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The sad story of Scots Wikipedia

Hats off to the Guardian for the pun in this headline:

Shock an aw: US teenager wrote huge slice of Scots Wikipedia

Nineteen-year-old says he is ‘devastated’ after being accused of cultural vandalism

The Scots Wikipedia entry on the Canada goose – or “Canadae guiss” – was at first honest about its provenance. A tag warned: “The ‘Scots’ that wis uised in this airticle wis written bi a body that’s mither tongue isna Scots. Please impruive this airticle gin ye can.”

But, as the author grew in confidence, so he removed the caveat, and continued on his Scots-writing spree.

Now an American teenager – who does not speak Scots, the language of Robert Burns – has been revealed as responsible for almost half of the entries on the Scots language version of Wikipedia.

If you are wondering how a nineteen year old managed to be responsible for creating or editing tens of thousands of articles, the answer is simple:

He wrote: “I was only a 12-year-old kid when I started, and sometimes when you start something young, you can’t see that the habit you’ve developed is unhealthy and unhelpful as you get older.”

Naming no names except my own, that sounds like a few of us here. Ten edits a day, most days, for two and a half thousand days. The work of half his life. The thing that made him special. And now they revile him for it. Believe me, I am not laughing when I call this a sad story.

Believe me, too, when I say I do not want to mock Scots. The Samizdata “Languages” category includes many other posts by me about endangered tongues. I want them to survive and grow. A world where everyone spoke only one language would be a grey place, and one more likely to fall to tyranny. For many a soul living under oppression their knowledge of something other than the majority language has been the one window to freer times or places that the censors could not brick up. Less portentously, I like the vigorous style of Scots. The fact that it is mostly mutually intelligible with English English has been the source of endless arguments about whether it is a dialect of English or a language in its own right. It is a pity that this question has been politicised. My own opinion, for what it is worth, is that although Scots was a separate language in the Middle Ages, enough linguistic convergence has occurred to say that nowadays it is a dialect of English. There is nothing wrong with that. It would be equally valid to say Standard English and Scots are both dialects on the continuum of English (and that the group as a whole is called “English” is just a matter of historically familiar terminology, not an attribution of superiority. Brits should remember that if numbers of speakers were the criterion that decided the name of this language we would be speaking American.)

It is a sad reflection on the state of Scots that nobody stopped “AmaryllisGardner” for five seven years. Scarcely anyone seems to have questioned him. I cannot help thinking this fiasco would never have happened if linguists and the penumbra of people who are “into” languages had not been so down on prescriptivism. After all, if there truly is no correct or incorrect way to use language, our laddie’s version of Scots has as much claim to be right as the one they speak in Glasgow.

I am an anti-prescriptivist myself when it comes to daily life. It is wrong to sneer at anyone for their local mode of speech, and still worse to beat it out of them as was common in the past. The variety of any language that has become the standard did not do so because of any intrinsic superiority; it was mere chance. Nonetheless a command of standard English can unlock doors across the world for children in Barlanark, as it does for children in Brixton or Beijing. Fortunately children are good at picking up more than one language and code-switching between them.

Meanwhile, in debate I will continue to extol both languages and Wikipedia as splendid examples of spontaneous order. They still are. Most of the time.

41 comments to The sad story of Scots Wikipedia

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    I expect most of you know this already but I will just mention that Scots is quite different from (Scottish) Gaelic. Gaelic is a member of the Celtic language family and is not mutually intelligible with English. It is closer to Welsh and closer still to Irish. I would not blame anyone for being confused, because the terminology seems maliciously designed to ensnare people. It is a grave social error to call the indigenous Goidelic Celtic language of Scotland “Scots” or “Scottish” and also a grave social error to call the indigenous Goidelic Celtic language of Ireland anything other than “Irish”. To add to the confusion when the Irish language is called “Gaelic” as it commonly was in the past and still is by some people, the word is said /ˈɡeɪlɪk/, roughly like “gay-lick” whereas Scottish Gaelic is said /ˈɡalɪk/, roughly like “gal-lick”. And an old name applied to both is Erse, which is the Lowland Scots word for “Irish”.

  • Fraser Orr

    I cannot help thinking this debacle would never have happened if linguists and the penumbra of people who are “into” languages had not been so down on prescriptivism. After all, if there truly is no correct or incorrect way to use language, our laddie’s version of Scots has as much claim to be right as the one they speak in Glasgow.

    I don’t know if that is a fair characterization. I think to oppose prescriptivism is not to say “anything goes” but rather to recognize a spectrum. There are things that are plainly grammatical, and things that plainly aren’t. But there is a large gray (grey) area in between, and defining a bright line is what should rightly be objected to.

