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Frae the editor’s dask

A wheen thochts anent sindry maiters…

Crackin wi a nurse in Scots

This is something frae a while back that I’v been meanin tae scrieve aboot. Whan I wis in gettin my seicont Covid jag — this wad be in the Julie o last year — I ferlied whan the nurse spak tae me in Scots, tae the extent that I opened my notes app on my phone strecht efter and jottit doun the wirds she uised. Nou, a nurse speakin Scots in Scotland isna sic a queer thing (e’en in Embra), but gaun in for a jag as pairt o a mass-vaccination programme is an ‘in-and-oot’ kinna thing, whaur ye dinnae get tae big a rapport, sae I wad hae jaloused that fowk wad juist haud wi English. I maist likely uised Scots first mysel, sayin “Ay, I’m no bad, thanks” whan speirt hou I wis daein. I canna richt mind for shuir. Onywey, the experience fair made my day. Thir’s the wirds she uised (the’ war mebbe ithers, but this is what I mindit):

dae, nae, no, efter, doun, wee, sair, airm

As I say, it’s no sae queer for a nurse tae uise Scots wi a patient, but I’m that uised tae bein spoken tae in English in formal situations that it stuid oot, like an oasis in the desert. The maist ye can expect frae Scottish fowk whan it comes tae professional maiters is the antrin wee; but no on this occasion, I’m gled tae report!

The’ wis anither time, twa-three year back, whan I wis at the clinic and the nurse ferlied at me for speakin Scots. In a nice wey, mind. He speirt me whaur I wis frae, and I said Innerleithen in the Borders. He wis mebbe frae somegate thereaboot — I canna mind — but he seemed delitit tae hear me speakin the leid. I tend tae speak a blend o Scots and English, and my týpical spoken Scots isna sae fouthie as the Scots I uise here on the blog, but it’s eneuch tae staund oot, it seems.

In praise o ilkaday Scots wirds

Ye aften see airticles, and e’en hale beuks, written anent fowk’s ‘favourite Scots wirds’. And ye can be shuir ye’ll finnd intil thir scrieves wirds the like o ‘dreich’, ‘scunnert’, ‘glaikit’, ‘laldie’ — ye ken the anes. Braw and weel-luved Scots wirds, richt eneuch; but what for dae ye no see mair anent the wirds Scots speakers uises ilka day, and hiv been for centuries: ‘dae’, ‘doun’, ‘efter’, ‘gie’, ‘mair’, ‘maist’, ‘mony’, ‘no’, ‘sae’ and ‘thae’, tae wale oot juist a wheen?

It’s gey interestin tae learn anent thir wirds’ histories and their uissage oot-throu time. For an instance, it’s braw tae ken that a wird ye hear aw the time the day, ‘no’ (the adverb that marraes the English not), haes been uised frae roond aboot the year 1500. That’s 500 year o uissage. It’s fund an-aw in the wird ‘nowithstanding’, includin in an act o pairlament.1 Kennin this empouers me tae aye uise ‘no’, and no not, whether the situation is informal or formal.

Thir ordinar, ilkaday wirds means Scots the language can fulfil its heidmaist ettle: allouin fowk tae communicate wi ither. They’r the wirds I and ither Scots speakers uises the maist, and ar the wirds nearest my hert. They’r the rig-bane o the leid and can be uised oot-throu the day as ye gae aboot your business. (Ae ordinar wird ye div see in listicles is ‘ken’, a wird that’s baith ilkaday and appearently wirthy eneuch o makkin an appearance — nae dout cause the writer can mak the joke aboot it fanklin fowk that micht mistak it for somebody’s name.)

Oor ilkaday wirds ar aften cognate2 wi wirds in ither Germanic leids, sic as English, Norse, Swades and Dutch. Oor mair formal wirds — ‘allocate’, ‘local’, ‘modren’, ‘narrative’, ‘necessar’, ‘registrate’, ‘remeid’ and ‘repone’, for example — are mair like tae come frae the French or Laitin, as is the case in English. The formal wirds ar aften cognate wi the English, tae, aft-times wi different forms and meanings, wi mony of them borraed intae Scots and English at dates a lang gate aff frae ither.

