Frequent commenter Trond Engen sent me a link to Neil Drysdale’s STV News story about a Scots lawyer, Gordon Hay, who has taken six years to translate the New Testament into his native tongue, Doric (the Scottish dialect, not the Ancient Greek one). I’m a sucker for this kind of thing; here’s an extract from The Acks o the Apostles (Chaptir 14, verse 8):

Noo, at Lystra, there was a cripple mannie vrang amo e feet fae e day he wis born, nivver haein waalkit. He wis hearknin tae Paul as he spak, an Paul, leukin him straicht in e ee an seein he hid e faith tae be made aa better, says till him wi a lood vice: “Stan straicht up on yer feet!” He jumpit up an set oot waalkin. An fan e crood saa fit Paul hid deen, they roart oot o them in their ain tongue, “E gods hiv come dooon till hiz in e form o a mannie.”


  1. “And at Lystra, thar was sittin a man, feckless in his feet, a lameter frae his mither’s womb, wha never gaed.” — from a translation into “Braid Scots” (with a 1924 pub date and available on google books) which is one of many or at least several – I think I once had a copy of the Lorimer translation published in the early ’80’s. Is Doric really distinct enough from other varieties of Scots to warrant this sort of project?
    Poking around the internet, Mr. Hay is said to have “had help from a minister who specialises in Greek, the original language of the Gospels.” Which I take to be a polite way of indicating that Mr. Hay himself doesn’t know any Greek, and his “translation” thus consists of Doricizing from some assortment of existing English translations.

  2. How to pronounce “Doricizing” ? “Doric-izing” or “Dori-sizing” ?

  3. Doris-izing.
    It’s funny about these Scottish lawyers, Alexander McCall Smith is another one, they don’t seem to do much legal work.
    Don’t forget Little Sparta. Also here. (Dearie & Mrs Dearie have actually been there & own a piece of work by Ian Hamilton Finlay.)

  4. The biobites (?) at the front of my McCall Smith novels say that he became a full-time writer after the success of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency around the end of the 90s. Writs are less lucrative than rights, apparently.

  5. William Laughton Lorimer’s posthumous New Testament in Scots(1983) will take some beating. Lorimer was Professor of Greek at St Andrews and was nicely on top of his material. Famously, the only character in Lorimer’s NT who uses “standard English” rather than Scots is of course the Devil…

  6. I commemorated Finlay and Little Sparta here (where you will also find Finlay’s “translation” of a Lorine Niedecker poem into Scots).

  7. Oh thanks. I’m glad to see that.
    Margaret — isn’t “neep” just short for “turnip”? That’s what I thought anyways.
    Posted by: Jeremy Osner at December 5, 2005 09:52 PM
    That’s what it says on the Wikipedia turnip page too. But I don’t think so, look at this (vanlig means “common” in this context).

  8. I’ve got the Lorimer, it’s lovely.

  9. Yeah, I just don’t have a sense of how different “Doric” is from the variety of Scots into which Lorimer was translating, and whether whatever lexical/syntactic differences one might point to (pronunciation differences presumably irrelevant here except insofar as a lack of standard Scots orthography means different regions will do eye-dialect differently) are really binary rather than broad tendencies.

  10. isn’t “neep” just short for “turnip”?
    Other way round; “turnip” is an expanded form of “neep” (though it’s not clear what the first part is from). Neep (earlier alternate forms nepe, nep) is from Old English nǽp < Latin nāpus ‘turnip,’ of unknown etymology.

  11. Oh, so the Norwegian comes from Latin. That’s a turn-ip for the book.

  12. The Scots Language Centre explains the dialect features of Doric: I too have Lorimer and love it, but as far as me and Bible versions go – the more the merrier.
    À propos of turnips: the word “turnips” was borrowed from English into Jèrriais in the C19th, in the process becoming a singular – so a turnip is “eune tournopse” and some turnips are “des tournopses” (but we also have “des navieaux” or “des navets”, borrowed from French perhaps in the C17th). Here’s a poem from 1874 that mentions “tournopses”:

  13. Garrigus Carraig says

    My sense is that Scots is in that state of moribundity in which all its speakers are multilingual (in English and/or Gaelic). Is that about right? I’m also curious as to Hay’s methodology. Did he work from the Lorimer, the 1924 Smith, the KJV? Under what circumstances did he call upon his classicist friend? A website would be nice.

