Scots for auld lang syne

July 19, 1996

Visitors to Historic Scotland sites this weekend face being quizzed about their views on the Scots language, following a two-year campaign by Aberdeen University students for an official investigation of the language's health.

The Aberdeen University Scots Leid Quorum, or Aberdeen University Scots language group, has been lobbying for the 2001 Census to include a question on Scots to discover how widely it is used.

As a first step, statisticians from the General Register Office for Scotland are seeking opinions from visitors and staff at Historic Scotland sites. A Scottish Office spokeswoman stressed that this was a feasibility study, and that no decisions would taken until the autumn on which questions would be tested in a pilot census next year.

The student group's president, Rod Lovie, said its preferred question was analagous to existing Census questions on Gaelic and Welsh.

"It would ask 'Can the person speak, read, write or understand Scots or one of the Scots dialects?', and then you would really need to put in brackets things like Shetlandic, Doric and Glaswegian, because a lot of people just associate their speech with dialect names, and not with Scots."

Estimates of Scots speakers range from one million to three million, and while some estimates suggest it is dying out with older generations, there is also growing interest in the language, particularly in education.

"But it's very difficult to make a case for educational provision when there is no information about demand," said PhD student Alasdair Allan. "We know instinctively that there is a demand, but it is a question of being able to prove it."

Arguments about whether Scots itself was a language or dialect had been largely defused by it coming under the care of the European Bureau of Lesser Used Languages in 1993, Mr Allan said, but there was no statistical information.

Mr Lovie said Scots was now increasingly taught in schools, and a Census question in 2001, before pupils reached adulthood, would help track whether central and local government funding for Scots was going to the right areas.

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