While they micht no kythe muckle in ‘favourite Scots wirds’ lists, wi’oot oor ilkaday wirds ye couldna o coorse cry Scots a leid. If fowk wis tae think on Scots as bein less or mair the like o ‘dreich’, ‘shoogle’ and ‘peely wally’, it risks the mischancy affcome o Scots bein taen for nae mair as a wheen o ‘dialect’ wirds uised in amang English. The’r naething wrang wi uisin your favourite Scots wirds in amang your English — I dae it aw the time — but we hae tae mind that Scots is in fact a hale leid, wi a hantle ordinar, no-wirth-scrievin-aboot wirds that its speakers uises tae communicate ilka day. It’s thir wirds that maks Scots, Scots.

What aboot ‘thir’?

Ae wird that I’v heard wi my ain lugs, but no sae muckle o late, is ‘thir’, the Scots plural o ‘this’ (that marraes the English these). Ye see it aw the time in aulder Scots texts or the kinna fouthie Scots that’s written on this blog, the Centre for the Scots Leid wabsite, or in Lallans magazine; but I dinnae hear it muckle in ilkaday speak. Ye hear ‘thae’ plenty, but what wey no ‘thir’? In Modern Scots: An Analytical Survey, Robert McColl Millar scrieves:

[…] Central and Southern Scots dialects realise plural forms of this and thatthae and thir respectively. The former is still very common, although Standard English those and non-standard them are heard regularly even in the densest dialect. While I have heard thir, however, it appears far less common (or, indeed, current), with these being used more often. It is possible that the less frequent use of the proximal [ie thir] than the distal [ie thae] pronoun in discourse has encouraged the survival of thae in comparison with thir, although this would be difficult to prove. In Northern and Insular Scots, on the other hand, there are no overt plural forms, with this and that being used in these contexts […].

Robert McColl Millar, chapter 5, ‘Structure: the grammar of modern Scots’; section 5.3.4, ‘Articles and demonstratives’, in Modern Scots: An Analytical Survey (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2018).

I mysel aye uise ‘thir’ whan scrievin in Scots, but no sae muckle whan I’m speakin Scots. It disnae come naitural, e’en tho I heard it whan I wis a bairn. Bein frae an airt whaur the wird is uised yet, and as a sel-appointit Scots leid steerar, I really should pit my money whaur my mooth is and uise it.

I speirt the ‘Scots Language Forum’ Facebook group in 2018 anent ‘thir’ and got a wheen repones the like o “I yaise it’, and “It’s weel uised in Fife”. Braw tae ken. But I definitely dinnae hear it aften thir days, certainly in Embra, and I wadna want tae see it dee oot. For ‘thir’, it micht be a case, as Billy Kay aye says, o “Tak tent or it’s tint!”

Scots and Gaelic leids consultation

The’r no lang nou tae get your repones in for the government’s consultation on Gaelic and Scots and Scottish Langages Bill. Frae the Cabinet Secretar’s forewird:

The Scots Government haes made a wheen strang an forret luikin commitments tae Gaelic an Scots. Your thochts are invitit an walcome on thae commitments in this consultation exercise. The thochts thit we get back wull feed intae the decisions thit are taen on thir commitments.

The steerar group Oor Vyce, that threaps for a Scots Leid Buird and the heezin up o the leid in law, haes set furth suggestit repones that micht gie ye some ideas whan ye’r fillin oot the form.

Ye can finnd the form here. The consultation rins throu tae 17 November.

  1. It’s a hantle mair common tae see ‘nochtwithstanding’ in Aulder Scots, but finndin ‘nowithstanding’ a couple o times gart me smile.
  2. ‘Cognate’ means stryndin frae the same springheid as a wird in ae or mair ither leids, like the Scots ‘hame’ and English home, that baith comes frae the Auld English hām.