The Ausbau of Present-Day Scots

By Schmitt, Holger | Scottish Language, Annual 2006 | Go to article overview

The Ausbau of Present-Day Scots


Schmitt, Holger, Scottish Language


The aim of this paper is to give an overview of two aspects of modern-day Scots: its range of use (which is larger than sometimes assumed) and its standardisation (or lack thereof). Both aspects have come to be subsumed under the term ausbau, (1) following its introduction by the German philologist Heinz Kloss in 1967. The term itself has led to some degree of confusion, not least, perhaps, due to the difficulty of translating it into English. We will therefore start with a closer look at what ausbau is and how the term has been used. After that, the state of Scots ausbau in relation to domains and standardisation at the beginning of the twenty-first century will be investigated before, finally, we examine the significance of and motivation for the ausbau of Scots.

This paper is not the first study of its kind. In 1979, A.J. Aitken gave an overview of the state of ausbau of Scots at that time, with a special focus on educational and academic contexts. McClure, in the same volume, looked at the 'range of uses' from a more literary perspective. This paper aims to be much broader in outlook, paying attention to as wide a range of domains (2) in which Scots is used at the beginning of the twenty-first century as possible. However, even for a vernacular whose range of uses is somewhat limited, any attempt at describing something as complex as the state of ausbau cannot claim to be comprehensive. Placing the emphasis on breadth rather than depth, but including individual cases that are considered particularly interesting or relevant, this paper operates within the following limitations:

(i) It is restricted to the ausbau of Scots in Scotland. International varieties of Scots (as found in Ulster or Canada) are not considered.

(ii) The paper is concerned only or mainly with the situation as it presents itself at the beginning of the twenty-first century. For historical overviews see Gorlach 1998 Ch. 5 and 2002.

(iii) No consideration is given to works on Scots but not in Scots. Researching and writing on a variety does not, in my view, automatically contribute to its ausbau. This means that a large bulk of academic work on the Scots language is not reflected upon here.

(iv) Finally, literature, one of the strongholds of Scots, can only be mentioned in passing and for the sake of completeness. There are a number of works on Scots literature that deal with the topic in a much more comprehensive way than can possibly be expected in the scope of the present paper.

1. WHAT IS AUSBAU?

Stemming from the question of how language can be distinguished from dialect, Kloss distinguishes two qualities by virtue of which speech varieties can be assigned the label of 'language'. They could be structurally different from a (geographically) neighbouring variety, in which case they would be labelled as 'abstand languages', with 'abstand' being the German term for distance. This is the case for Gaelic as opposed to English in Scotland and Ireland or for French and Italian as opposed to German in Switzerland, and this is the traditionally and among non-linguists widely accepted criterion for the recognition of a variety as a language. Alternatively, and perhaps less palpable at first sight, Kloss labelled varieties that attain their language status 'by development' as 'ausbau languages' (Kloss 1967: 29): 'Languages belonging in this category are recognized as such because of having been shaped or reshaped, moulded or remoulded--as the case may be--in order to become a standardized tool of literary expression. We might say that an Ausbausprache is called a language by virtue of its having been reshaped, i.e. by virtue of its "reshapedness" if there were such a word.' By setting the (more or less) absolute criterion of 'standardized tool of literary expression', Kloss leaves little room for questions of degree: most varieties will either clearly pass or fail this criterion. (3)

Kloss's terminology of abstand and ausbau languages has been variously taken up in linguistics throughout the Western world; his definition of the terms, however, has sometimes been altered or even confused. …

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