By Keith Kahn-Harris

IT’S probably no comfort to activists seeking to ensure the survival of Scots and of Scots Gaelic, that their struggle is a global one. We are on the cusp of a linguistic mass extinction event, with some estimates suggesting that the thousands of human languages will be reduced to a few hundred by the end of the century.

Inevitably, the struggle to maintain Scottish languages draws succour from the struggles of speakers of other Celtic languages and, more generally, the fight for regional languages in Europe. Yet, too often, England (apart from Cornwall) is not seen as part of the fight against linguistic extinction. And while the hegemony of English cannot be completely separated from the hegemony of England within the UK, the same forces that marginalise languages like Scots and Scots Gaelic, also marginalise languages of England too.

In my book The Babel Message: A Love Letter to Language I try to challenge the ways in which certain languages come to dominate in the public sphere. I do this through taking an apparently mundane "official" message – the warning found inside Kinder Surprise Eggs – and commissioning translations into dozens more languages. I wanted to highlight how some languages are rarely or never used for such purposes and to suggest that there is no reason that they cannot be.

Naturally, the book contains translations into Scots Gaelic, Welsh and other Celtic languages. After all, you do find such languages in some official contexts (although rarely product packaging). What looks much more strange to the English speaker are the translations I include into languages such as Anglo-Romani, Jamaican Creole – and Scots:

CAW CANNIE, read an haud on tae this: Toy isna fit for bairns unner 3 year auld. Sma pairts micht get swallaed or soukit in.

To some English speakers, this Scots translation (provided by Dauvit Horsbroch of the Centre for the Scots Leid) might be dismissed as simply Scottish "slang" or maybe even "bad English" – certainly not a language fit to be printed on an official document. Yet Scots is in a better place than some of the other languages of the UK, in that the existence of a literature in it is at least acknowledged, albeit maybe grudgingly and confined to Robert Burns.

The status of regional English languages is even lowlier. The vernaculars of Yorkshire, Lancashire and the North-East are not only rarely written down (and, when they are, it is often in lighthearted contexts such as in the pages of Viz comic), their distinctiveness is eroding fast. Dialect is being reduced to accent and maybe, eventually, not even that.

Scottish nationalism (whether pro-independence or not) does at least give Scottish languages a chance of survival. Yet English nationalism as it usually manifests itself is bound to a notion of English that rarely recognises the existence of "Englishes". If "Britain" is worth preserving, it has to be a de-centered realm in which England loses its dominance. England needs to join Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in rediscovering its rich linguistic heritage outside the hegemony of standardised English.

Keith Kahn-Harris is a sociologist and author. The Babel Message: A Love Letter to Language is published by Icon Books.