Deid Come Nevermas

A decent-lookin’ woman came in with a laddie about five year old. The bairn was awfu’ taken up with the animal, and efter starin’ steadily at it for a whilie, he turned to his maw, and says he, "Mither, that’s a dug!"

"Ye’re no’ to say ‘dug,’" says she, affrontit-like. "It’s no’ ‘dug,’ it’s ‘doag.’"

"‘Doag,’" says the bairn, real biddable; and then he lookit up in his mother’s face, and says he, "But it’s like a dug." And that’s just about as much as onybody could say for it, thinks I to mysel’."

Catherine P. Slater, Marget Pow

The idea the'r something wrang wi the Scots langage seems ti a startit in the fifteent or sixteent century wi the poet Gawin Douglas (1475-1522). In the first prologue til his translate o the Aeneid inti Scots, Douglas staps in a bit explanatory text anent his ain uise o langage:

Kepand nae sudroun, but our awin langage,
And speakis as I learit when I was page...
Nor yet sae clean all sudroun I refuse,
But sum word I pronounce as nichtbour dois;
Like as in Latin been Greek termes sum,
So me behuvit whilom, or than be dum,
Sum bastard Latin, French, or Inglish oiss,
Whar scant were Scottis I had nae uther choiss.

A dout Douglas's deeficulties isna juist that he's pittin ower a muckle sophisticate wark like the Aeneid inti Scots, it's that the langage o his "nichtbour", English, haed haen a muckle infusion o Romance vocabular efter the Norman invasion, an a still-leevin tradeetion o "sudroun" poets that kent French langage an leeteratur juist as weel as they kent English, an wrate for fowk that kent as muckle theirsels. An Douglas hissel wis weel acquent wi English, as weel as the Laitin an the Greek. The raeson he sees Scots as "scant" is that he kens at laest three ither langages, ilkane wi vast leeterary tradeetions that Scots disna hae. The raeson he douts he haes "nae uther choiss" is that he's writin for fowk uized wi a coortly tradeetion an he's laith ti faa back on the resources o ilkaday Scots.

What like wis ilkaday Scots in Douglas's time? The unbekent contemporaneous poem (circa 1500) The Wife o Auchtermuchty on the theme o role-reversal lats us see:

Then to the kirn he did stour,
An jumlit at it while he swat;
When he had jumlit a full lang hour,
The sorrow crap of butter he gat.
Albeit nae butter he could get,
Yet he wis cummerit with the kirn,
And syne he het the milk ower het,
And sorrow a spark of it wald yirn.

Efter readin this, ony modren native spaeker'll see richt awa what's wrang wi Douglas's Scots. The differ atween the Scots in the Wife an the Scots mony a modren Scots spaeker wad uize is sax an six, but Douglas's is different aathegither. The langage o Douglas is in fact a coortly invention. Tho Douglas pit aboot the idea that the war something wrang wi Scots, it's juist his ain Scots the'r something wrang wi. The idea o the hale pit-on, tho, is ti gar the langage soond grand, and this haes gart some modren Scots enthusiasts girn for the auld lang syne whan they imagine that Scots wis spak the wey Douglas wrate it. They gae aa greetie ower what a lot o the langage haes been lost, an aa feardie that "Auld Scots" haes dee'd oot.

Leukin ower The Wife o Auchtermuchty, tho, the big surprise is what like the Scots thare is bi modren Scots. Faur fae deein oot, it haurly seems ti a chynged ava: the uise o "stour" ti mean "run fast", the lossin o "b"'s efter "m"'s, perfit modern eediom like "The sorry a spark o't...". Aa o thir's still says bi modren Scots spaekers.

