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ALISTAIR HEATHER: This census is our chance to make Scots language count

Dae ye ken Scots? The 2022 census wants to know: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire.
Dae ye ken Scots? The 2022 census wants to know: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire.

It’s census season! And I for one couldnae be happier.

I dinnae think I’ve every actually filled ane o these before.

In 2011 I was out the country, and in 2001 I was but a callow youth, so the census task would have been Mammy Heather’s job. So it’s a thrill to finally participate.

And I actually had a totty wee role in putting this census thegither.

In a previous job, I worked to promote Scots language and culture north of the Tay.

I was called into meetings in Aberdeen with the group charged with putting together the language part of the census.

There were perhaps a dozen of us.

The census folk all came up fae the central belt, and brought in myself (at the time I was working for Aberdeen University) and several others interested in the Scots language.

They had nae idea of the culture, language, tensions around Scots, the nuances of different dialects, none of that.

None of them were Scots speakers. But they were really curious, and open to learning.

Bilingual Scots – there are more us us than you might think

We each made presentations.

I spoke about how lots of folk that speak Scots fluently, in Dundee, in Angus, in Aberdeen, don’t recognise that they do.

They call their language slang, Doric, oary, dialect or whatever.

Some realise they are bilingual, but many don’t.

I presented anecdotes about teachers speaking broad Scots in the staff room, then going into the classroom and correcting bairns for saying “ken” or “aye”.

I’m delighted to say this information was really taken on board.

But now it’s up to you.

Speaking your language?

You’ll get asked a few questions about your language in the new census.

Whether you can read, write, or understand it.

Postal worker Patrona Tunilla at the launch of Scotland’s Census 2022. Letters inviting Scots to take part are arriving this week. Photo: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire.

So test yourself. Can you understand the Dundonian Scots in this extract from Matthew Fitt’s version of the Gruffalo?

“Weel Gruffalo”, said Moosie.

“Eh hope yi’ll agree

“Aabody iz feart o me!

“But noo meh bellus rummlin inside me,

“An meh favrit food iz gruffalo bridie.”

If so, you can read Scots.

Can you understand the poems of Gary Robertson, the songs of Sheena Wellington or the Dode Fox Podcast boys?

Then you can understand spoken Scots.

Writing Scots is harder.

Loads of us speak it, but since we never get taught to write it in school, many of us cannae write it.

That’s ok.

Be honest with your answers. It’ll help us push for change later.

Census data is key to good government

You’re mibbie wondering, ‘”how should I bather daein a census at aa?”

Here’s how:

A census produces quality information. That information informs government departments, policy think tanks, educators, researchers and journalists, among others.

For government functionaries, having a good firm idea of the people within a state is absolutely vital to good decision-making.

A good census doesn’t guarantee a good government, but it is a central pillar of one.

LINDSAY BRUCE: Feeling a wee bit peely wally? You’re talking my language

This census is your chance to enter into history. You’re here, you are part of this chapter of Scotland’s story.

Where I live, in Dundee (Coldside), about 50% of the folk are Scots speakers.

Also, they’re nearly 100% English speaking.

So half my neighbours and myself are fluent in English and also speak a bit, read a bit, write a bit of Scots.

How do we know that? Fae the info in the last census.

This census is a chance for Scots voices to be heard

The 2011 census was the first time that folk in Scotland were asked if they speak Scots, and if they can read and write it.

A million and a half Scots speakers announced themselves to the world. This was incredibly important.

Now, governmental limbs like Historic Environment Scotland, Education Scotland, the Social Care directorate all have to be aware that Scots is there and that they have responsibilities to our tongue.

The census you’re filling in these next days and weeks will massively inform services going forward.

If ye ken a bit Scots, mind an pit that doon on the form, sae we can hae wir language represented in wir governmental institutions, in education an in aa the normal placies ye’d expect tae see it.

Dundee, Angus, Fife and Perthshire deserve a good government that understands who we are, how we live, what we speak.

The better data we put into the census, the better chance we have of getting decisions made that really reflect us.

Tak pairt. Mak yer mairk.