Scots Threip.

In investigating various matters connected with this post, I ran into John M. Tait’s site Scots Threip:

Scots Threip consists of writings of my own on the Scots Language. It started as a place to put them so that I could refer to them in forum discussions. Many of the articles are in Scots as they were written either for Scots forums or Lallans magazine.

The Site Guide is on the left margin; it’s quite a rabbit hole. I particularly recommend Wanchancies if you want a glimpse into the arguments surrounding the proper rendition of “Scots as a functioning language with its own characteristics”; as an outsider, I wouldn’t dream of taking a position myself.

And for lagniappe, here’s the first couple of stanzas of Sydney Goodsir Smith’s “Epistle to John Guthrie”:

We’ve come intil a gey queer time
Whan scrievin Scots is near a crime,
“There’s no one speaks like that”, they fleer,
–But wha the deil spoke like King Lear?

And onyways doon Canongate
I’ll tak ye slorpin pints till late,
Ye’ll hear Scots there as raff an slee–
Its no the point, sae that’ll dae.


  1. David Marjanović says

    Two clicks on:

    Sae whit aboot the picturless loun, an the fact at maist Scots speakers is illeiterate in thair ain tongue? Mysel, I hae nae dout ava at naething signeificant can be duin aboot Scots except it haes a reasonably regular spellin, foondit on diaphonemic principles, at speakers o aa the Mainland Scots dialects can identifee wi. The’r nae wey at eneuch parents is gaun ti see the value o haundin on Scots ti thair bairns, or at government is gaun ti tak it seriously, except it haes the potential for status at comes wi haein sic a written form. The idea at this wad kill aff local dialects, as gin no haein a standard Scots spellin wad save thaim, is rideiculous – thay’r bein killt aff bi English areddies. Whaur wad Faroese an Catalan be gin Hammershaimb an Fabro haedna gien thaim workin orthographies? Thay didna stert frae the dominant poseition at Caroline Macafee pents for standard English. But this is Scotland, whaur the very pynt o Scots is at it maunna be taen ower serious-like, except wir neibors, leiterary freinds or academic colleagues thinks we’r heid-bangers.

  2. The issue around orthography is: are people who speak Scots and English bilingual or diglossic? If diglossic, then it doesn’t matter how Scots is written, since it is a personal expression of the writer at most (unless they are a lexicographer). But if bilingual, then Scots desperately needs a standard orthography, a consensus grammar for non-fiction prose (what Tait calls “expository”), and all the things that any undeveloped language needs to become a developed language. Note that this has nothing to do with Abstand as such and everything to do with how the community thinks about its spoken and written varieties.

  3. Bathrobe says

    nothing to do with Abstand as such

    Or the community’s attitude to Abstand. Seems kind of momentous to me: the only way anything like this could become remotely relevant is if Scotland became independent.

  4. There’s a parallel site by the same author, Shaetlan Traep, where I found this poem, “Reffelation”. Note that ui and oe are short and long /ø/ respectively.

    Da Reffelation o Santit John

    Midders, tell your peerie bairns
    if dey’r wantin ta git on,
    never ta ant da pleepsit roeds
    o Reffelatin John.

    I wis sittin eence ithin da Wast hotel
    at Whiteness, swinklin flat-laek Orkney beer
    an aetin somethin, leukin ower da isles
    o Oxna, Papa, Hildastay an da rest
    (whaar Vagaland eence saa da rain-guis flee)
    whin I buist a faan ithin some kind o dwaam.
    For I fan at I wis tummled i da sea
    somewye apo da Firts, juist inbi by
    da Hug o Papa, an dan sucken doon
    richt tae da boddam. An sae, efter twaartree days
    or weeks gien by, I raise up fae da dyoub
    a ourie crang, rowlin apo da scruif,
    driftin for da Ham o Brunaness
    wi a catticloo o swaabies, bonxies, maas,
    claagin aboot me, kempin ta pylk mi een.
    Bit I felt nae rivin neb, for I wis risen
    a feyness, far abuin mesel – bit no
    laek da ene in Lang Lies Lowrie at da Mill
    at trailed his sparles ahint him trowe da sclent
    at da tully med; bit a virtual feyness – ene
    at you cood zoom an pan wi a moose’s sneck.

    So I zooms in closser, still, ta see mesel
    wi sookit skaen, happit wi sabbit plags,
    turnin ower an ower, da baaless een
    noo under, noo abuin. Still farder in
    trowe da sockets, sinuses, whaar da steepit haarns
    an treedbare hentilaags o neural nets
    wis peigin, spunkin, laek a shortit droid
    fae Star Wars. An aroond me, dae wir screens
    wi dis ene, dat ene, fae mi younger days
    an aalder – raed, blue, orange, yallow, green –
    plastic cups for mylk, apo my first
    day at da schuil, among da idder bairns.
    I shuin fan oot my colour didna mell.

