SCOTSMT-1Whan Ah first cam tae Scotland, three years syne, Ah didnae ken ony Scots. Ah haed aye read a wee bit o Burns, an Ah kent thare wis an unco Caledonian tongue at wisnae Inglis nor Gaelic, but yon wis hyne-awa, fair remote an unpossible tae win at fir an ootlander o ma ilk. Fur a Frenchman newlins arrivyt in Scotland, it wis arredies a muckle haundlin gettin ma heid aroon the Scottish tuin o Inglis, an Ah haed nae time tae pit aff fir yokin wi ony ither queer wurds, dialect, leid or whitever yon micht hae been. A guid pairt o ma first year in Scotland wis syne gey forgitfu o the Scots’ unco tongue.

Forby, thro the first months, there wis naethin tae mind me o it. Ah wis studyin at the University o Sanct Aundraes, a braw airt fir learnin but whilk turns gey orra whan it comes tae mirdin wi the braider kintra. Atweel, it’s misbehauden tae speik onythin else nor a mensefu Inglis in the East Neuk’s muckle toon, an aw ma Scottish pals haed tae haud doon thair Scots tuin fur tae compluther wi the general speerit. That, o coorse, wisnae clear tae me. As a French lad, a muckle rowin o the “r” wis braw eneuch, an Ah cudnae see whit wis agley ahint it.

Hooanivver, as pals becam freens – or e’en mair – unco wurds stertit tae brak thro an git tae ma lugs: “braw”, “daftie”, “tatties”, “dreich”, “awa”, “frae”… Yon wur new phrases, new souns, an invitation tae stravaig ootbye the mensefu mairches o the university. Yon mindit me o the wurds o Burns Ah haed read afore settin aff frae France : “yon birkie cawd a lord”… “let us dae or dee” … “caw the yowes tae the knowes”… Yon unco tongue wis backlins comin tae me thro the door o luve an freenship!

Dumfoonert, Ah speirt: dae ye really speik like that at hame? An Burns, dae ye unnerstaun it aw? Why hadnae ye telt me ye wis bilingual? But it wis owre late tae git real answers tae ma speirins. June 2014 cam roon, ma excheenge year wis endit, an Ah haed tae gang back tae Paris tae stert a twa year Maisters in Historie. Ah gaed awa frae Scotland wi the feelin that Ah haed misst somethin. A meestery wis ahint me, unsortit.

Three months efter, thochts o a free-staunin Scotland wur tint anaw. Anither sun wis doon an things wur gittin oorie. Ah haed tae forgit Scotland an concentrate on ma wark. Ma future wis in France efter aw, in a real kintra, wi its gallus leid an its auld Republic. Aye, Ah haed tae forgit, yet Ah cudnae. Luve, freens, an yon unco wurds wur birlin aroon ma heid an fillin ma hert as suin as ma thochts wur free.

Whit wis yon leid Ah haed misregairdit an that ma freends cud speik, tho thai haudit it doon? Whit wis e’en its name? A wee bit o resairch makkit it nae clearer. Wis it “Doric”, “Lallans”, “Dundonian”, “Glaswegian”, “Fife” or “Shetland dialect”? Sic a wee kintra an yet naebody said ocht aboot sharin their lead thegither! Wis the linguistic continent Ah wis seekin juist a few parcels o idioms? Yon thocht gart me be gey disappyntit. Wis yon tongue owre orra fir Scots thairsels an Burns nae national, but anely Ayrshire’s bard?
Ah haed tae unnerstaun at it wisnae a bleck or white maitter. Scots wis like aathing, it haed a lang historie, an a gey sair trauchle o a historie it wis! Piece by piece, bletherins wi ma freens an langer readins learnt me aw that. Ane beuk, Billy Kay’s Scots, The Mither Tongue, wis particular important. At lang an last, Ah haed ma answers: Scots wis a real leid that haed lang syne been spoken by the Scottish monarchs but whilk haed gaed thro mony a dour time. Frae the Reformatioun up tae the 18c an the Treaty o Unioun its influence haed been aye taken doun an until the noo it wis maistly the common fowks, frae the pitheids, shipyairds an schemes o the central belt tae the ports an clachans o the landwart North East an the Nordic-farrant northern isles, that haed preservit yon wurds an grammar. A wee bit in Glesgae, a wee bit in Dundee, a wee bit in Caithness, a muckle bit in Buchan, Kirkwa an Lerwick: the mither tongue haed been sauft by the fowk, haudin oot in a hamely daurkness agin the “enlichtit” social scorn.

