TRANS Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 17. Nr. Juni 2010

Sektion 2.3. Minoritäre Sprachen und Kulturen
Sektionsleiter | Section Chairs: Raschid S. Alikajew (Naltschik, Russische Förderation) | Fritz Peter Kirsch (Universität Wien) | George Guţu (Universität Bukarest)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

The Scots language:
discursive construction as a cultural relic(1)

J.W. Unger (Lancaster University and University of Vienna) [BIO]

Email: j.unger [AT]


1. Introduction

The aim of this paper is to demons how good intentions are not enough to promote a minority language. The language in question is the Scots language, whose historical development and present situation is described in the first part of this paper. The apparent good intentions are those of the Scottish Executive, i.e. the government of Scotland from 1999 to 2007. They commissioned a policy document entitled ‘A Strategy for Scotland’s Languages’ which was put out for consultation in early 2007. In this paper, I analyse this document in detail using a critical discourse analysis framework, which is briefly outlined in section 3. Following this, I attempt to show that, while the content alone already gives activists and academics enough to be concerned about, the problem is compounded by the way Scots is discursively constructed.


2. What is Scots?

According to Derrick McClure, Scots has no name ‘which can be used without the need for explanation or the risk of controversy’ (McClure 1997: 5). It is clear that it is an Indo-European language variety which belongs to the group of Germanic languages, and it is also clear that it is very closely related to English. It is not, however, always a case of ‘either-or’; following Aitken (1979b) and many scholars since,  I see Scots today as existing on a continuum with Scottish Standard English. Varieties most distant from Scottish Standard English can be called ‘broad Scots’, while those which show only minor differences might be called ‘Scottish English’. These differences may occur at different linguistic levels:

That there are clear differences between broad Scots and Scottish Standard English should be apparent to both linguists and laypeople. It should be just as apparent (to scholars of language history and language policy, at least), that there are fierce debates about the naming and legitimacy of a particular linguistic code, in this case a given variety on the Scots-English continuum. To give some context to these debates, I will now outline the major events in the development of Scots. This brief overview is divided into three main sections: the early origins of Scots to the adjournment of the Scottish Parliament in 1707; from 1707 to the end of the nineteenth century; and from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present day.


The earliest origins of the Scots language can be traced to the Northumbrian dialects spoken by Anglo-Saxon settlers in the north-east of present-day England (Northumbria) and the south-east of present-day Scotland (Lothian). These settlers established themselves in the area between the rivers Forth and the Humber from the sixth century onwards (McClure 1997: 2). Although the language they spoke is usually called Old English, it could just as easily be called Old Scots, as it is an ancestor to both languages. In fact, the very earliest extant written records of any Old English variety are in the northern Anglian dialects (Kniezsa 1997: 24; McClure 1997: 2). From the ninth century, the Danelaw started to expand into northern and eastern England, and there is some debate as to the exact nature of the relationship between the more established Anglo-Saxon settlers in Lothian and the newer Anglo-Scandinavian settlers further south. Even if more precise details were known about this period, it would be difficult to determine which language variety most influenced later forms of Scots, because they shared a common origin and many lexical items (Corbett, McClure and Stuart-Smith 2003: 6).

From the eleventh century, political changes further south again affected Scotland: some time after the Norman conquest of England, the originally mainly Gaelic-speaking Scottish monarchy was reorganised “on Anglo-Norman lines” by Malcolm III and the monarchs who followed him (McClure 1997: 4). Margaret, an English princess who was fleeing from the Norman invasion of 1066, married Malcolm III, and brought with her a large retinue of Anglo-Saxon courtiers and attendants (Corbett, McClure and Stuart-Smith 2003: 7). Their youngest son, David I, was educated in the Norman-English court, and had a great influence both on the political structures of the Scottish realm and the language used by its ruling elite (Corbett, McClure and Stuart-Smith 2003: 7). During this period, the establishment of market towns or burghs, which served as sites of linguistic contact and centralised judiciary and economic power, led to an increase in the use of Anglo-Saxon languages in part because the institutions were imported from Anglo-Saxon speaking regions (McClure 1997: 4; Corbett 1997: 4). A further contributing factor may have been the rise in immigration due to refugees (Corbett 1997: 4) from the harsh conditions further south under William the Conqueror and his heirs, combined with the Scottish policy of granting land to settlers. These were not all native speakers of Anglo-Saxon languages, but often spoke cognate languages such as Flemish or Scandinavian languages, and the languages of the Anglo-Saxons were certainly closer to these languages than was Gaelic (McClure 1997: 5). Thus, both the political elite and the economically prosperous burgh-residents will have contributed to the shift away from Gaelic and towards the use of languages that contributed to the development of Scots.

