Thursday, 31 March 2011

Yirdit coaties

Ma dochter's coaties. They're yirdit - fit's she bin daein? Plowterin throu dubs, nae doot. Quines is jist as fool an orra as loons. Ma mither's mither wid hae gied her a pymin, but we arna sae coorse the day.

My daughter's gymshoes/plimsolls (or at a pinch, Converse). They're filthy - what's she been doing? Doubtless walking through mud. Girls are just as dirty and messy as boys. My grandmother would have given her a spanking, but we're not so ill-disposed these days.

In giving you this little taste of Scots I have to say first of all that my grandmother would have done no such thing. My mother often told me how she and her brothers were threatened with a 'pymin' for sitting on the upturned keels of boats in summer, and getting their clothes covered in melting tar, but that the threat was never carried through.

I also realise how local my variant of Scots must be. I couldn't find 'coaties', 'yirdit' or 'pymin' in my Concise Scots Dictionary. They may be outwith its concise scope. But just to highlight two words of Scandinavian origin: the modern Swedish for 'earth' is 'jord', and 'yird' in Scots means 'earth'. But its extension into 'yirdit' for 'dirty' is perhaps local to North East Scots. And 'quine' has a modern Scandinavian equivalent in 'kvinne', 'woman'.

'Dubs' is an interesting one. I've written elsewhere about 'glaur'. But dubs is a different sort of mud. Drier, forming into clumps. The sort of mud that drops off tractor wheels and leaves a trail behind on the road. My father knows a farmer who considerately puts out a warning sign to alert drivers that they are about to encounter 'Dubs on Road'. Perhaps we're like the Inuit, and have a rich vocabulary for mud.

This post was sparked off by the questions about Scots in our current census. I only discovered after the event that there is a website to help people decide how to answer the relevant census questions. My father sent me the local community newsletter, which contained this article:

"Included in the census this time is a question about Scots dialect. To may in this 'airt', that means Doric, but Scots dialects are many and varied over the country. You are asked if you understand and speak dialect. Now many folk of a certain age group remember full well being told to 'speak properly' (ie English) at school and at work, but as home, playground and leisure, the local tongue was widespread. Forget about 'speaking proper' and answer the question!
For everyone, there is a website to help, and for those unsure about computers, there is bound to be someone who can show you, so just 'speir'. "

'Speir', meaning 'ask', has a modern Scandinavian equivalent in 'spoerre', 'to ask'. I can't import the proper slash through the 'o' of spoerre without the html doing strange things, so have to give an anglicised spelling here.

I was going to go on to give an elegant summary of Scots as a language of Germanic origin, and Gaelic as being of Celtic origin. But ah'm fooner't, (I've run out of steam), so I suggest you look at the Aye Can website, and perhaps click on the map to hear variants of Scots. Having listened to all the clips I would say they're fairly mild renditions of Scots, and don't give the full flavour of a Shetlander or an Aberdonian in full flow. But you can get an idea of how rich and varied Scots is, and perhaps why I felt it was important to tick all those boxes on the census form.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Ye'll hae tae hing on til the morn

tae rade ma post aboot Scots. Ah hid a sair fecht the day, an ah'm fair wabbit.

(you'll have to wait until tomorrow to read my post about Scots. I've had a trying day and am tired out.)

Monday, 28 March 2011

Scotland's Census

Once every 10 years we have a census, and yesterday was the official census day in Scotland. As a linguist I found this the most interesting question:

My husband and I ticked all the way down in the English and Scots columns, but left Scottish Gaelic blank. That didn't make me feel any shame or a sudden desire to learn Gaelic. As an East coast Scot whose forebears spoke a dialect of Scots rich in words of Scandinavian origin, I feel that Gaelic has very little to do with me. I'm more concerned with the survival of Scots as a living language. Our son, filling in his questionnaire while away at university, reported that he hadn't filled in the Scots column. I think he underestimated his ability to understand Scots, but it's true that our children haven't had the bilingual exposure that was a feature of my childhood, and I regret that.

Lest you think that Scotland lacks linguistic diversity, have a look at the list of community languages in which help can be accessed with completing the census. Gaelic comes first in the list, followed by the rest in alphabetical order:

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Scottish Saturday - a Bach sandwich

Inspired by Fay at The Wind and The Wellies, who posted last week about her Orkney Saturday, I thought I would set out my day yesterday. Saturdays apart, do check out Fay's lunchtime walk at Beach Action. I think you'll envy her having this walk on her doorstep to clear her head.

But back to the metropolis - or back to Bach, as the day started just off Princes Street at St Cuthbert's church with my daughter going to a 9.30 a.m. rehearsal for the evening performance of the St Matthew Passion. I headed up to the Usher Hall box office to buy my ticket, only to find that the tickets had been taken down to the church for sale at the door that evening. The rehearsal was short, because my daughter and her choir mates from school were only involved in the initial chorus, so we had time on our hands before our next appointment, and what better way to spend it than to wander through the weekly Farmers' Market.

Purchased: some locally-made chocolate from The Chocolate Tree , and a large loaf of light rye bread from the German baker Falko. This loaf would weigh ever heavier on us as we walked the length of Princes Street, acquiring more shopping as we went. Note to self - always take a string shopping bag when going to the Farmers' Market. We did eventually break into the bar of maple and pecan chocolate to sustain us.

