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Elphinstone Kist   Background and Contexts

The Kirk and The Leid     by: Booth, Gordon

When the Protestant Reformation reached Scotland in 1560, it introduced a distinctive form of church government – Presbyterianism – which blended well with long-established Scottish traits of self-reliance and aggressive independence. The result proved to be an enduring relationship between Kirk and Nation, occasionally harmonious but more often stormy, within which each played a significant role in shaping the character and destiny of the other. For good or ill, minister and dominie were dominant figures within each community throughout succeeding centuries, charged with guarding the people’s moral lives and imparting just as much learning as was deemed fitting and “safe” for the parishioners. At first, gentry and commoners alike spoke a common tongue – the characteristic northern form of that Middle English dialect (“Inglis”) which had penetrated as far north as the Highland Line but no further. Several events, however, combined to undermine the survival of the Scots vernacular. The introduction and rapid spread of printing in Europe from the mid-fifteenth century exerted increasing pressure for the standardisation of the English language and spelling in printed texts, while the union of the crowns in 1603, by bringing the Scottish royal court to London, rapidly seduced the nation’s aristocracy into adopting southern manners and accents, a process confirmed and socially widened a century later by the union of the parliaments, which saw commercial, professional and literary talents hastening south across the Border to promote their interests – frequently with considerable success.

John Knox himself never wrote in Scots(1) and in retrospect it seems inevitable therefore that the Reformers chose to translate the traditional Latin Bible into English, first in the form of the Geneva Bible produced by the Protestants in exile and then, in 1611, with the English version “authorised” by King James himself. Perhaps that royal gesture, from a king who both spoke and wrote in Scots, most conclusively sealed the fate of written Scots. The majority of households, even well into the nineteenth century, possessed no book but the Bible in English (along with the metrical Psalter(2)); and the King James version of scripture thus represented, for the common people, the word of God as it should properly, politely and devoutly be spoken. Daily family worship, where practised, was centred accordingly, as Burns recounts, around readings in English from the Holy Book:

The sire turns o’er, wi patriarchal grace
The big ha’ Bible, once his father’s pride;
His bonnet rev’rently is laid aside,
His lyart haffets wearing thin and bare;
Those strains that once did sweet in Zion glide,
He wales a portion with judicious care;
And “Let us worship God!” he says with solemn air.(3)

As Purves(4) and others note, Burns himself uses both Scots and English in his poetry, as he sees fit, thereby widening the linguistic compass or “register” available to him. Like his predecessors, Burns employed Scots for dialogue and for most narrative, especially of a humorous or satirical kind, while reverting to English for solemn philosophising or moral reflection. The choice is always made with conscious artistry, as in the quotation above, where the head of the household’s deliberate and “judicious” use of English is subtly implied by the poet’s choice of words.

The transition from Scots to English in both writing and speech was initially a gradual process. The records of the General Assemblies of the Scottish Kirk during the last forty years of the sixteenth century(5) are thoroughly Scots in spelling, style and syntax, though the exigencies of the tongue force the writers to introduce many words which are necessarily southern English. Familiar words from the vernacular on the other hand are still plentiful: nought (not); aucht (any); haill (whole); weill (well); sixt (sixth); pairt (part); sicht (sight); ouk (week); the morne (tomorrow); grun (ground); bairne (infant); brunt (burnt) and many more. Rarer terms include leisum (lawful); buirded (boarded); mankit (spoiled – cf. mankie in modern urban Scots); efaldlie (cf. modern Scots aefauldlie: sincerely); platt (blow); bruckle (brittle); unbesit (beset); abulziement (equipment) and tulziesumness (quarrelsomeness). The traditional northern qw for the southern initial w is used almost invariably, as in quha (who); qwhilk day (which same day); qwhais (whose) and similar relatives. Legal terminology such as forsuameikle (forasmuch); anent (concerning); dispone (convey legally); depone (give evidence) and compeir (appear before a court) was to prove especially tenacious because of the preservation of Scots law. Weak past tenses consistently employ the -it suffix in place of the southern -ed, which had become standard elsewhere, and one notably persisting characteristic of modern oral Scots syntax is commonplace, whereby plural subjects take what in standard English would be singular verbs (and vice versa) as in “persones qwha hes declynit to idolatrie”.