The end of the House of Dunkeld (the last mainly Gaelic-speaking Celtic monarchs of Scotland) in the thirteenth century was another pivotal event in the development of Scots. The subsequent monarchs “began to identify themselves with the Lowland rather than the Highland part of their kingdom” (McClure 1997: 6), leading to a shift amongst the elite away from Gaelic and towards the language that would later be called Scots. In the thirteenth century, however, the (non-Celtic) languages spoken in Scotland and England were (confusingly) known to the inhabitants of Scotland as Inglis (Corbett, McClure and Stuart-Smith 2003: 8), while further south the name Englisc was used. An alternative name for the language, Scottis, later Scots, became common, though not universal, in the late 15th century (McClure 1997: 7; Corbett, McClure and Stuart-Smith 2003: 8). This suggests that during this period Scots began to be seen as a distinct language from English.

The period from 1460-1560 has been called the “heyday of the Scots tongue” (Murison 1979:8, cited in Corbett, McClure and Stuart-Smith 2003: 9). The documentary records of this period indicate that the use of Scots was not only widespread, but was present in all domains of public and private life (Corbett, McClure and Stuart-Smith 2003: 9), and can thus be considered as the de facto ‘official language’ of the non-Gaelic-speaking parts of Scotland during this period. However, it was not long before the forces contributing to the anglicisation of Scots, that is to say its convergence with English, took hold (Meurman-Solin 1997: 3). These forces were varied and in some cases very powerful. From the middle of the 16th century, Corbett et al. (2003: 10) identify

increased variation that results from a tension between further divergence and the tendency towards convergence with English forms, as the two nations moved closer politically and, in some respects, culturally.

The actions of the ruling elite seem to have had a great impact on this process. The marriage of James IV of Scotland and Margaret Tudor of England in 1503 paved the way for the eventual Union of the Crowns two generations later, in 1603, when James VI of Scotland also became the ruler of England. This union meant that the Scottish court decamped to England, and eventually adopted the courtly norms (and also language) of their new home (Corbett, McClure and Stuart-Smith 2003: 10).

The Reformation also had an influence on the language use of Scottish people, via their religious practices. The most popular version of the Bible in Scotland in the latter half of the 16th century was produced by English Protestants exiled to Geneva (Corbett, McClure and Stuart-Smith 2003: 11), and the language they used was (southern) English. There is a suggestion that preachers translated readings ad lib into a language variety their congregations would understand and identify with, but these could not necessarily compete with the authority of the written word (Aitken 1979a: 91). Books in general were an anglicising force, with Scottish printers struggling to compete with the volume of books produced by their English counterparts (Corbett, McClure and Stuart-Smith 2003: 11). Although private letters and hand-written public documents also eventually followed this anglicising trend, it is unclear to what extent speech was affected. The legal profession remained one formal context in which Scots was widely used until the end of the 17th century (Corbett, McClure and Stuart-Smith 2003: 11). The years between the Union of Crowns in 1603 and the Union of Parliaments in 1707 do, however, represent a watershed in the history of Scots. After being the ‘official language’ of state, church and law, and a language which was used in a wide variety of public and private contexts, it became a language which was widely suppressed. It continued to be used extensively within communities in spoken form, but not when communicating with outsiders or in formal or published writing.

