2007 - 2022

Your Leid, Oor Leid, Awbody’s Leid

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.


Comments (19)

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  1. Lindsay Hill says:

    This is an absolutely beautiful, intelligent and heartwarming piece. It’s a keeper and definitely one to be shared. Thank you, Sara. You totally “get” it.

    1. Sara Clark says:

      Thanks so much, Lindsay, your kind words mean a lot to me!

  2. Alf Baird says:

    Aw fine an weel, but efter ten year in pouer whaur’s oor ‘Scots Language (Scotland) Act’, Holyrood? Tae be taucht an lairn oor Scots langage is oor human richt, naw? Yet Holyrood aye daes naething aboot oor Scots langage. Gaelic spikkers haes thair Act, yet whaurs the Scots Langage Act? Thon SNP MSP’s shuid be black-affrontit.

    An ‘equal and fair society’ withoot lairnin yer ain leid?

    SNP perhaps worried about what the msm might say if Scots language was ever taught in Scottish schools tae aw Scots bairns? Or is the blockage here from the mainly anglicised unionist civil servants still running Scottish Government departments saying ‘nae Meenister ye cannae dae thon’? Language is the basis of our culture. The cultural cringe is directly linked to the absence of formal teaching of Scots language. Culture determines how we vote, especially when it comes to issues such as national identity. I remain surprised, shocked even, that the SNP has yet to realise that the Scots language is fundamental to independence.

  3. Fay Kennedy says:

    It’s a disgrace that we are still denied the richness of that fine language our mither tongue. It’s a grief that English words just cannot express. The SNP should hing ther heids in shame.

  4. Chris says:

    Oor Wullie & The Broons did a lot to give popular written form to Scots. Lots of kids being coaxed and bullied away from the native speech of the streets and home found refuge in those comic strips. A great contribution which should not be underestimated. I wish I’d paid more attention to maintaining my childhood bilingualism!

  5. Robin Barclay says:

    Great – but dir’s twartree versions o Scots – come up tae da Nort Isles an du’l need anidder dictionary for wir Norn heritage. We aa spaek it – an if your a native but dunna you’re said tae be knappin (whaur da “k” is pronounced).

    1. Ally says:

      Deid richt Robin! The dialect o Shetland is verra much its ain. It is Scots, aye, but wi sae mony Norn wirds an aa the rest that its nae easy ataa tae follae fir us ootsiders.

      1. Alf Baird says:

        Aince fowk lairn Scots, pikkin up local dialects o the leid is nae bather Ally, ee’n in Shetland! Its aw Scots efter aw. Yet bairns an aw Scots fowk preventit fi bein taucht tae read an screed an unnerstaund thair ain mither tung is aye nae doot cultural doon-hauden (i.e. state sponsored oppression). Scots are aye a doon-hauden fowk an laund; nae leid an nae (bona fide) naition an a cultur on the wey oot juist lyke a daft wee coloni. Bi the wey, aw thay heid bummers in Scotlan aye recruitet fi furth o Scotlan shuirly arna qualifee’d tae wark in Scotlan if thay dinnae unnerstaund fowk here (thay’re no bilingual, like us!). Wid thon happen in Holland, Denmark, Estonia or Norway whaur aw heid bummers appointet aye hae tae hiv Englis an the local leid an aw? Nae chance. Aa doot thons ane reason Scots leid isnae formally taucht in Scotlan’s schuils an maist Scots fowk noo think Englis is thair leid, cause aw oor heid bummers spik sae wir telt ‘guid’ Englis an naething else. Nanetheless thars raither plain as parritch differences, e.g. ‘hoo noo broon coo’ an a thoosand mair!

        A Scots Language Act is the only solution to this ongoing cultural discrimination of the Scottish people, which is now beginning to look something akin to internalized racism.

  6. Davie Cunningham says:

    Ah wis vernear greetin readin sic a movin taistament tae the pooer an bonniness o oor leid. Thrie cheers fir Sister Sara!(tae praphrase a Western o the 70’s…60’s?Thon Sarah had 3 mules,gin ah mind correckly,but oor Sarah’s mind is a haill lot mair fertile nor sic cuddies!

    1. Sara Clark says:

      Thanks for yer kindness, Davie, ye’re a guid man! :o)

  7. SleepingDog says:

    Scots may be fine for poetry and blethering the same old with Scots-speaking friends, but can it be said to be as feature-complete as standard UK English?

    I am reminded of discussions of favourite typefaces (font families) for educational publishing: some typefaces had a certain character that was attractive to some people, but were useless in technical, scientific, phonetic or financial subjects because they lacked all but the basic glyphs or their spacing lead to misalignments. Sometimes they had to be supplemented by a second and third specialized typeface, and the difference was often distracting.

    As for thinking in Scots, I’m sure that’s fine for Scottish weather and people’s facial expressions, but not so helpful for philosophy or many other disciplines. That’s not to say English is ideal, and many foreign words in philosophical traditions are not directly translatable into English. Thinking in Scots might be too small a box for child’s education.