Aberdeen was a town of minor importance in the sixteenth century (Kirk General Assemblies were held in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling, Perth and Dundee but not further north until the 1600s) and, though King’s College had been established in 1495, there is little textual material extant to indicate the literary style of the north-east, apart from Aberdeen’s ecclesiastical records from 1562, which display linguistic features very similar to that of the sixteenth century Assembly minutes, as in the following example:

22nd September, 1611. The quhilk day, efter incalling of God, Peter Sewan wes convict of his awin grant and confescioun for the unmerciful dinging of his wyff, and hurting hir on the left ey, this weik immediatlie bypast, and for saying in the presence of the sessioun that it behowit him to brak hir arme because she puttis violent hands on him.(6)

The later 17th century entries show a perceptible degree of Anglicisation, together with an increasing number of English (and Latin) words borrowed to cope with the verbosity of ecclesiastical deliberation:

October 11, 1678: This day, it was represented that there is a flagrant scandall and fama clamosa of an symoniacall paction supposed to have passed betwixt Mr Alexander Leask, minister at Turriff, and Mr John Lumsden, student in divinitie at Aberdeine, in order to the obtaining a presentation to the said Mr John to the kirk orf Marieculter.(7)

Medieval Scots poetry had been prolific and of a high quality. John Barbour’s Brus, written around 1370, remains probably the earliest and finest example of Scottish poetry from the Middle Ages: Barbour was almost certainly born in Aberdeen but spent most of his life at Oxford and abroad, so that the Brus can hardly be taken as a typical example of the north-east vernacular from that period. However, Barbour and his successors were open to Renaissance European literature, particularly that of France and Italy, while the lingua franca of Latin gave wide currency to the use of that tongue in Scotland for literary as well as legal purposes(8), Gavin Douglas’s translation of Virgil’s Aeneid into Scots, completed in 1513, well illustrating the two-way commerce of the tongues in pre-Reformation times. The rich literary tradition of the medieval Makars continued unabated in the work of fifteenth century poets such as Robert Henryson and William Dunbar, as well as in Sir David Lyndsay’s memorable play, Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis, first performed before James IV in 1540. Out of that legacy was to come the eighteenth century resurgence of vernacular poetry, best exemplified in the work of Allan Ramsey, Robert Fergusson(9) and Robert Burns, but also represented in numerous minor poets and song writers such as Alexander Ross(10) and the episcopalian divine, John Skinner, of Tullochgorum fame, both born in the north-east.(11)

From the Union of the Parliaments onwards, the Scottish church maintained an official policy of Anglicisation for worship and ecclesiastical debate. At the same time, it behoved any good minister to possess the skill of communicating to members of his congregation in their local tongue, if he were not to risk alienating them. Competence in the dual registers was thus a pastoral prerequisite. Nowhere is this better expressed than in William Alexander’s brilliant novel of the 1843 Disruption, Johnny Gibb of Gushetneuk(12), As was customary with Scottish writers from the time of Galt and Scott onwards, Alexander’s narrative is in English but his unusually extended dialogue precisely replicates the language used by the speakers, whether English or Scots, adding piquancy and ironic contrast to the interchanges. Mr Sleekaboot, the unlikeable established church incumbent of the rural north-east parish, cannot accommodate his language to that of his flock and so is never truly accepted by the majority:

“Well, but Mr Tawse,” said the minister, evidently disposed to get very serious on the point, “as I was saying, and as you know, we must take good care for the order of the Church. There can be nothing more perilous to the peace of our Zion than the presence of unbridled spirits in office within her bosom. And I, in the position of spiritual head of this parish, I being responsible alike to the Presbytery and the patron, Sir Simon Frissal, I would never for a moment brook the revolutionary opinions held by those men.(13)”