    Hit wis dere I met mi first wife – shui wis English.
    We gied dat trang tagidder – whit we laached
    an smoorikined, an cooried i da bed.
    We tocht at we wir settled, bit come time
    hed less ta say, an pairtit. We still wirk
    tagidder, bit we dunna muckle spaek.

    Fast-forrit, trowe mi schuil days; faster still
    trowe Sooth an mairage, bairns, jobs – bit wait!
    Whit need I care? For shuin da very wirds
    at I’m ey spocken, at I’m writin noo,
    will aa be gien, an aa dis bits o scribes
    maybe scrimed ower wi some archivist,
    wi Jakobsen an Graham at his side,
    tryin ta git his mooth aroond da soonds
    ta lat dem scan an rhyme. Phonology,
    morphology, eediom, grammatical paradigm,
    cassen fae fock at needit dem nae mair
    laek wir forebears did wi Norn. Dan brocken Norse,
    noo brocken English – Shenglish – deevil wirt
    aless ithin da classics, I wis telt.
    ‘This Shetland writing – what does it achieve?
    Our interests are not classical, but fish.
    Your Shetland prose is trite – though outsiders
    may think it cute, we have no use for it,
    we native speakers of the dialect.’

    So lat hit dwine – whit need hae I ta care?
    Dis winna be a classic – I’m nae poiet
    an dis is no da poiems you’r meant ta write
    in ‘dialect’ – nae fower-lettered wirds –
    toh if I wid a pitten twaartree in
    I laekly sood a been da very nyaave!
    Caase Leonard, Welsh an Kelman – dey’r da boys –
    dir gowld, polyphonous eemages engraved
    abuin Labovian, Orthobakhtinian kirks;
    da acolytic dogmas o dir cults
    at odds wi truith, aften at odds wi fact,
    laek dogmas alwis is, as radical
    as da establishment ey tinks hitsel –
    dat stucken hit eventually taks ruit.

    ‘Self-pitying doggerel’ I can hear dem say,
    caase naebody wid write a tract laek dis
    in vaerse, aless da saddest, sooerest plook
    apo da erse o da kent universe.
    ‘Pop grammarian’; ‘Sad orthographist’ –
    da skyimps an afftaks steids laek lady-hens
    in perfect English grammar, perfect spelled.

    Bit aneoch o dat – back tae dis paekit corp,
    daed neurons firin farts o hydrogen
    wi da haagless brynd for a electrolyte,
    come tae dis blyde staet forty year ower laet.
    Ootwale, at wid a fantit at da paap
    or been led aff, or sutshkins balled fae nest
    laek da tongue hit wrat in, artifeecially hained
    wi coonter-evolutionary bruck:
    gospels, antibiotics, an da laek.

    ‘Tinks he’s MacDiarmid, spaekin tae da tissle,
    or Billy Tait atween wadders’ – Heth, bit wait,
    I’m never drucken muckle, still less gien
    bare bylkie, so I doot I canna wite
    mi roeds ta drink or sunstroke – nae excuse
    bit foosty fermentations i da brain.
    Bit dae’r nae gray maiter here among dis screens
    o flashbacks, bit paiswisps o hummled nerves,
    ends flottin up laek droo ithin da ebb,
    wi coloured insulation – aa da tints
    o yun sam mylk cups, aetched apo mi mind.

    Mi nixt wife wis fae Israel, toh shui gied
    aa trowe da world, an up da laetest cam
    ta Shaetlan. For a start, I wisna keen –
    tocht shui wis ower prunk, bit i da end
    shui wan me ower. Bi laa, we’r mairied yit
    bit sindered – shui bides but an I bide ben,
    imaginin wha anidder wife micht be
    an draain picters o her, writin vaerse
    an letters, tryin ta mak up her naem
    wi boany wirds laek Merran an Mareel
    an idder enes, laek Yoag, an Elt, an Staen.

    Fast forrit farder, till I fan da plaece
    whaar dey wir hentin up da laandit crang
    an yirdin him i muild, apo da broo
    abuin da Ham, far fae da helly-rig,
    so at he widna rise an stend aboot –
    a rale, oonkirsen feyness, wantin een –
    ta keep hard-airnin bodies fae dir sleep
    wi guff o flesh lang daed, an blue-niled baens
    proagin oot trowe elbucks, knees an taes.
    Bit na – dey widna budder, for dey kaen
    at juist ee helly-wird laek ‘trite’ or ‘cute’,
    or ‘variation’ or ‘polyphony’
    wid lay da ghosst for aa, an vindicate
    da pouer o da richt ower da oondaed.