    (BTW, further to your point, I think there is a distinction between Scots and Scottish English, both coming with very different history. As you rightly say Gaelic is a completely different language entirely unrelated to English. I grew up in Glasgow, and lived for a long time in Edinburgh. At one time I had a job across the Forth road bridge in Dalgety Bay in Fife. I remember clearly having a discussion with some local in the car park about directions somewhere and he spoke to me in what is a Fife version of Scots. Although perhaps 80 miles from where I grew up, I could barely understand word the man was saying.)

    Personally, my favorite thing in the Scottish English I grew up speaking is that lovely contraction “amn’t”. It always struck me as odd that the contraction for “am not” in English is “aren’t” — as in “I’m English, aren’t I?” is an ugly violation of the normal conjugation of the verb “to be”. And I remember growing up in Glasgow where amn’t is common seemed so much more consistent “I’m Sottish, amn’t I?”

    It is unfortunate that my English teacher always seemed to want me to go with that nasty sassenach error.

    Haven’t said that, nobody would argue that “I’m confused, isn’t I?” is anything but wrong.

  • bobby b

    If I write something incredibly wrong and no one questions or corrects me, I assume no one has read what I wrote.

    Does anyone go to the Scots Wiki page?

  • Phil B

    On the internet, no one knows you are a dog (or in this case, a 19 year old non-Scot).

  • Agammamon

    Brits should remember that if numbers of speakers were the criterion that decided the name of this language we would be speaking American.)

    FUCK YEAH!!!! *amazing guitar riff!*

  • Agammamon

    bobby b
    August 29, 2020 at 11:36 pm

    If I write something incredibly wrong and no one questions or corrects me, I assume no one has read what I wrote.

    Does anyone go to the Scots Wiki page?

    Which makes the abuse and claims of harm the kid has done seem kind of stupid – NO ONE NOTICED for 3/4 of a decade. How much harm could he have really done?

  • Mr Ed

    Nineteen, n n n n n n n n nineteen. “I wasn’t really sure what was going on’.

    Oh well, he has simply written it in American Scots, a New World variant of Scots, in respect of which he won’t have to jockey for position as the World’s foremost authority. A definition of a Ph.D holder comes to mind ‘Someone who knows almost everything about almost nothing.’.

    Perhaps an algorithm could be developed to translate US Scots into Scots Scots and correct the ‘errors’.

    Perhaps he might benefit from getting out more.

    I’m sorry Natalie but the phrase ‘You’ve got to laugh’ leaps out from this story like a startled haggis.

  • Ben david

    Natalie:
    A world where everyone spoke only one language would be a grey place, and one more likely to fall to tyranny. For many a soul living under oppression their knowledge of something other than the majority language has been the one window to freer times or places that the censors could not brick up.
    – – – –

    That is the lesson of the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel. Basically the world’s first totalitarian state, complete with “Great Father” leader myth.

    G-d’s response eschews forced, false social harmony to ensure independent human thought and free will. From here the world will take a longer, more circuitous path to a truer redemption and humanism…

    Go read the original.

  • Clovis Sangrail

    @Mr Ed

    ‘You’ve got to laugh’ leaps out from this story like a startled haggis.

    Dear God, please warn us next time. I just spilled my hot coffee everywhere! That was brilliant.

    On a separate note, @Agammamon, and before celebrations become too widespread:

    Brits should remember that if numbers of speakers were the criterion that decided the name of this language we would be speaking American,

    wouldn’t that be Indian?

  • Sam Duncan

    “Believe me, too, when I say I do not want to mock Scots.”

    Ooh! Ooh! Me! Me!

    I would humbly venture to suggest that if someone who doesn’t even speak a “language” can write half of its Wikipedia articles, and furthermore, as Agamammon points out, nobody noticed for seven years then it’s reasonably safe to say that the entire “Scots language” enterprise is a load of manky old haggis droppings.

    It’s English with 16th-Century spelling. And it always was. It’s distinct from Highland Gaelic because the people of the lowlands and borders, especially in the south-east, were largely Anglo-Saxon. Every single “guid Scots word” that sends the “Scots language” cranks into raptures turns out to be a holdover from Old, Middle, or even Early Modern English. Every last one. And any consistent distinct grammar could be outlined on the back of a stamp. In wax crayon.

    It’s English.

  • Jacob

    Who wrote the other half?

  • My own belief is that Scots is a dialect, not a language. It is merely the northernmost of the various dialects of what is now called English that were spoken by those who settled along Great Britain’s eastern seaboard after the fall of the Roman Empire. If Scots were to be called a language, so should Northumbrian be.

    Scots itself has two dialects – Lallans and Doric. Speakers of the former can find the latter not always easy to follow – and I suspect the author of Scots Wikipedia would too.

    For interest, my next two comments will contain Scots poems. Readers are welcome to comment on their intelligibility or lack thereof. (These two are by Walter Wingate. My mother learned to recite at school “It wisna his wyte” by Charles Murray – a recording is here for anyone who wants to assess spoken Scots.)

