by: Northcroft, David
'How long is the Scottish dialect to last? When will it be put on the shelf with other specimens of antiquity? At what epoch of the world will controversies occur as to the meaning of its words, and be referred to the decision of the learned, not the vulgar? Judging from what passes around us, we should say the period is not far distant. Within our own day a very sensible change has taken place; and in the classes of society where, in our youth, the broadest Doric prevailed, we find few remains of it but the kindly tone and accent we should be sorry to part with. As for the higher classes, there it is lost altogether. Inquiring lately of an old Scotchwoman as to the individuality of a lady who, she said, had called on her, we asked whether her visitor was English. "Oh, that I dinna ken", was the reply; " they a' speak sae proper noo- there's nae telling the differ"'.
'Ballantine's Poems' (1855). Chambers' Edinburgh Journal, vol. 5, p. 350.
'…She could certainly handle a strap. Somebody or other would get it daily. Probably for backchat or for inattention or for going outside without permission- you always had to be properly excused for that, however desperate you were to get to the toilet. But things have changed completely now. And I think this is where I get my great chip on my shoulder from- the treatment meted out to our own Doric language. It was literally drummed out of us. When we were speaking in the playground it was one thing, but as soon as we entered that classroom door it had to change- completely. The only concession was, I remember, one poem by Robert Burns and another by Charles Murray- two poems in the whole of that time. I don't remember any Doric prose at all. Not in my whole time there. So it was standardised English- for us right from the start. That was the rule.
…I remember one lady who came in and played hymns with us. We would be singing "The Lord's my shepherd" and she would cry out, "No, no! Not the Lord- thee Lord…" She had the whole lot of us going from "the" to "theeee" and it just didn't sound right. She was overemphasising in order to drum our own "tha" out of us- and ended up with something that was neither Doric nor English!
Retired accountant and present-day broadcaster (Robbie Shepherd); schooled at Dunecht and Robert Gordon's College, 1940s
School was completely separate from your home life. Whenever you got home and out of the school door, in the playground it was all Doric, ye ken. Your teacher spoke English, you see. The two were separate- it was a different language. You couldn't go up to the teacher and speak Doric, Not even outside. The teachers kept it up all the time. That was your education- if you were educated, you spoke English! It was the mark of being educated. That was the attitude- and is still the attitude!
…That's why we have this reputation for being dour and quiet because we're not sure what we're supposed to say. I made mistakes, I affronted myself with the wrong words. I mean, I'm now going on 60 and only recently have I got more confidence. Only recently, I've been saying something in Doric and the other person doesn't understand, I don't feel obliged to translate because they live here too and it's up to them to understand. Especially if they've been living here a long time. Whereas, you always felt you had to accommodate the stranger, the person who didn't speak our language here. You always felt you had to adapt to them because that's what you were expected to do.
…A friend of ours, A-, he was Second Dux at [a north Aberdeenshire school] and he was 17. He was asked a question in a science class and he said, 'Ay!'- it was a yes/no question. And he was sent home! But now, there are so many English teachers in the schools and they don't even understand what the children are saying.'
Daughter of Speaker 4, schooled at Strichen and Mackie Academy 1940/50s
' We didn't speak Doric in the classroom. If you did, you got a scolding and if you insisted on doing it deliberately, you got smacked. No, no it was very confusing when you went new to the school. It was very hard for all the kids, with the Buchan dialect and all that. The first week or two when you got to school, you'd be learning to read out loud- it was like a foreign language- it had to be Standard English, and ye couldna spik it! In the family or on the farm it was all Doric. You had to learn two languages- and you hadn't much time, you had to learn it pretty fast. I was speaking about Miss Taylor, who had all the little ones: she used to go to the WRI and tell jokes and things about some of the things the little kids said. And this boy, L-, his father was a shepherd, and he went to school, you see, and he had on this suit and a little waistcoat and some men at the farm gave him this watch, and he said, 'Gad a'michty, Miss Taylor, is it nae near lowsin time yet?' She got great fun - but she explained the right way to say it to him, you see. That was fun- you went to school and it was completely different. You couldn't understand the way you had to change your tongue, you see. You just learned it, just learned it!
…It doesn't bother me, it's just my language. I can understand it in a way, not being allowed to use it because you're going to go away because not everybody's going to bide in the little bit they were brought up in, in Strichen or around the Mormond Hill. You're going to be travelling and you've got to have a universal language they can speak, and that would have to be English, I think. The only time you got to use Doric, or a Scots word, was in the singing lessons when you had a Burns song or something like that. Then you were allowed to use it. But for just speaking, oh no!'
