I WOULD like to take a broader view of the languages currently and previously spoken in Scotland than expressed by Alexander Waugh (Letters, June 19).
For this discussion we should bypass the Scots whose language inheritance is from the Indian sub-continent, China, Eastern Europe or even south of the Border.
Gaelic was once spoken over much of what is now Scotland though we don't know what language the Picts spoke and in the relatively recently-acquired Northern Islands Gaelic was never a native language.
Loading article content
Gaelic will almost certainly survive, having come through generations of persecution. It is a living language used in daily social commerce, albeit among a fairly small number of people. Gaelic is so characteristic that there is never any question of it being considered a dialect or variant of another language.
English is the language spoken by the vast majority of Scots and I am delighted that this is part of my language inheritance. It gives me direct access to great writers and thinkers from Shakespeare onwards and it is valuable if I am in a country where I do not speak the native language.
The Scots tongue is also part of my heritage.
The basis of Scots, as of English, is Anglo-Saxon, greatly modified in both languages. However, most English or Scots speakers find Beowulf hard to understand.
My grandfather, born in in 1849 in Dundonald, Ayrshire, undoubtedly spoke the Scots of Robert Burns. My father, born 1874, spoke Scots in the playground but English in the classroom and later in his working life. My brother, friends and I spoke a diluted Scots outside school. Since then Scots has been spoken less and less. There is a real danger that Scots will die out.
Definitions of what is a language and what is a dialect are to a great extent political - "A language is a dialect with an army." What language people speak is also complex, often being a mixture. Tam o' Shanter might be thought of as the epitome of Scots, but in fact Robert Burns includes a great deal of English in the poem. There are long passages in 18th century English poetic style such the eight lines beginning "But pleasures are like poppies spread"; and within the broad Scots in the rest of the poem there are many English words where it suits the poet.
Does it matter if Scots survives? I think it matters in the way that history matters, that baroque music matters, that Shakespeare matters, that pre-historic sites matter and that all our cultural and built heritage matters. There is much written Scots which has its own character which is lost in translation and is worthy of survival and appreciation in its original form.
How can a dying language survive? I would think by people making the effort to understand the words in stories, poetry and song written in Scots. Better qualified to answer that question of language survival are the workers for the Dictionary of the Scots Language, Dictionar o the Scots Leid, or members of The Scots Language Society Scots, Leid Associe. Individuals such as Jim Begg who has recently written a full-length novel in Scots have taken the lead, or bear the gree, as was inscribed in the coat of arms of Bearsden and Milngavie District Council.
65 Antonine Road, Bearsden.