The Scots leid in Australian líteratur

Onybody that kens anent the Scots leid kens that Scots is spoken in Scotland, whaur the leid first upbiggit. Fowk will like eneuch ken that Scots exists in anither pairt: thare the Ulster Scots, the Scots spik o Northren Ireland. But whit isnae sae weel kent is the Scots uised in Australie.

It’s kenable that the main leids o Australie for hunneryears wis the aborigine leids, Dyirbal an Warlpiri amang ithers. An thae leids is gey an interestin thairsels. R.M.W. Dixon an Kenneth L. Hale amang ither linguists haes written beuks anent thae leids that is orra unalike fae ither leids in the warld. Amang thair partícularities is coverbs, whaur the verb is for common formed fae a coverb an the main verb, coverb specifeein the main verb. Thare is forby the mony places o articulation o consonants (distinction acqueish sounds produced at different pairts o the gab). An thay aften uise the selsame wird for an object an anither object that coud potentially become it, for ensaumple ‘ainimal’ an ‘meat’.1

For thair nummers, it is upcast thare wis thareabout 250 aboriginal leids in 1788. The feck o thaim is misfortunately endangert or weedit awa, wi anerly 130 bein uised in ilkaday life, an nae mair nor twinty bein leart by bairns.2

Thir days the leid that’s the maist spoken in the southren continent is the Southspik. But thare is forby ither leids that haes come tae Australie by recent immigrants, the main anes thir days bein Mandarin, Italians an Arabic. But Scots wis amang thaim, inspecially in the nineteent hunneryear.

The Scots population o Australie is the island-continent’s thrid-lairgest ethnic population.3 It is upcast that thay account for thareabout 13 per cent o the population.4 In the nineteent hunneryear, Scots that gaed tae Australie maistly cam wi thair faimilies an cam fae the Lallans.5 An it wisnae juist the nuclear faimilies, aither: the grunnies an the gutchers cam wi thaim whiles.6

Haein arrived in Australie several groups wis foundit by the Scots incomers, like the Caledonian Society of Southern Australia. Amang thair ettles wis for thaim tae forder Scots an Gaelic language an líteratur. An thay cam tae produce Scots líteratur thairsels.

Ensaumples o Scots líteratur produced in Australie includes first- an seicont-generation incomers as weel as non-native spikkers. The Scots writin o Australie spangs the domains o poetry, sang, novels an mair. The novels coud be aither novels actually in the Scots itsel, or in the Southspik, wi dialogue in Scots.

John Service, an Ayrshireman steyin in Sydney, even wrate hail novels in Scots, includin The Life and Recollections of Doctor Duguid of Kilwinning (1887), a endeavour whilk is seen as new-fangelt.7 This beuk, like ither beuks in Scots, can be fund on

It wisnae juist fiction. Relígious líteratur wis written in Scots an aw: in 1921, a Scots mínister, bidin in Sydney syne the 1890s, haed his owersettin o Genesis in Scots publisht.8 His owersettin wis praised as writin in a Scots that wis formal eneuch like the English owersettin, an vibrant like the Laitin version; he wis sonsie-like in this ettle.9

The writin in Scots forby includit writin tae editors in newspapers, like tae the South Australian Advertiser, whaur Scots-spikkers wis acceppit in the letters page.10

This unnerlines the fact that it wis assumed that líteratur in, or featurin, Scots wad be read by non-Scots11. An the Scots líteratur o Australie wisnae juist written by fowk born in Scotland, or o Scots origin, aither. This is pairtly acause Scots líteratur fae Scotland itsel (like Burns, Scott an Hogg) wis popular in Australie at that stound.12 13

The Poor Parson by Steele Rudd is a ensaumple o a Australian that isnae even o Scots origin (he’s hauf Irish, hauf Welsh) writin a novel in English wi Scots dialogue. An a sonsie, weel-lued novel at that.14 An The Poor Parson wis publisht in 1907, sae juist a hunneryear syne.

The new contex an environs in Australie affectit the wey Scots líteratur wis produced in mony weys.

The uiss o Scots in Australie is whiles a mixtur-maxtur wi the English, inspecially the maist recent writin, as in My Puir Wee Sister by D. B. Tait (1865). The Scots (or Scots/English) poetry o Australie gangs aw the wey intae the 20t hunneryear. An ensaumple o late-20t hunneryear writin wi a mixtur-maxtur o English an Scots is Couper’s Drunk wi the Sight of life.

