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Public Attitudes Towards the Scots Language



4.1 Scots emerges as a natural type of speech that most adults in Scotland use to communicate, with many using it on a regular basis. Its usage when writing and reading on the other hand is limited. It tends to be primarily spoken in informal settings, such as at home or with friends, but it is by no means unknown in the workplace too. It is also very much a language of young Scots.

4.2 The focus on the spoken word arguably partly explains why its usage tends to be unconscious with many simply not registering Scots as a language, but regarding it simply as the way they express themselves. For the frequent user though, Scots is very much a language.

4.3 Whether a speaker or not, however, there is widespread and strong recognition of the role of Scots in contributing to the culture, history and identity of Scotland. These three issues consistently emerge as the elements of the Scots language that make it important for Scotland today. Additionally there is acknowledgement that the Scots language is the language or expression of Scots and of Scotland, and by virtue of that alone should be considered important. Such views have arguably been brought to the fore this year, the Year of Homecoming, when the emphasis on what it means to be Scottish and to be living in Scotland are consistently in the public domain.

4.4 However, whilst most would agree on the important contribution of Scots in terms of how the language has shaped our culture, history and identity, opinion is more divided on its role and value to Scotland today. On balance, views are more positive than negative, but a substantial proportion are simply not engaged with the Scots language. For this group it is irrelevant and unnecessary.

4.5 Not surprisingly many who do not connect with it are not Scottish, and this certainly accounts for a significant proportion of the non-Scots speakers, whereas for others Scots has simply not been part of their up-bringing. Thus it is not only those of a non-Scottish origin who might find it irrelevant, some Scots do too. Amongst those who believe Scots has no importance today a wide variety of views were raised including concerns that it is 'slang', that it is difficult to understand, that it is not universal like English, that it is not proper and that it is old fashioned. None of these were mentioned by significant numbers and, on prompting, most disagreed that Scots is slang. The comments do highlight however that any attempt to strengthen Scots as the language of Scotland is likely to meet with some resistance. On the other hand some of these concerns could be alleviated by stressing that Scots is not a replacement of the English language but is additional to it.

4.6 With regard to the specific issue of usage of Scots in education, opinion is at its most polarised. Few would disagree that learning the language contributes to a sense of national identity, but only a very slight majority believe it has educational benefits or that it should be taught in schools - primarily for the same reasons as those noted in the paragraph above.

4.7 Interestingly though, parents of school aged children, and secondary school children in particular are the most supportive of children being taught and encouraged to speak Scots - suggesting that the way that Scots is currently introduced in the curriculum is generally supported. Conversely, parents with pre-school children are more likely to have reservations, highlighting their concerns perhaps regarding children with poorly developed language skills being taught another language in addition to English.