Skip to main content
Article thumbnail
Location of Repository

Talking Back at the Centre: Demotic Language in Contemporary Scottish Fiction

By Jeremy Scott


This article attempts a survey of a common trend in contemporary Scottish fiction(1994–2003): a unifying concern with issues of ‘voice’ in narrative. The survey\ud proceeds from an assumption that many Scottish writers make use of so-called demotic voices within their work (i.e. sociolects and dialects from everyday situations, or ‘street language’). Very often, this concern with the demotic arises\ud out of ideological standpoints peculiar (arguably) to Scotland: attempts to create a distance from Standard English, a nationalist position, or the ambition to reassert\ud the primacy (or, at least, the equivalency) of oral over written forms of language. The conclusion must be that choices made with regard to narrative technique are\ud ideological choices, and that the demotic method is not without its pitfalls. This assertion is demonstrated through an exploration of three writers: James Kelman, Alan Warner and Anne Donovan. All of these demotic techniques are aided and abetted by the writer’s intense identification with place, with Glasgow (for Kelman and Donovan) or with Scotland as a whole, and the intrinsically ‘polyphonic’\ud conditions which exist there, i.e. a range of dialects and voices standing as ‘other’ to Standard (colonial?) English. The writers’ goal is to exploit the particular cultural\ud and linguistic conditions peculiar to the country in order to produce a narrative art form which could adequately aspire to represent them; in other words, to create a\ud distinctive literary voice the better to represent a particular regional or national constituency. The pitfalls need to be addressed too: a tendency towards the mundane\ud and repetitive in demotic narratives, a certain belligerence which can alienate readers and the essential question of who this writing is written for. Can it be read with\ud true engagement outside of its target constituency? If not, is such writing open to the charge of parochialism

Topics: PE, PR
Publisher: Blackwell Publishing Ltd
Year: 2005
OAI identifier:

Suggested articles


  1. (2005). 20C 148, 1–26 Demotic Language in
  2. (1985). A Chancer doi
  3. (2001). A Wee Gem of a Story Book’,
  4. (1995). Alien Voices from the Street: Demotic Modernism in Modern Scots Writing’, doi
  5. (1994). Boozers’,Times Literary Supplement,
  6. (1994). Bucket of doi
  7. (2004). Buddha Da (Edinburgh: Cannongate Books,
  8. (2001). C.,‘Quietly Impressive Debut by a Subtle Lover of Language’,The
  9. Censorship, and the Voices of Skaz in
  10. (2003). Contemporary British Fiction (Cambridge:
  11. (1994). D.,Bucket of doi
  12. (2005). Demotic Language in Contemporary Scottish Fiction © doi
  13. (2004). Donovan,A.,Buddha Da (Edinburgh: Cannongate Books,
  14. (2001). Donovan,A.,Hieroglyphics and Other Stories (Edinburgh: Cannongate Books,
  15. (1992). Dusty-Fute (Middlesex:
  16. (1998). E.,‘For a wee bit of sparkle’,The
  17. (1998). Flower of Scotland’,
  18. (1998). For a wee bit of sparkle’,
  19. (2001). Hieroglyphics and Other Stories (Edinburgh: Cannongate Books,
  20. (2000). How Late it was for England: James Kelman’s Scottish Booker Prize’, doi
  21. (1994). How Late It Was, doi
  22. (1989). Interview with James Kelman’,
  23. (1997). Introducing Bakhtin (Manchester:
  24. (1994). J.,How Late It Was, doi
  25. (1992). J.,Some Recent Attacks: Essays Cultural and Political
  26. (1984). J.,The Busconductor Hines doi
  27. (1989). K.,‘Interview with
  28. (2003). Kelman: Walking Among the Fires’,
  29. (2003). Mengham and P.Tew, ed., Contemporary British Fiction (Cambridge:
  30. (2002). Middle-Class Wankers” and Working-Class Texts: Critics and doi
  31. (1998). Mortal on Hooch’, London Review of Books,
  32. (1983). Narrative Fiction: Contemporary Poetics doi
  33. (2001). Narrative,‘The New Critical Idiom’ series, series
  34. (1989). Not Not While the Giro
  35. (1989). Not While the Giro
  36. (1994). O’Hagan,A.,‘The Paranoid Sublime’,London Review of
  37. (2001). Quietly Impressive Debut by a Subtle Lover of Language’,
  38. (2003). R.,‘She’s Talking our Language Now’,The
  39. (1997). S.,Introducing Bakhtin (Manchester:
  40. (1983). S.,Narrative Fiction: Contemporary Poetics doi
  41. (2003). She’s Talking our Language Now’, The Glasgow Herald,
  42. (1992). Some Recent Attacks: Essays Cultural and Political
  43. (1984). The Busconductor Hines doi
  44. (1998). The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, doi
  45. (2002). the Judges Said Essays (London: Secker and Walburg,
  46. (2001). The New Critical Idiom’ series, series
  47. (1994). The Paranoid Sublime’, London Review of
  48. (1998). The Sopranos (London: Jonathan Cape,
  49. (1998). These Demented Lands (London:Vintage,
  50. (1998). This Demented Man’, The Herald (Glasgow),
  51. (2003). Time to Lose the Chip on our Shoulder and Think Bilingual’, The Glasgow Herald,
  52. (1994). Times Literary Supplement,
  53. (1995). Voices from the Street: Demotic Modernism in Modern Scots Writing’,The doi
  54. (1998). Warner: Wild Man of Letters’,
  55. (2001). Wee Gem of a Story Book’,The Scotsman,28

To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.