82 year-old farming widow, various schools in Strichen area, 1920/30s
'A story to begin with. At Secondary school there was this English and Maths teacher. He came from Banchory. He'd been through the war and had had shell shock. He used to twitch all the time. We didn't get on very well at all. So, I went through the school with him, and then I left school, and many years later- it was maybe 8 years ago- I used to sell cars- and I had sold him this new car. Then years later, he phoned me up from Banchory and said, "I've got to give up driving- would you be interested in buying back the car?' It had just done 13,000 miles, he said. 'Oh," I said, "I'd be very interested. I'll come over and see it". I did- and it was just an old rust bucket. However, after I'd seen it, he took me into his house and he started up about his war experiences, and what he'd been through when he was young. He'd been brought up on a farm, you see, same as I had. He'd driven the horse and binder and he'd ploughed with the horses. And I'm thinking to myself, "If only you'd told us this when I was at school!" He'd said nothing about it then, and if only he'd told us about all this when I'd been a pupil at the school, I'd have had a different attitude towards his teaching altogether, He was very, very interesting. In fact, he spoke it all in the Doric. I was amazed at what came flowing out. And I was thinking, if only you'd been like that in the school we'd have appreciated him so much better. He'd been completely different in the school. There he was pretty hard, a hard man- he only spoke in Standard English then. He kept his distance from us.
…We didn't speak Doric in the classroom. We did in the playground but, whenever you went in, you switched. It was a problem to start with. I can remember one boy who was reading and came to the word "bull" and he said "bull" ["u" as in "umbrella"]. "No, no! It's not 'bull', it's 'bool'. Now say it properly- 'bool, bool!' There were a lot of things like that, with various words. When you went home, you father and mother would be speaking Doric and they would be talking about "the bull" right enough. But when you got to school you suddenly had to change it to "bool". I think that was all wrong. It was something we had to worry about that we shouldn't have had. Yet my Doric was as broad when I left school as it was when I had entered it. In fact, I'm as broad now as ever I was. What made me go back to it was "Scotland the What". I just loved all that. They had the right Doric. But one advantage we had was that we could change when we had to. I did learn proper English as well as my own language, and I could use it when I went out into the world. But we could have used them both in the school and we didn't. The Doric was treated as dirty, as something low and foul. "Not nice!" But if Doric is spoken properly, it is nice to listen to. That Mr -, when I met him in later life, my old teacher, he was good to listen to then. He spoke nice Doric then'
Retired farm-worker and car salesman, schooled at Muchalls and Mackie Academy 1940s.
'In the classroom you had to speak proper English. Standard English. I didn't find that too difficult. When you're reading, Scots is just counted out, anyway. So we'd use English in the classroom and then just slip back into Scots afterwards. After all, the books were all in English, but in the playground we could just get back into our everyday language. It's only now that they are trying to bring the Doric back; now it's going, they're getting worried that it'll disappear altogether. And when you communicate in the street you hardly hear real Scots now. It's all Standard English now.
Of course, there's Robbie Shepherd in the paper. …Now Robbie Shepherd, his father was a soutar over at Dunecht. He keeps the Doric going with his column in the paper each Monday, but, really, it's not so easy to read as English. You're just not used to it, not in writing, you see. And a lot depends on the district you come from, too. Some of the words he uses are new to me- I reckon he makes some of them up! But at school we didn't find it difficult to switch from one to the other. After all, your reading, the books you read, and the papers too, are all in English. You just associate English with your reading, with the books at school and elsewhere. English was the school language - and that was that.
76 year old retired farmer, schooled at various places in the Mearns, 1930s
'We were not allowed when we read out in the classroom to read in our own dialect. I must say- and here I must be careful- a lot of people give a superficial impression of what was going on; you see, some people write with venom that we Scots were not allowed to use our own Doric, Lallans or whatever, that that was all suppressed. The fact of the matter was, the medium of teaching was English. That was accepted by the parents, by everybody. Perhaps it was a great pity that more attention wasn't given to poetry in the Doric, although we did get some. But I think the fact of the matter is that English was universal for teaching and that it has become the universal language for human life. English has become the lingua franca because dialect, the Doric, is no longer understood even locally, far less nationally and internationally. When we have a world language like English it opens the world up for you- then regrettably the local working language is dying out. That is happening quite notably during my lifetime.'
