For our April event we were joined by Ashley Douglas, a multilingual writer and translator specialising in the Scots language and LGBT+ history. Ashley chatted to the group about the importance of Scots in Scottish heritage and offered her tips for how you can begin to apply it to your social media content.
What is Scots?
Scots is a West Germanic language spoken in Scotland. It’s closely related to English, as well as to other Germanic languages such as German and Danish. Linguistically speaking, it developed from a northern dialect of Anglo-Saxon. Politically and historically, it had developed into the literary and record language of the medieval Scottish nation-state by the 1300s.
Why is Scots Important?
Scots is important for the past, the present and the future.
With reference to the past, quite simply, Scots is Scotland’s past. Entire centuries of Scotland’s history took place in the Scots tongue. For generations, the records of state were written in the language – as were some of our most significant works of literature. We can’t read Scotland’s literature or understand its parliamentary records or early laws, or any number of other primary written sources, without Scots.
Telling Scotland’s history without Scots is not telling Scotland’s history at all. The better question is therefore perhaps not why we should use Scots in the heritage sector, but how on earth we can justify not using it – and that means talking both about it, and in it, on social media.
“It’s aboot yaisin Scots baith in the message, and as the medium.”
Crucially, though, Scots is not just our past. It’s also a living breathing part of Scotland’s present, as a living breathing national language of Scotland today. In the last census, 1.5 million people reported that they could speak it and 1.9 million reported that they could speak, read, write or understand it.
Despite this, Scots and its speakers are often marginalised and ridiculed and face extreme prejudice and exclusion.
Using Scots in the heritage sector is a strong and necessary counter to this. Not only does it break down artificial barriers that have been put up between people and their past, it rightfully validates and legitimises Scots and its speakers. It tells people that what they speak is not some corrupt form of English that they should be educated out of, but rather that they are the modern inheritors of what was once the prestige language of state and high literature – and is still a valid and legitimate language today. This can be transformational for their sense of self-worth and self-respect.
We also know that engagement with Scots leads to improved academic attainment and self-esteem, particularly among pupils from more deprived areas.
Using Scots in the heritage sector is fundamentally about basic respect and equality – and you should absolutely be doing it.
Respecting and including Scots in the present also means that you will be helping to preserve and bolster a currently marginalised and minoritised language for future generations – an act of linguistic preservation. You will set an example of good practice to other organisations, both within and outwith the heritage sector.
On a more practical note, it also means that you will be reflecting the spirit and aims of the 2015 Scottish Government Scots Language Policy.
In addition, a new “Scottish Languages Bill” is currently in the early stages of consultation. If you start to meaningfully include Scots now, you’re therefore very likely to find yourself ahead of the legal curve. Although we don’t yet know what the details of that bill will be, it’s promised to “act on the Scots language”, and Ashley anticipates it giving Scots some sort of statutory footing.
How and when to use Scots in your social media content?
Anywhere you can and do use English, you can and should use Scots. Scots is a normal everyday language, capable of use in all settings and circumstances. Every single time you write a post in English, consider also posting it in Scots. Dootless – there will be nae reason no tae.
That said, there are a few dinnaes (don’ts) and daes (dos) tae keep in mind:
- Dinnae use apologetic apostrophes
Apologetic apstrophes are those wee things that get chucked on to Scots words and make them look like an English word with a wee letter missing, as opposed to just a Scots word in its ain richt (its own right). Verbs and prepositions suffer from this a lot. For example, in Scots, verbs arenae missing a g at the end, they just dinnae have one (scrievin, speikin, daunderin etc – NOT scrievin’, speikin’, daunderin’). Similarly, the preposition wi in Scots isnae the English preposition with, absent two letters, but just the Scots preposition, wi. It’s good Scots, not bad English. Using apologetic apostrophes feeds into the notion of Scots as a couthie and defective variant of English. Although you will see them in some written Scots – including poetry; e.g. that of Burns – they are considered extremely bad practice today, and should be avoided.
2. Dinnae use Scots only for one-word or one-phrase wonders
Scots is a language. It exists in fully formed sentences and thoughts and stories. Dinnae just chuck wan Scots word, or a couthie wee phrase, intae an otherwise English post and call that representation. It’s not. If you’re gonnae do a post in Scots, do a full post in Scots; showcase the full breadth of the language – its syntax and grammar as well as its vocabulary.
3. Dinnae use Scots only to be colloquial or jokey or subversive
Closely related to the above points, avoid using “Gift Shop Scots”: the social media equivalent of a heritage site with no Scots on the interpretation boards or anywhere meaningful, but a gift shop filled with mugs and tea towels plastered with cringey Scots words and phrases such as “gie it laldie” or “eejit”. This is extremely damaging to Scots and perpetuates the notion that it is not a serious language worthy of respect, but an object of fun and ridicule. This plays into how its speakers are treated as well.
To sum-up: Nae apologetic apostrophes, nae one-word wonders, nae disrespect.
- Consider whether a particular dialect of Scots is best suited to your audience
For the most part, you’ll probably want a more pan-dialectal, central Scots – but if you have a site in Orkney, or are communicating with folk in the north-east, for example, you may wish to use the Orcadian or Doric dialect of Scots. Scots has a range of vibrant and rich dialects, so be sure to think about those dialects, authenticity and localism when using Scots.
2. In the absence of a formal written standard for Scots at the moment, make sure to maintain internal consistency through a style guide
Choose how your social media accounts are going to spell key words and terms, and stick to it. If you’re not sure how to go about making those spelling choices and develop a style guide, a Scots translator or consultant like Ashley can help you.
3. Consider a dual-language approach, where you publish posts in Scots and English
This ensures wide accessibility and comprehension and demonstrates that Scots and English are different languages. See the National Library of Scotland’s Wee Windaes resource as excellent example of dual-language writing, that is both about Scots and in Scots.
Overall, remember: dialects, consistency, and dual-language approach.
Resources and Support
- The Dictionary of the Scots Language Online (DSL) is an excellent resource: for both pre and post 1700 Scots. Try to source your words there and pay attention to the dominant spelling variants.
- There is also a corpus of modern Scots, which shows the geographical distribution of words.
- That said, Scots is very much a language, with its own distinct rules of grammar and syntax, and its own nuances of vocab and idiom. If you are not a fluent Scots speaker or a confident Scots writer – it’s definitely best to seek expert input. Contact me for more info on this.
- Provision for the use of Scots is also something you should definitely consider adding to most funding applications
Want to learn more? Follow Ashley on Twitter, visit her website, and check out the Scots articles she wrote for Dig It!.
Header Photo by pixelliebe