A bake sale for a national monument

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Some time ago, we had a discussion on the American Dialect Society mailing list about the Dictionary of the Scots Language (DSL). DSL consists of the Dictionary of the Older Scots Tongue and the Scottish National Dictionary, together making 22 volumes in print (plus a 2005 supplement). These amazing resources are now available on-line, providing searchable electronic versions of the fruits of scholarship on the Scots language. For free, no strings, available to anyone with web access. (DSL is just part of a larger set of resources, the Scottish Language Dictionaries, or SLD.)

I was astounded, and said so to the list. How was this managed, when parallel resources in English (for instance, the Oxford English Dictionary, the Dictionary of American Regional English, and the Historical Dictionary of American Slang) had scant prospect of getting a similar treatment within the foreseeable future? (The monumental English Dialect Dictionary is apparently being digitized — at the University of Innsbruck!) I exchanged e-mail with DSL staff and discovered just how fragile the whole business was: a subvention from the Scottish Arts Council provided the backbone of the support, and private donors supplied some support, but the enterprise seemed to survive on a phalanx of (unpaid) volunteers (and I suspected that the staff was not very well paid).

I intended to post to Language Log at the time, just to alert people that DSL was available on-line, but the posting fell behind other things and I never got back to it. Now, it turns out, the dictionaries are threatened.

[Brief background digression, quoting the Wikipedia entry on the Scots language, which begins:

This article is about Scots, an Anglic language of Scotland. For the Gaelic language of Scotland, see Scottish Gaelic. For the variety of English spoken in Scotland, see Scottish English.

There clearly is discussion to be had here about that perennial vexed question of "dialect" vs. "language", but that's not the topic of this posting. For this posting I'll simply accept the usage of SLD, which the Wikipedia entry follows.]

Now, the bad news. I reproduce here (with slight revisions) a posting of 12 July by Grant Barrett to ADS-L:

The Scottish Language Dictionaries program has had its funding withdrawn by the Scottish Arts Council.

SLD, a charity, is responsible for the Dictionary of the Scots Language online, the Concise Scots Dictionary, the Essential Scots Dictionary, and other reference works.

As a regular user of DSL, I write this email in order to encourage my colleagues to support SLD in any way they can.

To ensure that they stay in operation, SLD is holding a fundraiser by auctioning celebrity-related items on eBay, including stuff from actor Alan Cumming, radio presenter Andrew Marr (whose "Start the Week"podcast is one of my must-listens), the shooting script for the movie "Sweet Sixteen," dinner with Hardeep Singh Kohli (he'll cook), a signed photo of actor Robbie Coltrane, and other items.

The auction is described here, and there's a story in the Scotsman about the funding and fundraiser here.

I must say that this is heart-warming but kind of sad — like having a bake sale to maintain one of your great national monuments.

[More discussion, by Alex Steer, here.]


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