Poems, Stories, Plays in the Scots Language by
David Purves Lallans Magazine
is the journal of The Scots Language Society which was founded in 1972
under the name of The Lallans Society. The term Lallans is simply another
name for Scots, the State language of Scotland before 1603, which still
survives as a number of spoken dialects throughout the Lowlands of
Scotland. Although Gaelic was the ancient language of the Scottish
Kingdom, Scots is now the linguistic heritage of the great majority of the
people of Scotland.
After the Union of the
Crowns in 1603, there was little or no contemporary literature in Scots to
provide a unifying standard, and the language continued to live mainly in
its dialect variations, and these came under continuous socail and
economic pressure from English, which had become the language of Kirk and
State. In a broad sense, English became associated with power, politics
and religion, Scots with domestic life ---with flesh and feeling and
bern an byre. The resultant psychological conflict has been described
as the Caledonian antisyzygy. This was the state of affairs by the time
of Robert Burns, who successfully reawakened an interest in writing poetry
in Scots, but nevertheless demonstrated, by switching into English in his
poems whenever he wanted to express lofty sentiments, that, for him, Scots
was no longer adequate for every purpose of life.
The process of downgrading
Scots continued in the 19th century, and by its end, the use of
Scots in writing was largely confined to the Kailyaird School, in
which poetry in Scots was restricted to dealing with the concerns of
couthie fowk in rural areaa ~ez_ndash~ a society conditioned by the influence
of the Kirk, and the Kirkyaird, where the tear was never ferr frae
Grannie~ez_rsquo~s ee in hir Hieland hame.
Since the time of the
Kailyaird writers, attitudes to the Scots Language have changed greatly.
Hugh MacDiarmid demonstrated that the language could be used in poetry to
deal with cosmic themes, and as a result, Scots is no longer specifically
associated with heartfelt prayers and Kailyaird (and kirkyaird)
situations. A substantial volume of fine poetry has been written in Scots
since the 1920s, arguably against a background of declining standards of
poetry in English.
generations, little attempt was made to set standards in schools for
writing in Scots. No significant attempt was made in Scottish education
to present any image of ~ez_lsquo~good Scots~ez_rsquo~, based on the substantial body of
literature in the language, and Scots was generally represented as an
aberrant, or incorrect form of English, which it was the purpose of
~ez_lsquo~education~ez_rsquo~ to correct. However, in recent years, a more enlightened
approach has developed among educationists, and the Scots language is now
generally perceived as an important part of the national; heritage which
should be given its proper place in education. The Scottish Parliament
re-established in 1999 is specifically responsible for Scotland~ez_rsquo~s
linguistic heritage and the Scottish Government is now evidently committed
to formulating a National Languages Policy.
Lallans magazine has now been published regularly, twice-yearly in
Spring and Autumn, for over thirty years. It has therefore ssurvived
longer than most of the small literary magazines published in Scotland.
Lallans is the only publication in existence which is entirely in
Scots, and it therefore provides a valuable outlet for aspiring writers in
this linguistic register, either in verse or in prose. When it first
appeared in 1973, the editor was J K Annand. He created the magazine and
continued as editor for a period of 10 years. In the first number, he
defined his editorial policy as follows:
Our pages sall be open til scrievers in local
dialects, as weill as thaim that ettle to scrieve in what is taen for a
~ez_ldquo~standard~ez_rdquo~ or ~ez_ldquo~literary~ez_rdquo~ Scots. We sall forby, be prentin frae the auld
and the new, the deid and the leevin, for withouten dout, the auld
maisters were mair skeelie i the Lalllans than monie that are writin the
day, and we can aa lairn frae the best exemplars. Evir sin the hinnerend
o the saxteent century there has been a dearth o scrievers in gude Scots
prose, alangside, for the maist pairt, a rowth o poets and rhymsters in
Lallans verse. Nou Lallans~ez_rsquo~ll ne~ez_rsquo~er regain the stature o a rale
language till we hae a hantle-sicht mair prose writin nor we hae the
day, and sae we sall gie the gree til prose.
While Lallans still
pursues a policy of encouraging good prose in Scots, submissions of verse
are no longer discouraged. Annand was soon obliged to give up this
policy. However, an anthology of twenty-one years of writing in
Lallans entitled Mak it New, was published in 1995 (Mercat Press,
Edinburgh) and this included useful examples of recent prose in Scots.
The Scots Language is certainly well developed as a medium for poetry and
in the 1970s, the quality of the work coming from some of the younger
makkars was so high, it would have been a pity to exclude poetry in
Scots, from what was a unique outlet for publication in this medium.
Sydney Goodsir Smith used to argue in public that he wrote poems in Scots
because it was no longer possible to use English for poetry. Ernglish had
become an international technological language divorced from its emotional
roots and any specific social context. English was therefore spiritually
worn out as a medium for poetry. This case seems overstated, but there is
an element of truth in the argument.
Over the years some fine
poetry in Scots has been published in Lallans and perhaps this has
been capable of extending awareness in areas which English could not
reach. Some of this work has been original, an some has taken the form of
trasnslations (or recreations) from poems in a wide range of languages.
In Lallans, we have now had renderings in Scots of poems from
Chinese, Danish, English, Flemish, French, German, Gaelic, Old Greek,
Modern Greek, Italian, Korean, classical Latin, medieval Latin, Persian,
Spanish, Tamil and Vietnamese.
Anybody who wants to try to
write in Scots is at present faced with a number of very serious
problems. Colloquial Scots is now becoming rapidly eroded under pressure
from English as an instrument of globalisation and writers may be
unfamiliar with the sound of anything that could be described as authentic
Scots. Faced with such difficulties, it is not surprising that some
writers may attempt to invent their own Scots language off the cuff. As a
result of the treatment in schools over generations, of Scots as a corrupt
form of English requiring correction, these has certainly been a problem
of definition with the language. However, a contemporary Scots grammar is
now available (Saltire Society, Edinburgh, 2002) and this includes a
published consensus document on Scots spelling (Scots Language Society
Recommendations for Writers in Scots, 1985).
An important object of
Lallans has been to help to create an image of good Scots and to set
standards for writing in what was once our State language. Most of what
is published is in the literary Scots used by writers from Allan Ramsay in
the early 18th century, to William Soutar in the present
century, although some dialect poems have been included. However, even
literary Scots has become differentially anglicised and undermined and
lacks an adequate foundation of native standards of grammar and
orthography. It has been editorial policy to encourage the evolutiion of
standards in these areas, in particular, in the development of a standard
spelling system based on useful spelling precedents.
A number of distinguished
poets writing in Scots who are now deceased, have been contributors to
Lallans. These include: J K Annand, Robert Garioch, William Graham,
George Campbell Hay, A D Mackie, Alastair Mackie, Bessie MacArthur,
Robert McLellan, William Montgomery, Ken Morrice, T A Robertson (~ez_lsquo~Vagaland~ez_rsquo~)
and William J Tait. It would perhaps be invidious to name any
contemporary writers who have written fine poems which have appeared in
Lallans. The relationship between the quality of any poet~ez_rsquo~s work and
his or her reputation is often obscure and there is no way the artistic
value of poems can be quantified. Nevertheless, some verse published in
Lallans by authors who have achieved no recognition elsewhere, is poetry
of a high order and properly belongs to the long distinguished tradition
of poetry in the Scots language.
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