  • Firstly, a comic poem. How splendid it would be if Boris and Dominic were to reform education until teachers once more enjoyed

    THE DOMINIE’S HAPPY LOT

    The dominie is growing grey,
    And feth he’s keepit thrang
    Wi’ counts and spellin’ a’ the day,
    And liffies when they’re wrang.
    He dauners out at nine o’ clock;
    He dauners hame at four –
    Fae twal to ane to eat and smoke –
    And sae his day is owre!

    Oh Leezie, Leezie, fine and easy
    Is a job like yon –
    A Saturday at gowf to play,
    And aye the pay gaun on!

    When winter days are cauld and dark,
    And dykes are deep wi’ snaw,
    And bairns are shiverin’ owre their wark,
    He shuts the shop at twa;
    And when it comes to Hogmanay,
    And fun comes roaring ben,
    And ilka dog maun tak’ a day,
    The dominie tak’s ten!

    Oh Leezie, Leezie, fine and easy
    Is a job like yon –
    To stop the mill whene’er you will,
    And aye the pay gaun on!

    And when Inspectors gi’e a ca’
    He has them roun’ to dine,
    And aye the upshot o’ it a’ –
    “The bairns are daein’ fine!”
    And sae the “Board” come smirkin’ roun’
    Wi’ prizes in their haun’;
    And syne its frae the end o’ June
    Until the Lord kens whan!

    Oh Leezie, Leezie, fine and easy
    Is a job like yon –
    Sax weeks to jaunt and gallivant,
    And aye the pay gaun on!

  • Now a kindly, graver poem.

    PAPER KATE

    Wha but kens o’ Paper Kate?
    Trudgin’, pechin’ air and late,
    Sair forfouchen, never bate.
    Reg’lar as the post was Kate.

    Winter storms might rage and blaw,
    Roads be deep in driftit snaw,
    Bus might coup and train might wait,
    But nocht could taigle Paper Kate.

    Up the mile-lang village street
    Cam the trot o’ Katie’s feet;
    Roun’ the farms and villas nate
    Nae dog barked at Paper Kate.

    A’ the weanies in the place
    Kent her wee roun’ wrunklet face;
    Rinnin scuddy to the gate,
    Aft they welcomed Paper Kate.

    Kate had crack for auld and young –
    Wha was deid and wha was hung.
    A’ the great affairs of State,
    Nane could reel them aff like Kate.

    Katie’s shawl – ’twas ocht but warm –
    That shielded aye her ware frae harm,
    Lang had lost its young conceit
    When first it met wi’ Paper Kate

    Katie’s shoon – in winter worn –
    Aff were flung at May’s return.
    “Shoon an’ siller’s ill to get –
    Hackit heels are cheap!”, quo’ Kate.

    Blithe when weary banes were sair,
    Cheery aye, though auld and puir;
    Nane that ever foucht wi’ Fate
    Kept a spunkier heart than Kate.

    But ae winter morning snell
    Puir auld Katie slip’t and fell.
    Hame was carried, cauld and quate –
    Syne we heard nae mair o’ Kate.

    Where she lies there’s few that care –
    Whiles a daisy waukens there;
    But for stane or name or date,
    Wha wad fash for Paper Kate?

  • Novus

    Personally, my favorite thing in the Scottish English I grew up speaking is that lovely contraction “amn’t”. It always struck me as odd that the contraction for “am not” in English is “aren’t” — as in “I’m English, aren’t I?” is an ugly violation of the normal conjugation of the verb “to be”. And I remember growing up in Glasgow where amn’t is common seemed so much more consistent “I’m Sottish, amn’t I?”

    My father (not Scottish) used to say “amn’t I” in a knowing, ironic fashion, as one who knew it was more technically correct and couldn’t bring himself to use “aren’t I”, but equally didn’t want to come off as a miserable pedant. But then he also used to enjoy confusing us as kids, when saying “I had better do xyz,” by continuing not with “hadn’t I?” but instead with “bettn’t I?” with which I now enjoy confusing my own children.

  • Lord T

    It kind of defines Wikipedia in a nutshell.

    Like many SJW sites, and this is one, it is written by people that have an agenda and don’t care about any facts but what they believe in. Yet people claim it is the font of all knowledge.

  • Fraser Orr

    @Sam Duncan
    It’s English.

    Or dutch, after all, English is derived from Dutch and nearly every word and grammatical structure can be traced there or to old French. But the defining characteristic of “language” as opposed to “dialect” is mutual intelligibility. And I promise you that is not the case here. I grew up in Glasgow and I can barely understand Scots (as opposed to Scottish English which you probably could understand pretty well.) To give a comparison, I have friends who are native Spanish speakers and they can pretty much understand and communicate in Italian, better than you could with Scots. Nobody would argue that Spanish and Italian are not separate languages.

