Monthly Archives: December 2007

Conference paper: The Scots language: discursive construction as a cultural relic?

Vienna University


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, 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. In part responding to the UK’s commitments under the European Charter for Regional or Minority languages, 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. They have also been met with varied responses, ranging from enthusiasm to derision, by academics, activists and Scots speakers.

In this paper I examine how Scots is explicitly and implicitly valued or devalued (following Bourdieu’s metaphor of the linguistic market) in texts about Scots such as policy documents, educational resources, and focus groups through the use of certain linguistic features (e.g. modality, evaluation and agent mystification). My theoretical framework and methodology are principally based on the discourse-historical approach developed by Ruth Wodak , but I also draw on critical approaches to language policy .

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.