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Inconvenient truths about Scots

Timed to coincide with the annual celebration of Robert Burns, pictured right, the TESS article reporting that few teachers, schools and students were taking up Scots language studies was disappointing to many ("The best-laid plans of Scots speakers", 23 January). Much effort was given to gaining legal recognition for Scots in 2001. Surely it deserves more support? After all, as Education Scotland's website reports, "Scots was the official state language of Scotland for around 400 years."

Or maybe most Scots are just a good deal cannier than Scots-language enthusiasts give them credit for. The idea that Scottish dialects are the remnants of a once independent language was popularised by John Jamieson in his celebrated 1808 work Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language. From the 1920s the Scots language was "weaponised" by early nationalists such as Hugh MacDiarmid. Most material available today stems from works written by enthusiasts in the 1980s.

Sadly, many assertions relating to the Scots language are historical bunkum - the narrative made convincing only by carefully excising from history an overwhelming multitude of inconvenient facts. As long ago as 1873 James Murray's definitive study The Dialect of the Southern Counties of Scotland blew apart the mythology. The unwelcome historical truth is that the indigenous language of lowland Scots has always been English. Those who doubt it need only check the archives of the Scottish Parliament.

Parents, teachers and students are right to be wary of Scots language studies. The notorious "Ossian" deception of the 18th century marked a low point in Scotland's academic reputation. Happily, boycotting Scots language studies in schools serves to prevent a similar scandal from sullying Scotland's reputation in the 21st century.

Steve Ainsworth

Freelance writer and researcher

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Letters for publication in TESS should arrive by 10am Monday. Send your letters, ideally of no more than 250 words in length, including contact address and phone number, by email to or by post to TES Scotland, Thistle House, 21-23 Thistle Street, Edinburgh EH2 1DF. Letters may be edited

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