1707 – 1900

The period following the Union of Parliaments in 1707 showed, on the whole, a continuation of the marked decline of Scots use in private but especially in public life. Gradually, anglicising influences gained the upper hand in all public domains – in the Kirk (‘church’), in literature, in political institutions, in commerce, and in education (Aitken 1979a: 90). Nevertheless, this period also, ironically, produced the person who is probably the best-known user of Scots from a modern perspective, Robert Burns (1759–1796). The decline of Scots leading up to and throughout this period was principally a ‘top-down’ process. As Macafee (1994: 31) puts it:

The decline of Scots does not lie primarily in the loss of speakers, although this is important – Scots was largely given up by the economically and politically powerful classes in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

McClure (1995a: 7) describes the gradual expansion from the elite to other segments of society:

Whereas formerly the use of LSc [Scots] had been natural and unconsidered, it was now [after 1625] seen by an influential and increasingly numerous section of the population as undesirable.

Despite this, it seems that Scots (in some form) continued to be used, especially spoken Scots and non-literary and non-elite written Scots. The evidence for this lies in the well-documented attempt by various eighteenth century educators and grammarians (both English and Scottish) to eradicate ‘Scotticisms’ from public discourse (see Jones 1995). This of course raises the question of what exactly they were trying to eradicate, and shows that they felt there was something to eradicate in the first place. According to McClure (1995a: 9) this process was only possible because of the lack of a perceived association between Scotland as a nation and Scots as a national language:

It is significant that the Scots words and idioms which 18th-century literati were fond of compiling to remind themselves how not to speak were designated 'Scotticisms'. Had those men [sic] perceived their home speech as a national language, no such concept could have arisen: one does not look for Gallicisms in French.

Whatever the respective statuses of the dominant and declining language varieties, those on the receiving end of this eradication campaign used language which must have been markedly different from Southern English speech and writing. Though wide-ranging, the ‘de-Scotticisation’ of Scots did face some opposition – Jones (1995: 1) points to a number of contemporary linguistic commentators and public figures who “found this ‘linguistic cleansing’ profoundly distasteful and even un-patriotic”. Nevertheless, schoolmasters beat pupils, audiences ridiculed speakers and persons of letters sought to publicly humiliate those whose language showed ‘shortcomings’.

In the nineteenth century, mass literacy had a part to play in the hastening of the decline of Scots. As a written standard (almost always English) became increasingly accessible to the population, it brought with it the weight and authority of ‘proper’, ‘correct’ language (see McClure 1995b: 22), leaving non-standardised written Scots as the ‘poor country cousin’. From this point to the denigration of spoken Scots it was then only a small step (see also Meurman-Solin 1997: 4). However, Scots survived and spoken Scots continued to be used throughout this period, even if it was only as (in the view of users and non-users alike) a ‘dialect of English’, the language of ‘country bumpkins’, etc. Industrialisation may have been another factor, as the need to assimilate to the forms of speech of a growing urban workforce (including many Gaelic speakers supplanted by the Highland Clearances, who would not have been native Scots speakers) may have led to the “virtual obliteration of the native dialects by the speech of immigrants from other parts of Scotland” (McClure 1995a: 11).

1900 – Present

The early 20th Century brought with it a renewed interest in Scots as a written language. A group of poets and writers led by C M Grieve, writing as Hugh MacDiarmid, “set out to create a medium for literary expression by drawing on all the resources of Scots, present and past” (Price 1984: 189). This ‘Scottish Renaissance’ led to the publication of (mainly verse) texts in so-called ‘synthetic Scots’. This new form of Scots was not a revival of spoken Scots, then, but of written Scots, and a markedly literary form of written Scots at that. According to McClure (1995a: 12) it “has had no effect whatever on the spoken forms” of Scots. Furthermore, “every piece of writing in synthetic Scots is to some extent a linguistic experiment.” (McClure 1995b: 23). Nevertheless, MacDiarmid and his contemporaries were successful in at least one of their aims. They set out to prove that Scots could be used as a contemporary written language, and the substantial body of work they collectively produced certainly indicates they did this.