Retired educationist, schooled in the Mearns, 1930/40s
'No, I cannot recall having any real feelings about all this classroom control of language, none at all. It didn't occur to me till years later, that in some ways, I had become bilingual. It was a natural switch, made the moment you put on the school uniform- you just switched. I never thought about it, you weren't aware of doing it- you just did it. It was just the way it was. Nobody spoke English to me before I went to school; nobody spoke Doric to me at the school, and within months, weeks even, at school. I was speaking "proper English", and speaking Doric at home. The switch seemed entirely natural and it never occurred to me to do anything different, or that Doric was regarded as inferior at school, or English superior at home. They were just two equal languages being spoken for different purposes, in two different situations. I had no feeling of deprivation about any of this: we spoke Doric freely at home, English freely at school, and it never occurred to me that there was any distinction to be made between the two. Not until years later, when I was speaking in a professional capacity at a school, and it suddenly flashed into my mind- these people are bilingual, which means I must be bilingual too! It had always seemed so natural to move from one to the other, without any consciousness being involved, without thinking about it at all.'
Journalist, schooled Alford and Inverurie, 1950/60s
'All I ever wanted to do when I left school was to work on a farm. But the countryside's changed out of all recognition. When I went to school in the morning, you'd see the smoke rising from every cottar's chimney. Always at the same time. If you didn't see that smoke rising, then you knew that something was wrong. The countryside was thick with activity. It's dead now, dead. Empty. The first time I really realised how quiet the country had become, there was this chap at Catterline who'd bought this car from me, and he couldn't get in to pick it up. So I said, "I'll tell you what- I'll take the car to your house and then I'll walk back to Stonehaven. It'll be a fine, interesting walk for me". So I went out, delivered the car and walked back from Catterline. Four/five miles. You know this, I never saw a soul in any of the fields! In my young day, you'd have seen somebody in any of the fields and you could have greeted them, talked with them, had a news. And now, if you do spot anyone in a field, he'll be stuck inside a tractor-cab and you can't speak at all. Oh, the countryside used to be such an interesting place to go into and now it's just dead. Just dead.'
' But some schools, they do have Doric classes now. (Speaker 3 interjects; "But that's a terrible admission, to have to have Doric lessons! It's a terrible admission concerning our self-regard). But we've all got into the habit of using English because folk don't understand us if you don't. We've all got into the habit of using English1 I've lost all the words of my father's and Uncle Tam's. All the words they used, the real auld Scots words, because nobody would understand what you was saying and so you gradually stopped using them'
However, I do have some optimism for the future. At least about our local culture. The work being done by Leslie Wheeler and Sheena Blackhall is a great work. But there again, the work that Leslie does for example, is of his own free will. There was a time in the 60s and 70s when a musician friend of mine was going around the schools and getting paid for it. But now they've cut back on that and also on the provision of instruments for youngsters. That's a real deprivation. But they are now getting a greater chance to study the local culture- the Elphinstone Institute is so important for that. The University is now holding out its hand to the rural community. Yet, you get people saying that Doric is doomed, that we no longer use the old farming terms, that the rural way of life that gave it its vocabulary and its texture has gone. That there's no Doric word for "helicopter" or for "computer" and so on. But the same thing could be applied to Gaelic and look at the money that's being poured into that! I counter the arguments against that by saying, "Well, the Gaelic lobby have come up with bilingual programmes, they run a national Mod, so it's right they should get the support!" It's up to us to do the same; we're only on the first rung of the ladder.
I recognise the problems, The life of the land is ebbing away, I know. But that makes it a cause worth fighting for. I was doing an interview the other day with an Enterprise lad out at the Brig o' Don and we were talking about rural depopulation and the fact that at present we're not using our natural resources in the way we should. We've overfished, we've overfarmed, we've cut down trees; the land's been overworked and as a result the rural community has fallen away. If we want to reverse that- and we surely must- then we've got to bring the people back into it. And if it's accepted that the rural community has to survive, then the tongue has to be part of it. The living Doric.'
The question posed by the anonymous reviewer in the April edition, 1855, of Chambers' Journal (Extract 1, above) is still very much with us. So, too, are the issues which are listed as surrounding it: the problem of definition -dialect, speech variant, subset of English or a language in its own right?; the pace and force of the social changes that assail it; the perception that 'nowadays' it is only the older generation which uses it; the relationship within a community between local oral patterns and social class; the diluting effect of immigration (i.e. by the 'English'); the popular association of Standard English with 'proper' speaking.
