never happen?

In it, Andrew Nicoll argues that Scotland has only ever got more devolution to fend off the SNP, so after a No vote to independence there’s no chance anybody will give Scotland any more powers:

[I]t seems to me that every step along the way of devolution has been fired and driven by the threat of the SNP and a drift towards independence.

Take that threat away and there really is no reason to concede anything else.

Let’s look at the history books. Harold Wilson talked about devolution but nothing happened. Ted Heath promised it but nothing happened.

Then the SNP won a third of the vote in Scotland and, all of a sudden Jim Callaghan’s Labour government was determined to deliver.

But Mrs Thatcher said we should vote No and she would offer something better. The 1978 referendum failed, the SNP vote collapsed and Mrs Thatcher changed her mind — not a thing she did often.

Then Labour lost three elections on the trot. Scotland kept voting Labour and kept getting a Tory government. One more heave looked less and less attractive. Suddenly devolution was back on the cards.

And, when devolution finally came, nothing much happened until the SNP ended up as the biggest party in 2007.

Then, suddenly, we had the Calman Commission offering new tax powers to Scotland.

[…]

Why would the Tories give Scotland more devolution powers after [a No vote]? Is it because we will stop voting for the Tories if they don’t? It’s too late, we’ve already stopped.

Why would the Lib Dems give us more powers? Is it because they said they would, like they did over university tuition fees? Do you think there is a single thing the Lib Dems would not give up if it meant they could find themselves in government again?

Why would Labour give us more powers? Is it because we might stop voting Labour?

Well, who else are you going to vote for? Vote for who you like, but you won’t be voting for independence any more.

There won’t be more devolution because there is no need. Just like there will be no need to keep giving Scotland more cash than the rest of the UK.

I must say I agree with this. If Labour, the Tories and the LibDems are serious about giving Scotland further powers after a No vote, they need to pass a law before the autumn of 2014 that gives Scotland those extra powers starting from 2016 or so. If we vote Yes, the law will just never have any effect, but it’s the only way to guarantee that a No vote won’t become the beginning of the end of Scottish devolution.

More about Scotland and the EU



EU Flag
Originally uploaded by hounddog32

A few days ago I blogged about Scotland and the EU. At the time I wasn’t aware of a rather important document that had just been published by the UK parliament.

This document is a written statement about “the foreign policy implications of and for a separate Scotland” by Graham Avery, Senior Member of St. Antony’s College, Oxford University, Senior Adviser at the European Policy Centre, Brussels, and Honorary Director-General of the European Commission. In other words, this is probably the greatest authority that has ever published an opinion on this crucial question.

Here is what he has to say about the question about Scotland’s continued EU membership:

For practical and political reasons the idea of Scotland leaving the EU, and subsequently applying to join it, is not feasible. From the practical point of view, it would require complicated temporary arrangements for a new relationship between the EU (including the rest of the UK) and Scotland (outside the EU) including the possibility of controls at the frontier with England. Neither the EU (including the rest of the UK.) nor Scotland would have an interest in creating such an anomaly. From the political point of view, Scotland has been in the EU for 40 years; and its people have acquired rights as European citizens. If they wish to remain in the EU, they could hardly be asked to leave and then reapply for membership in the same way as the people of a non-member country such as Turkey.

It’s definitely worth reading the entire document.

Needless to say, this document has ignited the Scottish blogosphere. See for instance Wings Over Scotland, Bella Caledonia and Auld Acquaintance.