    BTW one of the interesting characteristics of Scots and to some extent Scottish English, is that they were far less subject to the so called “great vowel shift” that changed the nature of the English vowel in the 12-14th century. So, for example, the phrase “brown cow” is pronounced “broon coo” in Scots and Scottish English because that is the way those vowels were pronounced in English before the great vowel shift.

  • Paul Marks

    Even if Scots is different language there is no reason why this young American should not write in it.

    The idea that only a “native” can be an expert on a language or a culture is RACIST to the core.

    For example there are many Japanese scholars who know far more about the English language and English history than most English people do.

    Both language and culture are a gift to the world – not the preserve of a particular ethnic group.

    “But Paul, he made a lot of it up”.

    What an inventive young man! Excellent!

  • Sam Duncan

    “Or dutch, after all, English is derived from Dutch and nearly every word and grammatical structure can be traced there or to old French.”

    Aha! Precisely. English is a derivative of both Frisian and Norman French, among many others, just as Afrikaans, a much more recent development, is an amalgam of Dutch, English, Portuguese, and French. That is what defines a distinct language. While “Scots” may have the odd loan-word from Gaelic, it’s almost 100% English.

    But note that my contention isn’t simply that “Scots” isn’t a real language; it’s that it doesn’t exist at all. At least, not “naturally”, in the real world. It’s an invented language, like Esperanto or Klingon. (Although, being amateurishly cobbled together from existing dialects, rather than designed from the ground up, it comes out more like Pig Latin or backslang.)

    “I have friends who are native Spanish speakers and they can pretty much understand and communicate in Italian, better than you could with Scots.”

    I don’t doubt it. I’ve lived all my life in Glasgow, and I can barely understand “Scots”, because it has been deliberately designed to be unintelligible by people who dearly want it to be a distinct language. Write it down without silly phonetic or deliberately obscure antiquated spelling, and it’s perfectly clear, albeit with the odd dialect usage. Hence why someone who has never been anywhere near Scotland can, without any formal training, fake it for seven years:

    The ‘Scots’ that was used in this article was written by a body whose mother tongue isna* Scots. Please improve this article gin you can.

    *Double points for a peculiar spelling of the genuine dialect word, “isnae”.

  • Waf

    If you look carefully, you will notice there is no r in aren’t I

  • Robert

    @Sam Duncan
    “It’s English with 16th-Century spelling. And it always was. It’s distinct from Highland Gaelic because the people of the lowlands and borders, especially in the south-east, were largely Anglo-Saxon. Every single “guid Scots word” that sends the “Scots language” cranks into raptures turns out to be a holdover from Old, Middle, or even Early Modern English. Every last one. And any consistent distinct grammar could be outlined on the back of a stamp. In wax crayon.”

    Yi’v geen clean gyte!

    There are lots of Scots words that don’t come from English, even though it did evolve out of Old English. It borrowed from Gaelic, French, Dutch, Flemish and Latin. In the north of Scotland it borrowed directly from Scandinavian. The borrowings from French, Dutch, Flemish, Latin, and Scandinavia were separate from English borrowings from those languages. As far as I’m aware all Gaelic borrowings in English have come via Scots.

    Here are some examples:
    Gaelic: whisky, ceilidh, glen, loch, quaich
    French: ashet, gardyloo, Hogmanay
    Latin: dispone, depute, dux
    Dutch/Flemish: pinkie, golf, scone

  • Robert

    Sam Duncan:
    “But note that my contention isn’t simply that “Scots” isn’t a real language; it’s that it doesn’t exist at all. At least, not “naturally”, in the real world. It’s an invented language, like Esperanto or Klingon.”

    Beneath the hyperbole, you’ve got a bit of a point here. What does not exist is any kind of Standard Scots, in the way that there is most definitely a Standard English. There are lots of dialects, none of which are widely considered to be superior to, or more “proper” than, any of the others. And because there is no agreed proper way to pronounce Scots, there is no agreed way to write it down. In this regard it is a bit like Swiss-German. But, whether it is a language or a dialect, it does exist, and exists naturally – I know because I grew up speaking one (sub-?) dialect of it.

  • Fraser Orr

    @Sam Duncan
    But note that my contention isn’t simply that “Scots” isn’t a real language; it’s that it doesn’t exist at all. At least, not “naturally”, in the real world. It’s an invented language

    If you really think that that dude I met in the car park in Fife was some sort of linguistic snob speaking in an invented language to assert his cultural identity, I can assure you you are wrong. He is just a regular guy who grew up speaking a language that you could not understand. In many ways the opposite is true — this man was probably disadvantaged by his linguistic capabilities outside of his local area. Invented languages are the province of people playing rather further up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs than this gentleman was operating at.

    I’m also wondering who exactly this cunning intelligent designer was. After all there is documentation of Scots language literature going back hundreds of years, for example the poem Brus from the 14th century. It is in old Scots for sure as one would expect, but that is more a demonstration that the language has its own independent history.

