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Saturday
Jan122008

News just in - Scottish isn't English

scots_at_library_of_congress.jpgIn one of those about-turns best described as ‘better late than never’, the US Library of Congress has just reversed a rather unfortunate (not to say culturally ignorant) decision to reclassify all Scottish authors as “English”. The controversial proposal to extinguish the highly regarded contribution of Scottish literature as a distinctive entity from the official record met with a storm of protest from academics, politicians, and authors on both sides of the Atlantic.

Overnight, authors like John Buchan and Robert Louis Stevenson, poets such as Robert Burns and the great McGonagall, and modern day bestsellers from JK Rowling to Iain (M) Banks would all have been recategorised as belonging to the English canon. Playwright and Poet Laureate Liz Lochhead, in typically restrained language, had accused the American authorities of ‘cultural imperialism’. And even the British Library went way out on a limb to ‘welcome the decision’ when news of the reversed decision came through.

It seems that the original misguided intention stemmed partly from a widespread and basic misunderstanding of the nature of language and languages, which for example calls English a ‘language’ but Scots a ‘dialect’, when any specialist academic will confirm that both have equal claim to authority. Which gets called which is a political statement, and nothing to do with linguistics. But few in the world of literature would challenge the fact that Scottish literature has always, rightly, been regarded as its own tradition. And for now, fortunately, it can remain so in the US too.

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Reader Comments (8)

JK Rowling is English!!!! Have you heard her speak? Lives in Scotland now but didn't even move there until she was thirty odd.
January 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterStuart Allen
Happily, even the SNP (Scottish Nationalists) have long taken the view that being Scottish embraces anyone with Scottish blood, Scottish birth, or Scottish residence. (The history of genocidal conflicts in some other nations shows the slippery slope that any other more racist defintion can easily lead to.) JK is permanently resident in Scotland and wrote all the books here. That's enough for me.
January 19, 2008 | Registered CommenterJoanna
Feasgar math, Joanna! That absurd gaffe by the US Library of Congress does not surprise me in the least. I emigrated from Scotland to the USA in 1958 and, early on in those years, I could not understand the ignorance of the Americans who kept asking me, "Oh yes, Scotland, isn't that a part of England?"

After some time had passed, I began to understand why they kept asking me that absurd question. It wasn't because of any lack of geographical knowledge that they thought that Scotland was included in England. It was because the newscasters on the national TV networks would refer to Britain as - you guessed it - England! To them, and the public who listened to them, England and Britain were synonymous!

So, is it any wonder that the ignorant dummies at the Library of Congress believed that England was made up of Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish as well as the English?
January 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterScotty
Scotty's tale reminds me of when I was a student of Spannish at Aberdeen Grammar. Our teacher told of his experiences in Spain pre WW2. He got tired of explaining how Scotland was not in Enland and resorted to replying to "Scotland? that's in England isn't it?" with "yes the best part".
So sadly we can't blame it all on the Yanks
January 26, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBob
>>It seems that the original misguided intention stemmed partly from a widespread and basic misunderstanding of the nature of language and languages, which for example calls English a ‘language’ but Scots a ‘dialect’, when any specialist academic will confirm that both have equal claim to authority. >>

Seeing as how this is the US LIBRARY OF CONGRESS, shouldn't they, by God, know better? For heaven's sake. This is shamefully ignorant. Thank goodness the decision was reversed.
February 29, 2008 | Unregistered Commenteroperaghost
America has insulted Scotland majorly here, Scotland is a Celtic nation with a distinct culture and language as recognised by the European Union.

As a Scot i would demand an apology from America for this!
June 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMr Caledonia
I can totally understand the Scottish being in uproar at being called English when they are clearly 'SCOTTISH',but to say Scottish should be a language rather than a dialect is totally silly!!
Lucy
December 10, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterlucy
Actually Lucy, you're wrong. Any academic linguist will tell you that the distinction between a language and a dialect is political, not technical. It's about who has the power to define their version as the dominant form at any point in history, which is why this issue matters.
September 23, 2009 | Registered CommenterNick

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