Scots tongue

Scots was one of five dialects of English, spoken in the north, as far north as the Forth and Clyde. David I, who ruled lands as far south as Doncaster, spoke Middle Scots and invited Norman lords from England to rule Scotland, introducing the feudal system which has only been abolished this century. So I am irritated when Scotland is referred to as a Celtic country: it is more complex than that. I identify as a Northumbrian Scot, but probably have some Celtic ancestry. The Scots word for Gaelic, Erse, from Irish, has pejorative connotations.

The Fair Maid of Perth, by Walter Scott, tells of an English-speaking Perth only thirteen miles from Dunkeld, the edge of the Highlands. Gaelic-speaking despised savages threaten the town. As Scott says, Perthshire is Scotland’s most beautiful county: Blairgowrie, east of Dunkeld, lies on the line between the highlands and the flat arable lands to the south and east.

Gaelic is spoken mainly in the Hebrides- not Shetland or Orkney, which were pledged by the King of Norway as a dowry for his daughter, and whose language and ritual still show some Norse influence. But a great deal of Glasgow’s population came from the Highland Clearances, so their ancestors were Gaelic speakers. So my friend, though she and her husband spoke no Gaelic sent her son to a Gaelic-speaking nursery, and even I dabbled a bit, though I got no further than Kimmer a Hahu and Hammy Skee. A man called Domhnull told us to call him Doll: if we tried to mimic the Gaelic pronunciation we only mangled it further.

The driver of my school bus, born about 1919, learned Gaelic at his mother’s knee, but could not speak it when I knew him: it had been beaten out of him in school, where English only was to be spoken. That was a crime.

Looking at the Northern Irish Citizens Advice Bureau website, I see “ceetizens advisement buroo”. Well, in the Good Friday Agreement Irish Gaelic is an official language, so “Lallans” had to be too. Ireland was colonised in the 17th century, by Scots in the North and English in the South- so Dublin is an English city, even if it calls itself Baile Átha Cliath. I wish the Unionist negotiators had chosen a different concession. I do not know how much dialect survives there, as opposed to different pronunciation of words because of accent, and while I would use the phrase “on the broo” to mean claiming Jobseeker’s allowance, I understand the word arose because men looking at the phrase “Employment Bureau” did not know how to pronounce it.

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