What has shifted, perhaps, is the extent to which these various influences have had the opportunity to work their further pressures on, or rather against, the Doric-or, indeed, any strongly marked form of regional language. Yet, given that we are now 150 further years down the line of decay, and in the midst of a range of forces which our early Victorian ancestors could not have clearly envisaged- television, radio, the oil industry, a clamant youth culture, the rise of popular consumerism and the globalisation of the media and of the market place are among them- the very fact that we can still ask 'How long is the Scottish dialect to last?', must point to some degree of survival, however unlikely that would have appeared in 1855.
In the experience of many, the most powerful agent of all is the one that is not mentioned by Chambers'- the national school system. The piece was written sixteen years before the Act of 1872 brought in a state-controlled scheme of universal education; although at its time of writing, the legislation which gave Scotland its celebrated 'school in every parish' had been in force for some two centuries, its operation had been entrusted to the local presence of laird and minister; school attendance for the 'peasant' and the 'labouring' classes tended to be a patchy, short-term and voluntary affair. Within a generation, that was to begin to change: seven to eight unbroken years of school career for everyone; a curriculum controlled centrally by the 'Scotch Education Department' and its mechanisms of Standards, tests and Code; the prestigious target of the Highers; the ubiquitous vigilance of Her Majesty's Inspectors; the growth in Secondary education, slow and cautious at first, but later accelerating to the point where- today- all pupils have come to be nationally examined, and the majority of them expected to proceed to some form of higher or further education.
The testimony offered by the accounts quoted above would confirm the common perception that the highly efficient and organising Scottish education system is one that has, historically, set out to give each of its charges a standardised form of English as his or her educated speech. And that, frequently, this has been achieved as an imposition, backed by punitive measures and a repressive approach to the individual child's home language.
Not all of the Speakers, however, would wish to have been able to resist the process. Doric, they have accepted, might be the speech of the hearthside and of the playground, but 'English' is the medium of education, and that is the way it just has to be. It is, moreover, the one widely accepted form of our written language- because of this, it is the Doric which, when translated into print (6), can seem the artificial and difficult proposition. More personally, some (4, 6, 7, 8) explain that what has been at work is a properly educative procedure which has given them an important resource- the ability to cope linguistically with the full range of social and vocational situations of their time and of their place. They see themselves- most usefully- as having become bilingual.
While none of the witnesses would appear to question the validity, or practicality, of an approach that places the goal of standardised English at the centre of the classroom career, others claim that it has been pursued with an exclusiveness and an unfeeling zeal which has led to disproportionate loss. For them, their own language has not so much been supplemented as relegated, cast out into the educationally marginal zones of the playground or the after-school home life. The fact that it might be granted the occasional airing as an annual Burns piece or Charles Murray recitation (2, 4) only confirmed the impression that no form of Scots was to be regarded as a normal and wide-ranging medium of pupil-teacher communication.
For these Speakers, most of the resulting controversy has centred on the personal impact that this policy of apparent extermination has caused. This ranges from phlegmatic acceptance (6, 7, 8) through a retrospective sense of contradiction and absurdity ( 4, 5 ), to a bitter feeling that the growing child's own identity as a North-east Scot has been under a sustained campaign of assault ( 3, 5).
As these witnesses retrace their school steps- and, along that journey, evaluate the longer-term effectiveness of what their education has given them- there is a realisation among some of them that what has been at work was not merely a form of school discipline, or a practically appropriate induction into the ways of the wider world, but a sustained scheme of cultural remodelling. As 5, in particular, recognises, the impact on the unformed sensibility is likely to be more than a temporary uncertainty: the consequence can be a sense of pained alienation from the whole academic environment and the frigidly impersonal terms in which its teachers habitually address them. The result for this evidently intelligent and thoughtful individual, at least, was a rejection of all that the teacher had to offer, an early leaving and- half a century later- the revelation that it could have been very different. Even for those who stayed the course (3), the feeling of diminishment and resentment could be life-long.
Such consciousness of injury does not, as the testimonies cited earlier have indicated, appear to be universal. It is, however, difficult, half a century on, for either speaker or listener to unpick the entanglement of personal, social and intellectual factors that will be at play in the attempt to account for the contribution of any one aspect of one's schooling towards the life that was to follow. It is, for instance, possible to posit that in the case where an elderly resentment is being lodged, a spread of causes- psychological or economic, perhaps- will also have been at work in generating the alleged outcome. But it is equally plausible to argue that where there has been the claim that a standardised English had to be acquired at the cost of the home language- because that is what the school or the world 'is like'- the linguistic and cultural colonisation has been so insidiously complete as to lead to the obliging assumption that the Doric, as the unrefined utterances of the primitive native, must be expelled.
