Forum for Research on the Languages of Scotland and Ulster

Discursive constructions of Scots from the pre-devolution era to the debates on independence

University of Aberdeen


Language, and language attitudes, are becoming an increasingly important part of the discourse on Scotland’s identity, both within and outwith Scotland, but nevertheless remain a relatively low priority for politicians. In this paper, I will trace the construction of the Scots language in public policy and public perception from the pre-devolution era to the present using a critical discourse studies approach. I combine text analysis of ‘top-down’ language policy-related texts such as official documents, parliamentary debates, educational guidelines and school resources with analysis of  ‘bottom-up’ data from focus groups consisting of people affected by the policies. Through this, I will show that the seemingly positive evaluations of the Scots language both in official documents and amongst Scots speakers are problematic from a language policy and planning perspective. They employ a number of ‘macro-strategies’ to construct Scots in ways that potentially are barriers to the revitalization of the language. I will argue that despite the seemingly positive aspects of an increased interest in Scots among politicians and an apparent revitalization of the activist community, it is important to examine the content and form of language policies and discourse on the language, and to critically evaluate them in relation to latent language ideologies and political agendas. In particular, the current debates on independence could provide a strong incentive for politicians to instrumentalise the ideologies surrounding the Scots language, but this has not yet been particularly evident to date. I will conclude my paper by discussing some possible explanations for this.

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