The skeels o Jock Tamson’s bairns

Humans is ainimals like ony ither in that we eat, sleep, muive about an dae the auld hochmagandie. But, at the same time, we arenae the same as ither ainimals, pairtly acause we are the anerly species that can unnerstaund whit A’m scrievin. We are the anerly species that haes gane fae bein an endangert species in an East African glen tae bein the anerly species tae bide on thairsels on aw the continents; the last ane, Antarctica, designtly, an it isnae even acause it haes onything tae eat on it. An we’re the anerly species tae transmogrify the face o a feck o the globe. An even the anerly species tae send itsel an its companions intae space. Hou is that humans did that an no ony ither species? Whit gars us homo sapiens sae sonsie?

A few thochts tae stert wi wad be weel-kent phýsical attributes includin strang opposable thumbs an a muckler brain. A muckler brain wad seem a help, inspecially confeerance wi ither primates, but wir brains haes scrinkit ’ithin the past twinty thousand year.

As for opposable thumbs, there is a few definítions o whit that constitutes but thay aw involve bringin yer thumb the conter side o yer ither fingers. It is a potential aspect o human beins that expleens hou we got sae sonsie. It’s wi opposable thumbs that we can mak aw wir technology. This capacity can be found in ither primates an aw: aw the great apes, mony lesser apes; even Auld Warld monkeys like the macaques.

An it isnae even restrictit tae primates aither, even gif the ither tetrapods wi sic haudin haunds dinnae uise thaim sae weel as primates: pandas, opossums, koalas an some tree puddocks like the waxy monkey leaf frog hae the same distinctive gresp that we associate wi wir ain species. But human opposable thumbs is obviously the best anes acause thay’re mair advanced acause the thumb is faurer fae the ither fingers an can turn aw the wey round on the ithers.

The technology we uise wir opposable thumbs for tae create isnae specífic tae humans itsel, aither: while the technology o humans is och that bit mair spectacular, ither ainimals can uise technology an aw. Ither mammals, inspecially primates, an birds (inspecially craws) an octopuses is amang the ainimals that can uise technology. Housomiver, there is major differs acqueesh human technology an maist ither ainimal technology in that humans fashion thair ain, an wir technology is perqueer an ever-chyngin.

The ever-chyngin naitur o human technolgoy is due tae wir creatívity. Creatívity is a new-fangle o the Homo genus, wirsels an wir naurmaist forbears. Humans is that innovative that, fae aichty thousand year syne on, chynge haes become ordinar in humans. Creatívity is connectit wi adaptabílity an humans is maistlike the maist adaptable species, capable o bidin in mony different environments atour the warld, pairtly due tae wir ingenious development o technology. We can even gang intae caulder environments nor whit wir Neanderthal cousins war uised wi, an thay war uised wi the geal. This new-fangle an creatívity can be seen in airt, whilk can anerly be conclusively seen in humans.

Airt isnae the anerly cultural activíty that appluises the naitur o humanity: cultur itsel is anither thing that could be seen as specífic tae humans. It haes been uphauden that Japanese macaques haes cultur: lair an pratticks passt doun throu the generations. Resairchers commune yet anent whither thir behaviours is cultural or no.

A major aspect o human cultur is leids. Language is wir creative cultural capacity for communication. A say it’s creative acause wirds can be uised in new-fangelt weys thereby expandin the realm o the leid; ainimal noises cannae be uised in new-fangelt weys like the noises o us humans can. An the cultural aspect o leids is partícular important acause humans haes different leids dependin on the kintra, or whiles even the clachan. This is in contrast tae ither ainimals wha aften haes the same caw ower several continents. This cultural an linguistic diversity is therefore pairt o wir skeels specífic tae wir species an something tae uphaud.

Anither contrast we can mak wi ither species is that thay can communicate but no in a abstract mainer. Wirds itsel is specífically human: the wey we structure wir communication intae discrete units isnae something we can see in ither inhabitants o the planet Yird. Polysemy is a notably human characteristic, as is uisin different sounds ’ithout waitin on a stimulus for thaim. The wey we pit sentences thegither uisin the wirds is unique an aw: we can produce a infinite nummer o utterances, unalike ither ainimals that haes a fixed set o cries.

Anither human characteristic that isnae found in ither species is the wey fowk spik specífically for tae spik; it isnae juist a rackless eftercome o anither behaviour. This means that this is a central aspect o wir behaviour; it isnae juist a wee extra on the tap. We communicate for tae communicate.

The meanin o wirds isnae relatit tae the form. This can be seen in some bird caws an aw, but birds lack ither chairactertistics o human language, like productivity. Likewise, whan bees dance, thay shaw that thay communicate anent events that isnae thare.

