The Harry Potter author J.K Rowling Tweeted this the other day.
She linked to this piece from Alex Massie published behind a paywall in The Times, and seeing as I’m not going to give a dried up husk like Rupert Murdoch my money so here’s a critique of the piece from Bella Caledonia that outlines the issues with Massie’s latest whine about the Scottish culture.
For those that don’t keep up with the issues of Scottish culture or politics, the short version is that since the independence referendum there’s been a move to denigrate the language and dialects many Scots, especially working class ones, speak. Here’s another Bella Caledonia piece that seems to have started this latest argument between a small number of pro-UK journalists/media personalities and the pro-independence movement.
It’s an argument that has been raging in some shape or form for decades. I myself remember Scots, and various Scottish dialects being ignored at school, with only a few teachers interested in actually teaching the history of the language I spoke. And here’s a thing, Scots isn’t a ‘dialect’ like say, Glaswegian (though there’s an argument various dialects are languages but that’s another post in itself), it is a living, breathing thing all of it’s own distinct from English. It doesn’t make one a ‘nationalist’ to speak it, as after all most people from a working class background in Scotland speak it in some form.
For the first two decades of my life I lived in Glasgow, and spoke with a strong accent using Glaswegianisms all the time. I probably spoke a version of Scots, but back in the 1970’s and 1980’s the ‘Scottish cringe’ was rife. When I moved in 1988 to Leicester, my accent and language changed so I slowed down,dropped a load of Scottish words from my everyday usage and became Anglicised, albeit quite clearly Scottish I had carefully assimilated myself. Then over the last five or so years thanks to the Indyref, I looked more and more at how I’d suppressed parts of myself to fit in.
But this behaviour isn’t confined to Scots. I’ve noticed the same with working class Scousers, Bristolians, Londoners, Geordies, Welsh and Irish who I’ve met over the years and to help fit in they’ve allowed themselves to be assimilated. Now part of that is ease of communication as some people do struggle but some of it is class and the idea that to be ‘British’ one must sound ‘right’. You hear this with students especially with the rise of Estuary English or a flat, almost accentless English accent and the adoption of a monoculture so everyone acts, looks and sounds the same. Assimilation is the key to help people progress as people may hear an accent and think them working class or from the wrong background. Having a neutral accent that’s approved helps grease the wheels.
But I digress a bit. The question I asked myself is just why people like J.K Rowling would have an issue with language or dialect, or indeed, be annoyed that language is politicised as after all, it always has been all over the planet for good and bad. Also as a writer Rowling should be less dismissive of the power of language, or even trying to suppress the culture associated with languages and dialects.This though I think is the issue. Scots is closely associated with a distinct set of people across the country, people that in some cases support Scottish independence. Here lies the problem for Rowling and her kowtower Twitter followers that trail in her wake crying ‘foul’ when Scots language and culture is promoted.
Yet Scots signifies a position of class. By attacking Scots as an organic language closely associated with the independence movement, Rowling displays a depressing snobbery borne out of a disconnect with how the world is around her. Same goes for her mainly journalistic followers who again, occupy a bubble where for them, things are fine yet for hundreds of thousands of people there’s little or no representation of how they speak in the media. They’re denied basic representation in having people like them being given the same respect as people like say, Alex Massie.
Now as I grow closer to returning to Glasgow after two and a half decades, I’m being more intrigued by exploring the part so Scottish culture I never did decades ago. The fact I’m a supporter of independence doesn’t enter into it, and Rowling’s cultural imperialism mixed with her classist snobbery is simply depressing. She though is a writer. If she wants to exclude words and culture on the basis of her own nationalism then that’s her choice. Journalists on the other hand are just being craven as these people are supposed to hold the powerful to account, not help validate their prejudices.
Scots isn’t threatening anyone unless of course, you feel threatened by diversity and the sound of working class voices….