Hey you – Heid the Baw – Haud yer Tongue
Billy Kay launches Bella’s Scots language stream.
Staunin on a gey shoogly floatin map o Scotland, I aince shoutit thir words at a camera for a Channel Fower Schuils’ series on the Scots leid – ma furst an anely mither tongue, as it wes the ane leirit at ma mither’s knee. Nae need tae shout at wice bodies like you that cleik on the Bella Caledonia wabsteid ye micht say, an ye micht be richt! Sae I’ll propone tae ye as doucely as I can, sae that ye tak tent o whit we’re efter. Here gaes….“Hey you – pyntie-heid the baws, Scots deniers an naesayers, cringe-yokit monoglot English hauders oan, Gaelic supremacists an Lallans leidbangers, scrievers wha whiles spairge their prose wi a pickle Scots words tae gie it echt ethneicitie….in ither words YOU, an I mean aw you, ma brither an sister Scots fae Vladivostok* tae Johnny Groats.
I want ye aw tae coorie in thegither an be pairt o a Scots commonweel here on Bella Caledonia. Matthew Fitt, Janet Paisley an me want a wheen o ye that are skeely in Scots an fowk that’s never scrievit ocht in the leid, tae gie it a try. It can be quite a leiberatin experience, howkin fae a gowden linguistic seam at’s bidit unwrocht for years, but is a gleg pairt o yer consciousness. Ye micht for ensample be ane o the hunners o thoosans o fowk wi a guid Scots tongue in yer heid, but are unawaur ye hae ane! For Scots is that sib tae English, that monie fowk hae it an dinnae realise it.
Ane o ma favourite scenes fae French Leiterature is whan the eejit Bourgeois Gentilhomme in Molières play is gien a language lesson an gets learit the difference atween poetry an prose: The follaein dialogue ensues:
MAÎTRE DE PHILOSOPHIE.- Non, Monsieur: tout ce qui n’est point prose, est vers; et tout ce qui n’est point vers, est prose.
MONSIEUR JOURDAIN.- Et comme l’on parle, qu’est-ce que c’est donc que cela?
MAÎTRE DE PHILOSOPHIE.- De la prose.
MONSIEUR JOURDAIN.- Quoi? Quand je dis: “Nicole, apportez-moi mes pantoufles, et me donnez mon bonnet de nuit” c’est de la prose?
MAÎTRE DE PHILOSOPHIE.- Oui, Monsieur.
MONSIEUR JOURDAIN.- Par ma foi, il y a plus de quarante ans que je dis de la prose, sans que j’en susse rien; et je vous suis le plus obligé du monde, de m’avoir appris cela.
Here’s ma owersettin intil Scots:
PHILOSOPHY MAISTER: Naw, Sur, awthin that’s no prose is verse, an awthin that’s no verse, is prose.
JOURDAIN: An, whan we’re jist talkin, whit’s thon?
PHILOSOPHY MAISTER: Thon’s prose.
JOURDAIN: Awa wi ye! Sae when I say “Nicole, bring me ma baffies and rax me ower my nicht cap”, I’m talkin prose?
PHILOSOPHY MAISTER: Exackly
JOURDAIN : Faith, that’s mair nor 40 year I hae been talkin prose withoot kennin a haet aboot it; I’m muckle obleiged tae ye, Sur, for haein taucht me that.
Maister Jourdain jalouses wi the force o revelation that he’s been speakin prose aw his days withoot realisin whit a gleg an clever chield he is! For a wheen Scots, kennin they are heirs tae a glitterin leiterary an linguistic heritage cuid hae the same life-enhancin revelatory pouers… wioot the eidiocy! Ane o the maist hert warmin sides o ma wark promotin Scots ower the years haes been the nummer o fowk fae ma generation that’s come up tae me at gaitherins tae tell me whit a meikle difference tae their ain self regaird they hed experienced readin Scots The Mither Tongue – for maist o thaim it wes the furst an anely time they haed this crucial pairt o wha they were explainit, validatit an heizit up. Dumbfounerin though it is, maist Scots haenae been educatit in their kintrae’s leids, leiterature an historie sae whit shuid be normal an pairt o oor national culture still haes a lang gait tae gang afore normalicy is achievit.
Bella Caledonia’s Scots neuk shuid be pairt o the process. Senn us airticles in Scots – they can be in a staundart leid or shaw variations fae aw the airts o the kintrae. We’ll no prescribe, unless ye speir at us for a bittie help. We’re eident tae kythe the virr that’s in Scots on ilkie subjeck – ye can scrieve anent Scots, anent its relationship wi ither leids native an fremmit, anent traivel, politicks, poesie, historie, humour, leiterature, identity, the land, the fowk, the wather! Scots is a leivin craitur, an like aw leivin things needs tae be cherished an loed an nurtured an encouraged tae growe strang an flouer brawly weel.