Observations such as these lead into issues of democracy and of political power. Each of these Speakers is reporting, with whatever degree of acceptance or dissent, a conflict between the inherited values of their region and their home, and those imposed, necessarily or no, by the national system of education. And in a land which, historically, has prided itself on being the nation's strongest representative of the traditional claims of the Scottish school to be the local place where all social backgrounds may freely mingle together, and where even the most humble lad is equipped to 'get on' in life, the implications are especially challenging. How 'democratic' can a system, where the individual's very own language is so discriminated against, be? How can its teachers practise a welcoming respect for each single child, when the home and the place he or she comes from is liable to be subjected to such daily denigration? And how distinctively 'Scottish' is the vaunted national system when it insists on expelling from its curriculum what has been for many the very essence of their Scottishness?
These are questions which are not easily penetrated. Any answers to them will be as much a matter of interpretation on the part of the listener as of the speaker. And for both parties, the conclusions are subject to the influence of the individual's own particular life experience and the ideological shaping which it will have received. Here, it can be said that of the total of 25 interviewees only 3 appeared to be anxious to shift the account of profit and of loss onto an explicitly political level. And- to repeat- for each view which pointed to a sense of deprivation, there was another which was content to react to the whole process as being part of a wider linguistic and social evolution, which the school was inevitably obliged to assist, in the interests of preparation for life 'as it is'. Nevertheless, it is impossible to ascertain the extent to which such 'realism' was as much grounded in some general acceptance of the prevailing institutional structures, or in a contentment derived from a personal success in managing their own way through them, as to any more widely considered view of the matter.
Clearly, to follow the ebb and flow of response washing around the total 40 hours or so of biographical testimony is both a complex and a sensitive task. What we are encountering in these mature reminiscences is not only the passage of a region's culture from one age to its next, but a series of individual reports on the effectiveness with which a particular schooling has prepared their speakers for the life to come- as it was then, as it is now, and as it appears to be ever moving onwards. At this point, it may be useful to overhear a ninth witness who is now in a position to look back over 65 years of educational experience and to assess how effectively the North-east education he himself received has served his language, and, with it, his personal development:
We all spoke the Aberdeen lingo at home and in the playground- that's what I was brought up on. But coming into the school, you changed into the English, into polite language. I call it 'polite' because of its comparison with the Aberdeen lingo, which seemed to be much more racy and less formal- that was the language you associated with using with your friends and in your personal life.
But my language was mixed in with my country connections. As a boy of 5/6, I would go out and stay with my Auntie Annie and Uncle George who stayed at Netherley where they lived on this croft, a proper working croft. There weren't that many of those around Netherley because it wasn't really a crofting area, but theirs was a proper working croft of about 5 acres and I'd go there for my holidays. I was always delighted to get into the country for the holidays, away into the country. I felt at home there, more so than at Esslemont Avenue back in the town. I enjoyed the atmosphere of being there, of being with the hens and with their one cow that they milked every day and with the sheltie- the light horse that they kept for work about the place. And Uncle George, being a crofter, used a scythe for cutting the corn and I remember him being there of an evening, sharpening his scythe ready for the next day's work.
I've always held that picture in my mind. A bit idyllic no doubt, but so different from being stuck in the back-end of the town. And I enjoyed that difference, the fact that I could escape from the two-room tenement and get out into the freedom of the open air. I liked the contrast, liked the contact with the animals; it gave me a freedom so that I always wanted to return to it straightaway whenever I got back into the town. It all made a very strong impression on me, those sojourns in the country at the age of 5/6/7/8 or so. My mother's mother was also staying with them out there- I don't know how old she was- probably only in her 60s- but to all of us she was 'auld granny' in contrast with the other one who lived in Chapel Street. The granny in Chapel Street was very much a town woman, very sociable, liked visiting, the odd game of whist and so on. Whereas Auld Granny was a girnie old body and a law unto herself- but she still had her function, would do odd jobs about the croft. She's a figure that stood out in my memory. She had only a few ragged old teeth left and had great difficulty in chewing her food. I used to watch fascinated as she was at her eating. I've actually written a poem about it- it's in Scots, in the Doric, needless to say. That's what they all spoke there, out at Netherley. I've inherited a mixture of the two- if I'm with one group or the other for any length of time, I'll lapse into the appropriate language. You have to get into the patterns; it takes a while to re-enter, but after a bit, I'll pick it up again and away I go.
