You're not a Jessie if you speak Scots

PUPILS who speak with the strongest Scots tongue often have the greatest difficulties with basic literacy because the language of their home and community is so far removed from that of schools, Janet Paisley, the award-winning writer, poet and playwright, told a seminar this week at the International Reading Association congress at Edinburgh University (page five).

"Their whole language can be completely ignored and proscribed. But most children are perfectly fluent and articulate if they are allowed to be. They are always fluent in their spoken language. Recounting stories is second nature if they do it in their own tongue," Ms Paisley said.

A former teacher, she works regularly in primaries and secondaries to stimulate creative language and maintains that she has few problems when pupils are invited to speak and write naturally and given back the language they were brought up with.

"Speaking Scots is akin to swearing in the classroom. You are bringing something outside in," she said.

But children considered to be the most disadvantaged had most to benefit from a change in perception and particularly boys who never volunteered for anything to do with language.

"Why? Because Scots boys feel like Jessies when they have to speak in English. Right?"

Most Scots pupils were quite capable of distinguishing between their own spoken language and the dominant language in schools but many were not. Scots felt a "shame" about ditching their native tongue in favour of more standard Oxford English, she said.

Typical of the struggle for recognition was the recent decision to put up signs in the new Holyrood building in English, Gaelic and Braille, dismissing the case for Scots. However, Ms Paisley admitted that more schools were introducing Scots into the curriculum and young people themselves used the language when they communicated on the internet.

She rejected suggestions that Scots was merely a dialect of English and insisted it boasted its own grammar and words that drew on Anglo-Saxon, Gaelic and other western European cultures to form a distinct language only diminished by the union of Scotland and England in 1707.

"But 300 years on the Scots language has not died out. The majority of people in this country actually still speak Scots but we do not know we are speaking Scots because for 300 years it has not been mentioned," she said.

Ms Paisley, who grew up in a village near Falkirk, was told that she was not speaking properly when she went to school. "As a child you are completely baffled because no one has told you that you have two different languages and have to use them in different situations," she said.

Most children got to grips with saying "troosers" outside the school and writing "trousers" inside.

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