My partner and I are both pretty much bald. That doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t enjoy visits to the barber. I’ve never mastered the art of the home haircut and like many middle-aged men I have hair growing in all sorts of inaccessible places. Men like me can now have their follicle challenges addressed by the army of razor wielding Turks and Kurds who have opened hairdressing establishments from Shetland to Stranraer.
My partner was recently having his shave at the Turkish barber in Campbeltown. While one staff member attended to him the other was glued to his phone. My partner was able to hear that the second barber was watching Still Game clips and – on repeat – that famous sketch where two Scottish accented men in a lift can’t get the voice recognition equipment to understand what they’re saying.
The barber shaving my partner explained that his colleague was watching the clips because he was ‘trying to learn Scottish’. ‘He’s only recently arrived here and he can’t understand what the customers are saying so he’s watching these videos to try to learn’. Kintyre is only a recently Scottiscised region. Gaelic was the main language there and you can hear evidence of it everywhere in local pronunciations of place names.
The accent in Kintyre is not well known, for a North Easter like me, there is some familiar phonology. Local people say ‘baa’ (ball) and ‘faa’ (fall) just like speakers of Scots in Aberdeen. The dialect is undoubtedly Scots and the new arrival to the peninsula was confronted with language forms for which his knowledge of English hadn’t prepared him.
His barber colleague remarked to my partner that he was impressed by his efforts but felt that he should ‘focus on learning English well and the Scottish will come after that’. There are about five potential PhDs just in that little exchange.
The most notable aspect of this vignette of life in a Scotch hairdresser is that both the barbers knew that understanding ‘Scottish’ was an essential part of their working lives. To be a barber in Campbeltown means that on a daily and hourly basis you are hearing a language form that learning English doesn’t prepare you for. It shows Scots isn’t just an esoteric hobby for the inhabitants of the cultural nationalist margin. It’s a living language used across Scotland. If it wasn’t no one would be scouring youtube trying to find scraps of material that can be used to learn it.
Scots Language Dictionaries has recently published a dictionary for Polish speakers. There is demand from new and old Scots for more information about the language.
The Scottish government has begun a consultation on the development of policy to support Scotland’s languages. Unionists sometimes claim that the government is attempting to impose ‘dead’ or dying languages on the population by means of a legislative culture war. They ignore the historical reality of the situation. It was the Labour / Lib Dem ‘Executive’ that got the Gaelic Act through the Scottish Parliament and it was Tony Blair’s government that signed up to the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages which placed Scots within some formal framework for the first time ever.
The SNP has been described as a nationalist party which has no interest in culture. Unlike Plaid Cymru which is deeply rooted in the Welsh speaking heartlands of mid and West Wales. The notion of a culture war is really rather fantastical when you think of how little the SNP has actually done to support indigenous Scottish cultures.
Oor Vyce, a group campaigning on social media and elsewhere for more recognition for Scots, is calling on the government to establish a Scots Language Board. The Board would focus on developing plans and coordinating projects to support Scots. The Board would be a first step towards giving Scots a secure place in public life. A Board established by legislation would have the added security of being less susceptible to the vagaries of politics. It could be built on the foundations of the existing Scots language organisations like the Scots Language Centre and Scots Language Dictionaries.
It’s time we gave Scots the support it deserves. It’s time for a Scots Language Board.