    I tocht at I wis fun her – I wis kent
    her fae I wis a bairn. Deein, dey sed,
    toh swack an soople-laek. At first I tocht
    at shui micht kyucker up, bit shuin I fan
    at naebody wis carin, an maedicine
    wis fatal, ower dear, or ower laet.
    Better ta lat her dwine awa, dey sed.

    I’m mulderin noo, anaeth da hedder-cowe,
    left afore every peel o flesh is gien
    (laek Johnie Notions cured da daedly pox)
    so we micht as weel fast-forrit by da screeds
    o adverts, an da syndicatit reels,
    sops an gemm-shows, clips o Lerrick men
    dinkit wi wingy keps an daed craas’ pens,
    afore we see a archaeologist
    hockin me up, tryin ta set da baens
    in oarder on a table. ‘This’, shui says,
    ‘is probably late twentieth Shetland man.
    A good example, still exhibiting
    some primitive features – note the weakened chin
    atrophied by unchecked ravages
    of phonological pathogens; the ears
    deformed by aberrant syntax, and the hand –
    ah, this is rare! The fingers show some signs
    of swelling and misshaping, brought about
    by Insular Prose Lesions. This disease
    was thought to be infectious, but it died
    when all the sufferers were sterilised.’

    ‘Is du aa richt?’ I waakened fae mi dwaam.
    Da isles lay boany, caam aboot da nicht,
    an da fock wis yaarnin, laachin. I wis whyde.
    I trivvled ower mi knees for proagin baens
    an rexed mi fingers, croppened wi da signs
    at I’m ootwun – a faeled genetic strynd.

    (First printed in the collection Still Life.)

  5. Which reminds me, Scots gin ‘if, whether’ is an etymological open question. The OED speculates that it could come from given or gif an, but there’s no particular evidence for or against that. I wonder what Gaelic uses to express conditionals.

  6. Trond Engen says

    Huh. I’ve taken it to come from given without much further thought. But it might perhaps also be a cognate of the gain of again. Norwegian om is a preposition meaning “about” that also serves a conditional conjunction like Eng. ‘if’.

    Jeg aner ikke om han lever.
    I have no idea if he’s alive.

    Om jeg ikke er der klokka åtte, så bare dra uten meg.
    If I’m not there at eight, just leave without me

  7. Scots gin ‘if, whether’ is an etymological open question.

    Huh, that’s interesting. Already in 1808 Jameson (s.v. gin) quoted the theory “Gin is no other than the participle given, gi’en, gi’n” and said:

    This hypothesis, however plausible, is liable to suspicion on the grounds already mentioned, vo. Gif. MoesG. gan, jan, are mentioned as signifying if, Gl. Wynt. vo. And. But I cannot discover on what authority.

  8. Trond Engen says

    It doesn’t do much work as a preposition these days, by the way. It’s mostly a prefix and an element of phrasal verbs, at least partly calqued from German.

    omverden “world around”
    omkjøring “diversion (because of roadworks)”
    omgjøre “redo, change (a decision)”
    se seg om “go looking around”
    boka handler om meg “the book is about me”
    nå står det om liv “now lives are on stake”

  9. Lars (the original one) says

    Danish om is still a preposition in temporal expressions, om natten = “at night” or “in the nighttime”, om året = “per year”, and to denote subject matter even when not part of a phrasal verb, Alt om Damerne = “Everything about the Ladies” (an actual ladies’ magazine). I thought I’d seen that in Norwegian too…

    Its use as a conjunction is reduced however to ‘uncommitted’ (is there a better term?) phrasal complements, like if and whether in English: Jeg ved ikke om han lever = “I don’t know if he’s alive”. This gives rise to a certain awkwardness when using the subject matter preposition with such a phrase: It is natural to say Bogen handler om[,] om der er liv på Mars = “The book is about whether there is life on Mars” but it doesn’t look good in writing.

    In other contexts (conditional phrases), it has been replaced as a conjunction by hvis, originally the genitive of (Middle) Low German wat! (For some reason Danish borrowed this MLG wes as a general oblique, and already by the 16th century it occurred as a conjunction by reinterpretation of sentences like “he took the money that he could” > “he took the money if he could”. The earlier use as a sort of indefinite pronoun is now totally unrecognizable to a modern Dane).

