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Public Attitudes Towards the Scots Language




1.1 In its pre-election manifesto the Scottish Government made a commitment to promote awareness and use of the Scots language in a variety of settings. More recently, at the Scots Language Conference, held at the University of Stirling in February 2009, the Minister for Culture and External Affairs asserted that Scots is a national language of Scotland, and that it is definitely 'good for the nation'. It was also indicated that the Scottish Government was ready to do what it could to encourage, enable and endorse the use of the language.

1.2 Prior to the Scots Language Conference, and recognising the lack of evidence based research on Scots, the Scottish Government commissioned a study entitled The Audit of Current Scots Language Provision in Scotland. The audit provided an overview of current Scots language provision using the seven categories of public life of the CoE ECRML1. The audit concluded that the Scots language provision has most deeply penetrated Scottish life in the categories of Education and Cultural Activities and Facilities. In the categories of Judicial Authorities and Administrative Authorities and Public Services, however, Scots language is relatively low, although it is variable across places and regions. The audit also noted a significant growth potential in the field of Media. In addition, it also provided potential ways forward for increasing Scots language provision in Scotland, which were discussed and debated at the February 2009 Conference.

1.3 The only other recent relevant research in this area is a piece of work commissioned by The General Register Office for Scotland ( GROS) as part of the development into extending the provision of information into other languages (in addition to Gaelic which has been included in the census since 1881) in the March 2009 Census Rehearsal. Critically the initial cognitive testing on 3 proposed questions highlighted that people experienced difficulty in understanding the term Scots, and that people interpreted the questions on the Scots language in different ways. As a consequence of this, further testing has been commissioned to look specifically at the interpretation of 'Scots', and the level of understanding of differences between Scots and Scottish Gaelic in order to ensure that the questions are "workable and fit for purpose".

1.4 In order to take forward research and policy development in this area, particularly in Education, the Scottish Government wished to respond to this current evidence gap by commissioning some initial research to explore public perceptions of, and attitudes towards, to the Scots language amongst the general public in Scotland.

Research Objectives

1.5 The overarching objective of this latest research was to explore public perceptions of, and attitudes to, the Scots language amongst the general public of Scotland.

1.6 The overall research objectives, as defined in the brief, were to:

  • explore what people understand the Scots language to be;
  • investigate public perceptions of, and attitudes to, the Scots language by adults living in Scotland; and
  • examine behaviours and expectations in relation to the use of the Scots language in Scotland.

1.7 More specifically, research into current understandings and perceptions of the Scots language aimed to establish:

  • What people living in Scotland understand the Scots language to be, what it means to them, whether they regard it as a distinct language and to explore positive and negative perceptions of Scots as a language;
  • The extent to which, and the ways that, the Scots language is relevant to life today in Scotland and Scottish identity.

1.8 The research was also required to examine current behaviours and expectations for the Scots language, including:

  • The use of Scots (reading, writing and speaking) in different aspects of public and private life to understand when and how people use the language;
  • Whether respondents would wish more provision to be available in the Scots language in education, broadcasting and the arts;
  • The relevance of the Scots language in education;
  • The relevance of the Scots language in shaping a sense of identity (both local and national.