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.

Sel-development is fordert by stories, acause thay provide a wey o expressin unconscious desires an fears an a structur.3 The structur o stories is in the form o linear thocht. It is a realistic representation o time, a variable on whilk wir lifes is based.

Stories can be weys o haunlin emotions.4 It can forby whiles be a better wey o haunlin emotion than giein labels tae emotions.5 Thay can gie the readers, or hearers, a connection, whither personal or emotional, wi the author or wi the chairacters.

Stories can touch fowk emotionally, inspecially throu the chairacters: fowk can identify wi the chairacters or plot an compare that wi thair ain experience; fowk can unnerstaund the situation the chairacters is in an empathise wi thaim; we can appreciate the importance o the ideas set out in the story; we can unnerstaund the warld better wi the metaphors present, ideas, chairacters.

This can be a wey o connectin wi ither fowk, aftentimes wi fowk ye’v niver met, ye niver will, an whiles even fowk ye niver can meet, acause o the fact thay war tae the fore afore ye war born, or afore ye kent thay existit. Acause fowk can identify wi the chairacters, thay can hae therapeutic vailue. Stories can be forby weys o takkin wi an approbatin pairts o yersel.6

Stories gies meanin tae wir lifes7 an mak sense o wir lifes.8 This includes giein meanin tae the bygane times o wir lifes:9 it gies a narrative tae wir lifes, giein us a wey tae unnerstaund life. Deed, the feck o human knawledge is based on stories.10 Wir ideas o the past is shapit by the stories that relate tae it. Wir memories even can be shapit by wir stories anent thaim.11

Stories upsteirs us intae upbiggin wir empathy, maisttimes subconscious like: for tae unnerstaund the chairacters, the decísions thay tak, thair craves an the situations in whilk thay find thairsels, we need tae uise wir empathy. An this empathy skeels can then transpose on intae real life.

Stories reflect real life12 can conteen compares wi ither stories. Thay can even conteen allegories. Allegories can be interpret as bein basically story-lang similes.13 Sae that is even mair complex compare’t wi reality.

Similes an metaphors is signíficant pairts o the wark o language as it eiks mair meanins tae a wird. It forby allous us tae mak comparisons acqueish different aspects o wir reality, tae unnerstaund ae thing in terms o anither. In partícular, metaphors allous us tae see abstract ideas in terms o comparisons tae less abstract, mair concrete ideas.

Whan A wis a bairn, A uised tae think that scarraes wis wannecessar an that scarraes isnae leal tae the meanin o wirds. Thir days, A realise that it’s a signíficant, even peremptor, pairt o language. Whit gart me chynge ma mynd wis inspecially efter readin anent Conceptual Metaphors, a concep detailt in Woman, Fire and Dangerous Things by George Lakoff.14 Sae, hinderly, we can see that the feck o the wirds we uise in ony leid haes metaphors biggit intae thaim. Sicweys is symbolism an metaphor a major pairt o ony leid.

Stories, inspecially the maist epic lingelies, is lang and detailt expressions o thocht. An sae we can say thay are ensaumples o complete an complex discourse.

As staps intae the warld o fiction, stories can be weys o takkin fowk on carrants, on vaiges, on ferds, tae places an times thay hae niver been tae. Whiles, the anerly wey o pittin yersel intae the place o a partícular warld, inspecially, is tae read a beuk on it.

Stories can be weys tae pit forrit ideas, even ideas that isnae possible or even plausible, at least at the time o writin. For ensaumple, thare mony ideas that wis in science fiction novels afore it wis adoptit intae real life situations.

Stories (inspecially legends, whit the Shetlanders cry ‘stoil’) can be retellt wi variations. This allous for thare practically bein a complouther o multiple vyces owre hunneryears, outthrou history.

Tales that haes been modified owre the hunneryears, but is aye variants o the same tale, can be clessified: thare is the Aarne–Thompson clessification sýstem for tales that can be consultit here.

