Speaking our language: historical films give the Scottish language a boost
Their stars may be more Hollywood than the Highlands, and sometimes their attempts at a Scottish accent may stray more from Brigadoon than Buchan.
But two new films that tell the story of Mary Queen of Scots and Robert the Bruce, as well as the worldwide hit story, Outlander, are expected to help dramatically revive the once-dying Scottish-language fortune.
Outlander, written by American novelist Diana Gabaldon and starring Irish actress Caitriona Balfe, is said to be “at the forefront” of the revival of Scottish as a language.
And with two lavish film productions underway – The Outlaw King is set to premiere in Toronto next month, while Mary Queen of Scots is set to open in the UK in January – interest in the mither language is expected to rise in arrow.
Ethnologist Dr Irene Watt, whose research focuses on Scottish ethnology and folklore, said the future of Scots “is starting to look upbeat” in part because of popular culture like Outlander.
She added: “The Scots’ past may have been bleak, but the present is improving and the future is starting to look bright.
“Outlander is part of the rehabilitation, putting the Scots back on the lips of our ancestors where they belong, to their central place in Scottish identity and heritage.”
Outlander, now in its third series, has already been credited with a remarkable tourism boom, with visitors from around the world descending on filming locations associated with the series, following nurse Claire Randall as she travels through time 1940s to 1743 Scotland.
Outlaw King, meanwhile, stars American actor Chris Pine in the lead role, while Mary Queen of Scots is played by Irish-American actor Saoirse Ronan.
Dr Watt, professor of Scottish culture at the Elphinstone Institute at Aberdeen University, said Outlander in particular was ending the Scottish language “derived as backward … forced out of education, media and business life “.
She added: “Scottish is starting to appear in the media, with the Outlander in the forefront, and is supported by the Council of Europe’s Charter on Minority Languages.
“The Scottish Government has put in place a few initiatives for its promotion and education, although they are not particularly well funded.
“In Scottish cultural life at large… Scottish is reappearing in places where it has been absent for generations. Suddenly there is a plethora of great books such as Harry Potter in Scottish, The Gruffalo in Scottish, Sanners Gow’s new popular storybook.
“The language is regaining favor in academia, with researchers studying the effect of Scottish on the brain and the National Library of Scotland appointing a ‘Scots Scriever’ to produce new work on the language.”
The use of Scots began to dilute after the Act of Union of 1707, with English being seen as the hallmark of the new Britain and the Scottish language seen as a “shibboleth” for Jacobitism, she added.
However, according to the 2011 census, Scottish has 1.6 million speakers in Scotland, making it one of the largest minority languages in Europe.
Scottish expert Alistair Heather, who writes in Scottish for The Herald and The National, said the renaissance of the language is already well advanced, with Scots now included in undergraduate education at universities in Aberdeen and Glasgow, while the Open University is building a module for distance learning of Scottish.
“There has been a real cultural change in recent years,” he added. “Decentralization has a lot to do with it – if you have a parliament you want to have a recognizable identity. This cultural exploration of devolution and the independence referendum, as well as what happened to Gaelic in the wake of the BBC Alba and the Gaelic Language Act 2005, has led many Scottish speakers to ask. where their language was going.
“North of the Tay you find the Scots are much more common, with people speaking it all the time.”
Scottish is now included in the teaching of various undergraduate courses, including teacher education and Scottish literature, while the Open University is building a module for distance learning of the Scottish language.
“From the 1920s, parents believed that if children spoke Gaelic they would be considered wild mountain people,” he added. “Perfectly nice people would think that if their children spoke Scottish broad they wouldn’t get a job.”
“But now that it’s gone, there’s a new trust and people are looking to share their identities.
“It’s similar to what we saw with the Maori renaissance in New Zealand where in 1970 he almost died.
“As English becomes a global language, it is more difficult to express regional identity and we need another language to maintain our treasure of national attributes.”