WELL here we go again. This week the Daily Mail graced us with a full page of ignorant nonsense about the Scots language, or more exactly, what at least one of its prominent fanboys promoted on Twitter as the truth about the pretend slang that you’re paying for with your taxes. According to the Mail, which has never been noted for allowing reality to get in the way of venting a prejudice, the SNP Government has embarked upon a madcap mission to promote the “Scots language”. The phrase Scots language is helpfully given in scare quotes in order that the sensitivities of Daily Mail readers might be spared from dangerous separatism.

The article is a ridiculous confection of ragbag prejudices and stereotypes about the Scots language, written by a person whose familiarity with the linguistic and academic work on the language is less than the sympathy expressed for refugees in a typical Daily Mail editorial. Anyone who says there is no such thing as the Scots language, merely a ragbag collection of words and phrases, is as good as admitting that they have no clue what they’re writing about and that they haven’t even bothered to do the most basic of research. Linguists who have published papers and monographs on Scots phonology and syntax will be relieved that a journalist on the Daily Mail has put them to rights.

The author of the piece then went on to cite the use of the construction “had went” as an example of bad grammar masquerading as Scots when in fact it’s a dialectal construction found in English and the citation given was used in a context which was clearly English-speaking. The Scots version is of course “had gaed”. The only connection this has to the status or non-status of Scots as a language is the author’s linguistic prejudice.

The main misrepresentations in the article are threefold, and all are typical of a certain brand of Scottish Unionist who refuses to admit that there is any cultural distinctiveness about Scotland.

Firstly there is the notion that the drive to create a standardised literary variety of Scots is a creature of the SNP Government. The truth is that Scots has a long history of attempts at standardisation, dating back to the embryonic standard Scots of the 16th century, through Hugh Macdiarmid’s attempts to create a non dialectal Scots literary language in the early 20th century. The Scottish Government of today is legally obliged to support and promote the Scots language, not because of the SNP, but because the UK Government listed Scots as one of the regional languages of the UK when it signed up to the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages in 2000, long before the SNP got a sniff of power in Holyrood. Signing up to the Charter obliges a government to protect and foster the languages it listed. Scots language versions of Scottish government websites exist because of the Labour party, not the SNP. But that uncomfortable truth doesn’t suit the Unionist narrative.

Secondly there is the belief that standard literary Scots is uniquely artificial, when in fact all standardised literary languages are, almost by definition, artificial creations. Someone sat down and invented words or expanded the sense of existing words to cover new concepts. That’s how all languages achieve standardisation. Writers and language activists sit down and develop words for new concepts, or extend the meaning of existing words.

In the article words like wabsite for website were criticised as being pretend words when it’s merely an example of calquing or loan translation. Calquing is a recognised technique for expanding the vocabulary of a language. Promoters of standardised Scots take existing Scots words and use them in new ways, that’s not pretendy or artificial. The critics of Scots insist that it’s not a language because it doesn’t have words for certain concepts, then when those words are provided they decry them as invented.

There are actually some existing standard languages which contain entirely invented words. Estonian was standardised in the 19th century and includes words like kolp (“skull”), and liibuma (“to cling”), words which were invented out of nothing by the Estonian language activist Johannes Aavik.

AND then of course standard English contains words like sawbones and flummox, invented by Charles Dickens, or chortle, snark and portmanteau, all coined by Lewis Carroll. Some of these words have even appeared in the pages of Unionist tabloids without anyone getting hysterical about pretendy artificiality.

Thirdly there is the peculiar belief that promotion of Scots, or indeed Gaelic, means that procifiency in English is damaged as a result. This is a notion that goes all the way back to the Victorian belief that there was only so much space in the brain for language, and filling it up with a “useless” language like Scots or Gaelic meant less space for English. There is not a shred of scientific support for this belief, in fact the opposite is true. Educating Scots-speaking children bilingually in Scots and English will only improve the quality of their Scots and their English.

For a certain strain of Unionist, the Scots language doesn’t exist, and when it is presented to them it’s nothing more than an example of nationalist grievance. The real grievance here is the Unionist grievance that Scottish people are increasingly less tolerant of Unionist arrogance and ignorance dressed up as erudition, and we’re going to keep calling them out on their Cringe.