Artists, poets and language lovers speak out as they face a torrent of online abuse for speaking Scots

Iona Fyfe
Iona Fyfe

With online abuse on the rise during lockdown, particularly towards women, singers, artists, poets and language lovers are speaking out about after being targeted for using the Scots language.

By Rachel Mackie

Scottish folk singer Iona Fyfe writes and performs in the Scots language.

She explained that she doesn’t receive much abuse for her music, despite singing in Scots, but when she speaks or writes social media updates in the language, that’s when her Twitter feed is hit hard.

Along with the “stupid cow” and “just who does she think she is?” – comments such as: “Struth, is it not bad enough having {Janey} Godley as a toe curling embarrassment to Scotland? Do we really need to add more?” are plastered below her tweets.

A survey by Glitch shows that almost half of women have experienced online abuse since the pandemic started.

Iona said: “People think that those who speak Scots are uneducated, when they’re not.

“It’s a struggle to use it every day, if I make a point in Scots, people are less likely to take it seriously.

“People like to engage with Scots in song – people will happily sing Burns’ songs around January – but it’s almost like they won’t admit it.

“I mean, people are happy enough to sing Auld Lang Syne every year.”

The Dictionaries of the Scots Language defines Scots as “a distinctive language, divergent from English since at least the fourteenth century” and is predominantly associated with the Scottish lowlands with varieties spoken in Northern Ireland.

In areas of the Highlands, Scots will co-exist with the Gaelic language and it is recognised as a vulnerable language by UNESCO.

Iona continued: “There’s a lot of it’s ‘Jock speak’ or the Scottish Cringe, people cringing at their own identity. That’s a definite thing.”

In her spare time, Iona volunteers with the Oor Vyce Campaign, who are aiming for ‘the statutory recognition of the Scots language by the Scottish Parliament.’

Their website states that in the 2011 census found that 1,541,693 spoke Scots, 30% of the population at the time.

Fellow artist Len Pennie has had the likes of author Neil Gaiman and actor Michael Sheen take her side against a torrent of abuse after she released a string of poetry in the Scots tongue.

In an interview with The Scotsman in January, she said that she has previously tried to make it clear that her work has nothing to do with politics, but an expression of her love of Scottish culture .

She added: “People think that a celebration of Scottish culture is an attack on British culture.”

She has been called an SNP wh**e, bitch and c*** by masses of anonymous Twitter accounts.

Many words in the Scots language derive from old English, but are also heavily influenced by Norse, Gaelic, French, Dutch and Flemmish.

The Scots Language Centre (the Centre for the Scots Leid) state that the four main dialects of Scots are Insular, Northern, Central, and Southern.

Within these dialects, there are many sub dialects, and various alternate names for dialects and sub dialects – Buchan, Doric, Ulster Scots, Theutonica to name but a very few.

Rian O’Diomasaigh specifically champions Ulster Scot’s online with his ‘Ulster Scot’s Word of the Day’ and has faced criticism from more than one quarter.

He said: “Irish Republicans see it as a betrayal, me speaking in this language, because I have an Irish name.

“Then there are the people who post ‘Scot’s isn’t a real language’ like they think I’m going to be like ‘OK guys, you’ve convinced me’.

He added: “In Scotland, people are kind of wary about marking themselves out from the rest of the UK.”

Television presenter Anne Lundon found that she too was subjected to abuse, particularly when she first appeared on the BBC due to the strength of her Scottish accent.

She said: “When it started, it was hard not to pay attention.

“Of course you want feedback from people, but your accent is such a big part of who you are, your language, your culture, your heritage.

“It was odd, I mean, there are English people who work for the channel who never get comments on their accent, but some Scottish accents do.

“One comment I received was something like ‘it’s interesting she’s allowed on TV after Brexit because she’s Bulgarian’.

“I got called a traitor once too.”

Chloe Irvine, a journalism student from Edinburgh Napier, wrote a poem to celebrate World Poetry Day about the discrimination and abuse she faces for her strong, Shetland accent.

Speaking to The Scotsman she said: “We rarely talk about accents when we talk about discrimination, but it’s something that can deeply affect people.

“When you feel like you have to force yourself to tone down or change your accent, it can change how you come across and what you say.

“And I am talking about just the accent. I don’t use the different words used in the Whalsay dialect because I am aware that would make it difficult for people to understand me on the mainland, but it would be nice to not be laughed at or given looks just based on my accent being different.”

Professor Wilson Mcleod, Director of Research, Celtic & Scottish Studies explains that the three separate strands that can lead to these negative reactions, saying: “Some of it is deeply rooted in Scottish culture going back centuries, the Scottish Cringe.

“There is a deep discomfort that is embedded in Scottish culture.

“Also, there are ideologies attached to language, what we see as good language, bad language, deviant language, slag can be seen as inferior.

“This happens in English too, rural forms of language are valorised where as urban language is denigrated.

One thought on “Artists, poets and language lovers speak out as they face a torrent of online abuse for speaking Scots

  1. Dear Iona,
    Don’t be nice to these cultural bigots, who in their ignorance, allow their discomfort with the unfamiliar, to fuel their fear and loathing. There is no reasoning with fools. The only suitable reaction to these social media-empowered goons, who for reasons we will never fathom, think their opinions are valid, is a swift kick in their uncultured cullions. As an Irishman who, to my shame, left the learning of my native Irish language until my sixties, I have nothing but respect for the guardians of ancient languages. Keep up the good work, Iona.

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