The laddie from France and his love verse for Scots

It was a connection with the Scots language forged when a Frenchman met his girlfriend, a lassie fae Dundee, who teased him one day for greetin’. Words such as laddie and jobbie soon followed - and were never forgotten.

Now, Dr Paul Malgrati has published Poèmes Écossais, which is believed to be the first book of Scots poetry written by a non-native speaker.

The collection is a tribute not only to his love, Julia, but also the Auld Alliance and a language whose historical literary force is still, he believes, little known with Scots going far deeper than everyday “banter and patter”.

Dr Malgrati first arrived in Scotland nine years ago with his shaky spoken English becoming fortified by Scots over time.

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    He said: “At the time, my spoken English was not that good. Julia, her family and other Scottish friends almost raised me in speaking Scots.

    "Now, I have that problem of using too many Scottish idioms and not being able to switch easily when speaking to people from outwith Scotland, which tends to be confusing!”

    His earliest Scots poems were shared with poet Robert Crawford, his supervisor at St Andrews University, who suggested he shouldn’t “shy away” from his bi-lingualism and add some French into his work.

    Dr Paul Malgrati, author of Poèmes Ecossais and research assistant and tutor on the Scottish Literature degree at Glasgow University. PIC: Julien Marsault

    “That’s what led to the collection and it also opened up for me quite obvious themes, like Mary Queen of Scots and various shared aspects between French culture and Scots culture," he added.

    According to the 2011 Census, more than 1.5 million people speak Scots, with another 267,000 people understanding the language.

    Modern ambassadors such as Len Pennie and Alistair Heather continue to fuel interest in Scots on social media.

    Dr Malgrati said there had been a lot of improvement in Scots usage, but added: "I think there is still a level of perhaps seriousness about Scots that is not quite there yet.

    “Very often there is an impression that Scots is for the banter or the patter, and for sure, 'Still Game' or Scottish Twitter makes me laugh.

    "But I think there is less of an awareness of this very deep and rich tradition of Scots writing, from the Middle Ages to the present day, from authors you would want to be better known in their own country, people such as Allan Ramsay, Robert Fergusson and William Dunbar.

    "Dunbar wrote poems during the time of James IV and at the time brought the Scots language, the language of the Lowlands, to the very far extremes of sheer quality. He was an amazing writer but he is not very much known beyond well-read literary circles.”

    He said, by comparison, French 16th Century poet Pierre de Ronsard was taught in French schools.

    "I do think there is scope for understanding this very long history that is behind words such as coothie and wee," he added.

    Modern writers such as Harry Josephine Giles, whose science fiction novel is written in Orcadian, added to the tradition underpinned by writers such as Dunbar and Burns.

    Dr Malgrati said: "When you join all this together, you feel very far removed from these quite tiring debates on whether Scots is a language or not. It’s just a no brainer when you have all this great literature of the past, the present and the future.”

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