Later in the 20th century, various movements seeking greater political independence for Scotland did not associate themselves explicitly with language issues as was the case, for example, in Catalonia (see Kay 1998). Macafee (2001) reports that there was no ‘politics of Scots’ until the 1990s. However, there was a noticeable shift in educational policy away from the previous overt and unapologetic suppression of certain language varieties, as exemplified in a 1952 report from the Scottish Education Department which recommended excluding “slovenly perversions of dialect” (quoted in Aitken 1979a: 98). Corporal punishment for the use of Scots was common into the late 20th century and was only formally outlawed in all Scottish schools in 2000 (see Unger forthcoming). Nevertheless, policy did not change overnight to become notably pro-Scots. The continued decline of rural communities led to a further decline in traditional dialects of Scots, notably among younger age groups. At the same time, however, new dialects of Scots were emerging in inner cities (see Macafee 1994). A UK-wide change in broadcasting policy during and after World War II meant that at least Scottish Standard English was heard more in broadcast media. Throughout the century, Scots increasingly became a popular element of comedy in both broadcast and print media (e.g. ‘The Broons’, ‘Oor Wullie’, the work of Stanley Baxter, ‘Scotland the What?’, ‘Rab C Nesbitt’, ‘Chewin the Fat’, etc.). The year 1983 saw the publication of W L Lorimer’s translation into Scots of the New Testament (Lorimer 1983) and both this work and the first edition of the Concise Scots Dictionary (Robinson 1985)enjoyed great popularity (Macafee 1996). From the 1970s onwards, a group of academics and Scots language activists gradually established a body of research on Scots; their work is cited frequently in the present article. Though this apparently increased public interest in Scots did not equal a change in the language attitudes and perceptions of the general public, it set the scene for language policy changes and initiatives after the re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999.

Following devolution(3), it seemed to take a while for Scots-related issues to come to the attention of the Scottish Parliament (see Millar 2006). Although the precarious situation of Gaelic was quickly recognised and (in some small way) addressed through such initiatives as Gaelic-language signage in the new Parliament building, and the right for Gaelic speakers to address their political representatives in their native language, Scots did not enjoy the same recognition nor promotion by policy. However, in 2003 the Cross Party Group on the Scots Language was established. This consisted of Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) from various political parties and invited academics, language activists, authors, and representatives of organisations connected to Scots. The Scottish Executive produced a draft consultation entitled ‘A Strategy for Scotland’s Languages’ in 2007, and although this was heavily criticised by activists and academics (see analysis below) and appears to have been scrapped by the incoming Scottish Government later in 2007, it at least mentioned Scots as one of the languages under its remit.

Other significant events in recent years include an increase in newly written works of poetry, fiction and educational books in Scots. There are now several publishers who specialise in publishing books in and about Scots or who publish books in Scots alongside works in other languages (e.g. Itchy Coo and Luath Press). A significant event in terms of educational policy was the introduction of an Advanced Higher paper specifically on Scots Language in 2000-2001, although no students selected this paper in its first year, and very few did in its second year (Scottish Qualifications Authority n.d.). One recent ‘failure’ (from the point of view of Scots activists) was the resistance by the General Register Office for Scotland to the inclusion of a question on Scots in the 2001 Census. Despite a campaign and support (albeit not unanimous) from a number of linguists and other academics, the decision was not to include the question. Another area (in this case outside the control of the Scottish Parliament) in which the aims of Scots activists were thwarted was the ratification of the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages (ECRML). Although the UK government ratified two parts of the charter with respect to Scots in Scotland, it chose not to ratify the crucial third part, which deals with the practical application of the charter to policy and education (Millar 2006).(4) 

Changes in the political and social structures of Scotland throughout its history have affected the development of Scots. Just as the Unions of Crown and Parliament played their part, their ‘reversal’ (the devolution process) has already had a highly significant impact on ‘top-down’ language policies in present-day Scotland. The change in leadership from the Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition that formed the Scottish Executive from 1999 to 2007 to the present Scottish Government formed by the Scottish National Party (SNP), who made several commitments concerning Scots in their election manifesto, may also prove to have a marked effect.(5)


3. Theoretical approach and methodology

My research on Scots follows two main theoretical strands. On the one hand, I draw on the discourse-historical approach, an approach to critical discourse analysis pioneered by Ruth Wodak (see e.g. Wodak 2001). The discourse-historical approach emphasises the historical and present dimension of discourse, (broadly defined here as texts with a social function, i.e. texts and society are mutually constitutive), including the importance of different levels of context (Wodak 2001). Further details on my methodological application of critical discourse analysis are given below. The second theoretical strand comes from the work of the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, who came up with a rich system of heuristic metaphors to investigate how societies work. One of these, the notion of ‘symbolic capital’ (Bourdieu), suggests that our non-tangible, non-material ‘possessions’ (such as our language and education) also have an impact on our ‘worth’, alongside our material wealth. Associated with this is the idea of the ‘linguistic market’, which postulates a system of implicitly understood rules of price formation when people interact verbally. I see this as clearly applicable to Scots, in particular because it typically has a low ‘value’ on many markets.