Ministerial addresses from the pulpit were regularly delivered in English, albeit with a strong Scottish accent (i.e. the distinctive regional blends of phonology and intonation). In Peter’s Letters to his Kinsfolk, John Gibson Lockhart (Sir Walter Scott’s biographer) drew a gently satirical picture of Scotland and its establishment figures at the beginning of the nineteenth century, in which Thomas Chalmers, probably the foremost Scottish ecclesiastic of his time, was praised effusively for his eloquence but pilloried for his accent: “[H]is pronunciation is not only broadly national, but broadly provincial – distorting almost every word he utters into some barbarous novelty . . .(14)” Like Scott himself, Lockhart played a significant role in promoting the image of a Scotland that was quaint, eccentric and in many ways still quite uncivilised; and that stereotype was very thoroughly cultivated throughout the nineteenth century, mostly in a good-humoured fashion, not least in the many cartoons of the magazine Punch which still serve as a unique index of changing Victorian attitudes. Dean Ramsey’s immensely popular Reminiscences of Scottish Life and Character, which went through twenty-two editions between its first publication in 1858 and his death in 1872, similarly reinforced the use of Scots as a medium for conveying what he called the “dry Scottish pawky humour”, superbly illustrated in a profusion of anecdotes such as the following:

An aged minister of the old school, Mr Patrick Stewart, one Sunday took to the pulpit a sermon without observing that the first leaf or two were so worn and eaten away that he couldn’t decipher or announce the text. He was not a man, however, to be embarrassed or taken aback by a matter of this sort, but at once intimated the state of matters to the congregation,––“My brethren, I canna tell ye the text, for the mice hae eaten it; but we’ll just begin whaur the mice left aff, and when I come to it I’ll just let ye ken.(15)”

Whether we like it or not, Scots inexorably evolved into an oral language in the course of the 17th century and continued so thereafter. It was the medium of conversation between equals and also between those of differing rank, except where distinctions of status required to be preserved, a situation in which those fortunate enough to be fluently bilingual could maintain a linguistic superiority over lesser mortals – as Stevenson illustrates finely in the character of Lord Hermiston:

And in the course of sentencing, my lord had this obiter dictum: “I have been the means, under God, of haanging [sic] a great number, but never such a disjaskit rascal as yourself.” The words were strong in themselves: the light and heat and detonation of their delivery, and the savage pleasure of the speaker in his task, made them tingle in the ear.(16)

It is Scott though who (mindful always of his English audience) shows the greatest mastery in the polyphonic interweaving of the two registers, English and Scots. In Rob Roy, the terrified Bailie Nicol Jarvie tries to ingratiate himself with McGregor’s Amazonian wife, Helen, speaking –

into his usual jog-trot manner, which exhibited a mixture of familiarity and self-importance––“How’s a’ wi’ ye this lang time?––Ye’ll hae forgotten me, Mrs MacGregor Campbell, as your cousin––uh! uh!––if a––but ye’ll mind my father, Dean Nicol Jarvie, in the Saut-Market o’ Glasgow?”(17)

To which cringing salutation Helen responds crushingly in the purest oratorical English – “as if,” writes Scott sardonically, “to make us taste in anticipation the full bitterness of death”. For all Scotsmen tacitly acknowledged that English was the language to be spoken in whichever afterlife was predestined for them.

In prose, Scott’s mastery of the vernacular was and remains unequalled; and in the Waverley novels he displays the full versatility and range of what rightly deserves to be called “strong” Scots, as opposed to what has been characterised as “thin” Scots – the somewhat timorous use of a watered down version of the tongue, in which touches of the idiom are retained but the density of the vocabulary is considerably diluted, in deference to the presumed tolerance level of the readership. John Galt’s Annals of the Parish (1821) illustrates nevertheless how effective a use may be made of such “thin” Scots by a gifted writer:

But och how! This was the last happy summer that we had for many a year in the parish; and an omen of the dule that ensued, was in a sacrilegious theft that a daft woman, Jenny Gaffaw, and her idiot daughter, did in the kirk, by tearing off and stealing the green serge lining of my lord’s pew, to make, as they said, a hap for their shoulders in the cold weather––saving, however, the sin, we paid no attention at the time to the mischief and tribulation that so unheard-of a trespass boded to us all.(18)

