AS someone who was born in Scotland but not of Scottish heritage, the continual knocking of the Scots language that crops up with remarkable regularity, genuinely floors me every time.

Here is a language that is at least 900 years old, was spoken by kings and ordinary people, used to write official records, was the language of most of the work of arguably one of the world’s most famous poets, Rabbie Burns, is part and parcel of a nation’s identity and, at the last census, was spoken, read or understood by 1.5 million people.

A language so different from English that in 1604, Englishman and scholar Henry Saville described the English and Scots tongues as being different as Spanish and Portuguese. But yet, when a lassie on Twitter delivers her Scots word of the day, she is abused and trolled like some sort of modern day witch.

And when Scottish working class comedian Janey Godley dares to speak Scots words in a Scottish accent on television, she is referred to as a ‘jakey’ by politician George Galloway. What in the name of Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the wee donkey is going on?

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It’s strange to think I was brought up with the Scots language but didn’t realise it. I remember being about seven or eight years old, misbehaving with my brother and sister and our childminder, a feisty but endlessly kind woman from Drumchapel called Helen, putting her coat on and leaving the house, waggling an angry finger at us: ‘Am no’ takin’ any mair cheek aff you weans’, and us crying after her as she walked down the hill, terrified at what our mum and dad would say when they came back from work.

‘Come back, Helen, ye cannae go, we’ll be fur it.’ And she’d smile and walk back up the hill.

Lelly, as we called her, was no ‘jakey’. She was hard-working, proud, kind and fiercely loyal. We loved her to bits, and her influence was all over the Super 8 film of me aged 10 commentating on a family trip to Loch Katrine sprinkled with some choice Scots words and a strong Glaswegian accent to boot.

Watching it is like listening to a favourite piece of long lost music. But, by 16, five years in a private school had created a homogenised west end, middle class sounding me with not a Scots word in sight, where even the whispering of an ‘aye’ or a ‘heid’ or a ‘dinnae’ would elicit utter disdain, if not fury from some teachers at the use of what they regarded as ‘slang’.

At the same time as we were all being encouraged to learn as many foreign languages as possible and I wrestled with ‘O’ grade French and German as well as speaking a bit of Urdu and Punjabi at home, another language was being stolen from me without my knowledge.

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Just as many of us were having Scots taught out of us, others were being made to feel somehow inferior if they spoke it. Calling the language ‘slovenly’ or ‘slang’ when working class children had grown up hearing their parents and grandparents speaking it, can’t have been healthy for the psyches of those kids.

Instead of being praised for being bilingual – jumping from Scots to English with total ease when the occasion demanded it – many were embarrassed, and took to over-correcting themselves resulting in weird hybrid accents and speech that were not authentic to who they were and where they came from.

Some I know rejected all Scots as a way of turning their backs on their working class roots as they eased their way into middle class professions.

I literally cringe at having to use this phrase, but the Scottish cringe thing is sadly still alive and well – and has got to be one of the most destructive forces in Scottish society.

Instead of revelling in the diversity of having three indigenous languages in the country – English, Scots and Gaelic – we are embarrassed by what makes us utterly unique and still mock and belittle those who celebrate this cultural richness.

We choose to prefer to speak just the one language – English – in a puzzling example of mono-culturalism. Even writing this, I’m forced to battle with my rebellious laptop’s constant red-lining of the Scots words I’m using, as a constant reminder that we live in an English-dominated world, so I better stay in my lane.

Fortunately, our artists – poets, writers, actors, theatre and filmmakers from Burns to MacDiarmid; Jackie Kay to Shuggie Bain author Douglas Stuart, have embraced the beauty, drama and colourfulness of the language in their works. And, of course, the language continues to thrive amongst ordinary Scottish people in their speech as well as through storytelling, songs and poetry.

For people like me who are privileged to be able to sit in non-Covid times with an Ayrshire family speaking Scots one weekend, and a Pakistani family speaking Punjabi the next, revelling in the glorious expression of both languages and embracing the uniqueness of two historically oppressed languages that refused to fade away is one of the great gifts of living in multi-cultural Scotland.

And every time I see Scots or those speaking Scots berated, I remind myself that the Scots language, and other languages like Punjabi, is evolving and changing all the time, but languages can only survive if they are used. In Scotland we owe a vote of thanks to all those, who like our artists and ‘jakeys’, have preserved parts of our treasured heritage.

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