My methods of investigating this complex area have involved first gathering information about the historical, social and cultural contexts (see above) in which Scots is used (or not used, as is often the case!) and talked or written about. Within these contexts, I have found relevant texts for analysis – their relevance is determined in part by their importance (i.e. their distribution, how renowned or powerful their authors are, whether they have influence in situations where Scots is used or forbidden), and in part by their salience (i.e. they are about Scots, or I would expect them to include Scots as a topic). I analyse one such text, the draft policy document ‘A Strategy for Scotland’s Languages’, in the following section. In addition to examining the content of the document, I also analyse its linguistic features in detail; in particular, how its authors have discursively constructed Scots. I see the following linguistic features as important in this particular text:

In the following section, then, I present my analysis of this document, both in terms of its contents and its linguistic composition.


Analysis of ‘A Strategy for Scotland’s Languages’


The Scottish Executive (SE) released a draft version of a document entitled ‘A Strategy for Scotland’s Languages’ for consultation in early 2007. This was made available via the Executive’s website, and responses from individuals and organisations were invited. I selected this text for closer analysis because I see it as a key language policy document – it is the only document in which the SE explicitly lays out its goals with respect to Scots (although the goals themselves are far from concrete, as I shall demonstrate below). Furthermore, it allows a close comparison of the SE’s treatment of other languages with its treatment of Scots. Although at the time of writing the responses to the consultation had not yet been officially published, the Scots Language Centre (an organisation whose main aim is to promote the Scots language) had posted a number of responses, voluntarily provided by respondents, on its website. These responses were almost all very critical of the document, some in general terms and some giving specific items which were insufficient and needed to be amended. The main areas of contention were the statement that ‘Scots is not an endangered language’, the lack of information available about Scots on which to base the statements in the strategy, and the perceived inequality of the provisions for Scots and for other languages. Each of these points is taken up in further detail below.

As mentioned above, there is very little sociolinguistic information about Scots. The Scottish Executive does not know the number of Scots speakers, where they live, or how frequently or fluently they speak Scots, and nor does anyone else, apart from educated guesswork. Furthermore, Scots is not very ‘visible’ as a language distinct from English – even its speakers are said to think of it as ‘bad English’ (McClure 1997). Scots is in a very different position to English and Gaelic, two other languages included in the strategy. While English is undoubtedly the most widely-spoken language in Scotland, and the one used by the majority of Scottish people for formal interactions outside the home, there is a similar lack of reliable data about the use of English. Rather, what data there is has been extrapolated from census questions about nationality and country of origin. With regard to Gaelic, there have been more detailed sociolinguistic surveys, which place the number of Gaelic speakers at around 60-90,000 (Walsh and Macleod 1997).

It is unclear why the Scottish Executive decided to issue a languages strategy at this point – perhaps they were keen to comply with demands placed on them by the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, or by the EU’s common framework for modern language education. However, it is rather more clear that Scots has not been a priority for the Scottish Executive up to this point (Millar 2006), and it is my perception that the Scottish National Party did not make language a key issue in its manifesto. Now that they are in government, it remains to be seen whether they will place more emphasis on Scots, and whether the strategy will accordingly change on the basis of comments from those consulted.


The extract analysed in this section is part of a longer document comprising over 20 pages. In addition to providing a rationale for the strategy itself, it provides details of the SE’s policies relating to both indigenous (English, Gaelic, Scots) and other (e.g. British Sign Language, ‘Other Minority/Community Languages’) and also details of language provision and related initiatives. Responses I have read criticised the document for being vague and unfocussed, at times conflicting, as well as treating different languages unequally. The section I have chosen for detailed analysis is the part of the policies section relating specifically to Scots. It is reproduced on the following page, with added line numbers and my added emphasis of certain features (see key).