By this judicious restraint in his use of Scots, Galt admirably succeeds in conveying exactly the right linguistic nuances of his fictional author, the Reverend Micah Balwhidder, an elderly country minister who is consciously proud of his bilingualism, but who keeps a proper check on his use of the vernacular. And when a young student comes to preach in Mr Balwhidder’s pulpit, Galt’s brilliantly astute irony neatly conveys the deep-rooted Scottish dilemma over the use of English in a formal context:

His sermon assuredly was well put together, and there was nothing to object to in his doctrine; but the elderly people thought his language rather too Englified, which I thought likewise, for I never could abide that the plain auld Kirk of Scotland, with her sober presbyterian simplicity, should borrow, either in word or in deed, from the language of the prelatic hierarchy of England. Nevertheless, the youngest part of the congregation were loud in his praise, saying, there had not been heard before such a style of language in our side of the country.(19)

This perennial Scottish ambivalence towards both its Kirk and its language continues to be reflected in much of its popular fiction at the close of the nineteenth century, and is especially marked in the writings of S.R. Crockett and J.M. Barrie, both of whom resort quite unnecessarily to sporadic glossing of their attenuated Scots dialogue:

“Hear till him,” said Saunders; “man, yer hoast [cough] is no’ near as sair as it was i’ the backend.(20)”

“Little Rathie wasna a crittur I took till; no, I canna say he was,” said Bowie Haggart, so called because his legs described a parabola, “but he maks a very creditable corp (corpse), I will say that for him.(21)”

Alongside “Ian McLaren” (John Watson), author of the now almost unreadable By the Bonnie Brier Bush, Barrie and Crockett came to be stigmatised as Kailyard writers by a subsequent generation(22), their excessive sentimentality being abominated with some justification. Yet they were doing little more than appealing to the nostalgia of the day for a supposedly lost Scottish Arcadia and using a simplified Scots dialogue to lend colour to their otherwise remarkably authentic pictures of early to mid-nineteenth century rural life. For both Barrie and Crockett, the rigours, tensions and paradoxes of Scottish religious precept and practice continue to lie just under the surface of their work in this genre; yet each writer distances himself discreetly from any explicit comment on the spiritual and moral ambiguities of Scottish religion. Amongst earlier Scottish writers, only James Hogg, in his Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824) had dared to analyse the chillingly perverse influence of extreme Calvinism on the beliefs of all social classes in Scotland:

Robin Ruthven sat on the outskirts of the great assembly, listening with the rest, and perceived what they, in the height of their enthusiasm, perceived not––the ruinous tendency of the tenets so sublimely inculcated. Robin kenned the voice of his friend the corby-craw again, and was sure he could not be wrong: sae, when public worship was finished, a’ the elders an’ a’ the gentry flocked about the great preacher, as he stood on the green brae in the sight of the hale congregation, an’ war alike anxious to pay him some mark o’ respect. Robert Ruthven came in amang the thrang, to try to effect what he had promised; and, with the greatest readiness and simplicity, just took haud o’ the side o’ the wide gown, an’, in sight o’ a’ present, held it aside as high as the preacher’s knee, and, behold, there was a pair o’ cloven feet.(23)

George MacDonald (1824-1905) stands out in marked contrast to his Kailyard contemporaries. Born in Huntly and educated at King’s College, Aberdeen, he briefly became a congregational minister at Arundel in 1850 before devoting himself to writing profusely in a surprising range of genres. Macdonald’s Scottish novels have all the sentimentality of Barrie and Crockett (as well as the irritating glosses) but are redeemed by their profoundly sincere moral earnestness and by their far richer use of north-east Scots in extended dialogue. In this respect, they invite comparison with William Alexander, who alone of his contemporaries matches MacDonald’s intimate grasp of the north-east tongue in terms of vocabulary and idiom:

