A land by any other name

Scotland. A land steeped in mist and mystery. Dotted with tartans, and positively overflowing with bronzed, heavily muscled alpha-males beating their chests and seeking their mates. At least that’s the myth. Maybe it does have some grounding in reality. After all, just because the lorrie driver loved tunes and Dolly Parton, he was no less capable of traipsing off into the Highlands for a week alone in the wilderness.

Aside from expanding our perceptions of the Scottish male, he offered other lessons about culture and heritage. For example, language. Scotland currently has three recognized languages. The Queen Mum’s English, Scots, and Gàidhlig. What? Don’t know what that is? Scottish Gaelic, silly. Thanks to the great foresight of some politicians, it was allowed back into the lexicon upon the formal occasion of a bill signed into law in the ripe oulde year of MMV.  That is, 2005.

The driver remembered his school days (not so long ago).  Then the BBC-style of English was mandated. This wasn’t just expanding vocabulary and learning grammar rules. He had to learn how to speak with the proper BBC accent. Anytime his Glasgow roots showed, he was punished. He managed to keep the accent of his home, as well as acquire the BBC mask. Even though he was proud of Gàidhlig, he only knew enough to get by. Maybe a little bit more than a tourist would know. He’s in good company, since recent surveys purport that ~98% of the population cannot speak their native tongue. Not surprising since long ago (and not so long ago), Gaelic was banned as part of the Highland Clearances. Britain saw it as much a threat as a weapon. Language is an easy way to define a social group. There are speakers, and non-speakers. There is an inside, and an outside(r).

In the dank battered villages, old-timers speak an English closer to Scots, without a trace of the BBC’s stamp of propriety. This conjures a slew of other notions about identity. The land, its layers, the Loch Ness, the mountains surrounding it and the clouds pressing over everything shape the people here. Language exerts its own force. The words used, their cadence and origin, grammatical constructs, the shape of the words, the way feel in the mind and on the tongue. It has a kind of power.


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