chapter  3
19 Pages

On the Pros and Cons of Standardizing Scots

Notes From the North of a Small Island
WithJames Costa

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This chapter examines how in Scotland, Scots language advocates have consistently been rejecting standardization over the past 30 years, both in principle and in practice. Like other examples in this volume, Scots is a widely spoken vernacular in Scotland, whose status (as a language, as a collection of dialects or as a dialect of English) has been subject to debates over the past century, but which was recently recognized as a language in its own right by the UK government under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and by the Scottish government (although not on the level of Gaelic). Through a mix of traditional and online ethnography, and drawing on a number of cases in which various social actors have attempted to use Scots publicly, the text serves to illustrate moments when individuals or corporations challenge the notion that Scots is a free-for-all form of expression and the response they receive from other members of the speech community. Despite the absence of an official standard, this chapter points out that there is an implicit writing norm which some members of the Scots community adhere to and defend. In other words, the argument put forward in this chapter is that the absence of an explicit norm makes it more difficult to acquire the required legitimacy to use the language, especially in public. In a context where the dominant national language establishes standardization as the norm, I question whether lack of an explicit standard may in fact, despite the emancipatory potential of the idea, impede the way speakers may access the public sphere. This argument is of particular interest given the current political dynamics which are linked with the creation of a new, national public space in the possible run up to a new referendum on independence.