THERE’S something about the Scots language that encourages people without the slightest understanding of linguistics in general, dialectology, the Scots language in particular, or how linguists decide whether a speech variety is a dialect of something else or a language in its own right to pontificate about how Scots is "really" just a dialect of English or is "really" just slang.

The same people are generally also eager to share their insights into how actual examples of Scots are a "made-up" language and to let us know that "no one really speaks like that", as they fall over themselves to expunge Scots from the linguistic landscape of Scotland.

It seems like the willingness of politicians – especially politicians who are opposed to Scottish independence – to share with us their hot takes on why a language that is universally recognised by linguists as being a language is not in fact a language is inversely proportional to their expertise.

The late GL Brook, chair of the English dialect society and professor of English Language at Manchester University, was the author of an authoritative textbook on the dialects of English. Although his textbook detailed the traditional dialects of England, the English dialects of Ireland and Wales and the English dialects of North America, the Caribbean, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, the professor did not cover Scots dialects at all, other than to remark that he had to approach them as varieties of a distinct language.

But George Foulkes knows so much more than the man who literally wrote the book on English dialects.  The Labour member of the House of Lords took time out from trying to subvert Scottish democracy in order to inform us that we have all got it wrong and that Scots is not really a language at all.

His remarks were prompted by Billy Kay's speech in Scots to the Scottish Parliament last week. George was keen to lend his support to the British nationalists with a terminal case of the Cringe who worked themselves up into a lather over a five-minute, non-party-political oration.

It also seems that George was not paying attention to the decisions of the government that he himself was a part of. The legal status of Scots as a language is not due to the SNP seeking to foster Scottish particularism. It was the British Government of Tony Blair, of which George Foulkes was a part, which ratified the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages in 2001 and thus gave official recognition to the Scots language – and also to Gaelic, Welsh, Manx and Cornish, as well as Irish and Ulster Scots in Northern Ireland.

However, it was because the British Government chose to give a higher level of recognition to Gaelic (and to Welsh) than it did to Scots that we have a Gaelic TV channel but not a Scots one, even though Scots has more speakers than Gaelic and Welsh combined.

It might be understandable that George is appallingly ignorant about the linguistic arguments which underpin the status of Scots as a language, although that does not excuse his willingness to wade into a debate even though he is appallingly ignorant of the fundamental facts about it. However, he has no excuse at all for not knowing that it was a decision of a government in which he was a minister of state for Scotland. 

But George, like all apologists for British nationalism in Scotland, is terrified of any manifestation of Scottish culture – because if Scotland is a country with languages and a culture of its own, then he can no longer dismiss the desire for independence as being nothing more than a hatred of the English.

This piece is an extract from today’s REAL Scottish Politics newsletter, which is emailed out at 7pm every weekday with a round-up of the day's top stories and exclusive analysis from the Wee Ginger Dug.

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