Stories help us wi wir memory: stories is a memorable wey tae learn life lessons on the tane haund, an history an facts on the tither.15

Stories afttimes plays a muckle pairt in mnemonics an ither memory techniques. Acause o wir nature, us humans unnerstaund things better whan thay are in story form. It haes even been said that wir memories haes thair springheid in story form.16

Sae, in sum, we can say that stories is important for human society as it appluises us wi lang, linear expression o thocht for us tae haunle emotions an gie us meanin. An this helps us forder wir imaigination, memory an personality. It is forby a wey tae pit forrit ideas, that can be skared wi ithers.

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
afttimes frequently, oft-times
anent about
appluise make available to
approbatin accepting, validating
carrant an expedition
complouther a mixture
del delve, dig
ferd a journey, voyage
forby besides, in addition
gart compelled, made
hinderly eventually
lingelie a long-winded story, sermon, speech
maunt managed, succeeded in
on the tane haund on the one hand
peremptor imperative
scarrae a figure of speech, a metaphor
sicweys thus
skare share
spell a tale, story
springheid source, origin
upbiggin building up
upsteir stir up, rouse, incite
wannecessar (or unnecessar) unnecessary
whiles sometimes

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.

Ae chiel fa, ah believe, haes haen a grand impact on motivatin mair fowk tae help the hameless in the North-East, an beyond, owre the past few ’ear, is Gordon Cruden. Back in the winter o 2015, the Brocher decidit tae embark on a thirty-day ‘Hungry for the Homeless’ challenge. This involved spendin a month bidin on the streets o Embra, Cardiff, Dublin, Belfast an London wi nae siller, maet, bed or shelter. Owre the duration o his challenge, Cruden shared the stories o mony o the fowk he met alang the wey, fa war left wi naewey but a cauld street tae caa hame, on social media. Mony a time he explain’t juist fou little it teuk for thaim tae end up on the streets, an it wis a harsh reminder tae aa fa read his posts juist hou guid ye’ve got it if ye hae a ruif abuin yer heid, an fou easily it coud aa be taen awa fae ye.

The reaction tae these stories, whilk left ye fit tae greet, wis outstaundin. By the end o his thirty days on the streets, Cruden haed thousands o fowk follaein him on Facebook, an ah ken for a fact that mony fowk fae round about the North-East nou see thaim fa are bidin on the streets fae a different perspective. A braw example o fou juist ae person can mak a gigantic difference.

There wis also anither event haudit in the capital this ’ear, wi the intention o shinin some licht on fit life is like for the hameless. On the 9t o December 2017, mair than 8000 fowk slept roch on Princes Street Gairdens, raisin juist owre fowre million pund tae help the hameless fowk o Scotland. Whilst this o course is a fantastic achievement, there haes been some críticism o the event, the name o whilk, ‘Sleep in the Park’, hints tae it bein a glorified muisic festival; an tae a point, that’s fit it wis. Nae dout that haein the likes o Liam Gallagher an Amy Macdonald performin tae those fa war able tae gie £100 or mair wis a great incentive tae raise funds, but ah canna help thinkin that this approach unnermine’t the hale issue o hamelessness tae an extent. Nae haein somewey tae bide is sae much mair uncouthie than haein a jolly tae the park wi yer chums tae watch warld-famous singers an be served bacon rolls by Rob Brydon.

The £100 minimum donation also left me feelin disherted about the hale shebang, as ah felt that fowk fa mebbe coudna afford tae help out by donatin as muckle, shouldna hae been left out. In fact, ah think it wad be a fantastic idea if they lat fowk fa are registered as hameless jyne in, sae that they coud mingle an share their experiences wi fowk fa care about helpin thaim. There’s nae denyin that it’s a fantastic idea tae haud an event whilk raises sae much awaurness and siller for fowk ’itout a hame. Ah div believe, fouiver, that a haundfu o tweaks shoud be made, tae aither mak it mair realistic o the challenge o bidin on the streets, or mair inclusive aathegither.

