2007 - 2021

Bein Yersels

cid_78527b0e-7f45-4ad2-91af-b60fc60d53eclan“Tae be yersels an tae make that worth bein, nae harder job tae mortals has been gien.” – Hugh MacDiarmid

Author, language activist, playwright, documentary maker and Bella editorial board member Billy Kay has been recognised for his contribution to Scots at Na Trads -2016 Scotland’s Traditional Music Awards 2016, from Dundee.

You can watch his barn-storming acceptance speech at BBC Alba for the next three weeks here (from 57.00 – ) – and read it below.

One of the key themes of Billy’s work, and this is continued in our approach at Bella Caledonia, is not to set one language against another, but to see all of our languages as part of our rich heritage, and he articulates that here. Tom Devine, a leading authority on Scottish immigration and emigration, has remarked:

“… history is not just about economies and governments, it´s about human beings, and Billy Kay should be congratulated because, almost single-handedly, he has developed interest in this in Scotland and scholars owe him a due.”

The author James Robertson has commented:

“Kay was the public face of Scots, and was roundly abused by some for pleading its cause. For others, his work transformed their thinking: never before had they been told, on the BBC no less, that what they spoke, far from being ‘the language of the gutter’ or debased English, had an 800-year pedigree, two multi-volume dictionaries describing it, a vast and glorious literature, and a whole set of dialects of its own. This was a life–affirming, emotionally and intellectually liberating message, and it took courage and conviction to be the messenger.”

A life-long campaigner for Scottish devolution and ultimately independence, he was involved in the campaign for a Scottish Parliament during the 1990s and later the Yes campaign in the run-up to the 2014 Referendum.

“Personally,” he writes, “I am delighted that my second language is English – as a lingua franca in the world today, it is a perfect medium of communication. But, I know the power and pathos of Scots and I want future generations to be bi-lingual in Scots and English, or Gaelic and English in the Highlands, so that like me they find it easier to learn other languages and communicate confidently with the world.”

He believes that, “Scotland is inevitably moving towards being at one with herself, and that the positive values ingrained in the culture will survive and thrive as we gain political maturity.”

Here’s his acceptance speech in full:

“Ladies an gentlemen. it gies me meikle pride an pleisure tae receive this honour on behauf o the scots speakin commun ity that nummers at least ane and a hauf million o ma fellae kintraemen an weemen. yet, oor leid is aften cried the bonnie broukit bairn / the beautiful neglected child o scottish culture. Thaim that hae their een open gaun aboot the aulder burgh touns whiles ll’ see scots saws carvit an scrievit in braw gowden letters abune door lintels, an ane o ma favourites is thaim that tholes owercomes – in English those who endure prevail.

An that perfitly descrives the seituation regairdin ma mither tongue. We hae tae thole ignorant an ugsome attacks fae monoglots thirled tae a colonised mentality that’s been aroun since the union whan sooks like boswell cuid say tae Dr Johnson. “I do indeed come from Scotland but I cannot help it!”

We hae tae owercome thon tae mak siccar that the leid o oor brawest sangs , an finest makars disnae become foreign tae oor weans in the 21st Century.
When I studied leiterature at Embro in the early ‘70’s, I haed the guid fortune tae get tae ken the makar in residence there, the maist kenspeckle gaelic poet o the last hunner year Somhairle Macgilleain, Sorley Maclean. I wad jalouse that a wee brek fae ma studies wad gar me clear ma heid…sae i wad gae alang an see sam. I wad lea him an oor later wi ma heid birlin an ideas stoatin aboot ma puggled harns – sam didnae dae licht conversation….

But fae him I got plantit unco richt in the politico cultural movement fae earlier that century that haed his frien an mentor hugh macdiarmid as its figureheid. sorley an i dwalt on the need for status for baith oor leids whan we quoted macdiarmid:

Tae be yersels an tae mak that worth bein, nae harder job tae mortals has been gien.

Hou can ye be fully be yersel gin ye bide ignorant o the cultural tradeitions that hae wrocht ye ower hunners o years?
Yet, despite aw the pressures a guid wheen o us hae steyed leal tae the culture an i want tae enn bi airtin ma luve an respeck tae you ma brither an sister Scots fae Maidenkirk tae Johnny Groats – the muckle majority o ye wha stull hae a guid scots tongue in yer heid, thenk you for hainin the faith an makin the leid a dearly lued an cherished badge o oor identity, an a gleg leivin tradeition for future generations.

Hae it in yer hert, rax oot tae ithers an teach thaim that’s linguistically less fortunate nor you, aye mind, though – tak tent or it’s tint (use it or lose it) . Ower twa centuries syne, burns was avisit bi his social superiors no tae screive in scots, as it was nocht but a deein tongue naebody wad unnerstaun within a generation or twa.. burns wis wyce eneuch tae ignore siccan glaikit advice, steyed true tae himsel an a cause o that becam the international icon we ken the day…..