“I’m thinkin’ there canna be muckle differ atween houp an’ faith,” said Robert. Mony a ane ’at says they believe in God has unco little houp o’ onythin’ frae’s han’, I’m thinkin’.”
My reader may have observed a little change for the better in Robert’s speech. Dr Anderson had urged upon him the necessity of being at least able to speak English; and he had been trying to modify the antique Saxon dialect they used at Rothieden with the newer and more refined English. But even when I knew him, he would, upon occasion, especially when the subject was religion or music, fall back into the broadest Scotch. It was as if his heart could not issue freely by any other gate than that of his grandmother’s tongue.(24)

MacDonald’s novels continually betray the author’s preoccupation with matters of faith and reflect the religious angst so prevalent in the late nineteenth century amongst the English intelligentsia with whom he associated. Yet it is William Alexander’s sole novel, Johnny Gibb of Gushetneuk, which wins hands down, because of its sheer linguistic virtuosity, although the very density of its “strong” Scots is now a serious obstacle for any reader unfamiliar with the Banffshire and Buchan dialect. Curiously too, for all that Johnny Gibb is unmistakably a novel about the Disruption, it contains virtually no discussion of religion itself, nor is there any obtrusive piety whatsoever. At heart it is a political work, as the subtitle “With Glimpses of Parish Politics about A.D. 1843” implies, and as such it effectively reflects the true wellsprings of social unrest that lay behind the schismatic events in the Kirk during that Europe-wide revolutionary decade:

“But here’s oorsel’s noo ’t’s toil’t awa upo’ this place frae youthheid to aul’ age, an wi’ the lawbour o’ oor nain han’s made it’s ye may say––Gushetneuk’s the day’s nae mair fat Gushetneuk was fan we cam’ here nor my fit’s a han’ saw. Sir Seemon ca’s ’imsel laird o’t; but Sir Seemon’s deen nae mair tae the place nor the man o’ France. . . . I’m weel seer it was never the arreengement o’ Providence that the man that tills the grun an’ spen’s the strength o’ ’s days upon’t sud be at the merciment o’ a man that never laid a han’ till’t, nor hardly wair’t a shillin’ upon’t, to bid him bide or gyang.”(25)

At the start of the twentieth century, a new and more acerbic note was struck by George Douglas Brown in The House with the Green Shutters (1901), with its cruel satire of small town Scottish life and manners. It is a novel which has perhaps received more acclaim than its artistic merits deserve(26) and its relatively impoverished use of Scots vocabulary and idiom represents a loss of intimate contact with the vernacular of the ordinary people. In the main, Brown offers his readers no more than a dubious transliteration of the local (Ayrshire) accent, such as oald for “old”, together with a sprinkling of curious half-Scotticisms such as verra well. Indeed, his own handling of Scots is little more robust than that of the minister whom Brown satirises:

“And, by the way,” said the parson, stooping to Scotch in his ministerial jocoseness, “how’s auld Tam, in whose class you were a prize-winner? He was appointed to the professoriate the same year that I obtained my licence.”(27)

A superficially similar but essentially very different approach to Scots came with Lewis Grassic Gibbon (Leslie Mitchell) in his trilogy A Scots Quair, of which the first volume, Sunset Song, was published in 1932. Strongly influenced by the Lallans poetry of Hugh MacDiarmid (Christopher Grieve) and his self-styled “coterie” from the 1920s, Gibbon developed a distinctive and highly attractive prose style of synthetic Scots, which served his artistic purposes admirably but which hardly reflects the true vernacular idiom of the Mearns communities that his characters inhabit:

And the way of it was that in early November a bit daughter was born to the Manse, and the Reverend Gibbon was proud as punch, he preached a grand sermon that Sunday, For unto us a child is born; and it was so affecting that old Mistress Sinclair broke down and cried in her hanky about it; but Long Rob of the Mill, when he heard that, said: She shouldn’t take whisky sweeties to the kirk with her. Everybody else was fell impressed, folk who’d been a bit off with the Manse for months agreed he’d maybe his faults, the Gibbon childe, but who hadn’t these days? And feint the many could wag a pow like that in a Mearns pulpit(28).

