The Scots Debacle
Please, please don’t write Wikipedia articles in a language you don’t know.
If you thought 2020 couldn’t get any weirder, you’d sadly be wrong: it was revealed in late August that a huge portion of the Scots Wikipedia was entirely fabricated by an American teenager with no knowledge of the language outside of a Scots-English dictionary. Tens of thousands of articles (which are frequently used to train natural language processing computer programs) were created and edited by the single user, who wrote in a gibberish amalgam of Scots vocabulary superimposed upon English grammar and sentence structure, plus a smattering of words spelled as though they were being spoken with a strong Scottish brogue.
The teenager has since expressed remorse for his actions, which began when he was only twelve years old. Some Scots have admonished him for doing so much damage to the Scots language, especially given the huge quantity of fabricated articles. Others have been more forgiving, seeing it as a misinformed but well-intentioned effort to improve access to information for those who speak Scots. As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, so even if this teenager meant to preserve the language of Scots, the results are certainly not good for the health of the language.
Languages die when people no longer speak them, and this is particularly true in cultures where the language is consumed and replaced with a larger one. Consider the effects that the English language has had on much of the world. Hundreds of native languages across the globe have been consumed by the imperial power of the English language, including Scots. Revitalization of the language only seriously began in the twenty-first century, with its introduction in numerous public schools across Scotland. More about the history of the language can be read here:
Scotslanguage.com - A Brief History of Scots
In this section there is a quick overview of the history of the language. You will also find links to other, more…
Scots was already a subject of many debates in the linguistic community, the center of which has been the age-old linguistic question: language or dialect? By disregarding the grammatical conventions of Scots and simply combining vocabulary with English sentence structure, these Wikipedia articles have certainly considered Scots firmly in camp dialect, or worse yet, camp “funny accent.” Many of the Wikipedia articles read like Facebook on Pirate English — perfectly understandable to a native English speaker, just altered enough for comedic effect. Scots is not just wacky English in Scotland, but a fully realized language with unique sounds and structures that deserve to be respected as such.
Language preservation has been seeing a much-needed breath of fresh air in recent years, especially with the rise in popularity of language-learning services like Duolingo and Babbel (Scots is unavailable on either service). Everyone (especially native English speakers, it seems) wants to be multilingual, a goal that should be better encouraged in schools and starting at a young age. Enthusiasm for learning a new language should be celebrated, but before jumping into just any minority language, people should take the time to truly learn about the sounds, structures, and history of the language they want to support. It takes a lot of practice, but taking off our English-tinted glasses will help immensely in the promotion of global linguistic diversity.
If this debacle has a silver lining, it is the Scots Language Centre’s campaign to rewrite all of the phony Wikipedia articles. They are inviting anyone (including non-speakers of Scots) to assist in the project, bringing together a community of speakers, linguists, and other Scots enthusiasts toward a common goal. The work to be done on Scots might pave the way for other minority language revitalization projects, and draw awareness to the importance of multilingualism.