Wir leids is uised for tae interact in society an we humans is gey an sociable. Wir sociabílity is ane o the vicks that distinguishes us fae wir naur relatives, the Neanderthals. An it enables divíson o labour, something that allous fowk tae focus on specífic tasks, preferably tasks that we’re better at an we’re greeshochie about.

The foresaid social skeels includes cooperation an skarin, naitural human skeels that even bairns daes. Whit we skare isnae juist objects, but thochts an aw, enablin thochts tae spreid fae ae body tae anither. Anither o the social skeels that distinguishes us is wir cognitive empathy, the abílity tae unnerstaund whit ither fowk is thinkin, is forby specífic tae humanity, an fair helpfu for haein meaninfu interactions.

A wad hypothesise that, for tae empathise wi ithers, we wad need tae uise abstract thocht. Abstract thocht, thinkin on things that isnae here the nou, is a important aspect o the human essence, that distinguishes us fae wir primate maiks. This can be linkit wi language in that wirds is specífically human, but abstract wirds like ‘freedom’ an ‘equality’ is even faurer remuived fae the capacities o ither ainimals. There is different degrees o abstraction an aw: dates seem abstract for a bairn, but quantum phýsics is even mair abstract.

This abstract thinkin is manifest in the wey we can think aheid o time an back in time. Baith reminiscin an imaiginin is ane o the maist fundamental human vicks. An the connection acqueesh wir thinkin anent the futur an anent the past is stranger nor we realise acause we big wir ideas anent the futur wi wir mindins o the past. We uise mair or less the same pairts o the brain for thinkin anent the past as for the futur an, gif we forget wir mindins, we lose wir capacity tae imaigine wir futur an aw. An, imperfect as human memory is, humans haes a spectacular memory ower a lifetime whan compared wi ither ainimals. This gies us a richt guid advantage ower ither species acause we can plan for the futur an be better prepared for it.

Sae Jock Tamson’s bairns is bairns that spik leids, an sicweys we communicate in multiple iver-chyngin new-fangelt abstract weys. In the communication sýstems, we can descrive no juist whit we see, whit we hae seen an whit we will see, but even things that we could niver ken even gif thay could exist. An aw the vicks can be seen in the behaviour o wir species in ither weys an aw. Jock Tamson’s bairns wirks thegither, cooperatin an skarin mair nor ony ither species on the Yird. We are forby creative an innovative, wir society chyngin ilka day acause o wir ain thochts. Abstract thocht, thinkin anent the futur an the past, is forby a vick that gars us humans a lanerly species, as is wir capacity for adaption. Leids is tharefore the kythin o several o humanity’s heichmaist capacities. Sae lat’s haud on bein the cooperative, creative-thinkin, adaptive ainimals we are.


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.

Scots-til-English glossar

A I; acqueesh between; anent about; anerly only; appluises makes available to; atour all over; big build; caw call; clachan village; confeerance wi in comparison with; descrive describe; designtly deliberately; eftercome effect; feck large proportion; gars makes; geal extreme coldness; gif if; greeshochie enthusiastic; haud on carry on; hochmagandie fornication; housomiver nevertheless; kythin manifestation; lair learning, knowledge; lanerly exceptional, unique; leid language; maiks relatives; mindins recollections, memories; perqueer skilfully made; pratticks habits, customs; rackless accidental; scrinkit shrunken, shrivelled; sicweys thus; skarin sharing; sonsie successful; vicks traits; whiles sometimes; Yird Earth

Social media ímage: Girl with a Book by José Ferraz de Almeida Júnior

Fit tae dae about obesity?

Nae ower lang syne, there wis an outcry on social media. Cancer Research UK haed juist release’t new advertisin, fit wis intendit tae mak a verra clear pynt. The ímage clearly read: “Obesity is a cause of cancer.” Ae quine wisna too impressed wi this idea, an cried on Twitter that it wis ‘fat-shamin’ an that the chairity should tak it doun. Than, aa o a sudden, a haundfu o trolls pop up (at least hauf o them wi eggs for profile picturs) gaun on about foo “fat fowk juist need tae get a grip an gang on a diet.” Nou, ‘at’s fit got me rile’t up. The UK is the maist obese kintra in Europe. Nae ane o the maist, but the maist. Aye, it’s aafu, but it’s nae wird o a lee aither. Tae really pit ‘at statistic intae perspective, Cancer Research UK maks it pretty clear on their wabsite that obesity can cause thirteen types o cancer aathegither, sic as kindey cancer, breist cancer, intestine cancer an oesophagus cancer. Sae foo can we improve the state o our population’s health an tak the pressure aff our NHS? Foo can we pit a stap tae the cancer epidemic that could be comin if we dinna dae something about the astoundin rate o obesity? Ah dinna think bullyin owerwecht fowk online is the wey tae dae it.

