Many of you have no doubt heard of the recent bourach about the Scots Wikipedia. The actions of one editor have been described as doing "more damage to the Scots language than anyone else in history." I disagree. That accolade belongs to King James VI (and I). Let me explain.
Background: In the 1500s, Scots was widely spoken in (most of) Scotland. (Other languages were used too, but for this thread I want to focus on Scots.)
Scots was the language of the Royal Court (along with Latin). Laws and edicts were written in Scots. Poems, songs, stories, a thriving literature and oral tradition all existed in Scots.
Scots was the default language for many tasks. English wasn't really in the picture. Mary Queen of Scots (James' mother) was fluent in Scots and French, but didn't really speak English. (More on the linguistic landscape of the country here: )
In 1603 there's the Union of the Crowns. Scotland and England are separate nations but now ruled by a single monarch. James VI of Scotland becomes James I of England too.
What does James do? He decides to up and move to London, and re-establish his Royal Court there. He would return to Edinburgh only once more in his life.
The thing about the court in London? It was all held in English. Overnight, the language of political currency shifted from Scots to English. Scots was no longer the language of the aristocracy.
James' second blow against Scots came indirectly as a result of one of the projects he's most well known for: the King James Bible. This was a major undertaking and sought to provide religious guidance to the common people, in understandable language.
Was the bible translated into Scots too? Nope. In 1611, the King James Bible was adopted in Scotland too. Now, not only did the King and the royal court speak English, but so did God.
These two actions by James served to suck away major sources of prestige for the Scots language. The language became the language of peasants and farmers. It has survived, and it still survives, but it is no longer the default mode for many contexts.
If you're interested in knowing more, the classic book "Scots: The Mither Tongue" by @billykayscot is a great resource for learning about the history of Scots. /fin
Addendum: If you don't know what I'm talking about with the Wikipedia thing, you can get started here:
Also, James VI wasn't just bad for the Scots language. He enacted policies actively designed to discourage the use of Gaelic because he didn't trust Scotland's islanders.
Some clarifications, too: the King James Bible was not the first English translation of the bible, nor was it the first English Bible used in Scotland, but it was the most influential. Hard to explain all of the historical background in a tweet...
Finally, saying that Mary Queen of Scots "didn't really speak English" is a little misleading, perhaps. Scots and English are very closely related languages. A Spaniard may have no education in Portuguese, but can still survive life in Lisbon. Mary was similar, I imagine.
You can follow @_roryturnbull.
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