Speaking our Language
It's UNESCO's International Year of Indigenous Languages, so BooksfromScotland had to kick off 2019 with a celebration of one of ours - Scots! We have all kinds of Scots in this issue, from modern urban, to traditional, to Doric, all expressed in many ways and in many genres. We've got poetry, childrens' books, short stories, social history and nature writing, all showing just how versatile and expressive Scots can be. So, lend us yer een an' yer lugs, an' enjoy this issue.
I have quite a few books on my shelves by friends, but only one that is written by one friend, translated by another and illustrated by a third. It’s written in a language that I don’t speak, yet which I partly understand even though I was never taught it.
Precious and the Puggies (Itchy Coo, 2010) by Alexander McCall Smith (translated by James Robertson and illustrated by Iain McIntosh) is that book and it is, of course, in Scots. And of all the subjects anyone born, like me, south of the Tweed should be wary of writing about, Scots is fairly near the top of the list. So although – see below – I’ve got something to say about it, I’m going to tiptoe away from that well-planted minefield of the extent to which it should be taught, published or broadcast. That’s up to Scots to work out. Not people like me who weren’t born here.
That said, I’m broadly sympathetic. Who wouldn’t be? When, in McCall Smith’s story, the young Precious Ramotswe, in the middle of solving her very first case, walks home from school down a path that winds round boulders, Robertson’s Scots seems to emphasise its tortuousness. “It was a narra, joukin path – here and yon, muckle boolders had whummled doon the brae thoosans o years syne and the path had tae jink aroond them. In atween the boolders, trees had raxed up, their roots snoovin their wey through the gaps in the stane.” Whummled, joukin: you don’t have to be a Scots language obsessive to see its beauty, to see it lifting a child’s imagination, making it grow and twist around its subject like thos...
A Scots Dictionary of Nature by Amanda Thompson Published by Saraband
Why are the words contained in the dictionary important?
The words help us to deepen our understanding of people and places, and they also pull us across time. They tap into the social history of Scotland – ways of living, being and interacting – but also reveal more personal connections, sometimes across different generations, so they allow us to remember in lots of different ways.
Why do you think these words, and the book as a whole, have so captured people’s imagination?
I think the book has captured people’s imagination in the same way ...
‘Ahm gonnae tell you a story.’
‘We hear the voice of our passionate, proud and provocative country most truly in its poetry.’
A sing o a Scotland whit’ll chant hits hairt oot dounstairs o the Royal Oak, whit’ll pouk hits timmer clarsach hairtstrangs, whit like glamour will sing hits hairt intae, existence, whit haps sang roo …
‘But dae I get ony thanks for stickin up for the lassies aw this time? Dae I chocolate.’
‘Och, Mikey.’ She opened her arms, a tentative smile on her lips. ‘Ye canna be too sure. No these days.’
‘O come all ye at hame wi’ freedom, Never heed whit the hoodies croak for doom’
‘On any showing, the scale and quality of this movement is a phenomenon rarely paralleled in literary history.’
‘I jined up wi ma pal Fred Duncan efter the leaflets cam oot fae Kitchener needin a hunner thoosan men. We biket wi a lot mair fae Millbrex ti Peterheed ti jine up in the 5th Gordon Highlanders.’
‘For many years, this was the reason why I stayed away from historical fiction altogether – I simply didn’t believe I could do it justice.’