Denseman on the Rattis

Formerly known as the Widmann Blog


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.

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