The conscious use of Anglicised archaisms, like childe for “chiel”, are characteristic of Mitchell’s romanticising, as are the haunting but quite unrealistic speech rhythms which permeate the whole work. Lewis Grassic Gibbon is consistently restrained in his use of direct speech (always set in italics) preferring an oratio obliqua style which eloquently conveys the thoughts and observations of his characters yet which has quite erroneously convinced many an English critic (and some Scottish scholars also) that the text reproduces the true flavour of the Mearns dialogue(29). Essentially the trilogy is written skilfully in a rhythmic English prose style which has a timeless quality but is at the same time the author’s own artefact, cleverly adapted (as was Barrie’s writing) to a potential English-speaking readership in a way that a work like Johnny Gibb could never be. The intrusive apostrophes that everywhere clutter the transcribed dialogue in the writings of William Alexander and George MacDonald could therefore be discarded by Mitchell, who equally had no need to insert parenthetical glosses, since his Scots vocabulary is of the simplest (bide; lugs; bairn) or else Anglicised (as quean for north-east “quine”). The persisting ambivalence towards the Scots tongue is well exemplified in the following exchange:

Up at Rob’s table an argument rose. . . Rob was just saying what a shame it was that folk should be shamed nowadays to speak Scotch––or they called it Scots if they did, the split-tongued sourocks. Every damned little narrow dowped rat that you met put on the English if he thought he’d impress you––as though Scotch wasn’t good enough now, it had words that the thin bit scrachs of the English could never come at. And Rob said You can tell me, man, what’s the English for sotter, or greip, or smore, or pleiter, gloaming or glanching or well-henspeckled? . . .
But Gordon was real decent and reasonable, You can’t help it, Rob. If folk are to get on in the world nowadays, away from the ploughshafts and out of the pleiter, they must use the English, orra though it be(30).

Mitchell’s fictional discussion neatly illustrate his own dilemma as a writer from Scotland, aiming to “get on in the world”. Whether he reached a literary compromise which gave him true satisfaction may be questioned; what is certain is that his writing – neither traditional Scotch nor contemporary Scots – possesses an artistic quality sui generis – and that later endeavours by Scottish writers to emulate that unique style have in general been misconceived. As with so many other Scots writers, Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s ambivalence extends to his view of the Kirk. In Cloud Howe (the central novel of the trilogy) he paints a deeply sympathetic portrait of Segget’s minister, Robert Colquohoun, who – like the author – is at heart a non-believer yet whose desire to elevate the moral and material condition of the community is intensely sincere. And so, in confused, tortured prose, Mitchell encapsulates the strangely contradictory Scottish attitude towards religious faith:

You knew, and you knew that they knew––even Robert, holding to God in his blackest hour, this God he believed was the father of me, pitiful. He was Pity and a Friend, helpless even in a way as men, but Kind and Hero, and He’d conquer yet with all the legions of hell to battle.
So Robert believed: but now, as you heard his feet coming down the stairs in haste, out of his mood and happy again, you knew that he knew he followed a dream, with the black mood REAL, and his hopes but mist(31).

Satire of the Kirk and its less worthy representatives, both lay and clerical, has constituted a vigorous strand of Scottish literature ever since Burns led the way with such tours de force as The Holy Fair, The Kirk’s Alarm and Holy Willie’s Prayer. In his finely-crafted Scots poems, Stevenson maintained that tradition a century later:

Himsel’, meanwhile, frae whaur he cocks
An’ bobs belaw the soundin-box
The treesures of his words unlocks
Wi’ prodigality,
An’ deals some unco dingin’ knocks
To infidelity.

Wi’ sappy unction, hoo he burkes
The hopes o’ men that trust in works,
Expounds the fau’ts o’ ither kirks,
An’ shaws the best o’ them
No muckle better than mere Turks
When a’s confessed o’ them.

Bethankit! What a bonny creed!
What mair would ony Christian need?––
The braw words rumm’le ower his heid,
Nor stour the sleeper;
And in their restin’ graves, the deid
Sleep aye the deeper(32).