    Storyß to rede ar delitabill,
    suppoß þat þai be nocht bot fabill,
    þan suld storyß þat suthfast wer,
    And þai war said on gud maner,
    Hawe doubill plesance in heryng.

    Notice the use of the Saxon letter thorn þ, which was present in earlier English but also the double s ß which is a Germanic remnant that AFAIK was never present in English.

    Now if you compare with Dutch, this being the first few verses of the Bible in Dutch:

    In den beginne schiep God den hemel en de aarde.
    De aarde nu was woest en ledig, en duisternis was op den afgrond; en de Geest Gods zweefde op de wateren.
    En God zeide: Daar zij licht! en daar werd licht.
    En God zag het licht, dat het goed was;

    An English speaker reading this (especially reading it out loud) would have a fairly decent idea of what it was saying, though Dutch does spell things a little differently, the correspondence in grammar and vocabulary is pretty evident. Your contention that Scots’ spelling is an affectation rather than a realistic attempt to represent the different phonology orthographically seems to me, anyway, to assume your conclusion.

    In fact you can see exactly this very precisely in some of the Dutch words here (remembering, if you will, that “spelling” in a standardized sense, is really a fairly new thing in the history of language.) For example “aarde” for “earth” with a slight lowering of the vowel and the and the strong similarity of the sounds d and th (both being formed with the tongue on the dental ridge.) “Hemel” having basically the same vowel structure with slightly modified constonants and “Geest” which means “spirit” but more understandable “Ghost” again largely the same words with slightly modified vowels. And so forth. These different sounds are represented by different orthography in Dutch, and it seems perfectly reasonable to do so in Scots too. The vowels for “brown cow” are pronounced quite differently in Scots and in English, and it seems perfectly reasonable to have a different orthographical representation for that. The use of words like “laird” and “loch” have a very extensive historical record, even though they are just such changes in spelling.

  • Duncan S

    Equally there are scots words that come from German: Kirk, meaning church, is similar to the German word Kirche. “Ken”, as in “Wha but kens o’ Paper Kate?” in Niall’s poem, meaning to know, is the same as the German verb Kennen “Kenst Du Papier Kate? Ja, Ich ken Papier Kate”.

    Robert hits the nail on the head: there is no Standard Scots.

    Niall refers to two dialects, Doric and Lallans, but, as accents vary across Scotland, (as eloquently represented by Andy Stewart in this video) so do dialects, and I suspect there are many region-specific words, making “Scots” a regional dialect of regional dialects. They may talk of Weans in Glasgow, but in Falkirk they are Bairns.

    And if you look at the poems of Burns, the majority of words used are, for want of a better description, English words, albeit some with a slight accent: off/aff, night/nicht, cold/cauld, brown/broon, cow/coo. Yes, there are some words that don’t appear elsewhere in the UK, but the same can be said of words specific to Yorkshire, Somerset, Cornwall, etc.

    I suspect many people think that Burns actually talked the way he wrote. He may have done, when talking down the pub, or to his family, but I doubt whether, in his role as exciseman, he talked to, or wrote his reports to, his superiors in anything other than English (code-switching in the 18thC)!

    The promotion of “the guid scots leid” as a separate, distinct language (and absolutely, definitely, categorically, nothing to do with English) is simply another part of the separatists’ drive to make Scotland less and less British.

    Growing up in 1960s and 1970s Kirkcudbrightshire, Ayrshire, West Lothian, Stirlingshire (we moved a lot), woe betide my brothers and me if we spoke vernacular in the house! “What’s that fur (for)?”, “Cat fur: mever seen it on a dog”.

  • Aetius

    It is amusing to note that there are more than twice as many entries on Wikipedia in Latin, which is apparently a dead language, than there are in Scots, which the Scot Nats swear blind is a language and a living one at that. No doubt the standard of Latin entries written by retired teachers and the like is considerably higher than that of Scots ones written by a young person on the other side of the Pond.

  • Robert

    Aetius: “It is amusing to note that there are more than twice as many entries on Wikipedia in Latin, which is apparently a dead language, than there are in Scots”

    Why is that amusing? It’s vaguely interesting to note – in the same way that is is vaguely interesting to note that the population of Sweden is about twice the population of Norway, but to consider it either amusing or unamusing is surely to make some sort of category error.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Given Sir Walter Scott‘s role in getting Scotland and the Scots language/dialect into the popular imagination, it is interesting to note that a nonexistent word in one of his immensely popular novels went unchallenged for decades, I would guess because his mostly English readers thought it was a Scots word like the many others scattered throughout his novels. In 1886, a Professor William Skeat, addressing the Philological Society on the phenomenon of “Ghost words”, said,

    A similar instance occurs in a misprint of a passage of one of Walter Scott’s novels, but here there is the further amusing circumstance that the etymology of the false word was settled to the satisfaction of some of the readers. In the majority of editions of The Monastery, we read: … dost thou so soon morse thoughts of slaughter? This word is nothing but a misprint of nurse; but in Notes and Queries two independent correspondents accounted for the word morse etymologically. One explained it as to prime, as when one primes a musket, from O. Fr. amorce, powder for the touchhole (Cotgrave), and the other by to bite (Lat. mordere), hence “to indulge in biting, stinging or gnawing thoughts of slaughter”. The latter writes: “That the word as a misprint should have been printed and read by millions for fifty years without being challenged and altered exceeds the bounds of probability.” Yet when the original manuscript of Sir Walter Scott was consulted, it was found that the word was there plainly written nurse.