The speech thing is important to me. I find if I've written any poetry- and I've done this for a long time now, both in English and in Scots- but the only ones that really work are the Scots ones. I haven't yet knocked enough together to make up a collection but I keep writing away from time to time. Some of them seem to me to be quite good- and they're the Doric ones. Conversational, familiar, the intimate, personal ones. They are the ones that link back to the time I was a child. I suppose it all depends on what is natural for you; the formative influence of the language that surrounded you in childhood is very strong. That's where my most personal language has come from, that's the place where my most natural feelings are.
None of this came into the classroom. There, you would never have dreamed of speaking Scots. I've never felt bitter about it: it's what you simply accepted that you had to do as part of your education. But I do think there were difficulties for me. I think I had to struggle with the English a bit, struggled to learn how to express myself in English. It's partly because I was quite a sensitive young guy, maybe had a bit of an inferiority complex. For example, I found it quite difficult speaking in public and, as a boy, speaking out in class. It's a feeling that persisted into adulthood; I don't know why exactly. My father had something of a speech impediment and that might have given me a heightened awareness of the importance of getting it right- of using the right English.
My speech was full of complexes- it's where they all met. It took me a long time to work them out, to resolve them. To confront them, even. My education is bound up with all of that. It takes a long time to work through all those differences- between yourself and your home, the way education can create that difference. Language is at the centre of all of that. If you want to make language more than a simple tool for conversation, if you need it to express ideas and your own feelings too, then the way I was brought up was bound to create problems for me in knowing which was the right language to use. In developing your own voice- in knowing what that voice is. In fact, I've had to master a range of languages. That's obviously included Standard English- I needed that to grapple with complex academic ideas- and that was always a bit of a struggle. Not that I didn't learn to do it…but it's impossible even in my advanced years to leave behind the fundamental questions- they're still part of you. You can't escape.
But all that hasn't necessarily been a bad thing. The effort to overcome the problems, the problems of articulation, that can be a driving force. It's an experience that can help you to sympathise with others, to understand the difficulties they may have had to overcome in trying to express themselves, in finding their own voice.
(Extract 12)- Peter Murphy, English teacher in Aberdeen !950/60/70s; then Headteacher in Dundee ( Logie School, then Whitfield High School) for more than 20 years.
The speaker is a 70 year-old man who was born into a working-class tenement in Aberdeen during the decade before the war. He attended first Mile End Primary and then, being judged to be academically bright, went on to the city's Grammar School. University and an English Honours degree ensued, before his entry into that most respectable of professional destinations for one of his background, a career in teaching. Here, the progress was, on the face of it, straightforward and assured: by the 70s, he was Head of a large Secondary school; on his way to that eminence he had returned to the Grammar, there to spend several successful sessions as a member of staff.
It is a career which testifies to a completely successful assimilation into the culture of Standard English, of national examinations and of academic discipline- the traditional hallmarks of the Scottish way. Yet, as the words reveal, the match achieved between individual and linguistic environment, between formal role and personal needs, never did become a fully mutual one. Something has been left over, a sense of emotional satisfaction and communal identity that can only be grappled with by a recourse to the intimacies and the sense of belonging that must, forever, it would now seem, be rooted in the first language of the home and of the neighbourhood.
What this witness is really talking about is linguistic diversity, as it has come to be in society at large, and as it has, or has not, been developed within the individual. His account tells us that if any one of us is to lead a life of wholeness and of easeful self-expression , then we must be allowed the verbal resources to do so. Our education must engender within us the ability not only to play a range of parts but to be able to work out where for the particular self, the root of the matter really lies.
Here, it has to pointed out that as many as one third of the witnesses- all native to the North-east as well as educated within its public schools- would recognise their home language to be 'English', albeit spoken with the accents and the cadences of the area. For them, the challenge of linguistic accommodation was that much easier to meet, the possibility of personal fracture correspondingly remote. But for those who have been brought up within its structures and amidst its most common reference-points, the Doric can never be regarded as just another register, whose survival may be ensured by granting it the occasional set-piece airing against a near-monopoly of standardised discourse. And even for those 'English' others, a full participation in the life of the people among whom they lead their daily lives would, likewise, demand a greater involvement than that.
