Scottish Languages in the Census

Scotland is a country within another country: the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Tied to England through the monarchy four centuries ago, Scotland has a rich linguistic history involving English and French for hundreds of years before that.

And of course it has its own language as well, Scottish Gaelic (gla). Scottish Gaelic is a branch of the Celtic language family, while English is a branch of the Germanic family. (The Celtic and Germanic language families are sister families under Indo-European (family).) According to the Ethnologue, Scottish Gaelic had over 58,000 speakers as of 2003. This has experienced a boost through the devolution process, which gave Scotland a parliament that, while primarily using English, uses Scottish Gaelic as well.

Another language used by the Scottish Parliament is Scots (sco), said by the Ethnologue to have 100,000 speakers as of 1999. Scots sounds a lot like English with a strong accent, but the meaning cannot be discerned by people not familiar with it. In contrast, non-Scottish speakers of English can understand Scottish Standard English much more easily. Scots and Scottish Standard English may be considered as a linguistic continuum, where Scots is quite different from English and Scottish Standard English is quite close to English, and most people use speech patterns somewhere in between.

Because most people speak somewhere in between Scots and Scottish Standard English, it is not always clear to speakers which one they are speaking. (It is a fuzzy area for linguists as well, who consider “dialect” and “language” to be relative terms.)

In the census underway in Scotland right now, question 16 asks whether individuals can understand, speak, read and write English, Scottish Gaelic and Scots. To aid people in determining the answer, the census has set up a site that provides speech samples in 10 varieties of Scots speech and reading samples as well.

This is the first time Scots will be included on the census. The results of the census should help language planning, including revitalization for Scottish Gaelic and Scots.

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One Response to “Scottish Languages in the Census”

  1. Scottish Languages in the Census – Ethnos Project Crisis Zone Says:

    […] Scotland is a country within another country: the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Tied to England through the monarchy four centuries ago, Scotland has a rich linguistic history involving English and French for hundreds of years before that. And of course it has its own language as well, Scottish Gaelic (gla). Scottish […] […]

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