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Mind your language

Four Gruffalos, one language? The strange case of Scots

The current fashion is to give English spoken in north-eastern Scotland the name Doric, and English spoken in central and southern Scotland the name Lallans

10 September 2016

9:00 AM

10 September 2016

9:00 AM

I’d seen The Gruffalo in Latin, so I was delighted when Veronica showed me a version her daughter had been given, in Doric. It begins: ‘A moose tuik a dander ben the wid./ A tod saw the moose, an the moose luiked guid.’ (I take it that every mother knows The Gruffalo by heart. The original starts: ‘A mouse took a stroll through the deep dark wood./ A fox saw the mouse, and the mouse looked good.’).

Although Gaelic (Ghàidhlig) is the distinct language of Scotland, few bother to learn it, and the English-speakers there give the name Scots to various dialects of northern English. Sometimes they call it Doric, a very English word deriving from Greek and possessing pejorative connotations of rusticity. Of course pejorative labels such as Doric or Tory may be worn with pride. The current fashion is to give English spoken in north-eastern Scotland the name Doric, and English spoken in central and southern Scotland the name Lallans.


I’ve now found another Scots version: Thi Dundee Gruffalo. In it, the fox asks: ‘Whaar ur yi gaein, wee broon moosie?/ C’moan an hae yir dennar in meh Nethergate hoosie.’ The English original was underground house, and the Scottish National Dictionary (SND) does not list Nethergate as a headword, but Nethergate (like Overgate) is a street in Dundee. (As in York, gate has the sense of ‘way’, deriving from Old Norse.)

In another edition, called The Orkney Gruffalo, the Orcadian fox asks: ‘Whar ur ye gaan tae, peedie broon moose?’ Peedie means ‘wee’. The SND calls it a variant of peerie — the word used in The Shetland Gruffalo (the last of today’s Gruffalos). In Orkney it was wise to keep away the peerie folk (‘little people’, ‘fairies’), and in Shetland, there could be, before winter, a peerie summer (compare England’s little St Martin’s summer), which signalled the coming of whales to kill.

Itchy Coo, the publishers of these Gruffalos, explain that ‘Scots is a West Germanic language spoken in Scotland. It is recognised as a language by the Scottish government.’ They rightly note that ‘Scots is descended from Old Northern English with links to Danish, French, Gaelic and Latin.’ The politics of it all makes the difference.

 


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