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A History of the Scots Language

Billy Kay is the author of Scots The Mither Tongue and over the next few months, he will tell the story of the Scots language from its ancient origins to the present day.

Part 8: The Future Oors?

Back in my home town in Ayrshire a few years ago a local electrician came up to me in the pub and recounted for me an incident that had happenned the day before… “It wes gey nearhaun fower o clock, Billy, sae I says, “Richt boys, redd up and gaither aw yer graith thegither, its lowsin time”. Just then a bit came on the wireless aboot the daith o Scots an the expert lamented the fact that ‘once common words like “graith” and “redd” were no longer in currency.’ Me an the boys juist luiked at wan anither an speired whit kinna planet we wes leivin on!”

For most Scottish people, feelings about their native culture are fraught with powerful dichotomies which pull individuals in different directions. Pride and prejudice, love and hatred, reverence and contempt - Scots tend to react with extremes of feeling to different aspects of their culture. You may well say that is the right of the individual in every free nation, and I would agree. But the extreme reactions in Scotland are a direct result of the lack of Scottish content in the educational system and the shortage of it in the all-pervasive media which helps form ideas in the 21st century. When Scottish history or literature is not taught, the implication for many is that it is not worth teaching. Many in fact draw the conclusion that it does not exist. With no grounding in their culture, objective assessment of its worth is well-nigh impossible and frequently people react with a passion which astonishes outsiders. The frequent eruption of letters discussing the minutiae of Scottish speech in the newspapers and social media, for example, and the intensity of the debate provoked is apparently a uniquely Scottish phenomenon.

This passion for things Scottish is often an instinctive gut reaction to the culture being put down by the authorities, the reaction against it often the product of derived irrational prejudice. Like Pavlov’s slaiverin dugs, many Scots are conditioned to react to any aspect of their culture with the word “parochial” or “tartan” or “couthy” no matter how universal the content may be. By doing programmes which have posed questions of people’s cultural identity, I have often provoked strong reactions. The ratio is in the region of seven love letters to every three hostile letters. Into the latter category came a lady from Alloway who wrote in high dudgeon, asserting that Scots did not exist and that my guests and I on Scottish Television’s Kay’s Originals series were all putting it on. We were a disgrace to Scotland, and what would the English think! An example of our putting it on was our use of the place name Glesca. The lady had not, she assured me, heard it pronounced thus since she attended the Music Halls in the 1940’s. In my reply, I asked her which institution she had been locked up in during the intervening years. Many Scots do not want to believe Scots exists and steik their lugs accordingly - I refuse to hear it, therefore it does not exist! Yet hers is not an uncommon reaction. Lacking the objectivity education in the culture would give, the typical Scottish reaction is intensely personal rather than considered and objective. George Gordon, Lord Byron’s autobiographical lines in the poem Don Juan sum up the dichotomy perfectly:

But I am half a Scot by birth, and bred A whole one, and my heart flies to my head.

Being educated as an Englishman, yet having folk-pride in being Scottish without knowing exactly why you should be proud, is again a typical Scottish experience and has interesting social consequences. Every Scot will assert that he belongs to a nation rather than a region or a province. Ask the same person however whether the national history, literature and language should be integrated into the educational system and you will get a very different, possibly uncomfortable response. For this type of question demands a lot more of the person’s Scottishness than supporting the fitba team, and most have not had the training to help formulate a considered reply.

Every Scot will assert that he belongs to a nation rather than a region or a province

Lewis Grassic Gibbon
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About iScot Magazine

Welcome to the new scrumdiddlyumptious issue of the award winning iScot Magazine number 54 The front cover artwork is designed by Stewart Kerr Brown and represents our maybe new Prime Minister of Boris Johnson pictured as John Bull with a hint of Pennywise from IT by Stephen King . We’re screwed tbh.