26th April 2012
This week the press reported on the views of some of the English candidates taking part in the television series, ‘The Apprentice’. In particular, Jenna Whittingham, who was being sent to Edinburgh to try and market food on the streets, asked if she would be able to understand anyone. She further asked whether people in Scotland speak a Scottish language, “Like, just a pure Scottish language.” This called forth comment and derision from some quarters, which will, no doubt, seem like a storm in a teacup to many. But moving beyond the sense that some Scots felt insulted, there is a real issue here which touches directly on our awareness and education. Whittingham surely can’t be blamed for reflecting a society that doesn’t seek to educate her about the various peoples, cultures and languages within the UK. Indeed, it is only recently that society within Scotland has begun to take a positive interest in the cultures and languages again. No doubt Whittingham has a vague sense that it is difficult for visitors to understand Scottish people, but doesn’t know why that should be. There are, for example, no UK agencies informing citizens and visitors that Scotland has three languages, one of which is Scots, or that this is why outsiders can find it hard to understand. And neither do schools or media outside Scotland seek to inform pupils about the cultures and languages of other UK inhabitants. Indeed, one recent survey, ‘The British Future’ survey, while mentioning some languages, entirely omits Scots, even though this is officially recognised and widely spoken. Understanding this, we can hardly blame Whittingham for not being aware.