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Revisiting Heritage Languages and Scottish Government Language Policies

In an earlier, perhaps clumsier piece of writing I did for a different blog (taken down) which was appropriated by a journalist, and framed probably with much more alignment then I wanted to believe at that time, that our local authorities are not fit for purpose and quite frankly racist when it comes to acknowledging any other culture than their own. There was an interesting response to the original piece, ranging from character assassination, to being called a failed politician wanna-be, to having the temerity to question Scotland’s language and culture, and touched a raw nerve for purists and nationalists for making a comparison with a high value language such as Gaelic with a heritage language, Urdu with an outpouring of bile, racism, and several versions of how dare you question our heritage, our culture, repeatedly being told to go home, even though I was born in the UK.

I discussed the disparity in how heritage languages were perceived in Scottish Education, and Scotland. This was in contrast as to how Western European languages where held up as languages of ‘enlightenment’, ‘prestige’, ‘elite’ and ‘cultured’, and encouraged in the education fora, and heritage languages such as Urdu, Punjabi, Polish and others are to be left effectively outside the school gate. This has created an internalisation by minority communities living in Scotland, that their culture, language and they themselves are not welcome in Scotland.

This is further embedded when parents and teachers approach elected representatives and local authority officials for reassurance that Urdu as an SQA accredited language is kept within schools with high populations of Pakistani/Kashmiri students, as Urdu teacher numbers dwindle from 8 to 3 in Glasgow. The parental concerns are dismissed, ears are closed, politicians and civil servants hum loudly with fingers in their ears until the parents leave (both literally and figuratively).

How embarrassing that you are perceived this way, when you spout social justice values of equality, equity and fairness, but where there is no political will to deliver it in the real world.

This continuing discourse of derision from the elected representatives and civil servants must be held up for accountability. Why is it wrong to ask for cultural heritage to be valued? Why are language policies recommending heritage languages to be implemented in schools if it is the mother tongue of the large student population, only for these recommendations to be erased in practice?

There is no acknowledgement or understanding of either the policy or the communities in which the schools are located. The focus is on assimilation and indoctrination of one world view, which in Scotland is that we live in a post-racial society and are infinitely better than the English in every way possible. It is as guilty of everything that it has complained Westminster of doing pre-devolution.

World views and culture need to be acknowledged as of value, because it is valuable. It informs all of us to look more widely outside of our little ‘Scottish exceptionalist’ bubble, learn and accept, encourage and applaud the contributions of minority communities to Scotland’s landscape, starting with who we are, our histories and our languages in our schools.

To learn more about what 'belonging' can mean for people of colour in Scotland, check out our recent podcasts and school resources which expose some of the history of racism in Scotland and which help young people of colour strengthen their sense of belonging.

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