Above all, the interview catches someone in the act of articulation- of attempting to understand where his language(s) have come from, where they have given him strength and where they have created uncertainty. The abrupt immersion at the age of five into the formalities of 'English' was, he realises, fundamental to establishing the schism he quickly suffered between home and the world of education, one that was exacerbated by the fact that here was a tenement labourer's son thrown, by his own native cleverness, into the west-end environment of Mile End and of the Grammar. The long drawn out struggle to cross that gap has involved more than the mere acquisition of an extra facility of language: for him, a set of personal allegiances, his earliest sense of self, were also being redefined and, to an extent, set at a distance from what he was now to become. And although the new skill was to act as an immensely important part of his ability to move through an academic career and to manage his profession, it never did, on its own, become sufficient to reach into his most intimate self, to discover his 'own voice'.
Yet, it would be wrong to see this process as predominately negative. Growing away has also meant growing up. The effort to master the language forms standard to our society's intellectual negotiations has extended not only the range of his own words but that of his human sympathies as well, has given him the expressive insights to be able to engage with the complex rigours of modern existence.
What is notable in all this, is the speaker's recognition that a language is an expression of a community, of a way of living. In that conclusion lies both a justification for the present day school's adoption of Doric, and a caution against it. The life on the croft at Netherley in the 1930s was even then something of a marginal pursuit: 60 years later, it is not even that- almost certainly, Uncle George's place will have been converted into either a commuter's residence or be a professional consultant's tele-cottage.
We are separated from Chambers' Journal, and the anxieties of its 1855 edition, by more than simply the passage of time. The whole nature of our North-east life has changed, and changed utterly. One of the pervasive themes of these witnesses' recollections is the immeasurable distances between then and now. Sitting in their comfortably furnished and centrally heated rooms, the fitted carpet beneath their feet, the TV and video-player in the corner, a car or two in the drive-way outside, they lose themselves for a while in the memory of a Buchan or a Mearns of bustling little rural communities, of village streets full of local stores and craftsmen's workshops, of passers by who would always stop and speak, of clubs and societies and a kirk that most families still walked out to at the end of each shared week. And just beyond the last corner shop, the intricately patterned land of farmtouns and of small-holdings that stretched away towards an Aberdeen made remote by the hour-long bus ride and the self-sufficiency of their own entirely local satisfactions. To listen to Speaker 5 (Extract 9) is to join him in knowing that a whole countryside has died away- and with it the very sources of his old language's communal points of meaning.
Against such an emptiness, the current drive to rehabilitate Doric by utilising the very academic means that once worked towards its dying can seem no other than a painful, and at this late date, wholly artificial admission of past dereliction (Extract 10). Certainly, any attempt to introduce its rhythms and its textures into the contemporary classroom must be guided by a frank recognition of what, in the 21st century, the Doric can, for its younger citizens, possibly be. But to listen to each of these witnesses is also to be reminded of the importance of the personal voice, and of the speech that is rooted in the communities of childhood, to any sense of what our own lives have meant to us. And for that sustaining power, only a language which has been enriched by the fullest available range of human experiences, inherited as well as of the day, will serve. In the ecology of 2003, more than ever before, there are choices to be made. And that, as Robbie Shepherd suggests (Extract 11), is a matter of resource, of having regard for what we have inherited, for what we wish to conserve, for what we need to set growing once more.
Note : research background
With the exception of 1, each of the above 'Speaker' extracts, used or referred to in this paper, is taken from a series of audio-taped interviews that have been carried out by the author, working in association with the Elphinstone Institute of the University of Aberdeen, during the twelve months beginning October 2001. They are part of a research project, the overall aim of which is to build up an oral history archive that will be made up of individual accounts of the experience of going to school in the North-east of Scotland.
The pieces 2 to 11 consist of extracts taken from one-to-one interviews, each of which runs to some 80 to 90 minutes, as recorded in a secluded, informal setting (in nearly all cases the interviewee's own home). For this purpose, the subjects were invited to 'tell the story' of their own schooling in approximate chronological order, and to do so with sufficient flexibility to set it in the context of the respective environments of time, place and social circumstances. The interviewer (the author of this paper) also raised a number of generic issues at appropriate moments in the interview such as 'discipline', 'relevance', 'teaching methods'. One of them was 'language'- the discourse used in the classroom as compared to that of the home and of the neighbourhood. The selection set out here, above, is taken from their responses to that specific question.
The subsequent procedure has been to write out a complete transcript of the interview and then to send a copy to the Speakers so that they may make any amendments that they judge to be necessary. The accompanying advice is to confine these to points of fact: any additional, or 'second thoughts', comment is to be forwarded as supplementary, or 'follow up', material. An agreed record is then arrived at and a final copy sent to the Speaker.
