Journal Paper: Legitimating inaction: Differing identity constructions of the Scots language

Unger, J W (2010) ‘Legitimating inaction: Differing identity constructions of the Scots language’, European Journal of Cultural Studies 13(1): 99-117, DOI: 10.1177/1367549409352968.


The Scots language plays a key role in the political and cultural landscape of contemporary Scotland. From a discourse-historical perspective, this article explores how language ideologies about the Scots language are realized linguistically in a so-called ‘languages strategy’ drafted by the Scottish Executive, and in focus groups consisting of Scottish people.This article shows that although the decline of Scots is said to be a ‘tragedy’, focus group participants seem to reject the notion of Scots as a viable, contemporary language that can be used across a wide range of registers.The policy document also seems to construct Scots in very positive terms, but is shown to be unhelpful or potentially even damaging in the process of changing public attitudes to Scots.

Successfully defended on Friday, 22 May 2009


This thesis examines how the Scots language has been talked and written about in a variety of contexts in the recent past. This includes a textual analysis of various ‘official’ written documents produced in connection with Scots, and of focus groups comprised of Scottish people. The purpose of this analysis is to establish how Scots is discursively constructed, both from ‘above’ (through elite, educational and bureaucratic discourses) and from ‘below’ (through the discourses of ‘ordinary people’). The investigation uses an interdisciplinary critical discourse analysis approach (the discourse-historical approach, see Wodak et al. 1999) to examine texts in detail and also to investigate salient features of context. The ultimate aim of the research project is to expose hitherto concealed or ignored forms of discrimination against Scots speakers, to contribute to the body of knowledge about contemporary Scots, and to expand the range of possible applications for critical discourse analysis approaches.


WODAK, R., DE CILLIA, R., REISIGL, M. & LIEBHART, K. (1999) The discursive construction of national identity, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press.

Chapter in edited volume: ‘Gendered Discourses in a Contemporary Animated Film: Subversion and Confirmation of Gender Stereotypes in Shrek’ (with Jane Sunderland)

Unger, J W and Sunderland, J (2007) ‘Gendered Discourses in a Contemporary Animated Film: Subversion and Confirmation of Gender Stereotypes in Shrek’ in N Fairclough, G Cortese, P Ardizzone (eds), Discourse and Contemporary Social Change, Frankfurt: Peter Lang, p459-486, ISBN 978-3-03911-276-0

An earlier version is available as a CLSL Working Paper (no. 124).