    Emphasis added.

  • Aetius
    August 30, 2020 at 9:20 pm

    It is amusing to note that there are more than twice as many entries on Wikipedia in Latin, which is apparently a dead language, than there are in Scots, which the Scot Nats swear blind is a language and a living one at that. No doubt the standard of Latin entries written by retired teachers and the like is considerably higher than that of Scots ones written by a young person on the other side of the Pond.

    Latin is very useful. Being a dead language, it does not wriggle about century after century like English does. In the middle ages, it was the lingua franca. But then, that changed. Latin didn’t.

  • @ Agammamon,
    To be honest, I can’t help but suspect that the true reason he went unnoticed is that the work he was doing was about as good and accurate as the work being done by anyone else at that site and maybe a little bit better than some. 🙂

  • […] Natalie Solent has some sympathy for the recently revealed teen who is the main “author” of the Scots version of Wikipedia: […]

  • Robert (August 30, 2020 at 6:26 pm), the Scots word ashet (assiette) meaning a decent-sized plate and tassie (tasse) meaning a stylish cup, are indeed borrowed from French – along with a raised standard of civilisation, whose absence in Scotland at the time is so well indicated by the absence of prior Scots words for these! 🙂 Gardeyloo (Gardez l’eau) reminds us of old-time Scottish standards of sanitation – and why pre-Adams Edinburgh was nicknamed ‘Auld Reekie. 🙂

    But English borrowed plenty of words from French, and did not borrow those particular words merely because England did not have Scotland’s need of them ( 🙂 ), so I don’t think that challenges the idea of Scots being one of the English dialects from which modern English comes.

    They may talk of Weans in Glasgow, but in Falkirk they are Bairns. (Duncan S, August 30, 2020 at 8:07 pm)

    Correct, but the Falkirk guy knows what ‘weans’ are and the Glasgow guy knows that ‘bairns’ are the same, and that both are Scots. I think of Walter Wingate as Doric but he uses ‘weanies’ for the rhythm in ‘Paper Kate’, just like any poet using the slightly less common word because it works better in the line. In distinct areas, the same language often has a statistically-preferred word usage. (Careful attention to my own word usage may still reveal an east-coast Scots origin and upbringing – it certainly did when I was a teen.)

    there are scots words that come from German: Kirk, meaning church, is similar to the German word Kirche.

    And it’s also similar to the English word church. In Scots, both the c-sounds are hard, in German the first is hard, the second soft, in English, both are soft. It’s just pronunciation. It is possible that the Scots pronunciation – like some US and Canadian pronunciations – is the older and that the English pronunciation evolved towards softness under the later influence of Norman French. However, surely church/kirk/kirche are all ultimately from ecclesia – as the French eglise more immediately indicates – and must have been brought into German and Anglo-Saxon somewhat separately by missionaries after the two tongues had separated, the Anglo-Saxons being spread along Great Britain’s eastern seaboard.

    I suspect many people think that Burns actually talked the way he wrote. He may have done, when talking down the pub, or to his family, but I doubt whether, in his role as exciseman, he talked to, or wrote his reports to, his superiors in anything other than English (code-switching in the 18thC)!

    Duncan hits the nail on the head here. Beginning in the educated classes after the ’45, Scots started becoming as Swiss-German is today – the Swiss speak Swiss-German but they are taught to write German, not Swiss-German, from the start of their schooling. The same was true in my mother’s day on the Moray Firth. The school taught you to write in standard English – not in a Scots dialect thereof – and to a considerable degree this meant you were also taught how to speak it. My mother was accent-and-dialect bilingual, speaking standard English typically in the home but able to switch at a moment’s notice into the different (startlingly different, the first time I as a bairn heard her do it) accent and dialect of North-East Scotland. (My father’s Aberdeenshire accent, by contrast, was much more possible for sassenachs to follow – he could moderate it for his audience but never presented the same impression of an abrupt switch between accents.)

    Burns was near the beginning of this development and probably did talk similarly to the way he wrote poems, but Duncan may be correct in thinking he wrote English in his exciseman reports. A similar person born after 1800 would certainly have done so.

