By Harry Josephine Giles

The teachers who first taught me about Orkney language literature were themselves taught not to use it in school, sometimes through physical punishment. That was the case across Scotland for many folk who spoke dialects of Scots, from Buchan to Bathgate, and it's a familiar story of language suppression. Children who speak in ways not thought proper by power are made to feel uncertain of their own tongues.

As well as disconnecting us from our own history and literature, suppressing language can push many people out of education altogether. That Orcadian poems, stories and possibilities were still passed on to me as a child at school in the 90s was something language activists fought for, and I'll never stop being grateful for their work. Writers and community organisers kept the language alive, through work by authors like CM Costie and Robert Rendall, often forgotten in favour of their more famous Anglophone peers, and through dozens of other local publications.

More than two decades on, I'm looking at the published copies of my own book, Deep Wheel Orcadia, a science fiction verse novel written in the Orkney dialect of Scots, and can't quite believe I've dreamed it into being. I certainly never thought it would be published by Picador, an imprint of one of the Big Four publishers, and that I'd be seeing photos of it in bookshops large and small across the country.

Even better, I'm far from alone: we're in the middle of a literary renaissance for Scots and its dialects. From the stellar success of poet and social media star Len Pennie to the sell-out events for Ely Percy's novel Duck Feet (Monstrous Regiment), writers are showing that there's huge public enthusiasm for the language, and for new writers to pursue their own ideas through it.

HeraldScotland: Harry Josephine Giles's book, Deep Wheel OrcadiaHarry Josephine Giles's book, Deep Wheel Orcadia

At home in Orkney, my own book was published in the same season as Kevin Cormack's poetry collection Toonie Void (Abersee Press) and the anthology gousters, glims and veerie-orums (GMB Fellowship), edited by Alison Miller. Authors, publishers and support projects like the Scots Language Publishing Grant (which supported the editing of my own book) are writing a new future for the language.

At a Book Week Scotland event called Island Literatures, I talked about the possibilities of Scotland's languages with Raman Mundair, Evie Wyld and Pàdraig MacAoidh. We spoke about how power shapes the ways we speak, how language shapes belonging, and how island writing can unsettle these systems. For me, the event was also a reminder of how the future for languages in Scotland needs to be, like Scots itself, diverse, inclusive and rebellious.

Orkney doesn't have a Gaelic linguistic history, with our language rooted instead in the Norse of Viking colonisers. In the Northern Isles I have sometimes heard resentment towards Gaelic, based in the false imagination that "they get all the funding" while the Orkney language supposedly languishes. Roadsigns are mentioned. My reply, always, is that we don't have to fight over who gets the bigger slice of the pie: we can fight together for a bigger pie.

The pie here is linguistic diversity, building a place where many languages can thrive, rather than one where English is dominant. Like in agriculture, where monocropping saps the soil, the absurd and forced monolingualism of these islands drains the life out of our thinking. As well as the educational and intellectual benefits of multilingual learning, a school system where languages including Scots and Gaelic are taught from a young age is one where new ideas about the future can flourish.

I don't think our imagination should be limited just to the languages peculiar to Scotland, however. Campaigners have repeatedly organised to protect and further Urdu teaching in Glasgow, against systematic prejudice against the language. In 2015, the British Sign Language (Scotland) Act came into force, requiring authorities to plan for BSL use and promotion. Movements like these are a reminder that it can be an ordinary thing to live in a place many languages are used, and for communication and collaboration between languages to enrich all of them.

These ideas have long been written through Scottish literature too. In 2000, Pocketbooks published a "Scottish multicultural anthology" called Wish I Was Here, collecting Shetland, Gaelic and Scots-Asian writers. In 2005, Suhayl Saadi's Scots-Urdu fusion prose saw Psychoraag shortlisted for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. That languages thrive together and in dialogue should be obvious, but sometimes the ideas, and the books, get forgotten.

We've had Scots language revivals in the past too, and seen how easily gains are lost and work is forgotten. For the new renaissance to keep building momentum, my instinct is that it's going to take collaboration and mutual support between language movements, as well as a literary excitement about what can happen between languages. Deep Wheel Orcadia is science fiction because I wanted to imagine a future in which the Orkney language thrives and grows. Language pluralism in Scotland shouldn't be thought of as something in the past, but a future to write towards.

The Book Week Scotland event Celebrating Island Literature premieres today (Saturday 20th November) at 4pm. Sign up for free tickets at www.scottishbooktrust.com/book-week-scotland/events/2021/celebrating-island-literature