The internet was ablaze earlier this week after it was discovered that the bulk of the Wikipedia pages for Scotland were written by an American teenager who doesn't even know the Scots language. A user on Reddit by the name of Ultach first drew attention to it, saying that the enterprising teen in question translated more than 60,000 articles into garbled English made to sound like a Scottish person. Vocabulary exclusive to the Scots language was rarely used, and when it was, the teenage editor apparently used it inaccurately.
As an example of the rough translations, on the page for 'village', the editor wrote, "A veelage is a clustered human settlement or community, larger than a hamlet but smawer than a toun, wi a population rangin frae a few hunder tae a few thoosand (sometimes tens o thoosands)." What they were really writing was, "A village is a clustered human settlement or community, larger than a hamlet but smaller than a town, with a population ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand (sometimes tens of thousands)."
Understandably, the Scots — who have enough to deal with thanks to their English neighbors' insistence on Brexit and mimicking of Trump's bungling of the COVID-19 response — are not impressed.
A new notice plastered across the Scottish Wikipedia reads, "Followin recent revelations, Scots Wikipedia is presently reviewin its airticles for muckle leid inaccuracies." In English that's, "Following recent revelations, Scots Wikipedia is currently reviewing its articles for large scale language inaccuracies."
On the editor's Wikipedia page, other users have derided them periodically over the years for their inaccurate translations. "Yes, this is true that this is simply English, but spelled poorly, likely intending to resemble a stereotypical Scottish accent," said one. "I have always had a personal interest in linguistics, and I find it to be an insult that you are using this basically constructed variety of Scottish English."
Erasing a language — This is, of course, very funny for one perspective. But Ultach argues that it's dangerous because it makes a mockery of actual Scots and risks erasing the already niche language from existence. Other editors on Wikipedia saw the articles and were apparently led to believe that Scots doesn't have its own vocabulary and really is just misspelled English, and then they too began editing the Scots Wikipedia in the same fashion.
"Wikipedia is one of the most visited websites in the world," wrote Ultach. "Potentially tens of millions of people now think that Scots is a horribly mangled rendering of English rather than being a language or dialect of its own, all because they were exposed to a mangled rendering of English being called Scots by this person and by this person alone."
If anyone can simply read the Scots Wikipedia and understand it perfectly without any prior training, then it ceases to become its own distinct language — it's just a dialect of another language.
The editor responds — What's most curious is, why did someone in the U.S. decide to translate the Wikipedia word by word into Scots? It's unclear, but in a statement the editor said, "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 was only a 12-year-old kid when I started, and sometimes when you start something young, you can't see that the habit you've developed is unhealthy and unhelpful as you get older."
Many think that so much damage has now been done — a third of all Scots pages were written by this one editor — that it probably makes the most sense to simply delete all their articles and start over.
Fortunately, since Wikipedia is a crowdsourced knowledge base, anyone can create an account and start contributing — hopefully that will happen now that attention has been drawn to the Scots' dearth of reputable Wikipedia editors. But the incident certainly doesn't help Wikipedia against criticism that it's a poor source for quality information if a kid can persistently edit a country-specific Wikipedia for years without anyone noticing. How many people must have read the Scottish Wikipedia and thought it was an accurate representation of the culture and language?