Monthly Archives: April 2008

Conference paper: The Scottish language policy gap: bottom-up and top-down discursive constructions of Scots

Part of ‘Constructing Multilingual Europe? Micro and Macro Perspectives’
A themed workshop convened by Ruth Wodak and Michal Krzryzanowski


Scots can be described as a West-Germanic language closely related to English, which was the national language of Scotland in the 15th and 16th centuries. Despite a gradual shift to English amongst the elite (Macafee 1994:31) and explicit attempts at eradication (Jones 1995), it is still spoken today (albeit in a rather different form) in many parts of Scotland.
This paper explores how recent and present-day language ideologies about the Scots Language are linguistically realised in key texts drawn from different policy levels, namely ‘supra-national’ (EU/Council of Europe), ‘national’ (the UK Government) and ‘devolved’ (the Scottish Executive/Government). These discursive constructions are juxtaposed with those found in focus groups consisting of Scottish people, many of whom have at least a passive knowledge of Scots.
I draw on the discourse-historical approach (Wodak 2001) to critically analyse these texts. This involves a detailed linguistic analysis combined with an analysis of different levels of context, ranging from ‘micro’ to ‘macro’ contexts: the immediate textual context; the intertextual and interdiscursive contexts; the social/institutional context; and finally, the socio-political and historical contexts (see Wodak 2004). As part of my analysis, I also examine the implicit and explicit valuations of Scots in the various texts, following Bourdieu’s (1991) metaphor of the linguistic market.
I find that, unlike the role of minority languages in many other European Kulturnationen (e.g. Catalunya, see Trudgill 2004), the Scots language has not been widely used in ‘top-down’ or ‘bottom-up’ national identity construction, and that until relatively recently Scottish politicians have rarely discussed Scots (Millar 2006), let alone used it as a symbol of Scottish national identity. Rather, the reverse seems to occur: national identity and the rather amorphous concept of ‘cultural heritage’ are used as key elements in the discursive construction of Scots from ‘above’. In the ‘bottom-up’ constructions of Scots found in the focus group data, low valuations of Scots (in the Bourdieuan sense) become apparent through the use of certain linguistic features (e.g. modality, evaluation, agent mystification).
Despite the apparently high valuations of Scots found in ‘top-down’ texts, I argue these valuations apply only to certain very restricted ‘linguistic markets’, e.g. public celebrations and literary education. Policy-makers can therefore claim to be taking decisive action to support Scots, but are not taking account of the low value Scots will continue to have on the ‘linguistic markets’ of daily life, (e.g. in dealing with local government, non-literary educational settings, job interviews, etc.).


BOURDIEU, P. (1991) Language and symbolic power, Cambridge, MA, Polity Press.
JONES, C. (1995) A Language Suppressed: The Pronunciation of the Scots Language in the 18th Century, Edinburgh, John Donald.
MACAFEE, C. (1994) Traditional dialect in the modern world : a Glasgow case study, Frankfurt am Main, P. Lang.
MILLAR, R. M. (2006) ‘‘Burying Alive’: Unfocussed Governmental Language Policy and Scots’. Language Policy, 5, 63-86.
TRUDGILL, P. (2004) ‘Glocalisation and the Ausbau sociolinguistics of modern Europe’. IN DUSZAK, A. & OKULSKA, U. (Eds.) Speaking from the Margin: Global English from a European Perspective. Frankfurt, Peter Lang.
WODAK, R. (2001) ‘The discourse-historical approach’. IN WODAK, R. & MEYER, M. (Eds.) Methods of Critical Discourse Analysis. London, Sage Publications.
WODAK, R. (2004) ‘Critical Discourse Analysis’. IN SEALE, C., GOBO, G., GUBRIUM, J. F. & SILVERMAN, D. (Eds.) Qualitative Research Practice. London, Sage.