  14. I’ve got the Lorimer, it’s lovely.
    If someone recorded it (or sections of it) as an audiobook I would snap that up. For various reasons I feel that merely reading the printed version would be poor pickings. The eyes don’t always have it.

  15. Tom Fleming’s recordings of the gospels in Lorimer’s version are available from Amazon as Audible downloads.
    Selected readings can be heard on the Scots Language Centre site. For example:

  16. It is perhaps a pity that the Kirk didn’t get a Scots version of the scriptures out itself before 1603, when the politics might have become more awkward. They were certainly not otherwise trying to talk like Sassenachs, i.e. the first Reformed doctrinal statement (from 1560) has language like “WE confess and acknawlege ane onlie god to quham onlie we man cleve quham onlie we man serue quham onlie we man wirschip and in quham onlie we man put our traist quha is eternall infinite vnmesurabill incomprehensibil omnipotent inuisibill ane in substance and yit distinct in thre personis the father the sone and the haly gaist.” The defenders of the ancien regime in ecclesiastical matters also used the local vernacular rather than a more Southern standard, as witness this strirring defense of conducting liturgical services in Latin: “As to the publik prayeris of the kirk, it is not necessar that the pepill vndirstand thame, becaus it is nocht the pepill quha prayis, bot the preistis in the name of the hail kirk, and it is aneuche that thay assist be deuotione liftand vp thair myndis to God or saying thair auin priuate oraisonis, and that be thair deuotione thay may be maid participant of the kirk.” Indeed, it has been claimed that the pronunciation of Latin in pre-Reformation church music was notably different in Scotland than in England, and somewhere other I have a CD of Latin-texted sacred music sung with the perhaps conjecturally reconstructed Scottish pronunciation.

  17. Thanks, Geraint. Perfect !

  18. “E gods hiv come dooon”
    3 Os, really?

  19. “My sense is that Scots is in that state of moribundity in which all its speakers are multilingual (in English and/or Gaelic).” I’d be surprised if there’s anyone much who speaks Scots who can’t also speaks Scots English. I’d be astonished if there’s anyone at all who speaks both Scots and Gaelic, unless it’s someone self-consciously Making a Point (or an academic who speaks them only as a scholar). But you never know.

  20. Garrigus Carraig says

    Thanks, dearieme. Knowing nothing about Gaelic speakers, except their geography, I threw them in as a guess.

  21. Scots and English don’t form a dialect continuum as such: there is a fairly sharp boundary, historically rather south of the political boundary but now corresponding fairly closely with it. North of that boundary, there is a whole range of intergrades between essentially pure Scots and essentially pure English with a Scottish (or even an RP) accent. Individuals typically use different points on this continuum in different life circumstances, just as many African Americans do in the U.S. between AAVE and local American dialects.
    Scots itself is rather diverse, however, which means that when people write it, they may use the more or less standard forms, which include an orthography that works fairly well for all Scots varieties except Orcadian and Shetlandic. Alternatively, they may use an ad hoc representation of their own dialect, or a mixture of standard and ad hoc representations.
    The Shetlandic writer John M. Tait considers himself trilingual and writes in three languages: English, Scots with the standard orthography, and Shaetlan using an orthography of his own design.

  22. I sort of started this thread, so I should probably enter, at least to say thanks. One of my questions was how this Doric translation relates to standard Scottish (as far as there is one). I’ll definitely look for the Lorimer version. A true Scottish translation would be very interesting, but — as much as I love dialects everywhere — I’m generally suspicious of declared “dialect translations”, since it invariably seems to mean a lot of effort being made to work in cute local expressions or even slang when unmarked idioms that are also part of the standard language would be better renderings of the original.

  23. What Trond said. No doubt there was lots of regional dialectical variation in 1st century koine Greek, and different books of the New Testament are written at a minimum in different registers if not in different dialects/varieties (and most translations tend to flatten out that internal diversity of register), but the notion was that the texts could be sufficiently understood throughout the Hellenized world so as not to need further translation. If the early Greek-speaking Christian communities in Italy or Gaul or Asia Minor or whatever would not have expressed things exactly the same way in their own idiom . . . so what?