The Scots language is an important part of Scotland’s cultural heritage. It is a living language and is still widely spoken across Scotland today in a variety of forms such as Scots, Doric and Lallans. Unlike Gaelic, Scots is not an endangered language and has considerable overlap with Scottish Standard English. However, it is important that we recognise, respect and celebrate the Scots language as an integral part of our cultural heritage. We must also ensure a familiarity with the language so that we continue to understand not only our literature and our historical record but also our contemporary arts as well.

We are aware that there are many people in Scotland who do not regard Scots as a separate language. Scots, however, was once recognised as a language of government, business, academia and everyday life in Scotland. Scots, like English, German, Dutch, Norwegian and Danish, is a Germanic language. It is important for the confidence of Scots speakers that we recognise and respect it as a distinct language. We should not assume that speaking Scots is an indication of poor competence in English. Instead, we should celebrate the contribution that Scots has made to the modern English vocabulary as well as the influence that Scots speakers have had on the modern world – in disciplines such as science, literature, economics, politics, philosophy and the arts.

People in Scotland who are not from Scots-speaking families or communitiesshould also be encouraged to celebrate Scots as an important part of our diverse cultural heritage. Familiarity with Scots allows us to enjoy not only the great literature of the past but contemporary arts and culture as well.

The Executive’s National Guidelines on English Language 5-14 advocate the inclusion of Scots in the school curriculum where appropriate. The Guidelines advocate the inclusion of Scots literature in the curriculum, and Learning and Teaching Scotland produces teaching materials in support of this inclusive policy. This allows pupils to be confident and creative in language and to develop notions of language diversity, within which they can appreciate the range of accents, dialects and forms of expression they encounter. This helps children value the Scots they may use at home or with their peers.

In addition, there are a range of groups supporting and promoting Scots, including the Scots Language Society, the Scots Language Resource Centre, Scottish Language Dictionaries, Dictionary of the Scottish Tongue, and the Association for Scottish Literary Studies. These groups have made important contributions towards raising the profile of Scots and thus enriching Scotland’s cultural life.

Key: bold = social actors; italic = epistemic modality; grey letters = deontic modality; underline = evaluation

Extract from: A Strategy for Scotland’s Languages: Draft version for consultation. Full text available from:



It seems to me (and to several other respondents to the consultation) that this document fails as a strategy with respect to Scots, for several key reasons:

Of particular concern to consultation respondents is the emphasis on ‘celebrating’, ‘respecting’, etc. without any real discussion of how Scots will be promoted or how the strategy will be implemented. This view of the content of this policy is supported by my analysis of the linguistic construction of Scots, as I will show in the following section.

Detailed linguistic analysis

I have marked certain linguistic features in the text, namely social actors, modality (both epistemic and deontic) and evaluation. In this section, I pick out the most salient of these and discuss how these contribute to the linguistic construction of Scots in this extract.

Social actors

The first-person plural pronouns we, our and us are widely used in the text – a little under half of the total of included social actors. It is unclear to me whether we refers to the authors of the text (civil servants in the SE’s Gaelic Unit) or its principal (the Scottish Executive), or whether it is intended to be more inclusive and refer to ‘Scottish society’ and/or all readers of the document. The we in line 10 seems to refer to the authors of the document because the sentence also refers to ‘many people in Scotland’. I assume, however, given the high levels of deontic modality in the text (see below), that the we social actor in the rest of the document has society as its target. This, by means of an implicature, shows that the social actors included in the text are presumed to not already respect, celebrate, etc. Scots.

Pupils and children are referred to as they in the penultimate paragraph of the text. This is not, however, an indication of a straightforward ‘us and them’ (i.e. negative-self and positive-other representation). Rather, I see this as a sign that children/pupils are not included in the readership of the text.