Aatho the nummer o fowk ’ithout hames daes seem tae be drappin, an mair an mair fowk are daein their bittie tae help, the issue o hamelessness contínues tae exist in Scotland. Gordon Cruden, fa nou rins twa residential centres in the North-East for fowk fa are strugglin, is a role-model for onybody fa wants tae dae somethin tae help thaim fa dinna even hae a place tae caa hame.

O course ye dinna hae tae stairt wi a challenge as difficult as his ane tae mak a difference. But fan ye’re lyin cosy tucked up under the duvet the nicht, mebbe think tae yersel if ye can spare a pund or twa, or even a few mínties o yer time, tae mak somebody fa haes naething’s day.

Antonia UriAntonia Uri is a twinty-ane year auld Doric-spikkin student o Modren Furrin Leids at the University o Aiberdeen. She is currently the Alba Eiditor at The Gaudie, an a scriever for The National. Claik awa wi her on Twitter @teuchtertoni.

Social media thumbnail ímage: not everyone is taking in the historic sights by byronv2. Licence: CC BY-NC 2.0.

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.

Aw her days ma ain mither wis feart o fawin intae poverty. She haed nae time for fowk speirin about the ‘guid auld days’. She wad juist gie thaim a leuk that said, “Thaim as sae it wirnae there.”

She wad try tae hae a wee bittie pit by agin the misfortune she wis shuir wis aye lurkin. She kep’ a wee beuk wi aw her outgauns recordit. Her scrievin wis like a hen sprauchlin owre the page. Ye see, she wis born caurie dukit an fae the generation whaur this wis a faut tae be sortit at the schuil. Bindin the offendin haund up the back tae force the bairn intae bein richt haundit wis the cure. Even as a bairn, I jaloused her life haed no been wi’out haurdship.

Her faimily didnae hae muckle tae get by on. Ma grandfaither wad gae doun tae meet the fishin boats comin in tae the docks. He wad gaither up a sack o discardit fish for ma granny tae clean an gut an mak intae fish pies. But he teuk awfu ill whan ma mither wis about seiven or aicht year auld an wis deid fae failin kidneys in a maiter o weeks.

Ma granny haed tae depend on the wee bit her aulder lassies wha workit in service coud send hame tae her. She uised a sewin machine tae mak bairns claes. Binders, barries an semmits wi juist ae sleeve tae tak tent o the smallpox ‘inoculation’. She cut doun auld jaikets intae weskits. The airms she’d mak intae breeks for laddies.

Forby her sewin, she wis a weel-respectit howdiewife. Nouadays she wad be cried a ‘community midwife an nurse’. She didnae hae a certificate or ony offícial trainin, an it wis aye some puir sowel needin her. The door wad chap aw the oors o the day an nicht an out she’d gae, bytimes wi ma mither tae tak chairge o birthin a bairn. The weimen she attendit war trauchelt bi a haurd, haurd life, an haed nae sillar tae gie tae a nurse. Thaim that needed ma granny war aye amang the puirest. The new bairn wis happit in a cover an laid aneath the bed until the mither got seen tae. She wis the maist important o the twa for she aye haed ither bairns dependit on her. For her services ma granny got peyed wi an egg, a loaf o breid or mebbes a bittie o claith.

Ma mither minds her taen in the bairns o a wumman at deith’s door wi the typhus fever. She nursit the wumman hersel, in her house sin nae ither body wad gan near it.

Ma mither, still a young lassie, workit for a dairy. Forby gaun out on the milk cairt she haed tae open the doors tae the dairy for the churns in the early mornin. Whit makkit her bluid rin cauld richt doun tae her taes wis the cockroaches! Thousands o thaim swarmin aw owre the dairy fluir. Wi the licht cast fae the openin door they wad gae doun the cracks an vainish fae sicht! Ma mither said the place wisnae clarty, sin anither pairt o her wark wis scrubbin the fluir whan she cam aff the cairt an afore rinnin hame or tae the schuil!