  24. That doesn’t sound like what Trond said at all. He’s suspicious of “dialect translations” that go too far, working in local terms unnecessarily; you don’t seem to like dialect translations period.

  25. That doesn’t sound like what Trond said at all. He’s suspicious of “dialect translations” that go too far, working in local terms unnecessarily;
    Yes. Or rather, put entertainment value before honesty in translation. It’s not that one shouldn’t have fun, but when they don’t render the original faithfully in the local idiom, they also fail in rendering the nuances of the local language.

  26. Well, it may depend on the nature of the text to be translated. (I don’t quite want to say: “Fun? What does having fun have to do with translating the scriptures? Was St. Jerome a fun guy?” But translating scripture has social and ecclesiological implications in a way that translating Pushkin doesn’t, and imho taking a splittist rather than lumpist approach to target languages promotes egocentrism, ethnolinguistic chauvinism, and phyletism, none of which are good for the Church.) Maybe my implicit thesis is that when a given text is already translated into a standard/prestige language variety that speakers of dialect X can as an empirical matter comprehend perfectly fluently, the odds that a new version rendered into X will overshoot in the idiosyncratic/cute-folksy direction Trond identifies are very high. I’m not opposed to ad hoc renderings of individual verses or passages into a different language variety or register (I’ve seen priests do that effectively in sermons – also not so effectively . . .). But doing the whole thing front to back may be a bit monomaniacal.
    And to go back to the top my original concern was the justification for a Doric version distinguished from a Scots version, not a Scots version distinguished from an English version, although I think a Scots version would have been more useful had it been done at the time of the Reformation and there’s necessarily something a bit affected about doing it in the 20th C.

  27. J.W. Brewer: Fun?
    I meant that since biblical texts are known and recognized internationally, I understand why they are used to give a funny glimpse of local speech, and I have no sentimental objections to that. But as a linguistic document, a best possible, sincere rendering in the local dialect of all the nuances expressed in sister translations in languages all over the world, such a “Bible” will be useless.
    I might add that I’m less suspicious with this Doric version than with others I’ve seen, since it seems to have been translated for actually being read aloud in church during service.

  28. That’s a fair point (re the translation being intended for ecclesiastical use), and perhaps the field remains open. I.e., I take it that the vast majority of Church of Scotland services still regularly use an “English” translation for the lections (read with whatever local accent the lector may have), with doing something in Scots being an occasional local eccentricity such that e.g. Lorimer has not become in practice an existing standard that you might routinely expect to hear when visiting parishes around the country.
    But, for example, a dispute has arisen in again-independent Montenegro about whether its territory should remain an integral part of the Serbian Orthodox Church or get its own administratively independent Church (the faction taking the latter view are thus far diplomatically unrecognized by most/all other Orthodox churches). If the latter faction were to announce that it was sponsoring a translation of the Scriptures into “Montenegrin” to replace the inadequate existing Serbian (or Former Yugoslav Language of Serbo-Croatian . . .) versions, I would view that as unfortunate, although for all I know even the autonomist faction of the Church in Montenegro still uses Church Slavonic for the liturgical lections.

  29. Also, my point was meant to be wider than biblical translations. I have the same view on other well-known texts that might serve the same exhibitive purpose, like Hamlet or Lord of the Rings.

  30. Sociolinguistically, the establishment of a local biblical language goes a long way towards establishing an independent poetic high register. It’s easy to see why that’s important in nationbuilding and for claims to nationhood everywhere in Christendom — from Scotland to Montenegro. Probably much less important today than a century ago, though.

  31. (or Former Yugoslav Language of Serbo-Croatian . . .)

    I have a south Slav friend, who proposes in these trying times of crisis and universal brou-ha-ha that we adopt the acronym “FOPOG,” ‘Former Ottoman Province of G————’ for Montenegro’s neighbour, just south of Albania, but not sharing a frontier. It’s unclear to me how much traction this will gain, but I’m firmly in favour of it.

  32. J.W. Brewer says

    Aidan, I myself favor FMROG, for Former Macedonian Republic of Greece (reflecting the political situation of 23 centuries and change ago).

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