Mony haed been ettlin at gaitherin aw thae linguistic pairts an knittin them thegither tae mak a new an modren leid. Frae Hugh MacDiarmid, Lewis Spence an Douglas Young, the muckle interwar makkars, tae countless ithers an aw the fowk syne commitit tae the Scots Radio, the Centre fur the Scots Leid, The Scots dictionar(s), the Lallans review. As weel as thaim, the mony Scots furthsetters sic as Itchy Coo, an aw the contemporary makkars an scrievers that haednae stoppit creaitin, shaipin an pittin thegither auld an new wurds, Ah wis airtin oot an dicoverin that the Scots continent wis gey leevin-like. Tae be shuir, few o them greed wi ane anither: “yon spellin wis wrang”, “yon poem wis owre superfeecial”, “yon ane wis an eejit”, an aw that…

That didnae maitter tae me. Aw yon virr Ah haednae expectit, aw the passion that wis pittin intae Scots wis arredies a braw thing: the Leid wis less dwynin mair risin, an it wis wirth learin it – parteecular as Ah wis hinderly gangin back efter twa year in Paris. Ah syne yokit masel tae a lang an ongaun ettle that gart me luve an think on Scots e’en mair as Ah gat tae ken it.

Fur amang aw the different spellins an the argie-bargies aboot the richt way tae yaise the Leid, a general ootline wis appearin, a bonnie ane. Whiles Modren Scots haed keppit the auld appeal o the laund, the eildit sang croonin the plicht o the fowk, an aw the weary weirds o the forgotten sauls o Caledonia; forby it wis muivin forrit, an mibbe wud hinderly rax tae some kin o staunart, a common grund respeckfu o aw dialects yet allouin ilka bairn tae lear it, ilka makkar tae scrieve it, aw Scots tae blether wi ane anither an a new Scottish Commonweal tae flouer frae Elgin tae Dumfries.

Scots wisnae ma mither’s tongue, yet Ah’m learin it, fir Scots is the future. Scots is the laund an the fowk, but it’s the hale warld forby. It’s the sindry vyce o Scotland tae ither natiouns an tae its future weans, whither native or fremd. Ah ken Ah’ve a gey lang way aheid o me yit; Ah ken ma Scots isnae perfit an Ah kenna gin there iver will be a perfit Scots; hooanivver, whit Ah hiv cam tae kennin is that aw thae uncertainties aboot the Leid arenae a sign o doom but o a new day dawin , a blythe new mornin fir a new kintra.
There’s nae pynt in creengin, there’s nae pynt bein reid faced; it’s heich time the warld kent Scots dinnae speik coorse Inglis, but aye juist Scots. Be bauld, be gallus, be fresh an gay, speik Scots tae yer boss, tae yer professor, tae yer MSP, tae yer Pairlament, tae yer readers, tae yer jo, tae yer bairns an tae ootlanders an aw. Dinnae be selfish nor hame-drauchtit, speik yer leid an gie’s yon bonnie wurds. Mind on the stravaigers that bidit in yer laund an wantit tae luve it wi yer mither’s wurds.

Paul Malgrati:
A Historie graduate o Sciences Po, in ma hame ceety o Paris, Ah hiv juist gaed back tae the university o Sanct Aundraes, whaur Ah did an excheenge year atween 2013-2014, tae yoke masel tae a PhD on the poleetical yaises o Robert Burns’ memorie in 20c Scotland. Ah’m gey blythe tae be back an tae forder Scotland’s cultural an poleetical cause in ony wey Ah can.

(Mony thanks tae Ashley Douglas fir helpin me read owre yon).