Some modren Scots spaekers disna hae ti read a orra cheil like Douglas for ti conveence theirsels their ain leid's deein oot. They merk hou very near aa Scots poetry in the leeterary tradeetion uizes "gae", "gaed" "gaein" or "gang", "ganged", "gangin" whare nouadays, espeecially in the muckle populate central region o the kintra, aa thae words haes gien wey ti the ubeeqitous "gaun" an "went". It's been pyntit oot gey aften that "went" wis uized bi Henryson, even afore Douglas's time: "A woful wido hameward is he went", tho the'r aye the chance that the makar teuk a len o the word fae English ti get the aleeteration wi woful wido. But it is a precedent. Mair enlichtenment comes fae the poem Maggie Lauder bi Francis Sempill o Beltrees (?1616-?1685):

Wha wadna be in love,
Wi' bonnie Maggie Lauder?
A piper met her gaun tae Fife,
An spier'd what was't they ca'd her.

This is awfu modern-like Scots, no juist wi the modern contractions like "what was't", but the kythin o the word "gaun". Readers o Burns micht tak some persuadin: efter aa, Burns uized gae, gang et ceterae aa the time, an he wis weel efter Francis Sempill. Cast a ee ower this verse fae Burns's Death and Doctor Hornbook:

"Guid-een," quo' I; "Friend! Hae ye been mawin,
"When ither fowk are busy sawin?"
It seemed to mak a kind o stan,
But naething spak;
At length, says I, "Friend, whare ye gaun,
"Wull ye go back?"

Here, whaur Burns draps inti dialogue insteid o his uizual discursive nairative, we see that his Scots is the very neebor o modren Scots, alang wi modren eediom like "whare" for "whaur", "gaun" for "gangin", "a kind o", an the hippit copula in "Whare ye gaun?", the "go" uized as a kin o imperative as it is in the sooth o Scotland. If Scots haes haurly chynged fae the seeventeent century or even aerlier, whaur fae comes the idea that the'r something wrang wi the langage, or that it's deein oot?

The idea that Scots is deein oot haes been wi us in aa generations at laest fae Burns's time. Burns hissel spak o Scots as "auld", "braid" or "plain", an whan he estaiblished hissel as a leeterary feegur wi the Tam O'Shanter he haed ti pit up wi aa kin o ersification fi the leeterati that thocht he should write in English wi hou he'd never git weel-kent if he kep on wi writin in Scots. They could haurly a been mair wrang, in Burns's case! Syne Robert Louis Stevenson, in the introductory poem The Maker to Posterity til his beuk o Scots poetry, explains ti "posterity" aboot the leid he's writin in, like it's boond ti a dee'd oot come it wis read.

Fowk aye seems ti perceive the last generation as somehou spaekin stranger Scots nor their ain. For example, the'r a Victorian story Oor Scotch Tongue wi the popular character Jeems Kaye, whaur the young anes spends the hale time lauchin at the wey the aulder fowk talks an tryin ti sort their "English" for them. This happens the ither road roond an aa, fae mither ti bairn, like's shawn in the quote abuin fae the aerly 20t century novel Marget Pow bi Catherine P. Slater, in a scene that'll be as fameeliar ti ony modren Scots spaeker as it wis ti the Edwardians. Yet maugre o aa thir "corrections" the langage haurly seems ti chynge doun throu the centuries.

The 20t century haes aesy been the warst for the langage, tho. The muckle industrial success o Glesca brocht a fouth o English an Irish wirkers, bringin their langage alang wi them, sae's narie a word o Scots is ti be heard in Glesca nouadays. The uise o a government lingua franca in the cities an muckle touns while the native langage is weel-presairved in kintra airts is a international phenomenon, houever, an it's aften as no turnt back on itssel whan the government starts ti support the indigenous langage.

A'v juist been askin efter ma cousin's wee bairn that's been at the schuil a year nou, an A speired o his grandmither if he wis talkin Scots or English. It wis wi some trepidation she admittit (in Scots) that he wis talkin Scots. At this rate the "Auld Tongue"'ll no be deid come Nevermas.


© Sandy Fleemin 2003