On 27th March, the last Sunday of the month, the ten yearly national census will take place. Collecting accurate and up to date statistical information about every aspect of Scottish life allows government organisations to plan and fund services accurately, as the census will tell them vital information such as how many elderly people there are, or where there is an increase in number of young people.
For a number of decades, the census has included a question about the ability to speak or understand Gaelic. The census figures for the Gaelic language have been vital in ensuring that efforts to revive and maintain the language are effectively targeted. This year, for the very first time, the census will also include a similar question asking about the ability to speak or understand the Lowland Scots language. As we’ve often reminded Newsnet Scotland readers, the British government officially recognises Scots as a distinct language requiring protection under the terms of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.
Without accurate statistics, efforts to revive or promote Scots have effectively been working in the dark. The new census question will ensure that Scots language activists have the information they require in order to protect and foster this essential part of Scotland’s cultural heritage.
There remain many myths, stereotypes and misunderstandings about Scots. Many people are not sure if they speak or understand the language. In order to help overcome this, the Scots Language Centre has launched a website called Aye Can explaining the issues affecting the Scots language in an attractive and accessible way, and includes a number of sound files which will assist members of the public to determine whether they speak or understand Scots themselves.
Michael Hance, director of the Scots Language Centre, said: “Many people speak Scots every day but may not realise they are doing so, thinking that it is slang or even bad English. This website, which allows people to listen to recordings of Scots words and phrases and distinct regional pronunciations, should clear up any uncertainty and help people work out how to answer the Scots language question in the census.”
The Scottish government supports the campaign to give Scotland’s traditional languages support and recognition. According to Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop, “Scots is a key part our nation’s heritage and culture. It is also a living language and this question in the census will provide us with a valuable insight into how the Scots language is being used today.
“The results of the census help inform government policy and spending, which is why it is so vital that people are able to provide consistent answers. The Aye Can website is a fabulous tool which explains exactly what is meant by the Scots language and will help people decide how to answer the census question.”