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Public Attitudes Towards the Scots Language



Background and Objectives

In their pre-election manifesto the Scottish Government made a commitment to promote awareness and usage of the Scots language in a variety of settings. In order to help inform policy development for Scots, TNS- BMRB was commissioned by the Scottish Government to conduct research amongst a representative sample of the adult Scottish population.

There is little other relevant research in this field, therefore this latest study is intended to provide a broad overview of perceptions of the Scots language and attitudes towards it, and to measure behaviours and expectations of its use in Scotland today.


The research was carried out using the Scottish Opinion Survey ( SOS). The SOS is a monthly omnibus survey conducted in-home amongst a sample of around 1,000 adults in Scotland using Computer Aided Personal Interviewing ( CAPI). For this research, fieldwork took place during the period 23 rd September and 2 nd October 2009 and a total of 1,020 interviews were achieved. This sample was representative of the adult population (aged 16+) in terms of sex, age, employment status and socio-economic group ( SEG). As is the case each month, the achieved sample was weighted to ensure that it represents Scotland's population and is consistent between waves.

Main findings

Behaviours in relation to the use of the Scots language

Information was collected initially on the proportion of adults speaking Scots, with some 85% in total claiming to do so, and a substantial proportion (43%) claiming to speak Scots a lot/fairly often. Amongst this large majority most either speak Scots when socialising with friends (69%) or when at home with family (63%). Significant, but much lower, proportions also use it when out and about (31%) or at work (25%).

By far the most common reason given for not speaking Scots (amongst the 280 adults who claimed that they never spoke it) is 'I am not Scottish'. 38% of this group cite this as a reason for not speaking Scots - significantly more than for any another reason given.

In comparison to spoken Scots, use of Scots when writing, or when reading news, literature, stories, etc. is much less common. Around half indicated they ever read in the Scots language and around a third ever use Scots when writing. Moreover those who do tend to read/write in Scots tend to do so only occasionally or rarely.

Perceptions of Scots as a language.

There is widespread agreement (64%) that, " I don't really think of Scots as a language - it's more just a way of speaking" suggesting that for most adults in Scotland, Scots is not considered a language. However a substantial minority did disagree with this statement (29%) highlighting that there is no consensus on this issue. Likewise two thirds (67%) agree, " I probably do use Scots, but am not really aware of it "with just over a quarter disagreeing (27%). Opinion is, however, even more divided on whether hearing Scots spoken more would encourage greater use: 43% agree with the statement " If I heard Scots spoken more I would be more likely to speak it myself", with the substantial remainder (21%) not sure either way and 35% disagreeing. Notably, those already speaking Scots frequently were more likely to agree with this statement than those who do not speak Scots. This suggests that increasing the profile and usage of spoken Scots is more likely to encourage it further amongst those already speaking it rather than persuade non- speakers to start.

On the issue of whether Scots " doesn't sound nice - it's slang", just under two thirds (63%) disagree, with most who disagree doing so strongly (40% in total compared to 23% disagreeing slightly). However although many are not concerned with the way Scots sounds, a significant proportion do agree (26%), highlighting that some have negative perceptions of Scots as a language.

Attitudes towards the Scots language

At a general level the majority (67%) regard it is as important that Scots is used in Scotland these days, and indeed for a significant minority this view was expressed with conviction (29%). However although opinion is more likely to be positive than negative on the importance of using Scots these days, the percentage claiming it is not important is fairly substantial, at just under a third (31%). For the latter group the lack of importance appears to stem from the perception that it is not required /pointless and clearly some are simply not engaged with the language. Other concerns with understanding Scots, with it being old fashioned, inferior to English, and not being as universally used as English were also raised but only by small minorities in each instance.

In line with spontaneous comments obtained as to why Scots is important, follow-up measures confirmed that there is widespread recognition of the role of Scots in the history, culture and local identities of Scotland. Specifically, the vast majority of adults agree that Scots is an important part of the history/heritage and the culture of Scotland (88% and 86% respectively), with in each instance more than half the sample indicating that these views are strongly held. Agreement that Scots plays a part in the identity of local areas of Scotland is also widespread, with 82% endorsing this view. A majority of adults (67%) also agree that Scots is spoken a lot in their area, with again many agreeing strongly.

Whilst there does appear to be an overall consensus that Scots has an important role in terms of the identity, culture and heritage of Scotland (even amongst those not considering it important, or not using it themselves) the percentage disagreeing that Scots is not relevant to the modern Scotland of today is much lower at 62%. Adults in Scotland are therefore more in agreement with regard to the legacy of Scots than in terms of its contemporary value.

Expectations of current use of Scots

With regard to the role of Scots in Scottish life today, usage in Scottish culture (in arts, literature, drama, music, etc.) is much more likely to be considered important than usage in Scottish political, business and legal arenas. The views of respondents towards the latter were very mixed and indeed overall were fairly indifferent as to whether Scots should be used in these areas. Perceptions of the current role of Scots in broadcasting are also polarised, although on balance views are more positive than negative, with 57% considering it important compared to 40% rating it as unimportant.

Interestingly though, when asked whether the use of Scots across these 5 different areas is enough, not enough or too much, the arena which achieved the highest level of support for more usage was broadcasting (at 29%), just ahead of culture, at 28%. The corresponding figures for civic/political, legal and business life were only slightly lower at around 20% for each. Most however are content with the current level of usage across all aspects rated.

Scots Language in Education

Views relating specifically to learning Scots, and Scots in the context of education are more likely to be positive than negative, but there is by no means a consensus. For example, whilst there is particularly widespread agreement that learning Scots can contribute to a sense of national cultural identity (73% of the sample agree with this view) the proportion agreeing that learning Scots has educational benefits for school children is much lower, at 56%. Likewise, whilst just over half are in support of teaching Scots in schools (specifically 55% disagree that Scots should not be taught in schools), some 29% are not in favour of Scots being taught, and a further 14% are unsure either way.

Similarly when asked whether children in Scotland should be encouraged to speak Scots, just under two thirds (64%) agree, with around a third definitely in favour. There is, however, a relatively large minority against children being encouraged to speak Scots (31%). Very broadly, those with primary and secondary school aged children, and especially the latter, are more supportive of children being taught Scots and speaking Scots than those with no children in the household and those with children under 5 years old.