I WILL never forget the wave of emotion that I experienced upon hearing Sheila Mann reciting Violet Jacob’s The Field By The Lirk O The Hill in a BBC documentary on Hugh MacDiarmid et al in Montrose. The voice came out of the speakers like the freshest gulp of east coast air, like the softest blanket, like… ma grannie.

I wept openly, hearing, for the first time, the sound of my own community’s voice playing back at me so clearly on cooncil telly.

In 2013, I attended a Creative Scotland meeting on Scots. In attendance amongst others, Michael Hance, then Director of the Scots Language Centre, and former BBC broadcaster, Frieda Morrison, who I had gotten to know through her folksong residency at the School of Scottish Studies.

We all came out of that meeting buzzing with a proposal to start “Scots Language Radio”.

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Fast forward to the present, over 90 episodes later, the show has welcomed numerous guests and covered countless topics.

The key thing is that Scots Radio isn’t a programme speaking exclusively about Scots. It’s a magazine-style show, rooted in traditional music, covering the arts, local events, publishing, gardening, you name it … but in Scots.

I’d already had some broadcasting experience through my musical career, but Scots Radio was a steep learning curve.

I found myself having to actively practise how to speak fluidly in Scots on a wide range of subjects, improving on a language I grew up with in Angus but had never consciously learned. I’m still learning.

As we move into our 10th year, it seems surprising that few other programmes in Scots have grown up alongside.

We have seen the huge rise of Scots on social media through Len Pennie, Iona Fyfe, Ally Heather (below) and friends. Great bitesize content that is informative, enjoyable and widely shared. But why so few long-form regular programmes? Where are the mainstream broadcasters?

The National: Alistair Heather.

Confidence and normalisation are key. Germany’s Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR) broadcasts news, radio and TV in Plattduutsch, the Netherlands has Omrop Fryslan – it’s normal to have a range of programmes in their local languages. Why not here?

Recently, on episode 91 of Scots Radio, I was asked to comment on the current Scottish Languages Bill consultation, and I gave a personal view.

I think the consultation questions for Scots are on the vague side. Like many movements, Scots is a broad kirk – many of us work away at different levels, and there is a wide range of opinions and experience. My time as an arts development worker taught me that not everybody’s voice is as loud, and not everybody has the capacity to engage in advocacy and strategising, outside of their vital community work.

I am not convinced that our existing structures allow the space that is required to bring as many views as possible into the Scots tent.

I think we need a new representative body with decision-making powers – a Scots Language Board – that engages widely, over and above those professionally engaged with promoting and safeguarding Scots.

We will need every day local speakers, who’ve never seen a language plan in their puff.

Disappointingly, there seems to be little hint that the consultation will consider how additional language learning works in practice.

I live in a multilingual household with a small person who is actively learning English, German, French and Scots. One of the things that helps her learn with confidence is getting the spelling right.

I believe Scots will continue to struggle to be taken seriously in the mainstream unless we grasp the thistle and develop a learner’s register: an agreed set of spelling conventions and a style sheet, which can then be a gateway to our varied rich dialects.

Why do I say this? In 2020-21, I worked on an indigenous languages app for a Europe-wide consortium, led by Heriot-Watt University. It included Gaelic, Basque, Galician, Sami, Cornish and Scots. Using a fairly conventional vocabulary and phrase-based learning model, around 4000 terms and phrases were translated across the piece.

Decisions had to be made on which spelling conventions to employ, which headwords to use from the (descriptive, not definitive) Concise Scots Dictionary, how much to draw on the 1998 Scots Spelling Committee report and so on.

Resolving these was not without considerable effort and the help of scholars such as Dr Dauvit Horsbroch at the Scots Language Centre. I learned plenty myself along the way, while also noting how disjointed our existing learning resources for beginners can seem at times.

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A spell-how-you-like approach doesnae/disnae/doesna/disna work/wark/wirk for/fir/fur/fer ma wee lass and her pals. Even if we ended up with several learner’s standards by dialect region – it surely must be possible.

To conclude, back to broadcasting – what we sorely need is consistent, confident Scots spoken on the airwaves, reflecting the sound of our own voices. The great folklorist, Alan Lomax, spoke about the powerful effect on communities of hearing their traditions played back to them.

Once we finally embrace the broadcasting of the normal ways in which folk speak, the local voice, Scots, will be in a much better place.

Steve Byrne is a folklorist, traditional singer and community arts worker from Arbroath. A former Traditional Arts Officer for the City of Edinburgh Council, he worked on the Council’s response to the 2005 Gaelic Language Act consultation. In 2019, he was voted Scots Singer of the Year at the Scots Trad Music Awards