This year saw what has been dubbed the Renaissance in Scots literature, but it also brought a renewed amount of classist and nationalist abuse thrown at supporters of the language – myself included.

I published my first novel this year, and the only one-star reviews it got were from people who didn’t even read the book. They were hardcore British nationalists and Scots language deniers who accused me of “desperately” trying to capitalise on the current popularity of the language.

I was amused. The book took me six years to write and publish and, back in 2015, Scots was nowhere near as popular as it is today.

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But one aspect of the Scots language which has had enduring popularity is Auld Lang Syne. Translated into English, it means “Old Long Since”, which, as I’m sure we can all agree, doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

As this year comes to a close, I am wondering how many people who have thrown vitriol at myself and other Scots speakers will be enjoying a “richt guid willie waught” and singing this traditional Scots tune come the stroke of midnight.

Scots singer Iona Fyfe said of the issue: “It generally gies me the total fear when people are all too happy to sing Auld Lang Syne (sometimes pronounced Zyne) but then dismiss Scots as a fake, made-up language for the rest of the year.”

It also makes me wonder, if there was any truth to arguments like Scots is “glorified slang” or “broken English”, why has Auld Lang Syne never been translated into English or simply fallen out of popularity? The fact that Scots – and people of all nationalities – sing this song has got to say something positive about the language.

Auld Lang Syne wasn’t even entirely written by Robert Burns, who it is attributed to. It was originally an old Scottish folk tune. He chose to preserve the lyrics in Scots after the Union of 1707 for the same reason that people like myself write in Scots today.

Because Scots is a language, and it deserves to thrive like any other, even if it is predominantly an oral one.

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This year, Auld Lang Syne will be tinged with sadness for myself as I reflect on the treatment today of Scots speakers and particularly creators today. The song is treated with respect, but the average Scots speaker, especially online, is at risk of trolling the rest of the year, regardless of any authority they may have on the language. Rian O’Diomasaigh, who has a Twitter account where he shares an Ulster Scots word of the day, educates about the language.

He recently tweeted that while Scots derives from the same common source as Germanic languages (including English), the argument that it is a dialect is the same as saying that Italian and Spanish are the same because they have a Latin source.

He was subsequently described as “blissfully ignorant” by one Twitter user, and another insisted that he does “some research into the history of Scotland”. Rian replied with a picture of his master’s degree, earned in the subject – explaining that his dissertation was about how Scotland came to be a predominantly English-speaking country.

But degrees aside, Auld Lang Syne is a perfect testament to the fact that Scots and English are separate languages because of its portrayal in popular culture.

Rian told me: “There’s a phenomenon where people who are opposed to the Scots language in general will make allowances for the writings of figures such as Allan Ramsay or Robert Burns.

“I think this is because they occupy such prominent positions in the Scottish literary canon that denying their influence would just look foolish – even though when you look at 18th century Scots literature and compare it to modern Scots writing, there really isn’t that much of a difference.”

In When Harry Met Sally, Harry, an American English speaker, says that he’s never understood what the song means. Sally tells him that it’s a song about old friends.

It shows that Scots is universal, and that it, like many languages, is accessible to English speakers, but not entirely. Take Afrikaans, for example – it is to an extent, also understandable to Dutch speakers.

Scots deniers should therefore think twice about how they regard modern uses of the language in the coming year if they will be singing the song come midnight or, if they are so determined to stick to their existing narrative, translate Auld Lang Syne into Old Long Since and at least keep their opinion consistent all year round.

Emma Guinness also writes as Emma Grae and is the author of Be Guid tae Yer Mammy.

This article originally featured in our sister title, The National in Scotland. 

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