Monthly Archives: July 2007

Conference paper: Scots: Living language or cultural relic?


From a linguistic and historical viewpoint, Scots can be described as a language closely related to English, which was the national language of Scotland in the 15th and 16th centuries, and is still spoken today (albeit often in strongly ‘anglicised’ form) in many parts of Scotland. However, except for its use in a very narrow range of registers (e.g. poetry, comedy) it generally suffers from extremely low prestige and above all low recognition as a valid and viable language variety, even among many of its speakers. Furthermore, it could be said that Scots is an endangered language, because of increasing ‘anglicisation’ and diminishing use. There have recently been attempts by governmental bodies to raise the profile of the language, including the provision of new educational resources, and the formulation of a language policy for Scotland, but these attempts have mainly focussed on the value of Scots as a cultural and heritage resource, and have largely ignored its use as a functional communicative medium.
In this paper I use Pierre Bourdieu’s metaphor of the linguistic market (Bourdieu 1992) to explore this complex sociolinguistic situation. My data is drawn from a range of texts about Scots: e.g. policy documents, educational resources and focus groups of ‘ordinary’ people discussing language. I examine how Scots is explicitly and implicitly valued or devalued in these texts, and discuss how these valuations might impact on the lives of Scots speakers. In addition to Bourdieu’s metaphor, my theoretical framework and methodology are principally based on the discourse-historical approach developed by Ruth Wodak (e.g. Wodak 2001), but I also draw on critical language policy studies (e.g. Tollefson 2002; Ricento 2005).
My findings seem to indicate that the present top-down emphasis on the value of Scots as a cultural and heritage resource is largely counter-productive, and undermines efforts by activists and NGOs to promote the use Scots as a communicative medium in education and daily life.


BOURDIEU, P. (1992) Language and symbolic power, Cambridge, MA, Polity Press.
RICENTO, T. (Ed.) (2005) An Introduction to Language Policy. Theory and Method, Oxford, Blackwell.
TOLLEFSON, J. W. (2002) ‘Language Policies in Education: Critical Issues’. Mahwah, New Jersey, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
WODAK, R. (2001) ‘The discourse-historical approach’. IN WODAK, R. & MEYER, M. (Eds.) Methods of Critical Discourse Analysis. London, Sage Publications.