The dairy wife wad aye say at the stairt o the run, “Noo mind! Nae money, nae mulk!” It wis dishit out wi a jug an a ladle. Ma mither wad traipse up the stairs tae the houses an fill the cup or jug lyin aside the door dependit if it wis tuppence or a penny or ha’penny ablo the cup. Bytimes there wis a cup but nae money, an a wife staundin bi the door wi tear-begrutten bairns, an leukin sae peelie-wallie, nae mair ‘an a rauchle o banes hersel. She wad aye tip a wee drap o milk intae the cup an howp the dairy wife didnae find out.

Sic sichts war thirlt tae ma mither’s mind an she wis richt gled tae think on it as a thing o the past.

I jalouse, if she cam back the day, an haed a sicht o the news, she wad be afeart aw owre again!

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
ae (pronounced ‘ae’ or ‘yae’) adj one
about (‘aboot’) about
afeart afraid, struck with fear
awfu ( ‘aafa’, ‘awfae’, ‘awfi’, ‘awfa’, ‘aafoo’ et al) awfully
barrie infant’s flannel coat
body (‘boady’, ‘body’, ‘buddy’ or ‘biddy’) person
bytimes occasionally
caurie dukit left handed
chap knock
chitter chatter, shiver
claes clothes
claith cloth
clarty unclean
fluir (‘flör’, ‘flair’ or ‘fleer’) floor
forby besides, in addition to
howdiewife midwife
jalouse suspect
mind v remember; n the mind
out (‘oot’) out
puir (‘pair’, ‘peer’, ‘pör’ or ‘pür’) poor
rauchle heap, pile
semmit (woollen) undershirt
siller money
speirin asking, inquiring
shilpit pathetic, ineffectual, weak
tear-begrutten tear-stained
thirlt tae ingrained in
trauchelt wearied, troubled

Social media thumbnail ímage: so tired of it all by byronv2. Licence: CC BY-NC 2.0.

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.

An the existin diversity is aften mair extraordinar nor whit we realise: maist fowk wadnae say thare wis sae mony as seiven thousand leids in the warld, but that’s about hou mony thare are. The differs acqueish different leids isnae wee, aither: thare is twa-three different methods tae encode evidentiality in the verb, whither it’s throu the uiss o affixes or pairticles or jyned in wi the tense sýstem. “Evidentiality? Whit’s that?” A hear ye say. Aye, that concept merkin the source o information that is common in the Native American languages an Scots an English disnae encode ava.1 An thare’s the antipassive, the equivalent o the passive in ergative leids. Ergative leids? That’s the leids that, like Bescayan or mony Aborigine leids, uises the (pro)noun o intransitive verbs like the object o transitive verbs.2 An the diversity in claes, cuisine, relígion, artisanry is comparable.

It is richt braw that thare is thir differs acqueish different kintras an times; we can rejyce in this diversity. It is richt braw that we are aw different, wi wir ain thochts, wir ain ideals, wir ain habits. We can aye learn fae ilk ither an we, quite simply, aw hae the richt tae exist an aw.

An this diversity is threitent. It is projectit that mony o thir thousands leids coud be deid gif current trends an affcomes contínue, in partícular the quarter o the current leids that is anerly spoken by less nor a thousand fowk. An the threit tae diversity in claes, cuisine, relígion, artisanry an mony ither domains o life is comparable.

An whit can be dangers o the utmaist loss o cultural diversity? In addítion tae the loss itsel, it can hae affcome on wir abílity tae hae alternatives and wir knawledge o sic alternatives. An thare can be negative lang-term eftercomes due tae the viability o the society.

We can see the societies in Jared Diamond’s ‘Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive’. In this 2005 beuk, he descrives hou certain societies haes foundert owre time. Whither that is acause thay war laith tae chynge tae fit thair environs or due tae thair eftercome on the climate, mony societies haes aither disappeart — like the Greenland Norse that refused tae uise fish like thair Inuit neebours — or been reduced tae a remnant o itsel — like the Rapa Nui that fellt treen an biggit statues, lea’in room for a environmental doun-drappin.

