No better time than Robert Fergusson’s Birthday serves to ponder why the Lowland Scots who live close to England speak a dialect opague to many an English ear, while their Highland bretheren speak the Queen’s English with a tongue precise and fair.
The answer is simple. The lowland Scots are Saxons, and speak a form of English. Go back 200 years and the Lowland Scots had more in common with Lancastrians and Northumbrians than they did with wild long haired Highland Scots.
Because they spoke a dialect of English the Lowland Scots never felt the need to learn English.
The Highland Scots were Picts and the Pictish language is long gone. It was replaced by Gaelic when the Scotii, an Irish Tribe, invaded Scotland. Celtic Monks from Ireland and Iona helped further spread Gaelic when they converted the Picts to Christianity.
In the 18th Century following the Act of Union with Britain the Highland Scots began to acquire the English. But it was not the English of Glasgow and Edinburgh they took to. Instead they learned the language direct from officals arriving from London and the South of England.
And so it is that a poem in lowland Scots can be as obtuse in parts to a highland Scot as it is to an Englishman or an Irishman. But 90% of the time you can get it.
The Daft Days; by Robert Fergusson
Now mirk December’s dowie face
glowers owre the rigs wi’ sour grimace,
while, through his minimum o’ space,
the bleer-ee’d sun
wi’ blinkin light and stealing pace,
his race doth run.
Frae naked groves nae birdie sings;
to shepherd’s pipe nae hillock rings;
the breeze nae odorous flavour brings
frae Borean cave;
and dwynin’ Nature droops her wings,
wi’ visage grave.
Mankind but scanty pleasure glean
frae snawy hill or barren plain,
whan winter, ‘midst his nippin’ train,
wi’ frozen spear,
sends drift owre a’ his bleak domain,
and guides the weir.
Auld Reekie! thou’rt the canty hole,
a bield for mony cauldrife soul,
wha snugly at thine ingle loll,
baith warm and couth;
while round they gar the bicker roll,
to weet their mouth.
When merry Yule-day comes, I trow,
you’ll scantlins find a hungry mou’;
sma’ are our cares, our stamacks fu’
o’ gusty gear,
and kickshaws, strangers to our view,
Ye browster wives ! now busk ye braw,
and fling your sorrows far awa’;
then, come and gie’s the tither blaw
o’ reaming ale,
mair precious than the well o’ Spa,
our hearts to heal.
Then, though at odds wi’ a’ the warl’,
amang oursels we’ll never quarrel;
thoogh discord gie a canker’d snarl
to spoil our glee,
as lang’s there’s pith into the barrel,
we’ll drink and gree.
Fiddlers! your pins in temper fix,
and rozet weel your fiddlesticks,
but banish vile Italian tricks
frae out your quorum;
nor fortes wi’ pianos mix –
For nought can cheer the heart sae weil
as can a canty Highland reel;
it even vivifies the heel
to skip and dance:
Lifeless is he wha canna feel
Let mirth abound; let social cheer
invest the dawnin’ o’ the year;
let blythesome innocence appear,
to crown our joy;
nor envy, wi’ sarcastic sneer,
our bliss destroy.
And thou, great god of ‘aqua vitæ’!
wha sway’st the empire o’ this city,
when fou, we’re sometimes capernoity,
be thou prepar’d
to hedge us frae that black banditti,
the City Guard.