The attack has always been upon perverted doctrine or sanctimonious hypocrisy rather than being levelled against true faith. With few exceptions, Scottish writers make reverent obeisance, as Burns did in The Cottar’s Saturday Night, to honest religious sentiment. Perhaps Hugh MacDiarmid remains the most obvious exception, yet even he writes always with a haunted consciousness of the old Hebrew God looming over his shoulder:

I tae ha’e heard Eternity drip water
(Aye water, water!), drap by drap
On the a’e nerve, like lichtnin’, I’ve become,
And heard God passin’ wi’ a bobby’s feet
Ootby in the lang coffin o’ the street(33)

In its use of the vernacular, the literature of Scotland has steadily reflected the bilingualism of its people, the conversational medium of oral Scots maintaining a robust presence, perhaps most obviously today in writers from the rural north-east but also bringing the harsher urban patois into literary prominence in recent years through the innovative work of writers like Irvine Welsh or Alan Warner. Wherever Scots language survives and develops, it does so because of its genetic fitness to do so; and it thrives, often unexpectedly, in geographical and cultural niches where other linguistic forms would wither and die. The evolutionary metaphor is an apt one. The many differing varieties or sub-species of Scots sustain their individual identities within their own localities yet merge happily with one another – and indeed with English also – wherever allowed to do so through the processes of natural diffusion. No such breed as “pure Scots” exists or has ever existed(34). Academic, committee-led attempts to impose linguistic uniformity, in terms of vocabulary, grammar or spelling, however vigorously pursued by the proponents of standardisation(35), are certain to prove sterile in evolutionary terms. That the Scots leid will survive, without the support of well-meaning but irresponsible intervention, is beyond question; but it will continue to change and develop by protean mutation: indeed, much of the fascination of Scots lies in our manifest inability to foretell how those new forms will evolve over future generations.

Select Bibliography

Aitken A. J. (ed.) Lowland Scots. Association for Scottish Literary Studies: Occasional Papers No. 2, University of Edinburgh, 1973.

Corbett, John Written in the Language of the Scottish Nation: a History of Literary Translation into Scots. Multilingual matters Ltd., Clevedon Hall, Clevedon, BS21 7HH, 1999.

Grant, William &
Dixon, James M. Manual of Modern Scots. University Press, Cambridge, 1921.

McClure, J. Derrick Why Scots Matters. Saltire Society, Edinburgh, 1988.

Purves, David The Way Forward for the Scots Language. Scottish Centre for Economic and Social Research, Peterhead, AB42 6EE, 1977.

Wright, David F. (ed.) The Bible in Scottish Life and Literature. Saint Andrew Press, Edinburgh, 1988.


