Word power

A career spent teaching students who have obtained Higher or SYS English and gone on to the university without having learned how to spell, punctuate or construct a sentence (never mind an essay) enables me to give an unequivocal endorsement to one point in Crawford Mackie’s letter: the English language is not really taught in schools.

That, however, is by the way: the issue is Scots. “Integrated Scots” is not new.

Since the 18th century, Scots writers have integrated words and idioms from different places and times into their literary idiolects.

Allan Ramsay enriched the vernacular of the Edinburgh streets and taverns with elements from his native rural Lanarkshire and from literature of the Stewart period.

Robert Burns drew on the writings of Ramsay, Fergusson and others to expand the resources of his Ayrshire dialect: exclusively Ayrshire words, indeed, are fewer than might have been expected in his work, as if he were trying deliberately to avoid being seen as a purely regional poet.


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Modern poets have followed the same practice.

This mutual influencing of writers and cumulative development of the language is exactly what happens in a mature literary medium, and indeed is one of its defining features.

Again, since the 18th century, some Scots writers have taken the opposite course from Burns and written in a local dialect.

Despite what Mr Mackie thinks, it is not difficult to introduce the work of such writers to schoolchildren: if this is not being attempted in Fife (which would surprise me, given that county’s distinctive dialect and abundance of local poets) he should visit Aberdeenshire, where Sheena Blackhall and others are doing sterling work in introducing local pupils to their linguistic and literary heritage.


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This is teaching Scots; and I’m glad Mr Mackie thinks it’s fine.

Derrick McClure

Rosehill Terrace