To date, 25 'older' (ages 48 to 99, 11 male, 14 female) subjects have had their experiences recorded, all of whom have received the whole of their schooling at establishments in the North-east (i.e. present-day Moray, Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and Kincardineshire). In addition, 6 'younger' subjects (ages 21 to 29) have also been interviewed. It should be noted that while 9 different speakers are represented in this paper, and 3 of them through two separated extracts, the more general aspects of the Commentary have been informed by a knowledge of what the sample as a whole has reported- it should be clear from the text where this has occurred.
Selection for interview has been made on a networking and opportunistic basis. The initial subjects came from the author's own circle of acquaintanceship: subsequent word of mouth recommendation has extended the circle. The essential criteria have been a North-east schooling and a span of available memory sufficient to reach back over more than one generation. Because of the nature of the author's own previous career (in education) and of his home's location (Muchalls), two occupational backgrounds have so far predominated: farming and teaching. It should also be noted that all but two of the interviewees (one of them is in Extract 8) are either completely retired or are no longer in their original mode of employment (2 and 11).
The author is aware that the interview itself may be categorised as a particular species of language encounter and that however 'natural' and open it may have appeared to be, a certain degree of construction is inevitable- as in all linguistic situations. Responses will be shaped, in part, according to the Speaker's implicit (or explicit) consciousness of the specific situation- which will, of course, include the interviewer and his inferred purposes. Here, it should be explained that the latter is an exciseman's son who went on to pass a 32 year long career, first in an Aberdeen school, then in teacher education at the local College of Education. It must further be recorded that he lived and went to school in a number of localities south of the border until the age of 14, at which time his family settled in Banffshire and he spent 4 years at Aberlour High School, followed by a degree at Aberdeen University. Given this background, no claim could be made on his part to speak the Doric as a 'natural', or credible, undertaking. He is, however, fully accustomed to its usage, having been in the midst of a broad range of North-east speech patterns for some 45 years, and would certainly claim to understand and to be able to respond to them. As far as he could be sure, none of his interviewees appeared to modify their speech for his benefit, beyond what would be expected for them to do in dealing with a lengthy personal interview. Nor did the recording apparatus- a simple and unobtrusive pocket sized piece- appear to generate inhibition, or even, after the opening minute, to be noticed.
'Memory', its vagaries and its constructions, will also have played a shaping role. Here, it may be said that not only is this an inescapable influence in any act of distanced recall but that, in terms of 'inherited' belief and tradition, it is the perception of what has been experienced that will make up the legacy to be passed on- whether as a state of affairs to be cherished, conserved, modernised or rejected. Any considered account of what has constituted the 'North-east school' experience will naturally resolve itself into a mixture of what is reconstrued as the 'typical' flow of events, punctuated by an occasional and personally significant piece of drama- an unjust punishment, a daunting test, a favourite teacher's praise or the painful repression visited by some feared authoritarian figure. These are the highlights that will settle in the memory, there to be transmuted into a shared folk knowledge and, as such, become the basis for opinion and appraisal.
Of the 25 'older' Speakers, although all were speaking in the accents and tones of the North-east, 6 only could be said to be employing a medium which would customarily be recognised as 'Doric'- and in each case they came from an agricultural background. Of these, 4 would be typified as 'broad' in the sense that an 'outsider' might experience some uncertainty in picking up more than, say, 80% of the delivery. They include-here- 4 and 6, but not 3, the daughter of 4. And not one of the 'younger' 6 could be said to fall into this category. All of the 9 Speakers represented in this paper would, however, describe their own original language as 'Doric' but in the case of 3, 7, 8, 12 'English' would appear to have become their habitual form of speech, and the Doric a secondary resource to be reverted to, according to the situation. It is also worth noting that of the total 25, 9 would claim that their natural 'home' language was not Doric but 'English', and as such was close to what the school demanded of them. Five of these came from a professional (teacher) background, but there were 4 of farming/working-class origin who reported that their parents took pains to ensure that even at home it was the English that was used.
Reviewing all of these factors, it must be concluded that the project that is the basis of this paper cannot be said to constitute a scientifically controlled programme of investigation. It does, however, present a growing range of detailed case studies, each of which has the depth and the commitment, by both Speaker and interviewer, to offer authentic evidence of what the experience of going to school in the North-east of Scotland has been for a number of its representative inhabitants, both as a lived encounter and in considered retrospect.