We’ll need tae see gif a siclike fate waits on certain modren societies, wi the potential for a environs-connectit doun-drappin like some o thaim descrived by Diamond in Collapse. An a waur case scenario, in terms o societal doun-drappin, wad be a general doun-drappin o humanity. We can think on hou, gif sic a society wis owre the hale globe, naebody, or awmaist naebody, wad survive. Tharefore a global society wad coud bring humanity itsel, the species tae whilk we aw belang, tae failure an destitution.

On the conter side o this, we can see the Malagasy at Tromelin, forhouied by the crew o a wrackit sclave ship, that geniously inventit a new cultur, evendoun at odds wi the existin ane that thay awready kent, wi new biggin, fishin an burial techniques.

Throu this an ither ensaumples outthrou history, we can ken whit’s possible, whit’s awready been duin, hou lang it’s lastit an whit upshot it can hae on the society.

Thare is the outlat that first comes fae L. P. Hartley’s The Go-between: “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” It means that, gif we gang back or forrit in time, a place winnae necessarily be kenspeckle. It entails that the Scotland wir forebears kent afore us can be fair different as the Scotland we ken thir days. Gif we war sent back twa hunneryear tae Jacobite rebellion times, we wad be outlanders wirsels in the sense that the habits wadnae correspond. It is important tae mind that we wirsels will be history some day, sae we sud tak tent that whit we lea’ for wir bairns an wir granbairns is something wirthwhile, creative, interestin, productive.

Thare is forby a beuk cried The Past is a Foreign Country by David Lowenthal that deals wi the wey fowk view the past, in partícular in líteratur, an hou fowk can learn anent the past.3

In it, Lowenthal, sae faur back as 1985, emphasised (p396) that the chyngin landscape meant that maist fowk is in wankent environs. Sae, the past isnae juist a outland place, but a outland place fae whilk we wirsels come.

Throu leukin at ither societies thir days whaur we are yet outlanders, we can ken whit habit or act is possible, whit is awready around, hou wide it is awready spread an whit consequences it can hae on the society.

For ensaumple, on the quaisten o gender roles: the association o men wi huntin an weimen wi gaitherin, or men wi war an weimen wi steyin at hame an siclike associations. We can figure out whither thir associations is biological or cultural by leukin at ither culturs. Juist ’ithin the ae island o twal million (New Guinea), we hae three different fowks wi three different gender role scenarios: thare is the Mudungumor, whaur baith sexes haes “masculine” roles; the Arapesh, whaur baith haes “feminine” roles; an thare e’en the Tchambuli, whaur fowk follaes the conter fae whit certain Wasterners wad expect.4 5 Sae we can see that the reality o human behaviour is a fair feck mair varit than whit a body wad coud think. Tharefore the idea that specífic gender roles is inherent tae humanity is due tae a incomplete knawledge o human behaviour.

Mair ensaumples can be fund in Jared Diamond’s latest beuk, The World Until Yesterday, on hou the habits o some hunter-gaitherer societies an hou thay can hae better ideas on certain topics than whit we dae.

A ensaumple o this is parentin, a domain whaur the Kung an the Aka haes better results, wi depression bein evendoun fremmit for thaim. Thir African hunter-gaitherer fowks haes a fair feck o phýsical contact as bairnies, an varied contact ’ithin the community, bein cared for by aw the ither fowk in the community an no juist the nuclear faimily whan thay hae time aff fae wark.

Leukin efter bairns is a verra human act, as is leukin at the past. An leukin at the past is a wey for us tae better unnerstaund the futur, itsel a capacity specífic tae humans. It’s a capacity that haes helpit humanity prevent itsel fae stervin an deein out thousands o years syne in East Africae.

