I’m biased when it comes to the Scots language: I'm a speaker, educator and a massive nerd.

I acknowledge not everyone has the same level of passion when it comes to research and engagement, so they might not know much about the language and its cultural context.

This week, I've enlisted the help of an independent fact-checker, Ferret Fact Service (FFS), to look at the truth behind some common claims which endure about Scots.

I encourage everyone to form conclusions based on independently-verified information. If you do find yourself shifting perspective once seeing the facts, I applaud your open-mindedness.

I like to think of ignorance as an essential, yet temporary part of every learning journey, so whether you know nothing about Scots yet or you've already formed your own opinions, I hope this article can be of use to you.

Scots is just slang/a dialect/just English in an accent?

LP: There are a few accepted definitions of slang: informal language, words used only within a certain group, or language which is mainly spoken. None of these definitions apply to Scots. Scots has different registers, and formal words can be seen to this day in Scots law. Scots and English have a degree of mutual intelligibility, both languages are from the same family. The Scots language has four main dialects: Insular, Northern, Central, and Southern. Each of these dialects has its own sub-dialects, and outwith Scotland there is also Ulster Scots. As Scots and English are sister languages, they share cognates. Cognates are words from two or more languages which share linguistic derivation, and the presence of these friendly wee words ease the learning process. 

FFS: Scots is recognised as a language by the Scottish Government, is protected by the UK Government under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, and was included in UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger. “Mutual intelligibility” is often-cited as a distinction between a language or dialect. This is the ability of people speaking one language to understand another without dedicated learning. However, many linguists see the situation as far more complex and subjective. It is common when languages exist in close proximity to one another they will be mutually understandable to some degree. Spanish and Portuguese, for example, are two languages which share significant vocabulary. Scots and English come from the same West Germanic language family, alongside German and Dutch. The earliest written records of Scots are from the late 14th century.

Modern Scots words are 'made up'

LP: I completely agree with this point, and won’t contest it for one simple reason: all words are made up. New words are coined all the time, which is pretty rad and bodacious. Language is an ever-evolving banquet of linguistic delights, each new word should be cherished. Scots didn't have the same infrastructure as English for many years, so we will hopefully now see the coining of new words happening more frequently. A similar evolution was observed in Gaelic with the creation of many words, especially those relating to technology, happening in the 90s-00’s. 

FFS: This is correct. Every word in every language is made up, and new words being added to a language is a sign of its living nature. The Oxford English Dictionary’s latest update included 650 new words, senses, and sub-entries. Modern Scots compound words include Wabsteid (a combination of the words for web and site), and fankle-fixin (troubleshooting). 

Nobody/only a small number of people speak it/ Scots is a regional thing/not spoken widely 

LP: The 2011 census reported 1.54 million Scots speakers, which demonstrates how widely used the language is. It is widely believed that these numbers are underreported, and I’m really looking forward to the 2023 census results providing a more accurate reflection of Scotland’s linguistic landscape. Legislation for the Scots language includes every dialect and recognises that all aspects of the Scots language matter. 

FFS: The Scottish census, which is due to be published in 2023, should give us a more accurate sense of the use of Scots, with respondents asked again about their ability to speak, read and write Scots. It is clear that a significant portion of Scottish society speaks it to some degree, and it is at least one of the country's largest minority languages. A Scottish Opinion Survey in 2009 asked just over 1,000 people to rate how often they used Scots. Forty-three per cent of respondents said they spoke it either a lot or fairly often.

Scots wasn't promoted before SNP

LP: This one is easily debunked. I work for the Scots Language Centre, which was founded in 1993, prior to devolution. The SNP was formed in 1934, and the Scots language is hundreds of years old. Granted, my area of expertise is in words and not numbers, but I’m fairly sure that unless the SNP have invested a great deal of money in time travel, they can’t claim to pre-date the Scots language. While the Scottish government has pledged to promote the Scots language, this support is echoed across all parties. A Labour government ratified the charter for regional or minority languages, including the Scots language. In both the UK Parliament and Holyrood, Scots has cross-party support. Scots speakers have a diverse range of political and cultural beliefs. To reduce Scots to an SNP language excludes speakers, learners and supporters from across the political spectrum.

FFS: Scots has a long history of formal use and recognition in Scotland. It was used in the Parliament of Scotland prior to the Act of Union, and has a significant history in literature and arts. Modern promotion of Scots has increased since devolution. Questions on Scots were included in the 2011 census, and the first formal Scots language policy was published in 2015. The Scots Language Centre and Dictionary of the Scots Language also both predate the SNP government at Holyrood. The Scottish Government is currently consulting on its commitments to Gaelic, Scots and a potential Scottish Languages Bill.

LP: For any other questions you have about Scots, the Scots Language Centre has plenty of high-quality resources which can be accessed at scotslanguage.com

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