Sara Clark revels in the richness of Scots (daurklins, drumly, glog, mirkie an wan lit …)
The first time ah realised there wis sic a thing as Scots, ah wis oan a date o sorts, at a Hawick Royal Albert match. Stuck for onythin tae say, an in the first capernoitit thraws o luve, ah wis aw aboot pretendin tae be deid keen on the hings ma pairtner luved – sae when ah heard yin o the loons on the committee say “It’s awfy dreich the day”, ah hung ontae the phrase as if it wis the last can o oríginal recipe Irn Bru in the vendin machine. Delichted tae chynge the subject frae fitba to ONYTHIN else, ah shoutit “Hoi! Tam! Whit’s dreich mean?” in ma (then) verra English wey, an he stairtit tae tell us whit it meant. The ainly guid English wird he could uise tae descrive it wis “rainy”. Weel, as ah nou ken, the best wey o descrivin a guid Scots wird is tae compare it tae anither yin – nae ither wird gets ower the word “dreich” like “droukit”, for instance, tho o coorse back then ah couldnae appreciate the natur o the beast ah wis dealin wi. It seemed a quirk tae me at the time, bonnie tho it wis – yin o mebbes a haunfu o wirds o antiquity a pickle o Scots fowk had somehou cleekit oot o a treisur kist afore the hale leid sank intae quicksand. Comin frae England, hou wis ah tae ken ony better? Ah still thoucht “Auld Lang Syne” wis the name o yin o Burns’s pals back then.
Ah suin fund oot the truth. Livin in Hawick, ye cannae no. Yin o the first freends ah makkit when ah muived here frae Yorkshire wis a bonnie-ee’d lassie frae Germany wha’d lairnt tae spik a cantie blend o English an Scots when she cam tae the auld grey toon. Ah first spake tae her at a job interview at the Damascus Drum, a gallus Turkish café. “Dae ye ken hou tae uise a coffee machine?” she speired me, in her braw Bavarian accent. Ah couldnae let on ah didnae fully get her meanin… “Ah, but, it’s no a problem if ye dinnae, like”, she carried on, takkin peety on ma scunnert sílence.
Somehou, ah got the job, an wi a hantle o Scots spikkers amang ma colleagues, ah suin had tae catch up wi the cauld, haurd reality. Scots wisnae fower wirds in an braw accent. It wis somehin ah had tae lairn. “Twa cups o tea,” an auld chiel wid say, or “Dinnae fash yersel wi the milk, hen.” Ma wee English heid wis spinnin for the first week or sae, but ah couldnae jist ignore whit they wir sayin – an it didnae seem they wir spikkin that wey oot o whimsy. There was somethin mair tae it. An ah wis the verra loon tae fund oot whit! Slawly but shuirly, ah stairtit tae realise that Scots wis mair than an accent aff the telly. There wis a hale wide leid oot there.
It wis when ah met ma pairtner’s faimily for the first time that ah began tae realise ah didnae jist accept the existence o the leid, but that ah luved it anaw. Luved it for whit it did tae its spikkers. Luved the wey it danced aff the tongues o fowk ah sae admired… the wey they visibly relaxed when ah telt thaim they didnae hiv tae keep uisin their phone voices aroond me. Slawly, the English act wis drapt awthegither… “What are you complaining about now, son?” became “Ye’ve a pure reid neck daunderin intae ma hoose wi yer face trippin ye!” An aw at yince, ah wis in a freendlier, funnier world. Ah mebbe didnae follae the Scots as weel as the English, but the lauchs that came alang wi it helped me unnerstaun the meanin o the wirds. Forby, it helped me tae unnerstaun hou braw it wid be if ah could spend the rest o ma life in Scotland.
See, as a poet, ye’re a bairn in a sweetie shop when ye discover a new word. Imagine then ma delicht when ah typed “dark” intae the Scots dictionar, an wirds sic as daurklins, drumly, glog, mirkie an wanlit rushed oot tae greet me like auld pals. Aw the maist beautifu words in the English leid hiv a swain o bonnie coonterpairts in Scots. It’s awmaist tae guid tae be true. An ah intend tae gaither as mony o them as ah can, Aladdin in the enchauntit cave, as ah forge forrit as a scriever. Poets are the lucky yins. We hae the freedom tae play wi whitever leids an wirds we like wioot fear o reprisal. A guid poem is a guid poem, efter aw. If ainly it wis sae easy in everyday life, for honest fowk.
