Wikipedia is, in my opinion, one of the most successful ventures devoted to the dissemination of knowledge on the entire internet. It isn’t perfect — no encyclopedia or institution is — but it has had a profound effect on the decentralization of knowledge over the past two decades.
Some of that knowledge, however, has been a little more accurate than others. Somehow — and I say “somehow” because I genuinely have no idea how this got missed — nearly 24,000 articles on the Scots language Wikipedia have been written by one American who speaks not a word of Scots. His “entries” consist of English written in what the author imagines is a Scottish accent.
There’s apparently a rather nasty debate over whether Scots is a true language. That’s according to the Scots-speaking Redditor who visited the Wikipedia, read the legendarily bad entries, did a bit of detective work, and discovered nearly 1/3 of the entire Wikipedia as of 2018 had been written by the same person — redditor AmaryllisGardener who self-describes as — well — I’ll let him put it in his own words.
As redditor Ultach writes:
The problem is that this person cannot speak Scots. I don’t mean this in a mean spirited or gatekeeping way where they’re trying their best but are making a few mistakes, I mean they don’t seem to have any knowledge of the language at all… What they seem to have done is write out the article out in English, then look up each word individually using the Online Scots Dictionary… then replace the English word with the first result, and if they couldn’t find a word, they just let it be.
Translating languages is a complex and delicate art. Should you ever doubt it, consider that the phrases “butt dial” and “booty call” refer to the exact same literal action, yet have vastly different meanings and ought not to be confused with each other. This kind of simplistic translation method can work if you only need a vague sense of a phrase or are working with very simple text. It will fail badly when tasked with anything complicated, idiosyncratic, idiomatic, colloquial, or technical. Much of humanity’s most interesting writing, you may have observed, contains elements that are complicated, idiosyncratic, idiomatic, colloquial, or technical. It’s also rather insulting to an entire group of language speakers.
Scots-speakers are understandably rather annoyed at this butchering of their language, as below:
— Neeraj K. Agrawal (@NeerajKA) August 26, 2020
This is not Scots. This is not English. This is what would happen if you made Craig Ferguson huff six spray cans of paint before giving a history dissertation.
Unfortunately, AmaryllisGardener has been so active on the site and written so much content, the Wikipedians may have no choice but to delete about a third of the encyclopedia or face rolling it back to ~2012. Some are calling it the most harm ever done to Scots, and while I first thought that language was hyperbolic, they may have a point. Apparently, Scots Wikipedia pages have been held up in various arguments as proof that Scots isn’t actually a language, since it consists of badly misspelled English. Some of those entries were written by Gardener. The reason they passed muster in such conversations is that none of the individuals present actually spoke Scots and could identify that the language was being misrepresented in the first place. Rather_Dashing writes:
I’m Australian so have almost no exposure to Scots. I recall finding that wiki years ago and thinking ‘ha, Scots is just English written with a Scottish accent’. So I can back you up on this wiki leading foreigners to think it’s just mangled English.
Multiple redditors agreed with his sentiments.
If you ever find yourself contemplating whether you should write more than 20,000 Wikipedia articles in a language you cannot speak, relying on simplistic online translation methods to handle the problem, ExtremeTech suggests you put this idea down and take up a different hobby, like knitting.
Just make sure to read the instructions in English.
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