Victor Mair has a post at the Log featuring “Brian Holton’s ongoing translation of Shuǐhǔ zhuàn 水滸傳 (Water Margin; All Men Are Brothers) into Scots, part of which is available online.” Holton calls his version “The Mossflow,” a wonderful term which the DSL defines as “a wet peat bog, a quagmire, swamp.” Mair gives as an example the following passage:

那时西岳华山有个陈抟处士,是个道高有德之人,能辨风云气色。一日骑驴下山,向那华阴道中正行之间,听得路上客人传说:” 如今东京柴世宗让位与赵检点登基。”

Which Sidney Shapiro translates into standard English as:

At that time on Huashan, the West Sacred Mountain, lived a Taoist hermit named Chen Tuan. A virtuous man, he could foretell the future by the weather. One day as he was riding his donkey down the mountain towards the county town of Huayin he heard a traveller on the road say: “Emperor Chai Shi Zong has surrendered his throne to Marshal Zhao in the Eastern Capital.”

Holton renders it thus:

In thae days there wis a hermit hecht Chen Tuan bydin on the Wastlin Tap o Mount Glore: he wis a kennin an gracie sowl at bi glamourie cud guide the wind an wather. Ae day whan he wis striddlin his cuddie doun the brae ti the Gloresheddae Road he heard an outlan bodie sayin “Richt nou in the Eastren Capital Chai Shizong hes reteirit an Gaird-Marischal Zhao hes taen the throne”.

I love this sort of thing and wish to encourage it. Also, if you follow the first link to Mair’s post, you will find a vigorous discussion in the thread on language, dialect, and fāngyán 方言 ‘topolect.’


  1. Trond Engen says

    What’s behind the different endings in Wastlin and Eastren?

  2. $99.95, WTF.

  3. J. W. Brewer says

    FWIW, although Prof. Mair is obviously the LL house Siniticist (is that the word?), this was a guest post subcontracted out to Brendan O’Kane (I assume the one at I say this not to be pedantic but because I thought it was a pointer to a fascinating work and I hope the proprietors of the Log provide further guest access to Mr. O’Kane if it will result in stuff like that.

  4. dearieme says

    All very well but “Ae day whan he wis striddlin his cuddie doun the brae ti the …” would have been “Yin day whan he wis striddlin his cuddie doun the brae til the…” where I was a laddie. There are just more important matters to attend to, such as the state of the Scottish rugby and football teams.

  5. Trond Engen says

    Ae day whan […] …” would have been “Yin day whan […] …” where I was a laddie.
    So the Scottish numeral one could properly be written “ein”?

  6. I used to watch the Water Margin when it used to be on telly back in the early 80s on BBC2. Didn’t have a clue what was going on Japanese actors on horses with unusual Chinese weapons dubbed into English but I was a child at the time and probably thought it was going to be as hugely entertaining as Monkey – it wasn’t, alas but at least Monkey was funky!

  7. Don’t you think it’s ei, Trond?

  8. I think it’s “een”?
    There is considerable regional variation in the pronunciation of numerals in Scots. For the numeral 1, some people use “ane”, which becomes “een” in the North; others use “yin” or “wan”.

  9. As soon as you admit that Scots is a language and not just a dialect, what do they do? They start finding dialects of Scots. We should have just stayed where we were. No good will come of this.

  10. Maybe the overused aphorism needs to be updated slightly to “a language is a dialect with EU funding”?
    I’m only joking!

  11. dearieme says

    Yin, twy, thry, fower: that’s how we counted, Trond. But in the playground, not with our parents or our teachers.
    That’s “twy” with the vowel as in “eye”. That’s the “eye” of English, because our eye was “ee” (plural “een”). We almost all had “bonny blue een”, though some of the blues were gey close to grey. But what has this to do with the price of goats?

  12. Trond Engen says

    Yin, twy, thry, fower: that’s how we counted, Trond.
    Yeah, I was guessing at a unified Scottish writing fit to represent the different dialect forms. But it’s probably impossible since variation in the first three or so may stem from dialects choosing different gender forms. And also from loans.
    That’s “twy” with the vowel as in “eye”
    Sounding almost Low German.

  13. david waugh says

    Dearieme – Whereabouts are you from, then? I’m unable to place twy & thry to any Scots district. Yin is a central form but the cental forms are twa/twae & three.

  14. “One” is perhaps a hard case, but the classical spelling of Scots is in fact pretty good in all dialects except the insular ones (better, indeed, than the standard spelling of English, which is also often nicely cross-dialectal). The trouble is that there’s a constant tension between wanting a unified orthography based on its own principles, and wanting to represent the sounds of your dialect in a way that doesn’t mislead the Southrons. Occitan has exactly the same problem, and probably any language without a written standard that is heavily overshadowed by a standardized relative does too.

  15. Holton calls his version “The Mossflow,” a wonderful term which the DSL defines as “a wet peat bog, a quagmire, swamp.”

    That DSL link now gets “Not found/ There doesn’t appear to be any content in this location. Use the menu above to return to the site.” When I go to the DSL site and search on “mossflow” I get:

    Results of Quick Search for mossflow

    No results were found.

    Full Text Search Results

    No full text results were found either.

    What the hell is going on? Have they been pruning the dictionary? Why??

  16. OK, on further investigation I find it s.v. moss3. Combs.: […] (27) moss-flow, a wet peat bog, a quagmire, swamp (Lth. 1926 Wilson Cent. Scot. 255).” So they’ve changed the interface to make it less useful. Wonderful.

  17. Ah, and if you search for moss-flow, with the hyphen, you get a bunch of hits, although you’re on your own for figuring out which is the main listing you want (as it happens, it’s 3. Moss n., v.).

  18. This moss is marsh, as I’ve mentioned several times (do I repeat myself? I repeat myself, I am old, my brain is almost full) on this blog, thanks to the magic of “early loss of /r/ before dentals”.

  19. PlasticPaddy says

    Re marsh, there seems to be no connection with Latin marcidus which is traced in wiktionary to PIE *merk. Marsh is traced to a Germanic root meaning “from the sea”, so I suppose brackish. Wiktionary traces moss (not JC’s “this moss?”) to yet another PIE Root.

  20. You may have said it before, and I may have read it before, but it’s as if new to me, so thanks!

  21. The moss-troopers were bandits who raided the Scottish borders in the 17C, long before the general English loss of postvocalic /r/. Hiding in the marsh from patrols makes good sense; hiding in the moss, not so much. (Q: What should you do when lost in the forest in Iceland? A: Stand up.)

  22. Stu Clayton says

    do I repeat myself? I repeat myself, I am old … thanks to … “early loss of /r/ before dentals”.

    Oh dear, I’m sorry to hear that. I myself lost several dentals early, and only then had difficulties with /r/. By the way, repetition with elegant variation is the way to go, I find. People are reassured by hearing what they’ve already heard, they want only a little novelty in the packaging.

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