First an foremaist, aab’dy haes tae tak intae consíderation that there’s hunners o reasons fit wey some fowk are owerwecht. It can quite aften be the case that an obese person juist haesna got the energy, motivation or confidence tae get out o their bed fan it’s still pitch black outside an heid tae the gym tae dae an hour o cardio at 5am ivery mornin. But, dinna forget that there’s countless ither causes an aa. Ane o the biggest causes is haein ither health issues which can lead tae wecht gain. Ah, masel, hiv gaed fae bein a fit an healthy black belt, trainin in mairtial airts fower times a week, tae nou, some days nae bein able tae climb a set o stairs, since developin pernicious anemia fower ‘ear ago. There’s fowk fa struggle wi wecht gain because o thyroid problems, fowk fa mebbe arena sae able tae gang tae the gym efter becomin injure’t at wark, or in a caur accident. A study bi the NHS also fund that 58 per cent o fowk fa suffer fae depression are at a higher risk o becomin obese. O course, it’s a vícious cycle consíderin that bein obese can be fit causes some mental illnesses in the first place. Fowk fa are über fit an healthy can sometimes be aafu quick tae judge, but obesity is something aafu personal, an aafu complex. There’s nae juist ae wey tae tackle it, especially fan it’s caused bi unnerlyin health issues.

Juist a few weeks past the sugar tax cam intae play. There’s been plenty o argiments for an agin it (especially fae Irn Bru fans), but will it really help? Aye, mebbe taxin sugar-filled products will reduce the nummer o puir fowk fa are obese, but nae the rich anes. Onybody fa can afford tae continue tae pey for fit they crave, be it a bottle o fizzy juice or a bag o skittles, will dae so. Ye can see this easily fan ye compare the Canary Islands wi Scotland, for example. Out on islands sic as Gran Canaria an Lanzarote ye’ll see packets o cigarettes lyin about in ivery shop imaiginable, an a jumbo pack o 200 will set ye back about €19. In Aiberdeen, for the same brand ye’ll pey upwards o a tenner, for a pack o 20. ’At’s 90 per cent less cigarettes for mair than hauf o the price. Yet still, 20 per cent o Scotland’s population arena pit aff bi the high taxes an continue tae pey the comparably high price tae be smokers. If onything, a tax on sugary products will only prevent them fa live in poverty fae bein able tae indulge in a treat fan they fancy ane, an will therefore dae nae verra much except for braidenin class divísions even mair. If a sae-caad ‘solution’ causes a bigger social gap in ma kintra, than tae me it’s niver really gaun tae be an effective ane. Taxin aabody’s sugary treats isna the sweetest o ideas; there’s better anes.

Obligatory fuid education in primary scuils is a must. Teachin younger generations aa about fit healthy fuid an drinks are an foo tae prepare them is the best wey tae mak the futur brichter, an less obese. Scotland is a kintra rich in agriculture, so it’s even mair imperative an aa that our bairns unnerstaund far the produce that they eat is comin fae. They need tae ken that fish fingers come fae the North Sea an that chocolate milk disna come fae broun cous. Bairns also need tae be taucht foo tae enjoy treats like sweeties ’ithout gaun ower the score: a better idea o fit calories are, an foo they wirk, is ’ithout a dout something ah wish that ah haed learnt at the scuil. This could gang haund in haund wi mair obvious nutritional information on sweetie papers etc. Ah’m nae sayin that packagin o sweeties should follae the fitsteps o cigarettes an be completely colourless wi naething but ímages o fowk on their deith beds, but if fowk are taucht tae unnerstaund the meanin ahint nutritional information, an it’s made a lot mair prominent on aa fuid packagin, it wad nae dout mak an aafu difference.

It must be said that tellin an obese person tae “juist lose wecht” is nae far aff tellin a depressed person tae “juist be happy.” It’s juist daft! Obesity is an aafu problem for those fa are lívin throu it, an for our NHS, but scare-mongerin fowk isna the wey tae fix it. The idea ahint the sugar tax is nae a bad ane, but there’s far better weys o achievin lower levels o obesity. It’s time tae stairt thinkin about educatin young bairns mair about fuid sae that the nixt generations arena faced wi the same epidemic.


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

The killin fields!

