A language on the precipice

The elevation to Government of one of the most vocal defenders of Scots was a boost to the Mither Tongue's recent renaissance – but experts warn that only radical action can save it from oblivion.
29th July 2011, 1:00am

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A language on the precipice

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Alasdair Allan is enjoying the last laugh. In 1999, as a researcher in the recently-opened Scottish Parliament, he heard 15 MSPs ridicule the Scots language. Twelve years later Dr Allan is the Learning and Skills Minister, with a special remit for Scots and Gaelic - and he wants to put Scots on a par with French, Spanish and German.

Scots has had several landmark moments in recent years, one of which was down to Dr Allan. As a Glasgow University undergraduate in 1994, he fought successfully for the right to submit all his exams and essays in Scots, the first student to do so in Scotland.

Since then, Scots has been officially deemed a language under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages - although much of the public does not see it that way - and had its status elevated by Curriculum for Excellence.

The position of Scots Makar was created by the Scottish Parliament in 2004, a national poet who would write in various kinds of Scots. Edwin Morgan was the first incumbent until his death in 2010, followed by Liz Lochhead - both revered exponents of Scots poetry.

This year, Scots featured in the Scotland Census for the first time, and 12 teachers were awarded professional recognition by the General Teaching Council for Scotland for work with Scots.

But many warn that the foundations remain fragile. A national survey of teachers found that provision of Scots "remains very limited and depends entirely on the goodwill of teachers or on small-scale arts and education projects". Teachers deemed training opportunities and resources for Scots "inadequate".

The profile of Scots is "still very far from having the recognition or the status which is its due," said Aberdeen University's Professor J Derrick McClure, in his chairman's foreword to a Scots language working group report, submitted to the Government late last year. It was commissioned to lay out a clear vision for the development of Scots, and warned of a rapid decline that needed to be stemmed.

The Government agreed in its response in March to

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