    Looked at from the other direction, perhaps Scots contributed significantly to standard English, and speaking an internationally-recognized language with highly harmonized spellings and pronunciation, and many sets of specialized forms and vocabularies (in medicine, science, law, mathematics, computing and so forth) is of great benefit to the younger generation.

    1. Jamie Smith says:

      The’r nae issues wi uisin Scots in aw domains. Scientific terms in English is gey aften borraed frae ither languages (Greek, French etc.) onywey; same wi Scots. Scots haes its ain legal vocabular (maistly borraed direct frae Laitin) that’s been in uiss for hunders o years. Forby, the’r a hale feck o mair formal wirds frae whan Scots wis the language o government that can be uised for ony siclike ettle the day.

    2. Jamie Smith says:

      An o course fowk wad still hae the English for uiss in global communication etc. Haein mair nor ae language is a guid thing.

    3. Alf Baird says:

      Yer weel cawed ‘dozy dug’ a’richt!

      ‘Philosophy’ is the study of knowledge and yet you seek to reject the learning of a language (for quite pedantic reasons) which is knowledge itself and more. ‘Language is the expression of thought in symbolic form’ and ‘our descriptions of the world expressed in language are symbolic models of the world’. Oor ain(Scots) language explains how Scots view the world differently from the folk in our larger neighbour, and others. It explains why Holyrood does things quite differently from Westminster. For language is the basis of our culture, the way we do things, and how we do things, and how we communicate with each other and others. We do not formally teach the Scots language at our peril. If we do not respect our language we do not respect our people or their culture, far less our human rights. For these reasons and more Holyrood must deliver a Scots Language Act and the resources needed to implement it properly.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Alf Baird, I am not suggesting “don’t teach Scots”, rather that many disciplines may be better taught in English which has the technical facility to handle them. The case may have been different if the Scottish Enlightenment philosophers had taught and written in Scots (although I can quite understand why, in contributing to a global commons in ideas they chose standard English), but the effects of these past centuries cannot simply be undone or ignored.

        1. Alf Baird says:

          Degree and Masters courses have for many years been taught in English in quite a lot of countries (Norway, Germany, Netherlands, Dubai, Singapore etc) however the indigenous languages are also taught by law to the local people in these nations. I taught a Masters course in Norway in English for a number of years. Unlike these and other nations however, here many Scots still are under the incorrect impression that English is their only language and that Scots is not even a language but a slang speech of the gutter and the working class – much as the unionist msm DC Thomson depicts in Oor Wullie and the Broons. It seems safe to say that Scotland’s Anglicised and English elites who aye head up Scotland’s social institutions are content to keep it that way. If we really want to upset that established order who run Scotland we should insist that Scots is formally taught tae Scots bairns in schuils and that will require a Scots Language Act, as with Gaelic. Of course education courses can aye be taught in English, which in many ex-colonies is known as an ‘administrative language’, and which seems a more suitable term for a language that is clearly no oor mither tung!

  8. Graeme Purves says:

    ‘A grand piece athegither!

  9. Wullie Oliphant says:

    Am a Scots Language Ambassador an every winter A gan oot tae schuils aroond the Auld Grey Toun learnin the bairns bits o the leid. They ken maist words awready, but jist dinnae hae the chaunce tae yaise them. We hae a grand time playin games, singin sangs and jist yaisin the wirds we kent or hae learnt.

  10. Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh says:

    For interest. The following have just been published by Evertype.com:

    ‘JEAN EYRE’ (Jane Eyre) By Charlotte Brontë.
    Translated into North-East Scots by Sheena Blackhall and Sheila Templeton.
    First edition, 2018.
    Illustrations by Edmund H. Garrett and E. M. Wimperis.
    Dundee: Evertype.
    ISBN 978-1-78201-215-3 (paperback),
    price: €12.95, £10.95, $15.95


    Translated into North-East Scots by Sheena Blackhall
    First edition, 2018.
    Illustrations by W. W. Denslow.
    Dundee: Evertype.
    ISBN 978-1-78201-218-4 (hardcover),
    price: €31.95, £28.95, $43.95


    ‘FEY CASE O DR JEKYLL AN MR HYDE’ By Robert Louis Stevenson,
    Translated into North-East Scots by Sheena Blackhall
    First edition, 2018.
    Illustrations by Mathew Staunton.
    Dundee: Evertype.
    ISBN 978-1-78201-226-9 (paperback),
    price: €12.95, £10.95, $15.95


    ‘ASARLAÍ IONTACH OZ’ By L. Frank Baum,
    Translated into Irish by Colin Parmar
    First edition, 2018.
    Illustrations by W. W. Denslow.
    Dundee: Evertype.
    ISBN 978-1-78201-204-7 (hardcover),
    price: €31.95, £28.95, $43.95.


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