Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Read this: Scots Wikipedia warped by American teen who doesn’t speak Scots

Illustration for article titled Read this: Scots Wikipedia warped by American teen who doesn’t speak Scots
Photo: Anadolu Agency / Contributor (Getty Images)

This is one of those stories which seems like it might be a kind of “haha, how weird, the internet, am I right?!” type situation but which is actually pretty damned serious. It’s also only partially a Great Job, Internet kind of story; a more appropriate category might be Bad Job, Internet, or, Wow, Good Thing You Caught That, Internet. Two days ago, Reddit user Ultach posted to the r/Scotland subreddit a thread under the mind-melting title “I’ve discovered that almost every single article on the Scots version of Wikipedia is written by the same person — an American teenager who can’t speak Scots.” 

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Here’s The Guardian on the controversy:

The entries in question do little more than substitute occasional, and often wrongly spelled, Scots words into English grammatical constructions. As a result, the project often inadvertently ends up being used to bolster arguments that Scots is not a language in its own right.

“This is going to sound incredibly hyperbolic and hysterical,” wrote Ultach, “but I think this person has possibly done more damage to the Scots language than anyone else in history. They engaged in cultural vandalism on a hitherto unprecedented scale.”

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A few important points of clarification. First, the wiki in question is not the Wikipedia page on the Scots language, one of the indigenous languages of Scotland (along with Scottish Gaelic and English); it is the version of Wikipedia written in that language. The whole thing. Second, this isn’t a few pages here and there. The contributions of the user in question constitute written and edited articles in the many tens of thousands, which they began writing at age 12. Now 19, the user became one of the primary administrators of the site; per a Meta-Wiki page on the issue, these contributions “[make] up close to half of the total number of articles on that Wiki altogether.” Again, they do not speak Scots; it seems that the user simply plugged individual words from an online Scots translator into sentences with English construction. And third, Scots has been deemed a vulnerable language by UNESCO, so this is very, very bad.

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We are not linguists, do not speak Scots, and cannot claim expertise on the inner workings of Wikipedia moderation and creation. This is why The A.V. Club has never attempted to write or moderate a Wiki in a language we do not speak.

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There’s basically nothing about this story that’s good, other than the fact that this was caught and now has the possibility of being corrected. But possibility is the important word here. There’s now a debate about what the appropriate move is—namely, whether the entire Wiki should be scrubbed, or if the version as it exists now should be edited, an undertaking that would be daunting even if half the people you know spoke Scots. Here’s a brief excerpt from a lengthy discussion of the issue on Meta-Wiki.

[The] bigger problem is the tens of thousands of articles and edits that were done in an endagered language. The articles use US-en grammar instead of Scots grammar, and the English words are replaced with a Scottish translation (some of which were not correct, either). For words where the author couldn’t find a Scottish equivalent, either English was used instead, or a new word was made up altogether (like “pheesicist”, although in [the user’s] defense, he did not create that word, another user who doesn’t speak Scots did).

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So that’s terrible! But hey, let’s make it worse! The user in question, who has reportedly deleted or suspended many of their social media accounts, has (get ready to be shocked) faced harassment, despite many (including the Redditor who wrote that first post) arguing that the user’s actions were likely well-intentioned. (Still incredibly harmful, though.) Depressingly and predictably, there’s some glee about the user reportedly self-identifying as an “INTP Brony” and a furry. We are not denying that there is an air of the decidedly ridiculous about the whole thing, but the stakes aren’t “haha so funny,” they’re “massive resource in vulnerable language corrupted at fundamental, possibly irreversible level.” So maybe this isn’t the time to make lazy jokes about foxes and stuff?

Basically, there’s almost no level on which this doesn’t suck. Here, should you desire them, are two upsides. First, as mentioned above, there’s now at least a chance that this will be rectified—and if you’re a lover of pop culture, which we’re guessing you are, then you’re also a lover of language, whether you’d shout that from the rooftops or not. (If you happen to be a Scots speaker—an actual Scots speakeryou can get involved here.) Second, now more folks will learn about a very cool language. And hey, here’s a third, why not: This is just another helpful reminder that Wikipedia is not an infallible resource chock full of carefully sourced facts and absolutely no bad information. Be smart, kids.

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Send Great Job, Internet tips to gji@theonion.com

Contributor, The A.V. Club and The Takeout. Allison loves TV, bourbon, and overanalyzing social interactions. Please buy her book, How TV Can Make You Smarter (Chronicle, 2020). It’s short!

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