The normalisation o Scots is o utmaist importance tae us as a fowk in the 21st century. The auld Ayrshire saw, “Ye cannae dae ocht, gin ye’ve nocht tae dae ocht wi” is gey relevant tae us. Until we finn a wey tae mairry thegither the tensions atween the native leids an mak us aw at ane wi thaim,
it’s geyan hard tae create the idea o the shared commonweal that’s been at the hert o oor idea o Scotland for monie hunners o years. I’ll lea ye wi McDiarmid’s words o siller an gowd, hert an soul:
Tae be yersel’s — and tae mak that worth bein,
Nae harder job tae mortals hes been gien.
Luik forrit tae hearin fae ye, an haein a glisk at yer contributions in the neist twa three months. As wi Gaelic an aw the lesser yaised leids o the warld, Scots maun be yaised ilkie day as a raucle spoken an scrievit leid. Tak tent or it’s tint.
*Cuid hae been ony airt wi eneuch syllables whaur Scots haes been in the past, an there’s gey few places it haesnae been in the past. I walit this toun a cause o ma 3 pairt series The Scots in Roushia, tae be braidcast on Radio Scotland an stertin Decemmer 22 at 13.32. Near Vladivostok is the toun o Shkotovo an on thon coast is the Shkot Peninsula – namit efter a carle cried Scott that wes oot that wey lang syne – the faimily is mentioned in the Diary o Patrick Gordon at the enn o the seiventeenth centurie. In the 19th centurie there’s anither story o a Scots traiveller gaein intil an orthodox kirk in a remote airt o Siberia an bein a wee bit feart whan a muckle man mountain o a priest wi a lang reid beard breenges toward him spairgin caller Holy Watter. Seein his alairm the priest tells him no tae fash himsel…. “It’s jist a puckle watter an’ll dae ye nae hairm!”
Billy is the Author o Scots The Mither Tongue
This is the endin o the book – scrievit in a mell o Scots an English. Ye can hear Billy readin it by cleikin here:
“Ultimately, it will also demand changes in you my brither an sister Scots! Oral retentiveness leads to strange and unhealthy complexes and fixations. Go on, break every grammatical rule in your mental straight-jacket and sing out “A’m urnae like that – for gin I’m no pairt o the solution, I’m pairt o the problem”. Liberating, is’nt it? All you middle aged and now middle class folk who once were patted on the heid by teachers and mammies as you divested yourself of your local dialect in order to get on in life, and now find it difficult and artificial to go back – regress now! regain your lost heritage! – knit thy divided self back thegither again. Efter a while, ye’ll no notice the jeyn.
Mammies that checked their weans wi thon war cry in appalling English “Talk proper!” Stop it. As far as the bairns gettin on is concerned, the future is Scottish. Speakers of Received Pronunciation – dinnae be feart, there will aye be a wee totie establishment for ye ti belang tae gin ye finnd it necessair. But fredome is a nobill thing, cut your crystall vowels first with safe words like kenspeckle and clanjamfry before walking on the wild side with swally, chib, gadgie and likesae!
This inclusiveness will also need to extend to the highly effective Gaelic lobby. Aince upon a time, we were aw suppressed minorities thegither and supported ane anither, but since you climbed a bittie higher, I fear yer leaders hae kicked the ladder awa. When they speak of Scotland as a bi-lingual country, they mean Gaelic and English an deil tak the hindmaist – Scots bein by far the hindmaist in the linguistic pecking order. Jeyn the process of liberation, o Gaels! All the estimated 1.5 million Scots speakers seek is parity with you 60,000 Gaelic speakers. Jeyn us, all you have to lose is your monopoly of ethnic Scottishness in our media, and a few suits!
And to you, the vast majority of Scots who still have a Scots tongue in their heid, thank you for keeping the faith and retaining the tongue as a cherished living entity for future generations. Keep it, extend it and teach it to those linguistic less fortunates. Aye mind, though – tak tent or it’s tint. Over two centuries ago, Burns was advised not to write in Scots, as it was a dying tongue which no one would understand within a generation or two. Yet here we are, still speaking, writing, singing and celebrating in this our ain raucle mither tongue. Gin we’re ocht ava as a fowk, we’ll still be daein the same come the twenty saicond century! For Scots is a mirror of Scotland’s soul. That is why it, and the values it expresses, will endure for aye…an it is comin yet for a that…
For we hae faith in Scotland’s hidden poo’ers
The present’s theirs, but a’ the past and future’s oors.