This past week a revelation hit the internet when it was discovered that nearly a third of the Wikipedia articles in the Scots language were made by a single person, from America, who in fact does not have any understanding of the Scots language. Starting in 2013 at the age of 12 the young man showed an enthusiasm for cataloguing articles in the Scot’s tongue that, unfortunately, never extended to learning the language itself, instead making articles written in English in a faux Scottish accent.
Examples include the rather poetic “In Greek meethology, the Minotaur wis a creatur wi the heid o a bull an the body o a man or, as describit bi Roman poet Ovid, a being “pairt man an pairt bull”.” which is very well put, but definitely not Scots. While most of this is funny (the article for telekinesis simply states “Telekinesis es a form of moving[sic] ebjocts with yor maind”) there are people who see this as linguistic vandalism; Scots is already a language struggling for its place and identity in the world separate from English, often viewed as little more than a crude bastardisation, and now a single person with an obsession online has managed to add over 60000 articles and hundred of thousands of words worth of credence to that harmful and untrue idea.
The 19 year old man describes himself as a “Brony” and “ INTP” and goes by AmaryllisGardener on the site. His user page describes him, rather ironically, as being able to “contreebute wi ae middlin level o Scots.”. The boy himself doesn’t seem to have done this with malicious intent, saying, “Honestly, I don’t mind if you revert all of my edits, delete my articles, and ban me from the wiki for good. I’ve already found out that my “contributions” have angered countless people, and to me that’s all the devastation I can be given, after years of my thinking I was doing good (and yes, obsessively editing, I have OCD).”
While some have been rather upset at this linguistic parody of the Scot’s language, and even called for a complete removal of all the user’s edits and articles, not everyone is as quick to throw the baby out with the bathwater; while most of the articles are a mess of fake Scots forced into English grammar, the structure of the articles could still be built around using the proper Scots tongue. Kilwinnings article only says “Kilwinnin (frae Scots Gaelic: Cill Fhinnein) is a toun in North Ayrshire, Scotland.” which is more than existed before AmaryllisGardener decided to make the page. Now that this controversy has brought attention to the issue, site admins like Michael Dempster, the director of the Scots Language Centre, have set out to amend and correct the articles, and have even reached out to Wikipedia about working on this project in an official capacity.
This does, however, highlight another issue that might not be as obvious at first look: Wikipedia is very Anglo centric. English makes up the largest portion of pages on the site, with nearly 12% of the total articles and the highest number of editors and admins. The use of Wikipedia outside of English is difficult and unreliable. With English having 10 times as many users as the second most popular language, German, it’s clear to see why the Anglosphere might dominate the site. This dominance however also means minor languages often get ignored, with even Ultach, the reddit user that first discovered the edits, stating that “The Scots language version of Wikipedia is legendarily bad”, noting how it is more often than not ignored by the Scots speaking community. This lack of maintenance and attention has led to strange situations like what’s happened to the Scots language pages, or -even stranger- what’s happened to the Cebuano Wikipedia; an Austronesian language spoken in the southern Philippines, despite its low number of admins(currently only 6) Cebuano has the second highest number of total articles; here, history has repeated itself, with the majority of the articles in this language being written by a non native speaker- a Swedish man who designed a “bot” (or computer program) that would, rather poorly apparently, create and translate articles. This lack of attention not only means that a non native speaker has made themselves an authority on the language on the site, but that it’s happened twice now to separate languages.
A darker side of this has come up in languages like Croatian and Azerbaijani, where far right theories are spread as verified facts and political agendas and biased sources crop up again and again to enforce dogma. The Croatian Wikipedia- according to Signpost, a Wikipedia newsletter- is now in the hands of a small group of fascists after many of the other Croatian editors abandoned the site. This has even been highlighted by the Croatian government when Željko Jovanović, Croatian Minister of Science, Education and Sports, in 2013 said that “Regrettably, we must warn Croatian students that a large part of content of Croatian-language Wikipedia is not only dubious, but clearly falsified, so we therefore urge them to use more reliable sources of information, such as Wikipedia editions in English and other major languages.”. In the Azeri Wikipedia, a similar controversy arose when it emerged that Azerbaijani users were abusing their authority to shut down and suppress discussion, pushing their own agendas on issues like the Armenian Genocide.
What’s going to become of the Scots Wikipedia is still up in the air; while a degree less worrying that the site becoming a den of far right conspiracy theories and genocide denying propaganda, the site definitely lacked the attention that it deserved and hopefully this rather funny chapter in the language’s history will galvanise the Scots community into making the site workable to help, not hinder the language..