As Joan Boades, a Catalan archivist an best-sellin author, haes said:

“I’m an archivist because I’m interested in the future rather than the past. Some scientists had established that human beings use the same part of the brain either to remember things or to imagine the future so if we translate this to a social context, we can say that a society that can’t remember its past also cannot imagine its future . . .” 6

This fact can be confirmed whan we leuk at the science: we can see that the thochts anent the past an the futur flaucht in multiple weys: for ensaumple, whan fowk haes Alzheimers, thay cannae mind the past an thay cannae imaigine the forrit an ayont ony mair, aither.

An this leukin tae the futur hings in wi planification. Ae thing A wad tak fae that is that we can uise wir uniquely human capacity o planification for tae pertect wir uniquely human cultural diversity.

In conclusion, it is braw that thare is aw the variety an diversity in the warld an we sud forder it. No only that, but this diversity can be a wey for us tae better unnerstaund humanity an the warld. An leukin at different times an places that we dinnae ken sae weel is a specífically human capacity that we sud uise wittinly.

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.


(Ye can translate ony wird atween Scots an English at the Online Scots Dictionar.)

Scots English
ae one
affcome effect
acqueish between
Bescayan Basque
conter contrary
differ difference
doun-drappin a state of collapse
eftercomes effects
environs the environment
evendoun absolutely, completely
flaucht intertwine
foundert collapsed, foundered
forder promote, advance
forhouied deserted, abandoned
forrit an ayont the way ahead; the future
fowks peoples
fremmit foreign, alien
geniously ingeniously
kenspeckle recognisable
laith loath
outland, outlander an outsider, stranger, alien
sclave slave
stent extent
sud shoud
treen trees
wankent unknown, unfamiliar
wir our
wittinly knowledgeably

The Body Snatchers

Nae owre lang syne there wis a scientific revolution in Europe. Doun south ye haed Newton gettin skelpit on the heid aff an aipple, an extrapolatin out fae that aa the laws o motion on earth. Up here in bonnie Scotland we haed a wheen inventors in mony fields makkin muckle steps forrit, biggin up a comprehensive kennin o baith naitur an the universe.

But ae field o science coudnae mak ony advancement at aa: the science o medicine. Young doctors coudnae get ony cadavers tae hack open an keek intae. It wis thocht tae be unco un-christian tae gie yer body tae science efter ye’d dee’d. Fowk thocht that God wad be ragin wi thaim. Maist fowk in Scotland at the time still creditit aa thae havers anent God an Auld Nick an aa that. Ae pairt o this auld-farrant belief sýstem wis that the body wis a haly ’hing, biggit by God, an tae tamper wi it wad be a desecration o His wark. Whiles, mebbe ance a year, the council wad gie the local university the corp o some puir craitur that’d been hangit in the mercat square for ae crime or anither, an wha’s faimily didnae claim thaim. But ae corp ilka twal month wisnae gaun’ae gang faur at the medical colleges. Naw, students coudnae get a shottie o a real deid cheil for aa the siller they haed.

An gin ye dinnae ken whit’s inside a body, whit wey are ye meant tae cure him? The hale study o medicine wis doun-hauden by this lack o bodies. Whiles students wad gang out tae the streets o Aiberdeen or Embra an kill a dug. This dug wad than be chappit intae wee bitties sae’s aabody coud get a shot at dissectin a liver or keekin at the wey stomach acids champit awa at fuids in the guts. It wisnae sic a glamorous profession, an wis aye ettlin tae brak out o the Derk Age.

Weel, aa the sciences war merchin on, wi kenspeckle discoveries bein made in ilka field. But the doctors war still stuck awa wi their medieval learnins, aa based on superstítion insteid o haurd evidence. Until ae day some o the baulder students haed an unco idea. Gin naebody wad gie thaim a corp, they’d hae tae gang out an get ane for theirsels. An this they did.

Students fae aa the ancient universties — St Andras, Aiberdeen, Glesga, Embra, Dundee — sterted gangin about diggin up bodies fae the local kirkyairds. They’d howk thaim out, dicht thaim aff, than cut thaim up for tae ken better hou the body wirked.

