Freedom of expression

1st May 2015 at 01:00

The relationship between the Scots language and the Scottish educational establishment has not always been easy. Historic literary examples from up and down the country show this. In a famous scene from William McIlvanney's novel Docherty, the young Conn endures corporal punishment for insisting "Ah fell an bumped ma heid in the sheugh, sur", while the 20th-century Orkney poet Christina Costie depicts a domineering teacher roaring at her class, "Don't say `Nu', say `Now'.And don't say `Ku', say `Cow'."

Scots has often been misunderstood as slang, or as corrupt or inferior English. It isn't widely known that Scots is a Germanic language in its own right, or that it is a sister language to English, with which it shares a common ancestor in Anglo-Saxon. It isn't always appreciated that Scots has some 60,000 unique words and expressions, that it is the language of an illustrious and centuries-old literature, or that it was once a language of state used by kings, politicians and commoners alike.

Scots today is recognised by the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and, as such, is afforded some special protection by the UK and Scottish governments. The 2011 census included a question on respondents' ability to speak Scots, and campaigners for the language were delighted when 1.5 million people said they used and understood it.

Scots is spoken on a continuum. Some of us use the occasional word or expression, while others speak in a rich, braid Scots - replete with its own unique pronouns, prepositions, grammar and syntax. Some varieties are particularly distinctive; think of Shetland, Glaswegian or the Aberdeenshire Doric. And it is a common myth that these varieties are mutually unintelligible.

Scots has its place in Curriculum for Excellence. The 2009 principles and practice document for literacy and English is unequivocal: "The languages and literature of Scotland provide a rich resource for young people to learn about Scotland's culture, identity and language.they will develop an appreciation of Scotland's vibrant literary and linguistic heritage and its indigenous languages."

So it is incumbent on teachers to treat living Scots with parity of esteem alongside other languages. Scots is an inclusion issue for those young people arriving at the school gate with the language as their mither tongue, and we ought to foster greater understanding of, and respect for, the Scots language across the whole of education.

We have moved on a long, long way from the bad old days of children being punished for using Scots into an era when they will be educated about the language - at the same time as developing excellent English skills. Scots should come to be understood as an expression of cultural wealth, an asset, and the priceless national treasure it undoubtedly is.

Simon Hall is an English teacher and Scots language coordinator

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