The best books which celebrate the Scots language and dispel monoglot ignorance forever

Who am I?

I grew up in a strong Scots–speaking environment just before the advent of television, so very much a Scottish village rather than the global village. Speaking several foreign languages and being able to study Scots language and literature at Edinburgh University gave me confidence and the realisation of how special Scots was, and how closely it is tied to the identity of the people and the land. The book is local, national, and international in outlook and is written from the heart and soul, with a strong influence of the Democratic Intellect thrown in to balance the passion. You can also hear me reading the book on Audible.


I wrote...

Scots: The Mither Tongue

By Billy Kay,

Book cover of Scots: The Mither Tongue

What is my book about?

Scots: The MitherTongue is a classic of contemporary Scottish culture. It is a passionately written history of how the Scots came to speak the way they do and acted as a catalyst for radical changes in attitude towards the language. Kay vigorously renews the social, cultural, and political debate on Scotland's linguistic future, and argues convincingly for the necessity to retain Scots for the nation to hold on to its intrinsic values. Language is central to people's existence, and this vivid account celebrates the survival of Scots in its dialects, literature, and song. The newspaper Scotland on Sunday chose Scots: The Mither Tongue as one of the best 100 Scottish books ever written. 

The books I picked & why

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Sunset Song

By Lewis Grassic Gibbon,

Book cover of Sunset Song

Why this book?

I received this as a prize at school when I was fifteen and passages like this spoke to me: “...you wanted the words they'd known and used, forgotten in the far‑off youngness of their lives, Scots words to tell to your heart, how they wrung it and held it.” My Ayrshire community spoke Scots so it was life changing to read this message by an author from a different time and a different place who was  intensely relevant to my own situation. Being discouraged or even punished for speaking Scots in school, led us to learn English pretty quickly and this bi-lingual tension gave us an advantage learning other languages like French and German which I studied at University. But I will always be grateful to Sunset Song for making me aware of how important the Scots language was to our identity as Scots: “And the next minute that passed from you, you were English, back to the English words so sharp and clean and true ‑ for a while, for a while, till they slid so smooth from your throat you knew they could never say anything that was worth the saying at all.”


Concise English-Scots Dictionary

By Scottish Language Dictionaries,

Book cover of Concise English-Scots Dictionary

Why this book?

The various Scots dictionaries produced by Scottish Language Dictionaries and also available online are a veritable treasure trove of Scottish culture and the go-to place for anyone who writes Scots or wants to know about Scots. With quotations going back hundreds of years it gives you instant access to the rich literature and prose in a language still spoken by over 1.5 million Scots. 


A Tongue in Yer Heid

By James Robertson (editor),

Book cover of A Tongue in Yer Heid

Why this book?

This is a great anthology of contemporary Scots writing ranging from more classical Scots like my own short story Inrush at Nummer Fower to racy urban Scots like Irvine Welsh’s A Soft Touch. I love it because it showed me that our language is vital, contemporary, and alive today as well as being a brilliant historic literary language. It was like a revelation to me, and it stayed with me too.

I first discovered the author of Trainspotting in this book. James is also a brilliant Scots writer and shows that in novels like The Fanatic and The Land Lay Still. He and Matthew Fitt, also a fine poet and novelist in Scots, also produced the imprint Itchy Coo which has published excellent children's books in Scots, some from new authors, others with Scots translations of famous European collectors of Fairy Tales such as Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm. Braw stuff tae read tae the weans an granweans. 


Docherty

By William McIlvanney,

Book cover of Docherty

Why this book?

Another fine novel by a great writer who, like me, hailed from Ayrshire. I quote from it in my book. I became aware of William McIlvanney when I attended Kilmarnock Academy between 1967 and 1969 and his first novel Remedy is None was passed around the students in their final year at the school, before heading for University. Having a living, breathing novelist living in the town was really something, and it made us all think that perhaps we could become writers too! All of his books are excellent but Docherty touched me personally because it describes a mining community, similar to the town I grew up in, Galston. It also explores the linguistic tension between Scots and English which is the experience of most people growing up in the Lowlands of Scotland.


The Mercat Anthology of Early Scottish Literature, 1375-1707

By R.D.S. Jack,

Book cover of The Mercat Anthology of Early Scottish Literature, 1375-1707

Why this book?

I want to reveal to people the superb achievement of the medieval Scots Makars who produced arguably the greatest poetry anywhere in Europe or Britain between roughly 1450 to 1550. John Barbour, William Dunbar, Robert Henryson, Gavin Douglas, and Sir David Lyndsay are the greatest of them but there are more excellent exponents of Scots in this, one of its golden ages, and they are all represented here. I quote many of them in my book.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Scotland, the working class, and Scottish people?

5,887 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Scotland, the working class, and Scottish people.

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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