Shudder at the Niffer

Scots isna, as a awfu lot o folk seems tae think, juist English wi the soonds an saws aa cock-ee'd. The'r a grammar tae lairn, an the richt denotations an conotations o ilka wird maun be richt liftit afore a sowel can say he writes guid Scots.

Hivin been brocht up spaekin guid Scots is a guid start, but no aa native spaekers jalouses what kittle differs their can be atween some Scots wirds, aither wi thae differs bein scomfished in the soonds o their ain dialecks, or that they wis lairnt the English at the schuil an forgets that whiles Scots haes twa wirds whaur English juist haes ane.

Sae aftwhiles a writer niffers a richt Scots wird for a wrang ane, an as aften as no Scots readers passes them by athoot a thocht. The sowel that's mair read intae Scots, tho, will aften, in Burns's wirds, shudder at the niffer.

Ae cless o distinctions is whaur the verb an noun form o a wird is the same in English but no in Scots. A weel-kent example is the differ atween "wirk" (verb, aften written "work" in traditional texts) an "wark" (noun). In ma dialeck thir's baith soondit "wurk", sae A canna masel see the differ. Whan A writes Scots for a general readership, houanever, it maks sense tae me tae uphaud the differ for thae readers as dis say them different.

Anither example o this verb/noun distinction is "love" (noun) an "loo" (verb, whiles spelt "loe" or "lo'e" in traditional texts). A lot o native Scots spaekers that disna see this differ haes a haurd time tryin tae think what the "three wee wirdies" micht be in Scots (an aiblins faa's back on the auld "Ye'r no bad!"). They'r richt, tho, in their intuition that *"A love ye" isna richt. It should aye be "A loo ye."

The verb "hurl" can be uised as a abstrack noun an aa, like in "a hurl in a caur". Houever, the ar a concrete noun form o the wird that's worth kennin: "harl". This is the decoration on hooses whaur a layer o cement is applied tae the ootside waas an syne chuckies or graivel's "hurled" at them tae gie ye "harl".

Whiles a distinction's fand in ae dialeck that's juist no made in anither an (no like "wirk/wark") canna be explained awa in terms o the soonds bein ower similar in ae dialeck. For example, in ma dialeck we uise "step" as a verb ("step oot on the fluir") an "step" as a noun ("gae up the steps"). Some writers, tho, uises "step" as a noun an "stap" as the verb form ("stap oot on the fluir"). Again, whan A'm writin general Scots A wad uphaud the differ.

Pullin awa fae verb/noun differs nou, the'r anither distinction maun be made wi this "stap" spellin. We ken that "stap" can mean the likes o whan we stap the cork back in the mou o The Macallan, but writers in the 20th century, ower eident whiles tae sinder Scots fae English, haes startit uisin it for "stop" in the sense o "deval" or in the likes o "bus stop" an aa, an losses a distinction weel uphauden in the spoken langage. Even the michty Lorimer spaeks o the star o Bethlehem stappin abuin the stable, garrin some o us wonder what is't it's stappin, an whaur! Na, it's in the English that the'r nae differ atween "stap" an "stop": this is ane o thae ironic "de-Anglicisms" that maks Scots mair English, no less.

A similar irony's committit wi the wirds "last/lest": insteed o dingin a fause Scottification on "last", writers should uphaud the differ atween "last" (positional, like "last in the queue") an "lest" (a verb, the likes o "it lestit for ages").

The'r a fair number o differs atween the Scots forms o strang verbs that's no seen in English, for example, "fand/fund", "pat/pit/putten". Thir's weel-documentit in David Purves' "A Scots Grammar" (Bell & Bain, 1997, ISBN 0 85411 068 2).

Aa ootthrou mony a wark in Scots, writers disna bather tae shaw the differ atween "bi" an "by". In some traditional texts, the writer uises the spellin "be" for "bi" tae try an shaw this, but ither writers disna like it for that it leuks like the verb "tae be". What wey did traditional writers no like the spellin "bi"? The answer is that ane o the few richt strick rules o English orthography is that nae wird should end wi a "i" (unassimilate foreign wirds like "macaroni" uphaud their ain spellins). Obviously wi us no writin a apostrophe at the end o "wi" nouadays, this rule canna be uphaudit in Scots ony mair, an the'r nae mair excuise for no writin "bi" for "bi" an "by" for "by", juist as they'r sayed.

Some mistaks made in the uise o the English langage alane propagates theirsels intae Scots, baith in spaek an on paper. A example is the English confusion atween "strait" an "straight". A Scots spaeker haes less o a excuise tae niffer thir than a English spaeker haes, but a body dis hear folk sayin the likes o *"strechtjaiket" an *"the Strechts o Gibraltar" in Scots, whaur they should be sayin "straitjaiket" &c. If a writer is ettlin at shawin this kin o mistak in a character's dialogue then they micht want tae uise it, but the'r nae raeson for the writer hissel tae gae wrang here.

Abuin aa this, a writer dis, need onybody say'd, be a maister o his langage. Scots is a muckle langage wi a fouth o wirds aa wi their ain primary denotations an kittle conotations. But wi the influence o English in the schuils, even the no-sae-kittle conotations can be tint whan a writer tries tae translate in his heid fae the English insteed o lippenin til his native eediom. For example, a writer shouldna juist write "thole" whanever he wants tae express the idea o a body pittin up wi something. Scots haes twa distinct wirds for this: "thole" (tae pit up wi something for that a body haes nae chyce) an "dree" (tae pit up wi something as a maiter o chyce). Altho baith in spaek an traditional texts the distinction isna aye richt claer, a writer should be awaur o sic conotations for the sake o cannin uise the langage tae pit his ideas ower tae its spaekers as guid as he can.

Efter takkin on the muckle job o lairnin yersel tae write yer ain langage that they didna lairn ye at the schuil, it wad be a peety no tae tak tent o aa thae wee differs, every ane giein ye anither glint o the richt sowel o the leid. Dree oot the inch when ye hae tholed the span!

© Sandy Fleemin 2003