Fowk’s identity wis affectit an aw: Catherine Helen Spence haed baith Australian colonist identity an Scots identity. She wrate novels whaur the main chairacter spak the English, but mony minor chairacters spak in the Scots.

The theme that wis aften predominant wis description o the ordinar lifes o Scotsmen bidin in the outback. Aft-times, the Scots writin in Australie wis in a kailyaird style.15 The themes o nostalgia come up again an again, as weel as the ímage o a pre-industrial Scotland.16 This can be seen as twa kinds o the same nostalgia: ae nostalgia for anither time; anither nostaliga for anither place.

Sae, in conclusion, we can see that the Scots líteratur o Australie wis a flourishin enterpríse. This wis due tae the mony líterate Scots comin tae Australie wi thair strang identity that guidit thairsels around that identity. It is forby due tae fowk readin Scots líteratur weel-lued at that stound. The upbiggin o this líteratur wis in a society whilk misfortunately saw the fleggin o a fair feck o the sindry Aboriginal leids, an ither cultural aspects, at the same time. The Scots cam tae be temporar-like a signíficant pairt o the new Australian state wi wastren cultur.

James McDonaldJames McDonald is a Scots polyglot steyin in Réunion. He is keen on different leids, inspecially local leids, an thair forderin, whether it’s Scots, Gaelic, Réunion Creole or ither leids. He wirks in schuils, helpin bairns wi thair hamewirk an giein chess lessons. Ye can contact him on jmcd89 [AT] googlemail [DOT] com.


For tips on readin Scots, alang wi a glossar o common wirds, see our cutty guide (written in English).

Scots English
acqueish between
anent about
environs the environment
ettles aims, ambitions
gab mouth
hunneryear century
Italians the Italian language
owersettin translation
selsame very same
sindry several, many
sonsie-like successful
stound a period of time
temporar-like temporarily
upbiggit built up
upcast calculate, reckon, estimate

Bairns outside

Seturday mornin, an I wis haein a daunder alang the road wi ma twa dugs. Gled as I wis tae be outside efter sic a miserable week o pourin rain, there wis still a muckle dub streetchin hauf wey owre ma path. There wis naebody else about for aw it wis a fine day. Leukin at the dub, an thinkin back tae masel as a bairn, I ken I wad hae been there, aither measurin it for lowpin owre or plowterin richt throu it. An no juist me; but alang wi ma brithers an aw the ither bairns out tae play in the street like we aye did. Sic rare fun we haed wi dubs!

I’m laith tae say it, but dubs the day are mair like tae be disturbit by a caur raither than a bairn. As faur as I can tell juist fae ma ain observations, bairns dinnae seem tae be owre keen tae play outside ony mair. I haurdly see them. Gaein by the habits o the bairns I dae see, an ken weel, unless it’s somethin organised that taks them out, they are mair like tae be sittin in the house thirlt tae the screen o an Xbox or anither electronic device; aw their fun bein played out wi their pals in cyberspace raither than the real warld.

An takkin tent o hou mony o them get wheeched richt tae the schuil gates in the back o a caur, it stairts tae mak sense hou it is sae mony bairns o this generation are shawin signs o cairryin owre muckle wecht; I jalouse it’s no aw fae eatin sugary stuff, but mair tae dae wi no movin about eneuch.  It disnae dae a neebourhood ony guid aither whan the bairns wha bide in it are haurdly seen out an about. It’s anither threid lost atween generations. I dae think baith the bairns an community are the waur o it.

In our day we bairns war weel kent by awbody bidin round about. They wad see us fae their windaes an gie us a wave as we traipsed back an forrit tae the schuil; pass the time o day whan we war out playin in the street, bytimes askin ane o us tae gae a wee message; aiblins for a forpit o tatties fae the shop, or up tae the pigs pail at the tap o the street wi the peelins. An it wirkit baith weys. They gied us empty bottles tae mak sugarallie watter, jam jars for tadpoles an the like. E’en sortin our ills like takkin a spail out a sair haund or pittin a plaister on a skint knee. But, it aye wis dinnit intae us at hame that we war niver tae gae intae onybody’s house e’en if invitit. We haed tae stey at the door.