As mentioned above, there is a high incidence of deontic modality in the extract. This is not surprising in a policy/strategy document. It indicates that the authors wish for the grammatical subjects of the modality (in this case mainly we) to change the world in some way by carrying out certain actions or adopting certain behaviours. It is also noteworthy that the epistemic modality in the text is predominantly unmarked, in other words the authors express a high level of confidence in the truth value of the assertions made by the text. The one exception to this is the section mentioned above in which pupils/children become the subjects – in this section, the modal verbs can and may indicate uncertainty as to the validity of the statements. Given the aforementioned lack of sociolinguistic information about Scots (particularly among children), this is not surprising (and perhaps even refreshingly honest).

Evaluation and lexicalisation

Evaluation (of Scots) occurs in two main forms in this extract: first, evaluative words and phrases which refer directly to Scots (e.g. 2); and second those which refer to users or promoters of Scots or their actions (e.g. 11-12, 28), and by extension are evaluative towards Scots itself. The adjectives important, integral, distinct, and positively connoted nouns and verbs (e.g. contribution, recognise, respect, celebrate, enjoy) suggest a positive construction of Scots. However, most of the positively evaluative terms are from quite a narrow lexical field, in that they are all related to what might be called ‘celebrating diversity’. The second group is somewhat more varied, including evaluations that draw on the topos of number (e.g. widely spoken) and those that draw on the topos of history (was once recognised as a language of government, business, academia and everyday life).


In contrast to the predominantly positive linguistic evaluation, this passage shows signs of (de)valuation in a Bourdieuan sense. An obvious place to start is the choice of language for the document itself. This is available in English and Gaelic, but not in Scots (nor any of the other languages it deals with). This indicates that Scots, despite being widely spoken and enriching Scotland’s cultural life, is not valuable enough on the linguistic market in which this document is being ‘sold’ to warrant its use. A further indication is the lack of mention of Scots as a written language, or as a possible choice for today’s government, business, etc.


Strategy documents can be essentially argumentative, in that they set out intended actions for the future and give justifications for these actions, and for how they will be implemented. This extract is no exception, and may thus be seen as an attempt to persuade readers of something. I would contend that this text is trying to persuade readers that Scots is important. It attempts to do this by drawing on several key topoi: the topos of history/heritage (i.e. the historical importance of Scots and its role in the ‘cultural heritage’ of Scotland), the topos of official documents (the ‘5-14 guidelines’, i.e. Scotland’s national educational guidelines), and the topos of diversity (an important part of our diverse cultural heritage). Unlike texts produced by Scots activists or scholars, it does not make use of the topos of human/linguistic rights


Based on the analysis above, I have to conclude that this document constructs Scots as no more than cultural and heritage resource. Its (possible) use as a viable functional and communicative medium is backgrounded. As a result, it seems unlikely that it will effect increased use or recognition of Scots, and nor is it likely to improve public attitudes towards Scots. These kinds of discursive constructions are typical of ‘top-down’ discourse on Scots, but have also been adopted by Scots speakers and even some Scots activists (Bourdieu would say that it has become part of their habitus). Thus, many Scots speakers, while claiming to be fiercely proud of ‘their’ language, will nevertheless try to ensure that their children learn Standard Scottish English, and will tell them to ‘speak proper’, if they deviate from their perceived standard. This may be the result of hundreds of years of active suppression by authority figures (teachers, academics, parents, etc.) combined with a gradual decrease in the symbolic value of Scots on most linguistic markets: if children have to learn to ‘speak proper’ to get ahead in life, there is little incentive for them to continue speaking Scots.





1 Parts of the ‘What is Scots’ section of this paper were published as a working paper in the Vienna English Working Papers series at the Department of English, University of Vienna.
2 Scottish vowels have been extensively described, e.g. recently for Urban Scots by Stuart-Smith (2003).
3 Devolution in this context refers to the process whereby control over a number of political and administrative structures was transferred from the Westminster parliament to the new Scottish Parliament.
4 For further discussion of the ECRML in Scotland, see Dunbar (2001)
5 This might not, however, be a positive effect: at the time of writing, the funding for the Scots Language Centre and Scottish Language Dictionaries (the two main publicly-funded bodies which promote Scots) is set to be withdrawn by the Scottish Government in 2009.
6 Numbers in parentheses refer to line numbers in the extract.

2.3. Minoritäre Sprachen und Kulturen

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J. W. Unger: The Scots language: discursive construction as a cultural relic - In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 17/2008. WWW:

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