Th' Mither Tongue


When Joni was born we got a load of gifts of books and teddies and pretty much everything that we needed (and quite a few things that we didn’t know we’d need*). By far my favourite book to read to Joni is The Gruffalo, a great story about cunning, lying, and getting outwitted by a tiny smart mouse even if you’re a big fearsome beastie. It’s a nice David-Goliath story of sorts, but also a Boy Who Cried Wolf style story, as well as one teaching you brains is better over brawn. But also, we didn’t get it in English. No, thanks to our friends Colin and Laura the Gruffalo copy we have is in Scots.

Scots is a language (though that is a contentious point on it’s own) and variation of English that is very prevalent in Scotland. Describing it to people is weird as it wasn’t until I was at High School when I realised there was a name for the way you spoke. I don’t have a thick accent (in fact many would suggest I don’t have an accent at all) and compared to my Gran and other folk in Scotland I’m embarrassingly beige. I do, however, know how to speak Scots. Hugh MacDairmid’s poetry being one where he uses Lallans Scots, an older version of the dialect that is now out of fashion, where Scots now is just the slightly different way Scottish people speak in the central belt written out at its base level, but in actuality it’s a real different way of speaking, recognised by the Scottish Government. There are subjects in Scots in the SQA exams.

In the Gruffalo, the mouse is a moose, the fox is a tod, the owl is a hoolet. There’s no food – it’s denner and scran. I love reading the book because it’s fun to read, but also because despite Connie’s best attempts she struggles with the words and the pronunciation, because of courses it’s not her native language. The structure is different – take “and awa snake slippit” which is translated to “and the snake slipped away”. That is one major different between the two languages, of course. It’s not just the “Scottish way of spelling the words” despite that pretty much being how it is considered. And I don’t think I am a great speaker of the language at that.

Obviously this is something we’re trying because Joni is Scottish and Canadian but living in England. She’s going to have a mixed-accent and cultural upbringing no matter what, so we need to make sure she appreciates that and embraces it. Especially Canada, seeing as we are not there at the moment.

In work I’ve came across the use of these words and found them amusing – words that I’ll have used in Aberdeen and Glasgow without even a blink of confusion get a confused quizzical look. In trying to describe something being un-even I called it “skee-wiff”. I say “Aye” and a few folk don’t really get it at first. I call the weather “dreich” and the rainfall a “smirr”, and I constantly have to watch using other words that I don’t quite remember now.

It’s not that I am being awkward either, it’s just natural. It’s the way I speak. It’s the… I don’t know, the patter that makes me Scottish? And don’t even get me started on Cumbrian words; “la’al” and “marra”? Don’t. Even. Go. There.

*At least I didn’t know we’d need. I am sure Connie probably did.

Author’s Note

I did consider translating this entire post into Scots, but I was on a hiding to nowhere. So, here’s the Scots of the first line. “Whin joni wis born we git a load o' gifts o' books 'n' teddies 'n' bonny muckle everything that we wantit (and ferr a few hings that we didn’t ken we’d need*).”