Today I afford an opportunity to the entire Scottish cabinet unlikely to be repeated on the No Thanks! blog, a chance for readers to see each minister’s latest tweet unadorned by political comment. Here they are:
- Nicola Sturgeon July 28. Looking forward to having this new whisky distillery in my constituency.
- John Swinney July 25. Fabulous to see the stunning @FRC_Queensferry close up. An iconic project for Scotland. Well done to the whole team.
- Michael Matheson July 15. Keeping crime down and communities safe
- Angela Constance July 18. Angela Constance Retweeted Scot Gov Fairer. Thanks to the @STARprojPaisley for hosting this important announcement this morning
- Fiona Hyslop July 27. Well done @ScotWFootball what a game! What a win against Spain and you got us to to the Euros -so proud of you all #SWNT #OurGirlsOurGame
- Derek Mackay July 20. Oppose UKgov raising state pension age to 68 forcing millions of people to wait longer for their entitlement. Huge issue with no engagement.
- Shona Robison July 27. The Transplant Flame #whbtg
- Keith Brown July 25. Good news for children and young people in Clackmannanshire!
- Fergus Ewing July 27. Surgeries, for constituents only, tomorrow in #Grantown #Nairn & #Inverness No appointment necessary. Full details
- Roseanna Cunningham July 27. I’m a day ahead of myself!! Never mind. For the bees……. #pollinator.
You can check on Twitter, if you wish, that my transcriptions are accurate. I have omitted emojis used in a couple of the tweets, as well as images attached to others. As you will see shortly, I am not concerned about the substantive content of what ministers were saying.
Here’s another tweet, this time with its attachment, The National newspaper’s publicity for the latest column by their regular contributor, Rab Wilson:
Apart from the subject matter, can you spot any difference between the extract from Mr Wilson’s article and the ministerial tweets?
Correct. Ten are written in plain English, one in something very different. Many claim it’s Scots. I’ve been through the online arguments about whether it is or isn’t a separate language or dialect and I don’t intend to reprise them here.
What I would assert with absolute certainty is that in over thirty years of living as an adult in Scotland I have never seen anyone write like this outwith the rarefied confines of those actively promoting the wider use of ‘Scots.’
I made a comment to that effect, also on Twitter, citing especially the word ‘kintra.’ I was perfectly aware of what Wilson meant by it from the context of his column but had never seen ‘country’ spelt like that. The sceptical tone of my comment, I guess, led someone to direct me to this entry on the Dictionary of the Scots Language (Dictionar o the Scots Leid) website:
So that was me gubbed. The word exists.
Except, that like all good dictionaries this one then references the examples it cites, for example:
1868 … kintra-clash … There gaed a souch o’ kintra clash That he had dreed a sair stramash.
The nine examples given date from 1789 to 1897, which was exactly 120 years ago. None is more recent. This may of course be because the word has not been reviewed in one of the two more recent supplements to the dictionary. I suspect that the more plausible explanation is that it’s archaic and no one normally uses it now. Except Rab Wilson, who is also a poet and may be forgiven to that extent, although he is not writing poetry here and I would not have thought The National’s limited readership much interested in that art form.
That brief extract above from his article includes two words I cannot find in the Dictionary of the Scots Language – ‘leeterally’ and ‘heichweys.’ It also contains words I would regard as no more than an attempt to write a standard English language word in a way that mimics the pronunciation of Scots (or at least some variant(s) of it), for example:
- an – and
- o – of
- wey – way.
But pronunciation of standard English varies enormously throughout the nations and regions of the UK. If anyone is minded to read out loud they can impose their own pronunciation on ‘and.’ I can’t see a reason for simple words like that to be spelt differently.
I’m not attempting to judge a whole language/dialect but it seems to me that this brief extract from a longer article substantially comprises words that are archaic, or invented, or unnecessarily attempt to mimic a particular pronunciation.
Tucked away at the bottom of the dictionary pages you’ll also see this:
which leads me back via the SNP cabinet and their punctilious use of standard English in their own tweets to the question of their relationship with the Scots language. In 2010, their ‘Ministerial Working Group on the Scots Language’ produced a report on the subject. Rab Wilson was a member of that group (as was Michael Hance, director of the Scots Language Centre, which I characterised in a previous post as ‘a wee bittie oot o’ control’). Various other illuminati of what I can only think of as the Scots language lobby served on the group too.
Seven years later, many of their recommendations have worked through the bureaucracy of government to the extent that there are Scots language pages on the Scottish government and Scottish parliament websites. A revealing subject for another blog post might be how much money government, its agencies and parliament have spent promoting Scots in various ways.
Meantime, every, and I mean every, Scot can read and understand standard English, which is the pre-eminent modern international language. As more and more non-native English speakers have rushed to learn English, it seems that the SNP government has determined to retreat into the promotion of Scots, not only in the sphere of culture but also public administration. It is, of course, yet another way nationalism attempts to prove that we’re different and should therefore be separate.
And yet the reality, as we see from the latest tweets of senior SNP politicians, is very different. They utter not one single word of Scots between them; standard English throughout, to a man and woman. Some might say, and this could be a telling jibe, that this is how educated elites speak, and maybe there is a touch of hypocrisy amongst those ministers – ‘Do as I say, not as I do.’ But aren’t they also showing through their writing the reality of the situation?
In any event, government attempts to mould how people speak and write are likely to be doomed to long-term failure. Ask the French and their Academie Francaise. Even more, ask Ireland, which has seen the use of Irish, their first official language, fall consistently over nearly one hundred years of independence to a point at which under 2% of the population spoke it on a daily basis in 2016.
If many already see Rab Wilson’s use of Scots in public discourse as anachronistic, how many more will do so in future?
Footnote. You may also wish to check a previous post I wrote on the SNP’s promotion of Scots in schools. It deals with a separate but related issue. And Rab Wilson features again.