Sae, whit were the signs, for me, that ah wis stairtin tae lairn the leid? Weel. Ah work for an MSP, an when a chiel’s tellin me aboot a problem that needs fixin pronto tonto, ah’ve tae tak doon the notes as gleg as ma wee haun will scrieve thaim. Aboot a year syne, ah wis readin back through ma casenotes when ah realised ah’d been scribblin thaim in Scots. “Disnae ken whit tae dae aboot it”, yin note said. “Cannae mind the date at aw,” said anither. Ither things happened. Staunin in a shop, ah’d see a sign stairtin “Don’t” an correct it automatically in ma heid tae “Dinnae”. Aft, ah’d read an English wird as a Scots yin – the wird “Mair” laundin like a phanton athwart its English coonterpairt afore flichterin awa like a beautifu daurk moth. An ah’d feel a sense o loss when that happened. Ah still dae. Mair ilka day. A sense o injustice that weans here in Scotland growe up readin English wirds that they lairnt tae say in Scots frae bein born. An ah see hou it happens that they growe up tae be affrontit o the wey they spik, hou thae wirds are reived frae them like candy frae a babe’s haun as they grow aulder, throu street signs, exams, instructions, frae awthin ‘important’. But are we no taucht that the maist important thing ye can be in life is yersel? Mebbes no – at least, no if ye happen tae be a Scot, ah ween.
Mair recently, ah find masel thinkin in Scots. Dreamin ah’m readin it. Cursin in it when ah’m hame alane. It’s no an affectation. It jist feels richt. Aft, ah feel ah’m pittin it on if ah uise an English word when ah’m thinkin a Scots yin. Scots isnae an affected leid, nae matter wha’s spikkin it. It’s a leid fowk speak aroon freends, when they’re at the hicht o joy, no tae mention in their dairkest pit. Tae thaim, it’s the leid o the hame, the leid o luve, the leid o the street an the hert. An for that reason it scunners me ayont aw belief tae see hou its spikkers are forced tae deny its existence in the public realm – when scrievin awthin official, when sayin onythin important, when daein the maist vital things in life – registerin births, deiths an marriages – takkin exams an naming their ain weans. Hou’s that richt? Hou’s it fair? For aw the maist authentic moments o their lives, Scots are gien permission tae be Scots spikkers, but for aw the official yins, they’re forced tae repress themsels – tae spik an read an scrieve in English. Whit’s that teachin bairns aboot hou tae feel aboot their ain identity? Hivvin tae let on tae be somethin they’re no at the at the maist crucial stages o their lives?
Nou, ah dinnae pretend tae ken the solution, but ah feel obliged as a newcomer tae the kintrae tae point oot hou wrang this aw seems tae me. An ah feel that, for stairters, permission maun be gien, at ilka opportunity, by ilka yin wi the pouer to gie it, for a Scots spikker tae be their authentic self wioot shame, wioot fear, an wioot hesitation. That’s yin o the reasons ah’ve stairtit tae spik whitever Scots ah hiv, whaurever ah can, in ma Yorkshire accent, tae ma Scottish pals – be they German, Australian, Dutch or itherwise. Ah dinnae dae it oot o affectation. Ah dae it tae mak a point tae thaim that there’s nae need tae tone it doon on ma accoont. Tae let them ken that the gift o their guid Scots tongue isnae yin tae be hid under a bushel. It’s a glorious an freein thing tae see the mask drap, the anglicisin o their sentences slawly cease, as ma pals, as ma colleagues, as ma faimily, yin after anither, speak as if we wis aw Scots thegither. Which, o coorse, we are. Ma English pal, the musician Matt Seattle, an masel recently spake Scots tae each ither after ah admitted ah felt a bit hesitant tae dae sae, an as bad as ah am at it, it felt guid as onythin. It felt richt. An ah cannae stop it nou. Ah’m ower faur gaun.
Ah see the best o the people ah maist luve when ah spik an scrieve in Scots. Aw at yince, the world is freer, funnier, freendlier, and mair fou o delicht than it wid hae been if ah hadnae. It’s ainly natural that spikkin an scrievin in the leid ye think in should lead ye tae bein yer authentic sel. That ah wis ignorant o aw this when ah muived tae this wunnerfu, progressive kintrae seems unbelievable tae me nou, but there ye are. It’s yin o the UK’s best kept secrets that the leid even exists, but ah’m gled tae hae finally figured oot the truth. Ma life is sae much the richer acause o it, an Scotland, tae me, aw the bonnier. Aw the braver.