Whan we cam hame efter the schuil, we got a piece slaithirt in treacle or condensed milk; than it wis straucht out tae play. Simmer nor winter, we warnae encourgit tae sit about the house. In the cauld weather we war happit in nap coats agin the snell winds, but still they gied us scaudit legs an itchy chilblains on our taes!

Sae mony excitin gemms we haed! We lued Levoy, Chasie, Hide an Seek, Kick the Can, Throu the Fermer’s Tunnel; that last ane cairit forfeits for them as didnae rin fast eneuch! The laddies in partícular playit Cowboys an Indians or Coos an Ingans, as we kent it, whoopin their wey alang the passage atween the houses tae dreep the dyke at the end intae the nixt street. A crabbit wifie plaistert the dyke wi cement an stuck big jaggy bits o broken gless in it tae keep the bairns awa. There wis sic a stramash wi her neebours she haed tae gae out wi a rasp an file it doun till it wis smooth again!

We war niver short o things tae dae. “Hunty gowk” coud be heard shoutit aw owre the street as we catchit out fríends an neebours wi our April Fuils. On Victoria Day at the end o Mey there war bonfires aw owre the toun. We haed ours on the causey stanes at the tap o the road. We collectit firewid for days afore it, bytimes fechtin owre the ownership o it wi bairns fae ither streets. Ma brither was taen prísoner in a fecht an our faither haed tae gae an get him. He wis twa streets awa tied tae a palin stab wi a claes rope, a pile o wid stackit up round him! His jylers awa in for their tea!

It’s haurdly surprisin there wisnae a peck o fat on ony o us. If we warnae rinnin, we war climbin; up lamposts, owre railins. We skippit wi ropes, playit at rounders wi a bat an baw; peevers wi an empty bootpolish tin, chalkin out beds on the road wi pipe clay fae the drysauters. We haed races wi girds, rinnin alangside as we rollit them wi a stick up an doun the street. Spinnin a peerie an keepin it gaein wi a whip wis a skeel we aw haed tae maister! An o course, we makkit things! Gutties fae forkit twigs an a string o wee rubber bands. Pellets tae fire in them wi ticht foldit bits o paper. Guiders fae auld crates whan we coud find the wheels, hurtlin heid first doun the brae an round the corner like luge drivers at the Olympics but wi’out the safety element.

I cannae help but think we war a lucky generation. The anely caur owner in our street wis a drivin instructor! An we didnae hae the siren lure o the myriad o smaw screens that beguile an transfix sae mony young fowk the day. I anely wish I coud turn the clock back juist for a day an gie bairns a taste o the active life that we haed. It micht encourage them tae gae outside an hae some real fun an gemms!

Elizabeth ThoumireElizabeth is an Edinburgh-born airtist drawin an paintin maistly animals an birds. Forby that, she is pairt o the organisation Hands Up For Trad wha wirk tae increase the profile an visibílity o Scottish tradítional muisic an cultur throu information, education an advocacy.


For tips on readin Scots, alang wi a glossar o common wirds, see our cutty guide (written in English).

Scots English
about (pronounced ‘aboot’) about
aiblins perhaps
bytimes occasionally
crabbit bad tempered
dub puddle
dyke wall
forpit a measure of weight used mainly for the sale of root vegetables
girds hoops
guider a home-made children’s cart steered with a rope
gutties catapults
happit covered
house (‘hoose’) house
jalouse suspect
lowpin leaping
lued loved
our (‘oor’) our
outside (‘ootside’) outside
pail enclosure
palin stab fence post
peerie spinning-top
plowterin wading
scaudit scalded
skeel skill
snell chilly, bitter
spail splinter
stramash uproar
waur worse
wecht weight
wheeched whisked

Social media thumbnail ímage: National Líbrar o Scotland

Crack throu the keekin gless: the story o stories an thair importance

Stories is a important pairt o the human ken. Awbody sees an hears stories aw owre the place ilka day, in ilka society: whither it’s in beuks, in lessons or juist in ilkaday crack, stories is pairt o aw wir lifes.1 Sae whit gars stories sae important for human society?

Ae thing spells daes for us is that thay forder wir uiss o imaigination by garrin us think an imaigine the chairacters, the plot an the settin o story. An imaigination is a gey an human skeel, a capacity that ither ainimals cannae uise like we can. Wir capacity tae imaigine the futur is ane o the raisons we maunt tae pit owre sae lang in Eastern Africa, an expand intae ither continents.