(1)The Catholic writer, Ninian Winzet, complained that Knox had forgotten “our auld plane (2)For a good account of the Psalter in Scotland, see Michael Chibbett, “Sung psalms in Scottish worship” in The Bible in Scottish Life and Literature, ed. D.F.Wright, St Andrew Press, 1988.
(3)The Cottar’s Saturday Night.
(4)D. Purves, The Way Forward for the Scots Language: SCESR, (5)The Booke of the Universall Kirk of Scotland (ed. Alexander Peterkin) William Blackwood & (6)Selections from the Records of the Kirk Session, Presbytery and Synod of Aberdeen: Spalding Club, Aberdeen, 1846.
(7)Ibid., p.326. Note the replacement of “quhilk day” by “this [same] day” and the use of an for ane.
(8)Cf. J. Corbett, Written in the Language of the Scottish Nation: a History of Literary Translation into Scots: Topics in Translation 14, Multilingual Matters Ltd, Clevedon, 1999, p.18. Corbett comments on the popularity of Latin as a medium for Scottish poets and historians until the seventeenth century. Cf. also J.D. McClure, Why Scots Matters, Saltire Society, Edinburgh, p.7.
(9)Of the three, Fergusson (1750-1774) had the closest ties with the north-east, his father having been born and brought up in Tarland. Edinburgh-born himself and educated at Dundee and St Andrews, Fergusson writes in Scots which only rarely displays distinctive Aberdeenshire features.
(10)A farmer’s son, Alexander Ross (1699-1784) was born at Kincardine O’Neil in Aberdeenshire. He is remembered today for Helenore, a long pastoral poem in the style of Ramsay’s Gentle Shepherd; and his songs, such as The Rock and the Wee Pickle Tow or Woo’d and Married and a’, are still sung.
(11)John Skinner (1721-1807) was born in the Deeside parish of Birse, abandoned presbyterianism for episcopalianism and became minister at Longside in Buchan. His second son, also John, became episcopalian bishop of Aberdeen.
(12)First published 1871 in book form; reprinted Heritage Press, Turriff, 1979.
(13)Ibid., p.79.
(14)J. G. Lockhart, Peter’s Letters to his Kinsfolk [1818-19]. Scottish Academic Press, Edinburgh, 1977, pp.171f.
(15)Reminiscences of Scottish Life and Character, T.N. Foulis, Edinburgh, 1872, p.30. Born in Aberdeen in 1793, Edward (Dean) Ramsay was educated in England but ministered to his Episcopalian congregation in Edinburgh from 1823 until his death.
(16)Weir of Hermiston [1895]: Skerryvore edition, Heinemann Ltd, London, 1925, pp.28f.
(17)Rob Roy [1817]: Folio Society, London, 2001, p.370.
(18)Annals of the Parish [1821]: James Thin, Mercat Press, Edinburgh, 1978, p.66.
(19)Ibid., p.122.
(20)S.R. Crockett, The Stickit Minister: T. Fisher Umwin, London, 1898, p.11. Crockett (1816-1914) became Free Church minister at Penicuik for a short time, though his romantic novels are all set in Galloway.
(21)J.M. Barrie, Auld Licht Idylls: Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1890, pp.219f. Born at Kirriemuir in 1860, Barrie drew lavishly here on his mother’s memories of what was already a bygone era.
(22)The term, initially quite non-pejorative, was first used in a review of Barrie’s writing (New Review, April, 1895): “Mr J.M. Barrie is fairly entitled to look upon himself as pars magna, if not pars maxima, of the Great Kailyard Movement” [OED].
(23)James Hogg (1770-1835): The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, The Cresset Press, London, 1947, p.183.
(24)George MacDonald, Robert Falconer [1868]: Hurst and Blackett Ltd., London, n.d., p.256.
(25)Johnny Gibb of Gushetneuk, p.245.
(26)Cf. Mairi Robertson, “Modern Literary Scots: Fergusson and after”, in Lowland Scots, Assoc. for Scottish Literary Studies, Occas. Papers 2., Edinburgh, 1975, p.47: “And [Brown] is no less realistic in his depiction of the language. It seems a pity to have to dissect such a marvellous piece of writing.”
(27)The House with the Green Shutters [1901]: Mercat Press, Edinburgh, 1983, p.187. Brown (1869-1902) wrote his one novel under the pen name George Douglas.
(28)A Scots Quair: Hutchinson, London, 1946, p.72. Mitchell (1901-1935) was born in Aberdeenshire but spent most of his childhood at Drumlithie in Kincardineshire.
(29)See, for example, Mairi Robinson, “Modern literary Scots: Fergusson and after”, in Lowland Scots (1973), who remarks (p.47): “Gibbon’s mastery of the rhythms of spoken Scots is superb.”
(30)A Scots Quair., p.123.
(31) Ibid., p.236.
(32)From “A Lowden Sabbath Morn” in Robert Louis Stevenson: Collected Poems, ed. Janet Adam Smith, Rupert Hart-Davis, London, 1971.
(33)From A Drunk Man looks at the Thistle (ll.2056-2060): annotated edn., ed. K. Buthlay, Scottish Academic Press, Edinburgh, 1987.
(34)Cf. James Y. Mather’s paper, “The Scots we speak today”, in Lowland Scots, 1973, especially p.57.
(35)Cf., for example, David Purves (op.cit., pp.25ff.) who sets out a case for imposing such “reforms” on the language.

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