Tung still needs to be loosened;Curriculum

15th January 1999 at 00:00
Literature in Scots is gradually being accepted but the spoken language needs encouragement, says Liz Niven

The debate anent Scots language in the secondary has moved on in the past few years. At one point, the inclusion of an examination paper about Scots language seemed a distant dream, while the opportunity to write in Scots remained in the realm of never-never-land.

When (or if) the Higher Still in English and communication is introduced, pupils will be reminded that they can deliver presentations in Scots and write in "Scottish language forms, if appropriate", while the language itself can be a specialist study.

It's a long way from 1904, when one HM inspector frowned on both spoken Scots and its literature. He maintained that "the study of the ballads should not absorb much of schooltime, although they might very well be learned at home in the winter evenings".

Literature in Scots is gradually finding itself more welcome in the secondary English curriculum, but there still seem to be problems for the acceptance and encouragement of Scots as a spoken medium.

The inclusion of a section on Scottish Culture in the 5-14 English language document and references to dialect awareness in 5-14 environmental studies kick-started a rapid development of materials which must have been welcomed by teachers who had fought a long battle for the inclusion of Scottish literature.

The SaltireTESS Award-winning The Kist was the most spectacular development. Complete with colour illustrations, cassettes and photocopiable worksheets, thousands of copies were sold in its first year. Pupils enjoy spending time with this book. For many, it's the first time they've seen their own voice written down. For non-Scots pupils, it's a beautiful introduction to another parallel linguistic universe, with the inclusion of Gaelic adding an extra layer to the linguistic map.

So where is The Kist now? According to Nelson it will probably be reprinted but not by them. Quite a success story for a while, but not enough to merit a reprint. According to the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum (SCCC), negotiations are underway and the anthology will become available again.

In a small country like this, publications in a minority tongue require assistance. Of course they won't be a huge commercial success, but maybe support could be sought from the future Scottish parliament?

Developments in other smaller countries make interesting comparisons. The Frisians, in the Netherlands, with their own devolved parliament, ringfence money in education for all new Frisian language materials. In Norway, a copy of each new children's book by a Norwegian author is sent to every school.

Apart from the Kist, many excellent publications are now in print, but are secondary schools buying them? The answer varies considerably around the country. The inclusion of Scots literature and language is still at the mercy of the teacher's preferences (and the school's budget). Some teachers say they'd like to "do more", but need further inservice training before they feel comfortable enough to read and write in Scots. The provision of inservice varies considerably too.

A major step would be to integrate Scots into any inservice or new curricular materials. To include poetry and prose in Scots, using Scots examples in resources about grammar and language may be the only realistic solution. Our voices do move in and out of Scots, our classrooms house teachers and pupils whose voices are Scots and English and somewhere in between. Management-led discussion and all-school policy guidelines seem essential, as in an excellent policy statement by Moray Council.

The language that teachers bring to school is just as important as the language the pupils bring. A statement for primary teachers from 5-14 English language is just as relevant for their secondary colleagues: "The models of speech provided by the teacher in talking to pupils are crucial in giving them awareness of what is valuable."

Some of us have reached a point where we are happier and more confident with our ScotsEnglish voices. The more regular use of "aye", negative verb endings, for instance, "cannae" and "shouldnae", among the "professional" classes are indicative of this, as is the dropping of "g" at the close of "ing" words. But we are still feart to give Scots the full nod of approval.

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