A cup o’ kindness
A politically charged debate over the status of the Scots tongue
As they cleared their heads after Burns Night on January 25th, having celebrated their national poet with whisky and haggis, another hangover loomed for Scots in less than a week’s time. A majority of them rejected Brexit in the referendum of 2016, whereas a majority in the United Kingdom overall supported it. Scotland is now leaving the European Union against its will—prompting a renewed call for Scotland, in turn, to leave the UK.
Naturally, the case for independence plays up characteristics that diﬀerentiate Scotland from England. Among them is language, which diverges from the talk south of the border in two main ways. One is Gaelic, a Celtic language impenetrable to outsiders (it is related closely to Irish and Manx but only distantly to English), which, however, is spoken only by around 50,000 people, or about 1% of Scotland’s population. The bigger diﬀerence is Scots—though quite how diﬀerent it is remains a matter of debate.
As soon as you cross over from England, syntax and pronunciation change sharply. While the dialects of northern England have much in common with each other, the break at the border is stark. Because of that, some observers think Scots is not a dialect of English but a distinct (if related) language. The proindependence Scottish National Party aﬃrms as much in its manifestos.