be guid tae yer mammy

By Emma Grae

Narrated by three generations of women – a darkly comic family drama set in modern-day Scotland.

Friday, 24 January 2020

Burns Day and the Scots language

It's Burn's Day tomorrow, and I wanted to write a little update about the Scots language, and how the process of crowdfunding has helped me to embrace it for what it is - a language in its own right.

When I first started toying with Scots back in 2014, it came to me naturally, but at the time, I saw it as nothing more than a dialect. It was unfortunate because I wanted to be bilingual without realising that I already was. The realisation came to me through Twitter (which is where I found the most support for this novel!). There, the Scots language is very much alive and thriving. So much so that at the Edinburgh Festival last year, Scottish Twitter even had its own visitor centre. 

Scots has its own words, spellings and is very much its own language, despite being closely connected to English. 

The Scots language is funny, culturally rich and beautiful in its own right. As Dr Michael Dempster put it so eloquently in this article, it's no indication of class, not anymore, and thanks to its revival, which has largely been online, it has a bright future. 

The perfect example is the poem below. It was written by my great grandfather in 1967 and subsequently published by The Glasgow Herald for Burns Day a whole 53 years ago. 

Scots can vary quite considerably in its intensity, and my great grandfather's usage is a lot stronger than mine in be guid tae yer mammy, but that's completely okay. I love how our usage, almost half a century apart, varies slightly but isn't all that different too. Isn't language wonderful?

My great grandfather wrote this poem for a competition (which he subsequently won!). It asked Scottish people to write about what Robert Burns would find if he came back to Scotland in 1967. This was his response. 

 

A Bard’s eye-view of Scotland in 1967

 

Here’s Rhymin’ Rab! It’s mony a year

Since I cast e’e on Scotland dear.

Gey aft I socht, e’er I cam’ here,

To ken wha’s boss!

Some chiel in London rules, I hear,

A Willie Ross.

 

The lass I see is braw like Jean,

But limbs nae langer blush unseen,

Wi ‘dates’ and ‘discs’ it’s ill to glean

The tongue she speaks:

And I see mithers, far frae lean,

“Braid Scots” in breeks!

 

There’s gey queer things aboot the toon,

Fell tramp-like craturs, locks fa’in doon,

An’ wha’s the lass an’ wha’s the loon,

I’m sweert to spear.

Can they be objects frae the moon?

I guess and fear.

 

I grieve John Barleycorn, auld freen,

‘Mang ord’nar folk he’s little seen,

Sair hauden doon his spirit’s been

Wi’ Budget’s cross.

Near twa pound ten? I rubbed my e’en,

Whar’s that man Ross?

 

And noo the Empire’s days are ower,

In ither airts lie wealth and power,

But still to Britain tyrants cower,

Th’ oppressed look back.

I’ll toast my dear land’s “finest hour”

Gin I win back.

 

W.T. Stirling, The Glasgow Herald, 25th January 1967

 

 

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