Neither useful nor ornamental: Why Scots matters

Thomas Clark portrait
Category: Writing

Some fowk think that there’s nae sic thing as writin in Scots. That there’s nae richt spellins, or grammar, or tenses. That the notion o a Scots dictionary is a joke MacGuffin wi the laugh built in, like a left-haundit screwdriver or a tin o tartan paint. That writin in Scots jist means makkin it up as ye gang alang.

Man, man. If they anely kent the hauf o it.

See, writin o ony kind is an experiment; or it should be. If ye ken awready whit ye want tae say, an hou ye want tae say it, chances are ye neednae fash yersel wi writin it aw doon. There’s a wheen o empty seats on the Crindledyke bus, an plenty o lugs that arenae stapped up wi Spotify. Get yersel a day ticket an gaun bananas.

But if ye dinnae ken yet whit ye’re ettlin tae say, if yer thochts are still in beta, no fit for public release, writin is an experiment; an tae scrieve in Scots is simply tae be honest aboot the nature o yon experiment. It’s tae break the problem o communication back doon tae its maist vital pairts, tae free the needle o oor mind fae its accustomed tracks. When we scrieve in Scots, we sweir aff the hokery-pokery o English, its glib end-runs, its static wee set-pieces, an we enlist insteid in the staunin airmy in the fecht anent cliché.

Cause the braw thing aboot English is that there’s aye an easy wey o sayin sowt. It’s a language baith uisefu an ornamental, stowed oot wi the literary equivalents o Snapchat filters, canny wee jouks an dodges for makkin whit ye said soond awfy impressive even if it wisnae. Props tae keep a stodgy sentence fae foonderin unner its ain wecht. I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again. The fact of the matter is. Now let me be clear. It’s aw guid stuff. An wance ye ken the music o it, English is an gey easy sang tae mime alang tae.

But mebbes ye’ve somethin mair in mind for yersel as a writer than life as a copy shop, a cut-price Ouija board for the deid notions o the deid mony. Mebbe it’s jist a bit o space ye’re efter, freedom fae the static in yer heid, the soondbites an the Pavlov’s jingles, the entire thochts that auto-complete. Wan. Wird. Efter. The. Ither. If yon’s the wey o it, we’ve somethin in the back that ah think ye’re gonnae like.

Noo, ah’m no gonnae lie – it’s a fixer-upper, an auld bothy in the middle o naewhaur. Wan careful owner? No in aboot three hunner years. There’s nae internet access, nae mod cons – onythin that’s needin pit in, ye’ll hiv tae dae it yersel – an the stour aff the buiks alane’d choke ye. But, man, o man – thae views!

There’s yer English, yon wet, cauld, stramped-throu snaw-bree that sooks up intae awthin that it’s touched; an there’s yer Scots, thon skyrie gairden, winter-white an waitin, pure as the yowdendrift that blawed it.

On ye gang, noo. Dive in.

 

For the UN’s International Mother Language Day on 21 February, we're running a series of blogs from authors from around Scotland. Check out our #AneYinWan Scots tag on your favourite social network for more Scots celebrations. 

Thomas Clark

Thomas Clark is a poet, author and journalist who works principally in the Scots language. He has appeared at literary festivals the length and breadth of the country, and has performed his work on the BBC, ITV and Sky Sports (of all places). His most recent books include the poetry collection Intae the Snaw and the children’s book Diary o a Wimpy Wean. Check out his Live Literature profile.