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"Bad English"

Updated: Feb 1, 2021

Róisin Gallagher and Scots


The Scots language has been discouraged from being spoken for the past 300 years since its definition as a “provincial dialect”. For those who lives beyond Scotland, it maybe difficult to reach the culture and tradition otherwise known in media and publications. It's language and dialects alone carry it's rich history. Róisín's work aims to get people more comfortable and acquainted with Scots.

English became the main language of Scotland in the 18th century, but various accents and dialects are still being used throughout Scotland; Gaelic is the oldest language among them, now active in the highlands and islands; Scots is used-specifically in the Lowland, different to Scottish English.

Scots was once the official language of the courts and even of Scotland in the 16th century before English was put forward in order to implement standardized British education. The debate about whether Scots is a language or a dialect has been going on for many years.

《Scots: The Mither Tongue》

A book about the history of Scots

Scots has often been referred to as "bad English"

Where Scots speakers are implied as of a lower class. They are therefore dissuaded from using the language that plays an important part in expressing their cultural belonging and sense of place. When phrases and words used in daily life are reduced to “slang” and speakers encouraged to “talk properly”, these rich and emotive words are excluded from the vernacular, the speaker loses a part of their cultural identity and the words lost to history.

Róisín seeks to change the way that we think of Scots, to give it deserved recognition as a language and something much more than a dialect or slang. In her work, Róisín addresses the taught self-hatred we have towards the way we talk, exploring and supporting the recognition of Scots as a language and hopes to address damage done by school systems that had brought up the previous generations. She produces print, text and video narration to give recognition to voices seldom heard.

"Bad English"

by Róisin Gallagher

These text are a collection of anecdotes and observations from growing up in a working-class Scottish family. Through writing the text phonetically using the Falkirk dialect, the audience is invited to sound out these words even if they do not understand them.

Part of the process of writing these works is dealing with the struggle of never being allowed to fully embrace Scots in education. Róisín was taught to read and write in English, and it's instinctively what she writes in. She has to consciously allow her authentic Scots voice to come through when writing in Scots.

「Scots Poster」

/Ah'm chokin oan a pint/

The speaker is desperate for a pint of lager.

/That'd gee me the boak*/

“Boak” is a term used to describe the gagging sensation of when you feel like you’re about to vomit. This phrase means that something is so disgusting that it makes the speaker want to vomit or retch.

Conversation with Róisin

Why did you choose to print these phrases?

An important aspect of my work seeks to take these words and phrases into places where they have been discouraged and perceived negatively. These pieces are part of a larger series of prints which bring these Scots phrases to the forefront, celebrate them and give them the importance and belonging that they deserve.

The words and phrases chosen are sayings that I have a personal connection to, as they are expressions that I have said or have heard my family say - they hold personal significance to both myself and my family and my home town.

What inspired you to create such pieces?

In my first year in my masters I experimented with video making as it was something I had wanted to try, these were works which I wrote and narrated myself. Building upon feedback from these videos I focussed on the importance of my voice and dialect used in video narration, as this is the most powerful aspect of the work.

I began researching more thoroughly into Scots which provided me with context for my work and challenged my own thinking towards Scots as a language and culture. This research inspired me to try and promote the use of Scots and dialect in my work as it has been discouraged for so long. When going through school and university, I had slowly been switching to English. I felt that I was losing this part of my identity and had never noticed and so I wanted to reconnect with something I had lost. I also wanted to give recognition to voices seldom heard in media.

How do you feel about Scots being referred to as "bad english" ?

It is a very common experience to have been brought up speaking Scots in the house and with friends, however, when introduced to formal settings, i.e. school, suddenly the words that we used were impolite or “slang”. We were then discouraged from using these words and phrases and use English, because using Scots would make us seem less intelligent and of a lower class.

I never thought I was speaking Scots, it was never a different language to me, it was slang because that is what I was told. It is what parents have been teaching their children over the years about Scots in order to protect them. In my video “Bad English” I touched on this subject as my father was trying to stop me from getting in trouble in school for using the “wrong” word. The phrase “bad English”, which has been used to describe Scots, furthers the idea that Scots is not its own separate language as it implies Scots speakers are simply using a lesser, grammatically incorrect version of English.

Language is an integral part of who we are and how we understand one another, the connection a person has to their language and how they form their words and sentences is a core part to who they are.

No language is ‘bad’ or ‘lower’.

"Hae a guid day!"



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