  10. Trond Engen says

    Yes. I said mostly, not completely. The temporal prepositional meaning “during, at, in” is current:: Om dagen. Om natta. Om sommeren. Also the meaning “about (a subject)”: Jeg leser om de danske sagnkongene. “I’m reading about the Danish legendary kings.” And as an element in compound prepositions/adverbs: oppom, innom, nedom, omkring.

  11. Trond Engen says

    The magazine is (was?) called Alt for damene “Everything for the ladies”.

  12. The -gain in again, by the way, is cognate to German gegen ‘against’. Again and against are the only surviving cognates in Modern English. (In against, the s is adverbial and the -t is prosthetic, as in amidst, amongst, betwixt, whilst.)

    The magazine is alive and kicking, at least online, and calls itself Alt for damerne or just Alt.

  13. Trond Engen says

    I suggested ‘om’ as a semantic parallel, but the paths of development must perhaps have been different:

    Om (at) “About, around, by, at” -> “In the case (that I don’t come, …)” -> “Hypothesizing”
    Gain “Towards” -> “Facing (that I don’t come, …)” -> “Hypothesizing”

  14. @JC: Don’t forget gainsay.

  15. David Marjanović says

    *lightbulb moment*

  16. And, apparently, ungainly, from “geyn” meaning “direct” which ultimately comes from “gegn” = against.

  17. I’ll be damned! (That’s Old Norse gegn, by the way.)

  18. Trond Engen says

    I wonder if the other gain <- French gagner “win, earn” could be from ON gagna “be useful”.

  19. Trond Engen says

    No, CNTRL concludes:

    De l’a. b. frq. *waid̄anjan, de la même famille que l’all. Weide « pâturage », et qui a dû signifier à l’orig. « faire paître (le bétail) » (cf. encore les sens de gagnage*, ainsi que l’a. h. all. weida subst. « pâturage; nourriture »), d’où, en fr., « cultiver », prob. en raison du système de l’assolement triennal, dans lequel les champs, après avoir servi de pâturages, étaient labourés. Le sens de « cultiver » est attesté en a. fr. et en m. fr. (1155 ds T.-L.; Gdf.) et s’est maintenu dans les patois de l’Est, v. FEW t. 17, p. 461. Le verbe a pris ensuite celui de « s’assurer (un profit matériel) par un travail (en général) ».

    The earliest attestations are all in the form gaaignier, which CNTRL must see as ga-aignier- < *guaiðanjer vel. sim. < Low Franconian *waidanjan.

    However, the first meanings are a) “s’assurer (un profit matériel) par un travail, par une activité”, b) “s’emparer de, conquérir par la force”, and 3) “s’assurer (un profit matériel) par le jeu, par un hasard favorable”, i.e. “win, achieve”. Both the time (mid-12th century) and meanings fit better for a borrowing of ON gagna, but I don’t know how to squre that with the written form. One might perhaps postulate a Germanic verb *ga-aignijan- “appropriate”, but that’s a long shot.

  20. The TLFI doesn’t give an etymology, but the first appearance is from 1135 (as gaaignier), where it is defined as “s’assurer (un profit matériel) par un travail, par une activité”. Littré (whose etymologies are not as reliable) says “du germanique : anc. haut-allem. weidanjan, faire paître, weida, pâturage.”

  21. Trond Engen says

    Thanks. Yes, I went on to look it up, but my comment is awaiting moderation,

  22. David Marjanović says

    One might perhaps postulate a Germanic verb *ga-aignijan- “appropriate”, but that’s a long shot.

    Unlike its past participle, German geeignet “appropriate, apt, fit for”.

  23. Trond Engen says

    Yes. The reflexive egne seg “be appropriate, for, apt” and the past participle egna “appropriate, apt, fit” are very common in Norwegian too. But that ‘s amother story. Or another part of the story. Metaphorical appropriation, just like ‘appropriate’. We also have tilegne “dedicate” and tilegne seg “acquire (knowledge or property)”, while Swedish ägna sig åt means “dedicate oneself too”. Metaphorical and literal meanings go hand in hand.

  24. Trond Engen says

    What I mean is, the verb existed and has the intended meaning. But the prefigated verb existing in a suitable form in the right time and place to end up as attested in Medieval French, that’s a postulate.

  25. David Marjanović says

    Oh yeah, sich eignen = geeignet sein.

  26. Trond Engen says

    The ON verb eigna “give as property” already had the metaphorical meanings “dedicate” and (in the reflexive) “acquire (knowledge)” < *aignijan-. The secondary meaning of the reflexive “be appropriate, apt, fit” is calqued from German, but it’s not a long extension from “be meant for” to “be fit for”.

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