OVERCOMING OUR HEART’S FEAR OF OUR OWN TONGUE WHEN WRITTEN.
It micht seem queer that fowk wadna wint their ain tongue written doon, or, as the southron Lallans pits it, scrievit. Yet, that’s a fact. The closer somein is ti yer hert, with us Scots, the harder it is ti spick aboot it. It causes pain because oor language hes been violatit throw History, demeanit and forgotten. As a result, we spick it close ti the hert, unconscious-like. As seen as we see it scriev’t, since we’ve aye read in English, our herts feel pain and rebel. We feel like some chiel’s pit a finger inti an auld wound. Nae fine.
In the twinthieth cintury in the southron pairts o Scotland, attimpts were made ti invint a wey o writin Scots again. All became nae a’ (because, as Lewis Grassic Gibbon says in his introduction ti “Sunset Song,” Scots can easily invite the impertinence of a spray of apostrophes.) Rather, all becam aa, call becam caa etc, emphasising the stretchit-oot vowels in oor Scots dialects. The Lallans Movement wis, like the earlier work o Burns and others, an important step in recoverin the language o kings and makars eence mair.
The only problem wis, the movement wis affa literary, ransackin the dictionary o the Scots Language, fit ye can noo find online under DSL, for eldritch wordies that a hantle o fowk kent. In fact, ene of the modrin makars, Sir Syney Goodsir Smith, defendit Lallans like iss:
We’ve come intil a gey queer time
Whan scrievin Scots is near a crime,
‘There’s no one speaks like that’, they fleer,
But wha the deil spoke like King Lear? [“Epistle to John Guthrie”]
In ither wurds, it wis as if Lallans wisna for spikkin but for literary airts. Noo, there’s nae doot that the Scots Makars wis significant in Scotland’s life and history, like our John Barbour, fa wis Airchdeacon at St. Machar’s. (Hey, I jist noticed – he wis a Makar fae St. Mackar’s! Fit the chunces?) He scriev’t “The Bruce,” a great source o oor history, an we aa ken that Robert the Bruce wis a grand man ti Aiberdeen, giein us the Forest o Stocket an the Common Good Fund an aa that. We helpit him an he helpit us. That’s foo it wurkit.
Still, they wis aa men o business an faith, aa meldit it wi history and the politics o a sma country. They couldna bide in ivory tooers, lookin oot on the warld as if it wis a concept, a literary excuse. They wis real fowk, spikkin their ain, natural tongue. I can admire the Lallans Movement, but I canna gyng alang wi the idea that Scots is jist for composition.
As I wrote in anither post, the big divide between Scots and English cam, ti an extent, onywey, wi the Reformation, fan the desire ti unite North and South Britain in ae form o the Christian Faith – a partial failure as it turn’t oot – led ti Knox and ithers usin English Bibles, which were mair readily available than Scots, an, later, the excellent King James Version. We canna deny that it wis a grand achievement an Christians thank God for’t.
In fitivver wey ye pit it, fooivver, the result wis that Scots got pit ti the back o the queue an that had a weird result. Things grand and important were noo ti be in English, file things couthy an crude and comic wis aa in Scots. Scots becam the country chiel’s guilty pleisure. It lost its historic link ti the medieval makars, sae celebrated in Dunbar’s poem, entitled, “Lament for the Makars.” In ilka stanza, he ends wi “The fear o Daith disquiets me,” but he expresses it in Latin, as Timor Mortis Conturbat Me, efter the manner o his ain time, fan Latin wis a secret mystery of eddicated men fa aa cam fae the Kirk. The list o names – mony o fa are noo forgotten – reminds us foo mony Scots makars eence existit an foo at least some felt common cause wi, an even admiration for, makars in England, like the great Geoffrey Chaucer. Airts has aye gaed ti aa the airts, noo as then. The politics o the warld canna stop great sauls spikkin ti ene anither in their common humanity.
Readin Scots wurds can be a tyauve but if ye say the poem as it soonds, it aa maks sinse. As ye read it, think foo much o oor ain history got unintentionally lost, alang wi the rich tapestry o poets, mony o them thinkin, Christian poets. We’ve lost a lot mair nor poetry.
Bruce Gardner, laist day o February, 2019.
LAMENT FOR THE MAKARIS (See:https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44205/lament-for-the-makers-56d22335db2cd )