These body-snatchers war operatin in ilka airt. St Machar’s kirkyaird juist by Aiberdeen University haed tae big new waas tae keep thaim out, an Aiberdeen students wad gang aa the wey out tae Huntly an Elgin tae pauchle bodies fae their graves. The same is true o Embra’s kirkyairds, an ither airts besides.

The students war braw, bauld laddies, an nae feart o a nicht’s darg. They wad dig doun a nairae hole tae the tap o the kist, smash in the wid an bung a noose about the heid an pou the puir craitur up by its thrapple. Nae dignity in thon, like. They’d strip aa the claes an jewellery aff the body an dump it back in the grave. They wad cut aff ony fingers that haed rings on thaim, an pit thaim back intae the dirt. They did aa this for they coud be duin at court for pauchlin jewels, claes an that, but no for haein taen a body fae a grave: we didne hae a law anent thon till later!

Whan locals fund out that student doctors war diggin up their kinfowk, they war obviously an understandably bealin. Wha amang us can thole the thocht o some wee students nickin aff wi wir grannie’s body, leavin their tombs tuim? Faimilies stertit biggin muckle kists wrocht o iron owre the fresh graves. Watch tours sprang up an war staffed by local men wi guns. Faimilies o the recently deid stertin hingin about kirkyairds wi muskets an dirks, ready tae kill ony student that cam near the place. Sae students, wha war maistly rich chiels in thae days, sterted peyin criminals or desperados tae dae the dirty wark in their place.

The kirkyairds o Scotland’s cíties becam battle zones. The local fowk ettlin tae keep watch owre the bodies o their deid, the mercenaries lowpin owre the waas wi sacks an shovels tae gang awa wi the bodies. Gin a body-snatcher wis catcht he wad be for a clatterin; mair nor likely he’d hae his heid staved in for him. Gey dangerous as this gemm wis, the siller wis guid eneuch that there wis aye fowk willin tae dae it. It gat tae sic extremes that in Dundee ae chiel, wha wirkit as a gunsmith, that tyned twa dochters tae illness buirit thaim wi explosives, so’s ony body snatchers wad be blawn tae kíngdom come gin they dug at his lassies’ grave.

Twa lads in Embra realised they didnae hae tae bather wi aa the trauchle o gangin tae the kirkyaird an fechtin wi faimilies an greivin fríends. William Burke an William Hare cam tae the realisation that they coud juist kill fowk, an get the body selt tae the local surgeons juist as easy.

Owre the course o a year in the early 1800s, they cut aff saxteen fowk. They’d dae in hameless, fowk wha war a bittie saft in the heid, an hures. They’d hae the bodies selt as suin as they war deid, a surgeon cried Knox supplyin the siller.

Knox wad acquire the bodies for his students in Embra tae dissect in the Anatomy Rooms nae faur fae the Meadows. The hail scheme wis exposed whan the twa killers murdert a weel-kent hure. A puckle o the students that cam tae dissect her haed kent her ‘professionally’, an began tae spier at Knox whaur he wis findin these bodies. An investigation wis lencht, an the guilty twa wir suin catcht an pit tae trail.

Burke wis fund guilty an pit tae deith. His skin wis flayed fae his corpse. Gin ye’re in Embra ye can see a sporran made fae the leathered flesh o this hideous killer in the toun museum on the Royal Mile. The twa chiels’ crimes, an the involvement o Knox, is commemoratit in this auld rhyme:

Up the close an doun the stair,
      But an ben wi Burke an Hare.
Burke’s the butcher, Hare’s the thief,
      Knox the boy that buys the beef.

Alistair HeatherAlistair Heather is the Scots Editor at Bella Caledonia. He studies History an French at Aiberdeen University, an wirks wi the Elphinstone Institute promotin the cultur o the North-East. Gie him yer chat @historic_ally on Twitter.