A dangerous thing wi style

Tae dae a dangerous thing wi style is whit ah caw airt — Charles Bukowski

As a scriever ye’re no meant tae read ablo-the-line o yer ain airticles, gang gallus intae yon dour Apache laund o Unicode emoticons an racist GIFs an illíterate comments bi fowk wha micht mean ae thing an micht mean anither but neither thing maks ony sense. Ye’re no meant tae dae it, ah say, but ye dae it onywey; an as a scriever o Scots ye can be gey shuir that a smaw but faithfu minority o commenters (ah’ll no say readers — wha’s got time tae read onything these days but heidlines?) are giein ye a hefty shirrackin for writin the wey ye dae.1

Sae tae be treatit like a scriever o English — that is tae say, tae tak a skelpin for whit ye actually scrievit, raither than the leid ye chose tae scrieve it in — is kind o a tonic. Somebody’s taen the time tae disagree, repone tae ye like ye war a plausible human bein raither than some wee bauchle shoutin the odds outside the Sports Direct on Argyle Street. Anither ane o Adam’s bairns is pure ragin at ye, wad tak a flier richt at ye, if they coud — an, in short, ye’v duin no bad for yersel.

Like, twa-three weeks syne, sowt ah scrievit got somebody’s back up a bit, an they got wired intae the comments section wi a dissentin opínion. It wis awfu polite, ye ken. Weel-trickit, ye micht even say. Ah mean, they war talkin out their hint-end, but the thocht wis there. Ah’d hiv felt quite chuffed wi masel, if they haednae obviously got me mixed up wi ma guid fere an colleague Rab Wilson.

Weel, awricht. There’s mony a makar out there — masel includit — wha wad hae a celebratory dram gin a scribblin o theirs wis miskent for ane bi the Bard o New Cumnock. Yon’s nae calamity.2 But whit got me doun a bit wisnae the subject o the unkennin identity fraud ah’d cairit out, but the fact that a perfectly mensefu reader3 coudnae tell the odds atween twa awfu different scrievers — seein Scots, in effect, as a kind o linguistic tredmerk, like e e cummings an his lower case or David Foster Wallace an his fitnotes.4

Acause that’s whaur we are richt nou, like it or no. Scots disnae hiv styles; Scots is the style. Whether ye’re Rab Wilson or Matthew Fitt or Irvine Welsh or Hugh MacDiarmid, tae a substantial subset o the population it’s aw ane. Scots, as is, is juist a genre; which micht, dependin on the laziness o the reader, be chairacterised as ‘kailyard’ or ‘folksy’ or ‘earthily humourous’ or whitiver, but is still mair or less identifiable as a discrete tradítion, an a tradítion whase individual contríbutors are as anonymous as the compilers o the New Testament or the scrievers o auld Punch an Judy shaws.

In the same wey that Hollywood films uised tae recycle the same auld sets ower an ower again — the palace yetts, the hotel lobby, the soon tae be cowped ower saloon — ilka scriever o Modren Scots is stuck daein their wee pairty piece in front o the same exhaustit bourach o deid or deein ímages. That’s chyngin — a bit — thanks tae outlats like The National an Bella Caledonia an Mak Forrit, whaur sic hithertae virgin subjects as economics an current affairs an gender politics are nou bein scrievit about in braid Scots. But whit Scots needs — whit ony leid needs, an whit the current state o Scots is a cautionary tale regairdin — isnae juist new things tae scrieve about; it’s new weys o scrievin them.

Saul Bellow ance glaikitly speirt whaur the Hemingway o the Zulus wis. G. K. Chesterton lauched aff the notion that the Chinese micht iver produce a Wordsworth.5 Lat alane the cultural insensitivity o the question for nou, an speir yersel: whit about Scots? Whaur’s our F. Scott Fitzgerald? Whaur’s our Virginia Woolf? An, mair importantly, hou will we find them? Hou dae we bend the leid awa fae its present gate; a gemm-chyngin makar ilka twa hunner year, an naething but saund inatween?

