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Parliamo Scots
Bi an By


Parliamo Scots                                                                Soutar Davie

Bi an By

    Although Scots and English are closely related in vocabulary, and sometimes around half the words look the same, there are difference in grammar and idiom which give  Scots a character all its own.  One difference is that in English, there is no difference between by used as an adverb and a preposition.  This distinction is made in Scots, where bi is used as a preposition .  For example:

Ah cam hame bi the tap wynd kis Ah durstna gae by the auld kirkyaird i the derk.
I came home by the upper crescent because I didn’t dare go past the old churchyard in the dark.

Bi whit Ah hear tell, she’l no hae hir truibils ti seek.
I have been told that she will probably have many problems.

Sit ye in bi the ingil!
Sit close by the fire!

    The word bi can be used to mean, compared with.

Things is different awthegither nou bi whit thay war lyke afore the War.
Things are quite different now, compared with what they were like before the War.

He canna tell a rich man bi a puir.
He cannot tell the difference between a rich man and a poor one.

    In Middle Scots, bi was spelt be.

   ‘Quhen Makbeth and Banquho war passand to Foress, quhair King Ducan wes for the tyme, thai mett be the gaitt thre weird sisteris or wiches, quhilk cam to thame with elrege clething.’   John Bellenden.

   Robene answerit, ‘Be the rude, na thing of lufe I knaw…… Robert Henryson.

    The spelling, be, is not much used these days, except in Shetland, because of  the chance of confusion  with the verb, ti be.  The distinction between bi and by is often ignored by modern writers in Scots, perhaps because they are unaware of its existence.


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