Academic journal article Scottish Cultural Review of Language and Literature

Chapter Three Scots Language: Personal, Political, Social and Commercial

Academic journal article Scottish Cultural Review of Language and Literature

Chapter Three Scots Language: Personal, Political, Social and Commercial

Article excerpt

'The personal is political' was an archetypal 1960s slogan, a key concept in the development of feminist thinking. It brought to the fore matters that had been - in a chauvinist universe of discourse - thought of as trivial, domestic, private, liminal. When John Arbuthnot created his John Bull, that male figure represented an England whose sister was Peg, a feminised version of Scotland. There was a theory popular some decades ago that the English and Scots languages existed in Scotland in a simple diglossia. In diglossic speech communities, two closely-related languages, usually a Tow' variety and a 'high' variety, have different functional roles. In Scotland, accordingly, English was used for the public, the rational, the political and Scots for the domestic, the emotional, the personal. In effect, Scots was thus chauvinistically consigned to the private domain. This chapter addresses the ways in which personal experience of language, specifically in this case Scots, in a multilingual culture like Scotland's, is political and how resistance to the hegemony of English language can come to represent an important assertion of a complex, rather than a simplified, identity, or, even more, express not a single identity, but a set of personal/political identities, all with equal value, each with its own integrity.

Certainly Carol McGuirk appears to reflect such a view in her observation cited in the previous chapter that for Bums 'what's resisted' is a touchstone of personal integrity. Already it will be clear that the argument I am developing, not only as a critical observer, but also from personal experience as a playwright, is that important elements of internal difference, resistance to a single centre, hybridity and intercultural interchange are embedded in one's identity as a Scottish writer. If, as the last chapter concludes, 'Scottish theatre's creative core comprises constantly separating and integrating otherness offering a gravitational hold on - and expressing the varieties of - Scottish culture, Scottish literature and Scottish identities', then a writer for Scottish theatre participates as much as any other writer in that separation and integration of a variety of 'othernesses'. The very fact of living in a society in which there are the complexities of lan- guage use that arise from the parallel and interacting existence of, currently, three prominent historically Scotland-based languages, Gaelic, Scots and English, plus languages of newer Scottish communities like Urdu or Polish, are a constant reminder of the interaction of each language with others. It does not matter that not many, indeed rather few, Scots are fluent in all three of the historically Scotland-based languages, let alone some of the newer ones. All three have a current presence and historical influences each on the other, while - as in Suhayl Saadi's novel Psychoraag (2004) with its Urdu elements and Matthew Zajac's play The Tailor of Inverness (2008) with dialogue in Russian, German, Polish and Ukrainian, as well as Scots and English - the newer languages have in various ways begun to join and enrich the creative mainstream of literary and dramatic texts.

The very fact of non-comprehension between languages may have creative impact now and in the past. When, for example, in the summer of 1881 Robert Louis Stevenson stayed in Moulin, near Pitlochry, and later Braemar, he wrote the uncanny tales of 'Thrawn Janet', 'The Body Snatcher' and 'The Merry Men'. He had then entered communities in which a language of general daily life was neither the English nor the Scots in which he was fluent, but Gaelic.1 In fact it was only as late as 1895, fourteen years after Stevenson's visit, that regular Gaelic-language communion services in Moulin Kirk were abandoned. By that time, there were only sixteen communicants in Gaelic. Yet, when in the next parish, Blair Atholl, in 1946 the incumbent minister, a distinguished Gaelic scholar, retired, even at that late stage a live consideration was whether his successor should be, for pastoral purposes, a fluent Gaelic speaker. …

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