Still taking it in turns to carry the huge loaf, we made for our appointment in the high fashion temple of Harvey Nichols. It's not easy to appear stylish and chic while traversing this fearsome 'if you have to ask the price you can't afford it' store while clasping a fraying paper package shedding a light dusting of flour, but I'm confident we pulled it off.

Just time after that to get the bus home, deposit the loaf - at last! - cook a meal, and head out again for the 6.30 start of the performance. I don't have a photo of the venue - by the time I thought of it in the morning we had The Loaf to deal with, and in the evening there was no time for framing a shot.

An evening of sublime music, even if the pews of St Cuthbert's felt a trifle hard after 3 hours. And the loaf was very good indeed with lunch today.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Skywatch Friday - taking Spring where you find it

I have to admit, I am feeling pent-up in the city. Even a city as lovely, small-scale and history-filled as Edinburgh. So I have to take my Spring where I find it. Such as these catkins on my walk to work yesterday. I was craning back and zooming in with my camera to try to capture the bumble bees feasting on the pollen right at the top of the tree. Unsuccessfully, as it turns out, but the glorious yellow and blue will go some way to satisfying my yearning for Spring.

Others may find that beer helps.

More Spring skies from around the world are at Skywatch Friday.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Travelling from winter to spring

Halfway down the A9 last Sunday afternoon we were midway between winter and spring, with the snowline clearly visible. As was the speed camera - the yellow and red striped box on the left.

We had left Speyside in heavy falling snow. Ruthven barracks looked as bleak as I've ever seen it, and I could imagine the soldiers stationed there to quell the Jacobites in 1745 pierced to the bone with cold as they looked out on a similar scene.

Coming down from the Drumochter pass the deer were close to the road, foraging for food.

I was quite pleased with these paparazzi shots, as we were on the dual carriageway section at that point and travelling rather fast (no, I wasn't driving). For those who don't know about the A9, it's the main route north through the central Highlands, up to Inverness and on to the northeastern tip of Scotland. 270 miles of mostly single carriageway in each direction, a lot of frustration and a high number of fatal accidents. At the rare dual carriageway sections everyone speeds up and overtakes frantically, and then settles back into an only slightly re-arranged queue of traffic when the dual section ends.

It's best not to get too frustrated and to enjoy the scenery. Or the journey from winter to spring. By the time we had reached Blair Atholl spring was unfolding at lower levels. The castle-like building is a hotel, by the way - the Atholl Palace.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011


When you return to a place you know well after an absence, things that were once mundane strike you as exotic. As with these copper whisky stills in my home village. Until I moved away from home to go to university, it was just part of the landscape for me to come round a corner and come face to face with...creatures like this. Now, on a visit to see my dad this weekend, I found myself whipping out my camera. These are the top halves of stills, and these

are the bottom halves. All sitting out in the falling snow in the coppersmith's yard, waiting to be transported to their distillery. Every distillery has a different shape of still - it's one of the factors that gives each whisky its unique taste. My home village has a very well known firm of coppersmiths, who produce handmade stills not just for whisky, but also rum, gin, tequila and bourbon.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Subject choice

The first of the 'last times' that is going to be a feature of the next 15 months. My daughter has just chosen her subjects for her last year at school. This is the 'subject choice form' which lists the subjects on offer, in separate columns to avoid timetable clashes. The school offers a huge range of subjects at the most advanced level, Advanced Higher, and also at the two lower levels of Higher and Intermediate 2 for those who want to take up a new subject at a manageable level and gain a qualification after only one year of study in their last year of school. There are also a few subjects such as Music and Art which offer the English qualifications of A level and Advanced Subsidiary. (Snappy names, eh?) Despite this variety, if you look at the close-up below you'll see that we have encountered the dreaded clash.

Column 4 is the only column which has Advanced Higher Music, but it also contains Advanced Higher History, another desired choice. Fortunately the school has been able to put in place a creative work-around. Not bad with 230 students in the year group. Her other choice, Modern Studies, is really social and political studies. I don't know why they don't just call it that.

Monday, 7 March 2011

All's well that ends well

I'm happy to report that our tourists are on their feet and enjoying the wonders of Scottish scenery. Whatever it was that laid them low has passed. my bet is that they were escaping from an attack of the Highland midge, but many other creative suggestions were made.

And the rabbit is still there.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Usher Hall

Old and new architecture together at Edinburgh's Usher Hall. The 1914 original to the left, and the angular glass extension completed in 2010 in the centre of the shot.

We were at a concert there last night: American violinist Joshua Bell and British cellist Steven Isserlis, with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields. The first time I've experienced a standing ovation at a concert (we Scots are a reserved lot).

As with many things in Scotland there's a connection with our national drink. The hall was built with money gifted to the city by Andrew Usher, son of a whisky distiller.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Skywatch Friday - grey

Not a lot of excitement in our skies just now. In fact this absence of sky is as exciting as it's got. You can just see the vague spire of Edinburgh's Gothic Spaceship.

Somewhere in the world there will be vibrant skies at Skywatch Friday.

City Spring

Spring in the city can be a little messy. This is the aftermath of the 'Winter Wonderland' in Princes Street gardens.


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