Monday, 6 July 2015

"Giein it teugs"

Today's Herald has an interesting article on Scots by Katie Gallogly-Swan, in which the author displays keen awareness of the political context in which the leid was doomed to its present status — which, of course, may or may not be its future one.

As a democratic project, she also champions giving the imprimatur of languageness to modern, urban, sociolectal Scots, a variety increasingly separate from the "written 'standard' Scots which diverges so drastically from that spoken in the schemes and streets of the nation — academic and inaccessible, even for linguists like myself."

But to what extent is it standardised, and to what extent does the mere act of standardisation account for its divergence from contemporary urban speech?

Surprising as it may sound, literary Scots is less standardised now than it was in the nineteenth century, with the decline of that standard in many ways a by-product of multiple failed attempts to re-standardise the tongue, which has confused writers and encouraged them to regard the result as an apposite arena for creative self-realisation (in the medium rather than the message).

It is also the case that where literary Scots — the traditional kind — appears to differ from speech, it is a result of pan-dialectal spelling practices that epitomise rather than belie the democratic ideals advocated by Ms Gallogly-Swan. Were that Scots to be written according to the sound-to-letter correspondences of Standard English, which is presumably what she is advocating, it would clearly be much less of a language, since it would have multiple spellings for each word, reducing the whole to a collection of dialects enjoying, if that is the word, a series of bilateral relationships with the Hochsprache.

Literary Scots may of course also be incomprehensible to contemporary urban speakers because so much of its vocabulary has been lost. Very often, however, those are not so much the recherché offerings of the elite as country words. Can we really claim that it does not matter if Scots loses half its vocabulary and (partially) replaces it with (what in this case really is) slang?

Two questions must therefore be asked: is urban Scots a language (distinct from English)?; and is it Scots (the same language as the traditional variety)? In the Blether Region's view, the answer to neither question is a clear-cut yes.

That's not to say, however, that Ms Gallogy-Swan's big idea — a crowd-sourced Scots dictionary — is altogether a bad one. While the notion that it could replace an academically rigorous work such as the SND is an inherently laughable one, it could well prove a valuable source of material for it.

When the Blether Region was at school in 1980s Glasgow, the playground was abuzz with earthy slang (yes!) expressions not well covered by the SND, terms like "dauber" for 'penis' (Ms Gallogly-Swan might prefer the spelling "dobber"), "brouner" ("brooner") for a 'male homosexual', and "giein it teugs" ("chugs") for 'masturbation', not to mention "pish flaps" (have that one on me). Not nice expressions, perhaps, but real nonetheless.

And as far as the Blether Region can make out, though the individual words may surface in quotations in the SND, the senses don't.

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