Writing in Scots.

I’ve had a couple of things see the grim light of day since I last posted. “Auld Hughie’s Losin It” – a rip-roaring tale of bauchles and bowling clubs – is up on McStorytellers, whilst I have a couple of poems and a wee interview on writing in Scots over at Poetandgeek.com.

It’s a fraught business, writing in a minority tongue – though Scots, of course, is a minority tongue only on paper, which is what makes it an interesting exception. The argument against, say, Gaelic in the mainstream can always be reduced to market forces and economic factors – not enough readers/writers, ergo not enough money. Not so with Scots, which has millions of de facto speakers, and enough mutual intelligibility with English to be broadly understandable even outwith our borders. Trainspotting, duh.

So it’s easy, as a Scots writer, to ascribe rejection to political motives. It might even be true, sometimes. But by and large the problem is simply that Scots has been so effectively pigeonholed that many people find it difficult to understand why anyone would want to persist in using it, except as a device for telling stories about Glaswegian lowlifes, and the occasional folksy tale about one’s childhood.

That point of view is wrong about Scots, but it is in many ways right about people’s perceptions of Scots. If you can speak English perfectly well, why bother writing limiting your audience by writing in Scots? And it’s understandable, really. Writing in Scots can seem to other folk like playing the kazoo. You might be world class at it, but it’s a kazoo, for crying out loud. Why not play something proper?

I don’t have all the answers, of course – there are loads of them – but here’s one just to be getting on with. I was reading some of my poetry in Scots at “Jazz on a Sunday Afternoon” at the Mac Arts Centre the other day. It’s a great event with some superb poets, well worth going to. People are usually very receptive to Scots poetry, though there will always be one who says “I really enjoyed it, though I couldn’t quite understand it…” So that’s what I was expecting when a lady came up to speak to me afterwards. But she didn’t say that. Instead, with a certain thrill in her voice, she said:

“I didn’t realise before that I was bilingual!”

Most of us, in this country, are. And most of us are delighted to find it out, when finally we do. What better gift can you hope to give anyone than a whole other language, especially when it’s their own?