Tag Archives: Scots language

Discursive approaches to language policy – challenges and opportunities

Toronto, Canada

co-presented with Elisabeth Barakos, Vienna University of Economics and Business

Link to Prezi:


In this paper, we aim to explore the interconnectedness of language policy and discourse by proposing a ‘discursive approach to language policy’. This approach combines insights from the fields of critical language policy (e.g. Shohamy 2006, Tollefson 2006) and critical discourse studies (e.g. the discourse-historical approach). Specifically, we argue that a discursive approach to language policy integrates a focus on close textual, contextual and socio-historical analysis of language policies, ideologies and associated practices from a critical perspective. We also add a methodological orientation: to consider what can be gained by bringing together language policy and critical discourse studies, and also what challenges this combination gives rise to.

As case studies, we critically analyse and compare language policy discourses and practices in Wales and Scotland – two partly devolved constituent countries of the United Kingdom in which the autochtonous languages Welsh, Scots and Gaelic have been integrated as a more or less salient part of debates about identity, nation and culture. Given the current heated debates about independence in Scotland and increasing autonomy for Wales, we will trace constructions of language from the pre-devolution era (before 1999) to the present. In particular, we incorporate data collected in two heterogeneous fields: education and business. We combine text analysis of ‘top-down’ language policy-related texts such as official documents, parliamentary debates and guidelines with an analysis of ‘bottom-up’ data from focus groups and interviews consisting of people affected by the policies. Through this, we examine the dialectic between policies and practices: between the linguistic and discursive power of the policy per se which construct the symbolic or material value of these languages in strategic ways and the power of social actors that construct, live and breathe policies.


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.