An sae, here we are the nicht , still speakin an singin the auld sangs an the new, an celebratin this oor ain thrawn an ayebydand , raucle an douce mither tongue. gin we’re ocht ava as a fowk, we’ll still be daein the same come the twenty saicont century! For Scots is baith a lowin flame in Scotland’s hert and a caller mirror reflectin scotland’s soul. that’s why the leid , an the values it expresses, will thole and endure for aye… Scots and Scotland’s day is comin yet for aw that, i’ll lea ye wi Macdiarmid’s mighty words:

For we hae faith in scotland’s hidden pouers
The present’s theirs, but a’ the past and future’s oors.

Thenk ye agus moran taing – Thank you.”

Comments (25)

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  1. Gordon Cuthbertson says:

    I’ve aye fuin it difficult tae scrieve in Scots, ma ain tung the spellings aftimes look false tae ma een but I wis lucky enough tae hear Billy gie his speech on the radio and the scrievit words dinna cairry a the passion, gie it a listen. Weel said Billy and mony thanks fer a you hae done up till noo. Keep gaun man.

    1. Billy Kay says:

      Cheers, Gordon. Ye’ll finnd yer ain wye o scrievin, an bi daein that, ye’ll finnd yer ain veice. Hauf forrit.

    2. Billy Kay says:

      Haud forrit!!!

  2. Seumas MacTalla says:

    Tae be yersel and make that worth being is something awebodie can dae. It shouldnae matter whit others think either, which is how its sae comical thit een though maist fowk in Scotland dinnae reckon that the wie they talk isnae English they arenae gien equal respect as being right about whit the language shuild be called. They’re quite happy being English speakers just as fowk elsewhere in Britain are and hae nae problems as long as language varieties are trat equalie and no looked doun on whither they be Cockney or Wenglish.

  3. Alf Baird says:

    In any other nation bar Scotland, someone of Billy Kay’s talents, as the leading authority on Scots Language, would have long since been awarded a Professorship of Scots Language at one of our nation’s universities. So, which ‘Scottish’ university is going to award that chair? And which ‘Scottish’ university is going to offer a Degree in Scots Language? And will the ‘nationalist’ Scottish Government help to finance both?

      1. Alf Baird says:

        Ma pleasure, Ed. Tho a widna haud ma braith, thon ‘Scottish’ Unionist Establishment (aye Holyrood anaw) ken fineweel that Scots language is the genie in their UK bottle an tae lat it oot wid men thair sleekit gemm’s a bogey.

        1. Seumas MacTalla says:

          The same goes for the Geordie and Brummie languages.

          1. Billy Kay says:

            Eh, no really. Name ae internationally kennt scriever that wrocht ocht o value in thon provincial dialects? Scots is a great literary leid….Dunbar, Douglas, Lyndsay, Ramsay, Burns, Stevenson, Scott, MacDiarmid etc, etc. an that’s anither reason why it’s negleck is ugsome.

          2. Seumas MacTalla says:

            Paul Lawrence Dunbar was worth more than them combined in my view at least. I see no reason to treat the English he wrote in as less of a language than the dialects of Scotland and find great merit in his work.

  4. Fay Kennedy. says:

    He is a living treasure. What a great uplifter for me on this Saturday morning far from Scotland’s shore but ah still feel the pride of my ancestors whose voices are in my DNA and every day reminded of the challenge of the great Hugh Macdiarmid. It’s the courage oh our poets and scriveners that keeps me going when am feeling that loss of language which is an ache that has to be taken seriously. I can’t get enough oh them and thanks to all of them. The day will come it’s on the tip oh the guid Scottish tongues both near and far.

    1. Billy Kay says:

      Monie thenks, Fay. Nae treasure, nor pleasure can mak us happy lang…the hert aye’s the pairt aye that maks us richt or wrang.

      1. Redgauntlet says:

        Billy, I really enjoyed your book on Scots. Brought back memories of a lots of words I haven’t heard for a long time.

        But I can’t believe, with all you know about languages, that you can subscribe to the notion that people should just write Scots as they feel like and that no standard form is required, which is what I understand from some of your comments above.

        I like languages. If I had several lives, I would learn to speak them all.

        So, when I arrive in Amsterdam, one of the first things I do is to buy a book on Nederlands, just a Dutch phrasebook and dictionary. So I can learn something about the language even though I doubt I will ever learn to speak it. Just the curiosity of the thing. I read the following in the intro of said Phrasbeook, which is directly comparable to Scots and Ulster Scots:

        “Dutch is more than just the language spoken in the Netherlands. Flemish, spoken in the northern part of Belgium (known as Flanders) is really the same language as Dutch, but for historical and cultural reasons the name “Flemish” is often used…Both countries are members of the Nederlandse Taalunie (Dutch Language Union), the supreme authority on modern language standards. The same rules for spelling and grammar are followed throughout both countries and the same dictionaries are used as reference…”

        Why on earth can’t we have these things for Scots? Why are we watching Scots being washed away by an Anglo-American shit tide of bad English and government doing nothing about it?

        Why do we have to listen to the touchy-feely concerns of the otherwise fairly inspired Glasgow literati, who seems to see any move to standardization as a middle class Edinburgh conspiracy and another form of oppression? It is bullshit. As if standardization means that you have to use it all the time….