    If you really think that that dude I met in the car park in Fife was some sort of linguistic snob speaking in an invented language to assert his cultural identity (Fraser Orr, August 30, 2020 at 8:06 pm)

    I don’t think Sam thinks that. I think he believes your Fife guy, like many I know further north in east Scotland, was speaking in a strong accent, sprinkled (but not very often) with genuine dialect words, which at that moment left you baffled but which you could soon have mastered just as one can soon master Barbour’s preface to Brus once you get past the antique spellings and letters. They make Barbour’s meaning a little hard to read, as the pronunciation of the (Doric, I assume) Fife guy made it hard for someone raised in Glasgow to follow, but even ‘suthfast’ (sooth-fast, i.e. truthful, factual) merely takes a little thought and the rest, if you know how to pronounce Thorn, is easier to read and understand than much old English (and some Chaucer).

    Your Dutch paragraph, by contrast, is a text that most people know. Without that, I do not see a route to e.g. ledig or duisternis, and zweefde (swept over?) is a lot harder than sooth-fast. (By all means point out if I am missing the English routes to these words.)

    Your contention that Scots’ spelling is an affectation rather than a realistic attempt to represent the different phonology orthographically seems to me, anyway, to assume your conclusion.

    I think Sam is being entirely just about the US Wikipedia author – such ‘Scots’ as

    “The ‘Scots’ that wis uised in this airticle wis written bi a body that’s mither tongue isna Scots. Please impruive this airticle gin ye can.”

    yells to me that it is trying far too hard – mockably hard – to pretend that English with an accent is Scots (I allow ‘gin’ which is genuine Scots dialect).

    By contrast, I think Mark Twain does a superb job using spelling to represent the Missouri back-country accent (Huck), the negro-English accent (Jim) and so on – but all the characters in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are still speaking English. Sir Walter Scott does the same for Scots.

  • Sam Duncan

    “Correct, but the Falkirk guy knows what ‘weans’ are and the Glasgow guy knows that ‘bairns’ are the same, and that both are Scots.”

    Except that they talk of bairns in the northeast of England, where they also “gang” rather than “go”. Do they speak “Scots” in Newcastle? Why not?

    “I don’t think Sam thinks that. I think he believes your Fife guy, like many I know further north in east Scotland, was speaking in a strong accent, sprinkled (but not very often) with genuine dialect words, which at that moment left you baffled but which you could soon have mastered just as one can soon master Barbour’s preface to Brus once you get past the antique spellings and letters.”

    Precisely so. There are certainly very vivid and strong dialects of English in Scotland (as there are across the country), but they’re just that: dialects.

    I reject the idea that what we’re really talking about is ”standard Scots” because this suggests that it’s the language which people from different areas of mutually unintelligible dialects within Scotland use to communicate, just as people from Birmingham and Belfast, or San Fransico and Melbourne, would use standard English. And we simply don’t. As I said, I struggle to understand most of the “Scots” I hear and read. We’ve talked about mutual intelligibility between languages, but how can something unintelligible to the very people who are supposed to be speaking it be considered a “standard” language?

    People speak standard English. The “Scots” that we see in print, and which is now, God help us, being taught in schools, is a cobbled-together hodgepodge which nobody has ever spoken. I resent the implication that I speak a “language” which contains allegedly common words and grammar I’ve never even heard before, grabbed from all over the map purely in order to create a “standard” from whole cloth. (I assume this is done because if we were to standardize “Scots” in the manner English itself was standardized – adopting the language used in polite society and academe – we’d end up with something perhaps not absolutely identical to, but virtually indistinguishable from, standard English.) This strikes me as being as absurd, patronizing, and, heck, downright offensive as an amalgam “Northern language” would be to most Yorkshiremen and Lancastrians.

    “Burns was near the beginning of this development and probably did talk similarly to the way he wrote poems,”

    Burns was very honest about the fact that he wrote in an invented amalgam for the sake of poetry.

  • Fraser Orr

    @Naill, it is interesting to read your perceptions on this. FWIW, I could barely make out any words at all in the Brus poem, but the Dutch was clear to me (though I do take your point that the second passage was well known to me.) I am by no means saying that Dutch is closer to standard English than Scots is, in fact I think Scots is between the two, but addressing the original claim — that Scots just doesn’t even exist — I think is plainly not true.

    A language often represents more than just the grammar and vocabulary but exists in a cultural context, and Scottish culture is very much distinct from English culture and its language, and linguistic history is rich. If you compare again the Dutch with Burns, such as:

    Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie,
    O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
    Thou need na start awa sae hasty
    Wi bickering brattle!
    I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee,
    Wi’ murdering pattle.

    To me the degree of difference between English and this and English and the Dutch is not all that large. The spelling of words representing different habits of articulation, unknown vocabulary, and mostly the same grammar seem to me quite similar. (The Dutch word order matched English pretty much exactly except for an inversion of verb and object in the last sentence, something that is not uncommon in English.) Much as you might be confused by duisternis or zweefde you might reasonably be confused by sleekit, brattle or pattle (were a Scot like you, Naill, not familiar with this poem.)