Creativity is sel-like, an connectit wi, imaigination: thay are baith verra human capacities that del intae the various possibílities o life. Creativity is a brawly important aspect o narrative.2 An creativity is forby ane o the weys tae actualise wir ettles in life. Sel-actualisation is ane o the psychological needs identified by Maslow. This is partícularly important for bairns’ psychological development whaur the need for imaiginative play is a indicator o success efter; in partícular, Nobel Prize winners dae mair creative play whan thay war weans. Haud on readin . . . “Crack throu the keekin gless: the story o stories an thair importance”

Naewey tae bide

It’s impossible tae unnerstaund fit it feels like tae hae naewey tae bide. But, juist shut yer een; tak a míntie tae imaigine fou it maun feel tae nae hae a comfy sofa tae come hame an park yer bahookie on efter a lang, haurd day; nae telly tae watch daft programmes on whilst ye ham in tae yer warm maet keukit in a convenient kitchen ben the house. Think fit it maun be like tae nae hae a cosy bed far ye can pit yer heid doun fan ye want naething mair than a decent kip.

Sadly, for a lairge nummer o Scots fowk, they dinna hae tae imaigine this scenario because it’s their reality. In 2016-17, there wis mair than 34,000 hameless applications made in Scotland. Aamaist the same amount o fowk fa mak up the population o Fawkirk or Stirlin. A hertbraken nummer.

Things div seem tae be gettin a wee bittie better, fouiver, compare’t tae 2005-6, fan this nummer reached owre 60,000. The raison for this coud pairtially be that fowk seem tae be becomin mair conscious about the problem. Ah hiv certainly seen a chynge in attitudes taewart hameless fowk sin ah wis a young quinie.

Haud on readin . . . “Naewey tae bide”

Than an nou — poverty, makkin dae, an leukin out for ilk ither

The TV news the nou is stappit fou wi hert brakkin sichts. Puir sowels wi naewhaur tae bide nor lay their heids left tae chitter in the cauld; fowk wha uissless, shilpit Offícialdom hae cast sae far doun they’v nae fecht left; fowk no able tae feed their bairns, niver mind theirsels. I think o ma mither, a wumman wha in her young day haed seen a deal o poverty an wha thocht the Weelfare State an the National Health Service a marvel o the age. She wis delitit whan the faimily allouance wis brocht in! Sic a grand thing in partícular whan they stairtit peyin it tae the mither!

I wunner whit she wad mak o it in 2018?

She wis fae Leith, the last but ane born intae a faimily o thirteen bairns. Her twin wis deid at sax months fae whoopin cough. This wis 1910. Her faither haed been ane o the last tae drive a hansom cab. As a wee tottie bairn she coud mind seein ma granny fillin up the sink an liftin the windae tae lat the horse pit its heid in for a drink.

Poverty, wi its neebours hunger, drunkenness an disease, war juist a fact o life. Ma mither aye said maist fowk war guid an fou o kindness; juist daein their best tae get by. But they war feart o awbody in authority. Aye wirrit about bein reportit for their poverty an cawed neglectfu, their bairns taen awa. Fear o the puir house wis aye there.
Haud on readin . . . “Than an nou — poverty, makkin dae, an leukin out for ilk ither”

Cultural diversity outthrou time an place

Thare is ither places the warld owre, an ither times outthrou history, wi differs: whiles it’s ither places we’v niver been tae (A’v niver been tae Oceania, for ensaumple) an whiles it’s e’en places we’v niver haurd o (maist fowk haesnae haurd o the island whaur A’m steyin, Réunion). As for ither times, thay can shaw differs an aw, whither it’s times we can mind wirsels, times we can project wirsels intae (sae the naur futur) or times remote fae wir ain experience.

Sae, aw in aw, we arenae alane in wir ain cultur nor in wir ain pynt in time.

Tae some stent, we’re mindit on ither times an places ilka day, but we’re aften mindit o the same times an the same places, whan thare a fair braider spectrum o existence available. The focus is mainly on recent epochs an dominant kintras, yer superpouers o the day: wir attention is a fair feck mair aften focussed on modren-day Americae as on New Guinea or the Mbuti; though, sae we’ll see later in this airticle, it isnae acause thir ither fowks dinnae hae things tae shaw us. Haud on readin . . . “Cultural diversity outthrou time an place”