THE first comprehensive appraisal of the Scots language since the 1950s is to be led by researchers at the University of Aberdeen.

Their new Linguistic Survey of Scots will cover the Scots-speaking territories of Scotland, which has 1.6 million speakers, and Ulster.

Robert McColl Millar, Professor in Linguistics and Scottish Language at Aberdeen, said it is essential that we gain a better understanding of the way words are used in Scots spoken today and in the recent past if we are to assess how it has changed and how the language might be preserved.

“In Scotland we have the Linguistic Atlas of Scotland and Dictionary of the Scots Language but both draw heavily on material collated in the 1950s,” he said. “In Ireland no such equivalent exists for Ulster Scots.

“The Linguistic Survey of Scots in the 1950s was ground-breaking but does it remain relevant today? This is a question we will be seeking to address. This will be the first real attempt to move towards a survey that will give us a sense of the language in the 2020s. We hope it will represent the same great leap forwards as the original survey did and can contribute greatly to our national dictionaries.”

He added: “Much of what makes Scots so distinctive is entwined with occupations and pastimes that have changed beyond recognition since the surveys of the 1950s.

“In fishing and farming, for example, there are many words associated with machinery or equipment that is no longer in use; the technology now utilised does not have a name in Scots, the Standard English word being used universally.

“A good example of this is barkin, referring to a water retardant substance with a pungent smell painted onto clothing and ropes to protect them at sea.

“While, as earlier research we have carried out demonstrates, older people remember the word and the process vividly, new oilcloth and later plastic clothing, used globally, have set barkin adrift on a sea of memory.”