    And this is the way Burns wrote it. The spelling is not an affectation, but rather what was considered he right spelling at the time (with, again the understanding that in the 18th century “correct” spelling was much less of an issue before the Victorians got all prescriptivist about it.)

    And FWIW, I am one of those Philistines who think Mark Twain is greatly overrated. I found the passages you refer to (that attempt to render the vernacular with a kind of phonetic orthography) as utterly incomprehensible. And I think it might be cute if it was a sentence or two but it goes on and on for paragraphs.

  • it might be cute if it was a sentence or two but it goes on and on for paragraphs.

    Either one clicks with the dialect being represented, hearing it in your head, or one does not. For some reason, I have always found the southern-US accent easy to follow in books and films. I know other Scots who find it impossible – and react as you do to reading Twain. I have watched films set in the deep south and been astounded to hear fellow-watchers complain they could not understand what was being said. I’ve had the same experience hearing fellow-diners in England struggle to follow a Scottish speaker.

  • Stonyground

    I’m baffled. Why does anyone care about this at all? Doesn’t this incident simply demonstrate that Scots Wikipedia has as much credibility as the Lolcats Bible? In which case hasn’t this guy done the world a favour?

  • Fraser Orr

    Niall Kilmartin
    Either one clicks with the dialect being represented, hearing it in your head, or one does not.

    It is interesting. My ex’s family lived in Mississippi and she had relatives all over the south from Louisiana to Georgia. So I have actually spent a lot of time in the south, and I agree that their accent is quite lovely, and certainly not hard to understand (this is made especially so because the cadence in the south is substantially slower than in the north, and certainly so compared to Glasgow where people talk VERY quickly. As a matter of fact it reminds me a lot of the English spoken in the Highlands and Islands. Slower, softer and gentler on the ear. And I think, ironically, it is much closer to standard English than you would hear in any Glasgow pub, or fancy wine bar in Auld Reekie, two other places I have lived.)

    But the dialect that Twain is representing is not really that. It is more a slave dialect with a lot of creole. One place I have had trouble following is in the deep south parts of Louisiana like Lafayette, where there is a large mixture of Cajan French creoled into their English. To me this is more like the dialect Twain represents (though the creoles of he slaves were more African languages than French.) If you ever listen the the Zydeco music native to those parts it is simply incomprehensible.

    All the same, my feeling about Twain is he is the literary establishment of the early Americas grasping to be recognized as on a par with old Europe. I find his work very hard to read, and not particularly enjoyable when I slog through it. I find that with a lot of American “literature” actually. Hemingway is another writer who I think is VASTLY overrated. In fact I am shocked that his gross stereotypes of masculinity and femininity are even allowed in our schools in these PC times. But of course, to each his own.

  • Fraser Orr (August 31, 2020 at 7:09 pm), that is interesting. Up to now, I’d always assumed it was familiarity with the accent that determined the readability of Huckleberry Finn, but evidently you have some knowledge of the accent. I’d agree that Hemingway is overrated, but though Twain wrote plenty of slapdash stuff to pay the bills, I always understood why Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn were still read. I guess its a case of YMMV and chac’un a son gout.

    I am shocked that [Hemingway’s] gross stereotypes of masculinity and femininity are even allowed in our schools in these PC times.

    That’s nothing; Twain’s accuracy in depicting southern ante-bellum speech includes many an instance of the unsayable word (for those who like irony, the cancelled prof has herself been an advocate of hate-speech laws and codes). I believe this has caused much absurd grief.

  • Fraser Orr

    Whenever I think of “the unsayable word” I am reminded of this Monty Python sketch.

    https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2hwqqd

  • The Jannie

    Typically American, the lad’s “Scots” writing is as accurate as the accent of a Star Trek engineer or Dick van Dyke’s cockney in Mary Poppins.

  • Sam Duncan

    “Doesn’t this incident simply demonstrate that Scots Wikipedia has as much credibility as the Lolcats Bible? In which case hasn’t this guy done the world a favour?”

    I think so.

    “Typically American, the lad’s “Scots” writing is as accurate as the accent of a Star Trek engineer or Dick van Dyke’s cockney in Mary Poppins.”

    Indeed. Yet nobody noticed for seven whole years. That’s my point: if nobody – even, one must assume given the context, “experts” – can tell the difference between “real” “standard” “Scots” and some kid from North Carolina channeling Groundskeeper Willie, how can anyone take it seriously as a language?

    I’m feurly suore-a iff I tried tu ideet Svedeesh Vikeepedeea leeke-a zees, I’d be-a fuound ouout pretty sherpish. Börk börk börk!

  • Richard Thomas

    @bobby_b I actually ended up there when Limmy said something about it being an actual language a couple of months back. Much the same kind of discussion ensued so I decided to do some research and quickly decided that the whole thing was a waste of time one way or the other. This outcome is certainly not a surprise and somewhat vindicating.

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