I just read a nice piece by J.C. [James Campbell] about Glasgow grammar in the 3 September TLS and wanted to share it; naturally I was pleased to see that Scott Lahti had quoted it at his blog, saving me the trouble of figuring out how to do so. It begins:
As the referendum on Scottish independence approaches, our thoughts turn to ways in which Scotland will remain separate from the rest of the United Kingdom, no matter what happens on September 18. The church, the legal, banking and educational systems, will retain their distinctive features. There is, however, another unique area, seldom mentioned: grammar.
What set J.C. off was James Wood’s essay in the New Yorker on the writer James Kelman, who “is not so much a Scot as a citizen of the Republic of Glasgow, a provenance reflected in his writing on almost every page”:
Quoting generously, Mr Wood sets a new record for the use of what we will considerately call “the f–word” in a New Yorker article (that’s saying something). Sharp as he is, however, he failed to make plain to American readers Kelman’s distinctive use of “but”. Let’s recast that: Sharp as he is but, he failed to make plain . . . . On the Glaswegian tongue, “but” functions as “though” or “however” and often comes at the end of a sentence. Or it functions just as “but” – placed at the end but. Let’s eavesdrop on two friends, Big Tam and Wee Shug, at the bar of a Glasgow pub:
Tam: “Ah’m daft aboot thon New Yorker.”
Shug: “Ah like it an aw. There’s a loat a swerrin’ in it but.”
Tam: “Stoap buyin’ it well.”
Shug: “Ah’d miss James Wood but.”
Mr Wood concocted some fancy theories about Kelman’s “but”, without quite getting it right. He omitted any mention of the deployment of “well” at the end of a sentence – the place where you might expect to find “then”.
Tam: “Change owr tae the LRB well.”
Shug: “It’s no the same but.”
Tam: “Stoap greetin’ well.”
At which point, Big Tam rolls his copy of the TLS into a baton and prods Wee Shug’s arm.
He does this repeatedly. Shug says, “Gonnae no do that”, which is nothing if not another example of grammar as independence by other means. Tam intimates his intention to “Shoot the craw”, not before reminding Shug of their weekly book group meeting, at which the volume under discussion is Not not while the giro by James Kelman. Tam proudly says he read it in one sitting.
“Gaun yersel big man”, Shug says in ironic congratulation. About the book group, he has a confession to make: “Ah’ll no can go”. The Glaswegian grammatical perfection of those sentences does nothing to reduce Big Tam’s exasperation. “Yir huvin me oan. Yir the main speaker but.”
“Get anither yin well.”
A delightful way to introduce subtleties of usage that will stand me in good stead next time I read Kelman or any other of the Glasgow Pléiade.