        If everybody spoke Scots and /or Gaelic, we’d have been independent a long time ago…

        Which book would the Dutch traveler in Scotland buy, moved by the same curiosity as I was when in Amsterdam?

        1. Alf Baird says:

          Clive Young’s ‘The Scots Learner’s Grammar’ is juist braw in ma hummle opeenion an wi suim guid references anaw.


        2. “If everybody spoke Scots and /or Gaelic, we’d have been independent a long time ago…” Really?

          1. Redgauntlet says:

            Bella Caledonia Editor: the lack of any cultural argument or distinct policy – not just on Scots – on the part of the SNP is so glaringly detrimental to the cause of independence that you have to rub your eyes and pinch yourself and go out for a walk around the block when the terrible truth hits home for the umpteenth time that, yes, the people behind Creative Scotland are meant to be for independence, they argue that Scotland is a distinct country too….

            So why do they fail or refuse to implement any distinct NATIONAL culture policy? What is the explanation? Is it just ignorance? Fear? Is there a cunning plan here to stir the Scots into revolt by being more English than the English?

            The SNP are New Labour in a kilt, there is no discernible difference between the SNP’s culture policy and Jack MacConnell, or linguistic policy more specifically on this point.

            They have to talk about something. The SNP can’t keep talking about welfare cuts for ever. You would think that the SNP honchos might think about some major radical change giving the stagnant polls. But I doubt anything will actually change. It makes no difference what people might write or say here or anywhere else.

            It’s a huge missed opportunity, and the SNP’s abject failure to come up with a distinct culture policy may not only cost us independence, but ultimately, the very existence of Scotland itself. Because at this rate, we are on our way to being reduced even further in status, with Brexit I mean, to a province….

          2. Alf Baird says:

            Aye, really, Ed. If Scots fowk kent thay hid thair ain langage, thay’d shuirly want thair ain naition bak anaw. Thay’d ken fir shuir England wis a furrin kintra, an thay wir juist a doon-hauden colonie, wid thay no?

            Scots language, oor mither tongue, should be at the top of any national party agenda. In any case, to refuse to teach our people the indigenous language is quite clearly cultural if not racial discrimination. MSPs are always talking about our human rights but they ignore our peoples human right to learn to read and write and communicate in the mither tongue mony Scots fowk uise ivery day. Belated equality with the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005 is also essential, if we are to live in a supposedly ‘fair’ nation. By this omission the Scottish Government is effectively oppressing its own people. We expect that of Westminster but not the SNP, who have had a decade now to put right this most despicable wrong.

        3. Billy Kay says:

          Misinterpreted – I believe we do need a standard form of the language based on historical forms, but as we’re a million miles from that, we have to encourage people
          to accept and extend what they have….the last thing Scots speakers need is to be corrected from both Scots and English lobbies. I share your passion for languages, and so does my family….at the last count we speak eight or nine. Aw the best

          1. Redgauntlet says:

            Cheers Billy.

            It is not about being “corrected”. That is one of the myths floated by the West Coast Literati, that if you have a standard form it will be used to beat people up, at school by teachers especially I suppose. But it doesn’t need to be like that. Why is that the way to look at it? The same could be said of any other subject taught at school by the way.

            I would say a standard form would give people the confidence to use it in writing far more often. And open up a vast reservoir of vocabulary which few know is out there at present.

            The vowel and constant sounds are still there, but they’re beginning to go. News readers on BBC Scotland now openly talk of “Lock Ness”.

            The SNP have been in power for years and have done next to nothing for Scots or Gaelic. A Scots Language Institute would cost next to nothing. Why don’t they do something?

            There is no point continuing to fight for Scottish independence unless the SNP actually start showing an interest in developing a national policy distinct from the rest of the UK for things like Scots. Provincial and parochial do not do justice to the SNP and their arts policy, thrawn to the point of sheer stupidity.

            As for me, I am trading in my UK passport for a European one, ASAP….

          2. Tam says:

            Billy – what would be the process, or what are the possible alternative processes, by which a standard could be devised?

            Would you set up an Institute to do the groundwork, and synthesise the main issues and bones of contention, and then have an open conference with academics, activists and the general public discussing and ratifying suggestions? Would it have to be sponsored or endorsed by the Scottish government or could it happen as an independent civil society effort? (Or could we just ask James Robertson to do it? 😉 love his work!)

        4. Seumas MacTalla says:

          At present theres a reality out there that doesn’t meet the criteria of Scots and English being seperate languages and makes a nonsense of the comparison of Danish and Norwegian.The better comparison would be that of Egyptian and Lebanese. Calling other English dialects provincial doesn’t really change this.

          1. Redgauntlet says:

            Seamus MacTall, re your fairly garbled post, are you trying to make the case that Scots and English are the same language? If so, maybe go and take a look at the dictionaries we have and the vast amounts of literature written in Scots? I mean, if we’re still having this childish debate in Scotland, then there really is no hope….the Scots are too thick for independence….

          2. Seumas MacTalla says:

            They have independence in Egypt despite sharing a language with the rest of the Arab world. If anythings garbled, its the case for Scots being something different from English.

  5. Shehanne Moore says:

    No afore time

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