The central tension o Modren Scots is that, for want o ony ither viable authority, the responsibílity for representin an codifyin its scrievit form haes fawin tae the verra fowk wha are in the warst posítion tae dae it: the scrievers.6 The writers wha shoud be stormin the tours insteid hae been left mannin them; airtists wind up as advocates; an makars are laundit wi the psychic cost o scrievin warks that act príncipally as their ain glossars. The pressure on ony Scots writer tae conform tae a uniform ideal o the leid is enormous7 tae the pynt that it drives out aw ither consíderations. The Faulkner o Fawkirk wad niver hiv been alloued tae scrieve ‘The Sound and the Fury’, nor Glesga’s Ginsberg ‘Howl’, nor the Joyce o Johnstone ‘Ulysses’. It coudnae hiv happent, acause fowk wad hae duin their bunnets8 about whit it meant for the Scots leid. Currently, the primary function o a wark in Modren Scots is tae evangelise for Modren Scots — an ettlin at which nane o the scrievers abuin wad iver hae strived or succeedit. ‘Ceptin mebbes by producin somethin o lastin vailue in the leid, if that counts for owt.9

A fair bittie o whit ah’m mumpin about, ah jalouse, is juist the sílencin effects o capitalism, scrievit about mony pairts elsewhaur bi thinkers cantier than masel. Mercat forces hiv pit the leid’s airm up its back, for shuir, but there’s as much pynt girnin about that as there is complainin that the air’s no got eneuch oxygen in it or the muin’s no a muckle chocolate orange. If there’s onything we can dae tae keep the leid alive, it’ll need tae stairt a wee bit smawer than social revolution, a wee bit muckler than ‘Downfall’ memes.

Scots scrievin is hingin on in there, but it’s in intensive care. The first team squad is as strang as it’s been in a while; the forementioned Welsh, Wilson an Fitt, Liz Lochhead an James Kelman an Stuart Paterson an Chris McQueer, Ally Heather an Ashley Douglas an Antonia Uri, Itchy Coo an James Robertson an Matthew Mackie an Michael Dempster an Hamish Macdonald… an that’s aff the tap o ma heid an nae dout lea’s out a hantle o fowk.10 That’s a group that shoud provide style eneuch for onybody. But ah’m aye mindit how guid the Leeds United squad wis juist afore they went bust.

The talent is there, an mebbe ayeweys haes been. Whit’s needit nou, aye, is tae support these fowk; an tae dae that, amang sindry ither weys, bi lattin them the hell alane. Lea them tae get on wi pushin the limits o the leid, an stap thristin ontae them the burden o preservation forby. We cannae hae a meaninfu leid wi’out a meaninfu líteratur; an we cannae hae a meaninfu líteratur wi’out scrievers wha are alloued tae be scrievers first an language activists a distant saxt. There’s a wheen o fowk out there wha’v got muckle ideas about whit they’d dae if they war in chairge o Scots — weel, guid. Here’s their chance. It’s past time for the makars tae muive up an muive on. As lang as the scrievers are stuck playin Gatekeeper an Keymaster baith, the maist we can howp for is that the leid steys juist whaur it is, a tradítion; no quite in assistit lívin, but no faur aff it; wi naething tae come but a couple mair generations o Scots Language Power Rangers, colour-codit scrievers distinguishable fae each ither anely bi shade an action pose.11

Niver mind the Creative Scotland definítions; tae dae a dangerous thing wi style is airt. An whit coud be mair dangerous tae ony scriever than tae thraw ower the hale global jingbang, this readership o potential billions that we’v aw got access tae, an scrieve anely in this disreputable, deein leid o ours, for a haundfu o radges an a skailin o bawbees? Stephen King coud write for a hunner years an niver rin the thing close — but scrieve in Scots, ma fríends, an ye’re haufgates tae maiterin. Aw ye need than is a wee bit style, an that’s a thing ye can pick up juist about onywhaur. Check out the outlaws, check out the dugs. Check out the tramps an the ticket inspectors, the fowk wha’v got somethin at stake. Than get up on that bollard at Sports Direct an staund an sing yer hert out.


Thomas ClarkThomas Clark is a makar an scriever fae the Scottish Borders. He is praisently editor o Scots at Bella Caledonia, an poet-in-residence at Selkirk FC. He gabs awa at www.thomasjclark.co.uk an on Twitter: @clashcityclarky.

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 hale 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 archive.org.

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 Erse, 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.

Glossar

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