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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

Scots language bides yit in Scots law

Pictur the follaein scene: ye’re clappit doon in front o a tap academic, bletherin blithely awa aboot complex an technical legal debates. Ilka argument ye mak comes gey naitural tae ye, an ye feel gleg as onyhin. Bit oot o naewhare ye stummle. Fir a moment ye dinnae ken why. Aw ye war gonnae say wis, “It’s a sair fecht.” Then ye realise whit the problem wis – ye were aboot tae yaise yer Scots again! Whoops – better switch back tae braid Inglis!

Bit ye cannae. Thair’s nae wey tae express “sair fecht” in Inglis thit gets the proper pynt across. Sae ye en up stummlin ower yer wirds a seicont, then splutterin oot, “It’s hard.” It’s hard? Ye feel like ye cuidnae hae fund a less expressive phrase gin ye’d tried. Ye feel richt glaikit, aw that academic confidence fae afore jist drainin awa.

A gaed throu thon experience a few week syne. As a body plannin a career as a legal academic, A cin tell ye thit Scots disnae bide ower weel in academia. E’er sin stertin ma academic journey fower year syne A’ve aye felt thit ma Scots wis an impediment insteid o a benefit.

That maist like isnae a surprise tae onybody. Scots speakers in aw wauks o life aften feel marginalised an excluded fir speakin their mither tongue. Bit legal academia is an orra ensaumple, acause it’s actually stappit fou wi Scots wirds an phrases.

Hae a swatch at coort records an ye’ll dootlessly fin property lawyers yaisin wirds like ‘dispone’ an ‘eik’. The wird ‘hamesucken’ (an aggravatit form o assault) is weel kent amang criminal lawyers. The auld Scots ‘umquhile’ is yaised fir tae refer tae a deid, respeckit fellae, an ‘thole’ e’en maks an appearance in criminal procedur. Forby, thair’s gey few legal academics thit dinnae ken the famous last wirds o Lord Kames afore he retired fae the Coort o Session: “Fare ye aa weel, ye bitches!”

The Scots leid is an integral pairt o Scots law’s past an present. An yit, ye’re gey unlikely tae be able tae yaise it ootwi the contexts listit abuin.

Sae whit daes this say aboot the status o Scots? Weel, it’s respeckit as pairt o wir history an gien a richt ceremonial status. Bit it’s little mair nor that – a historical artefact.

Bit o coorse it’s mair nor that! It’s a livin leid spake bi hunners o thoosans o folk. Sae hou cin we get ower this contradiction o the leid bein acceptable as an artefact bit no as a wey o communicatin?

Noo A dinnae expeck Scots tae become the dominant legal leid again ony time soon – thae days are past, an maist folk warkin in law an legal academia nooaday ten tae be braid Inglis speakers onywey. Bit the dominance o Inglis in the legal warld shuidnae exclude ither leids fae makkin an appearance.

A ken forby thit, in academic screivins, clarity an intelligibility are o utmaist importance, an braid, staunert Inglis is the best wey fir tae dae this. That’s aa weel an guid fir folk thit speak staunert Inglis or’ve lairnt it as a seicont leid, bit whare daes this lea folk like massel, whase wey o speakin cin be sic a mixter-maxter o Scots an Inglis thit it’s aften hard tae sinder thaim?

Weel, fir sic folk, the solution is aa aboot visibility. Gin wir leid is mair seen an heard, it micht finally stert bein tean mair seriously. The legal profession is in a unique position, as, unlike in maist professions, the leid aareidy haes some visibility thair. Visibility isnae muckle on its ain, but it’s a guid stert. Visibility cin act as a steppin stane fir discussion, debate, an – ultimately – lairnin.

Sae it’s ayont important thit Scots-speakin professionals dinnae shy awa fae yaisin their mither tongue, nae maitter hou hard that cin be – simply acause it gets folk taukin an debatin. Aa publicity is guid publicity efter aa!

Mibbie yin day, when A’m wantin tae say, “It’s a sair fecht” tae ither academics, A’ll be able tae dae sae wioot fashin massel thit it’ll gar folk look doon on iz. Yin day folk’ll unnerstaun thit haein the Scots is a gift tae cherish an be prood o. Anely then will folk tak the nixt step an aiblins ettle at lairnin it themsels. An whit a day that’ll be!

Jack Capener