Monthly Archives: October 2009

Workshop paper: The thistle and the rose revisited: The impact of recent language policies on ideologies towards Scots and English

Freie Universität Berlin


The Scots language (the West-Germanic minority language spoken in Lowland Scotland) has been subject to the same pressures as most other European minority languages. Despite being the national language of Scotland in the 15th and 16th centuries, it had to compete with an economically, numerically and socially more powerful neighbour (English) that eventually came be seen as the standard. However, despite the gradual shift to English amongst the elite, and later the middle and working classes, and despite explicit attempts at eradication, it is still spoken today (albeit in a rather different form) alongside English in many parts of Scotland.

After briefly describing the wider historical context, this paper will examine how recent educational and language policies may have impacted on language ideologies towards Scots. In particular, the discursive construction of Scots and English in both top-down (e.g. policy documents) and bottom-up (focus groups) texts are analysed within a theoretical framework that combines the discourse-historical approach, critical approaches to language policy, and Bourdieu’s notion of symbolic capital.
Despite the apparently high valuations of Scots found in ‘top-down’ texts, and assurances that it is not inferior to English, it is apparent 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.), and in international contexts (e.g. multinational companies based in Scotland, call centres), when measured against English.