I wis watchin a bonnie cock pheasant makkin his wey alang the road aside ma hous; in his ain guid time, o course, as thair kind are wint tae dae, an regairdless o the caurs fleein close by. His heid an tail war up, birse puffit out an shimmerin in the sun. Tae see sic gledsome beauty in aw its glory is aye a sicht for sair een. But I wis mair than delichtit whan he sprackelt awa fae the road an throu the fence intae a field. Lívin in the Lawlands, near tae a sportin estate, it’s likely I see thae bonnie birdies gaein about mair nor maist. It’s aye vexin tae find ane deid on the road, but the thing that mair maks ma hert sink is the sound o gunfire, for I ken the wee craiturs are bein forced tae tak wing anely tae be a target for sae-cawed sportsmen.

I’v been agin field sports aw ma days, an whiles I ken it’s big business, an about makkin siller, I hae tae say, I will niver unnerstaund hou onybody could tak pairt in sic delíberate destruction an cry it sport. But thare’s a hale industry dedicatit tae it; the shootin estates e’en proscribin tae thirsels whit ither craiturs alangside thair sportin targets should be allou’t tae live or dee. Sae it’s aye guid whan sic muckle pouer gets cawed tae account; brocht intae the licht for a bit o closer scrutiny as happent in the last week or twa, wi a video makkit on the fly in Januar on the grouse muirs an gied tae the BBC by an ainimal richts chairity.

Onybody wi e’en the tottiest bit o compassion couldnae help but be scunnert at the film shawin the sýstematic killin in muckle nummers o our ain muntain hares. Craiturs wha belangt tae Scotland; native tae the land for thousands o years. Yet the film shaws thaim bein hairrit an harassit by teams o gemmkeepers fae the private estates out at nicht on the bens whan the craiturs are gaitherin for shelter or tae scrape awa the snaw tae feed on the heather an gress. The keepers organisin thairsels in thair muckle aw-terrain caurs in sic a relentless wey as tae clear aw the wee feart beasts aff the hillside an daein it like sodgers on a military operation. The puir wee hares, frantic, wi nae wey tae get awa, bein drivin richt intae an ambush o mair gemmkeepers juist waitin tae shoot thaim deid. An if that’s no callous eneuch, settin thair dugs on the woundit anes tae fínish thaim aff. The corps gaithert up an piled intae a truck. Sic hellish destruction, an aw duin in the name o ‘estate management’. It’s hert-rendin juist tae think on it.

I’m gled tae sae thare’s been a muckle stramash ower the film, wi the scenes bein describit in the Scots Pairlament as ‘sickening slaughter’ an the First Mínister shawin she wisnae at aw happy about sic ill-farrant gaeins on, promisin tae leuk at aw the options includin a licensin scheme tae pit a stap tae sic actívities. Her wirds hae pit the wind up the gemmkeepers fae the video. Scrievin thay haed duin naething wrang nor on the fly an invitin baith the First Mínister an the Environment Secretar tae thair grund whaur thay can tak tent o hou hares are ‘managed’. Whiles weel-kent TV naituralist Chris Packham gied a warnin the beasts could be wipit out in the Southren Uplands acause o dulefu culls o this naitur. Thare’s nae dout the laund-owners will no be wantin ony chynges tae the rules sin thay can mair or less dae whit thay like the nou, bein allou’t tae shoot the hares wi’out a licence fae August tae Februar wi nae restrictions. But fowk agin it jalouse the true aim o the estates is tae hae nae hares at aw on thair managed grouse muirs.

O course the laund-owners wad claim it’s about protectin the rid grouse fae disease; ticks an the like cairit by hares, an that thay maun keepit the nummer o hares doun. Yet, the verra craiturs that by naitur wad dae juist that — the tods an futrets as weel as craws, buzzards, hen harriers, eagles an mair — are bein trappit an shot on thae estates as weel. The gemmkeepers micht want tae deny it wi regairds birds o prey like hen harriers or eagles, but as it happens aw thae craiturs are predators o rid grouse. An fine thay ken: the hen harrier is the maist persecutit o aw the raptors. An further mair, juist like the hares, grouse feed on heather an gress. Sae it leuks tae me like outside o the season whan thay get blastit out o the lift by peyin sportsmen, it’s the grouse wha maun be the ower-protectit species. Anent thay ither beasts wha bide on the estates, it’s an aw-round killin spree wi man, thair maist deidly predator.

Whit a sad state o affairs.


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.
www.elizabeththoumire.com

Social media thumbnail ímage: pentin by Elizabeth Thoumire

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 ower 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 ower 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 ower 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 something organised that taks them out, they are mair like tae be sittin in the hous 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.

Haud on readin . . . “Bairns outside”

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 ower 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 ower 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 hous. 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 ower 60,000. The raison for this could 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”