From garden to linguistic paradise

A few years ago I was collecting beasties with 14 five-year-olds in a Scottish school nature garden. When the triumphant words "I've found a Pee the Bed" rang out, the focus of the project changed.

Gowans, slaters by the score and the appearance of a throstle on the roddan tree got us back into the classroom and starting a Scots nature wordbank. We published our Kippen Scots Dictionary of Nature three weeks later.

The 5-14 guidelines emphasise that children should investigate language diversity by recognising features of their speech which differ from Standard English.

When I moved to Dunblane I decided this could be achieved with my P5 class by publishing a Scots dictionary along the same lines as the Kippen class but including all the Scots words and sayings in use in Dunblane today.

The children would produce a permanent record of real worth to their own community, and of interest to all who enjoy the Scots language. They would gather the words, put them in alphabetical order, illustrate them, write their definitions, do the paste-up, photocopy and bind their dictionary. Finally, they would launch it, distribute it and sell it for charity.

The children made up a sheet asking for Scots words and sayings and their meanings which they distributed to friends, families and school staff. We compiled a master list of 120 words and 40 sayings which was put on the wall. We worked in groups and as a class, looking at different types of dictionaries and how to use them. We looked at alphabetical order,definitions, illustrations and parts of speech.

Groups of children took responsibility for writing, defining and illustrating different sections. Each word and its definition was then put on a strip of paper, and put into alphabetical order. They were pasted on to pages which the children had designed with illustrated borders, then proof read.

Finally, we all trooped over to the school photocopier to run off our initial print run of 80 copies, each with 26 A4 pages and coloured cardboard covers. Minutes later, the first copy was bound on the comb binder and held aloft to cheers which had dinner ladies and management team lining up for their own first edition, signed by the authors. Several print runs have been produced and we still get requests for more.

The dictionary generated tremendous interest in the community. All the while it was in production, we were using Scots words in the classroom. The more the vocabulary was used, the more natural it became.

The aim was to teach the dialect; there was no attempt to impose an accent. We have children from many backgrounds in the class, so clishmaclaver, clamjamfry, clock leddy and clype would be pronounced in any number of accents. We had group names in class - Tattie-bogles, Scunners, Juglugs and, most prestigious of all, Pee the Beds. We had yokin time and lousin time. We ate pieces, not snacks, we didn't clype, we tholed our homework, and were allowed to wear baffies in the classroom.

It soon became apparent to the children, however, that no matter how much they loved and used the Scots words, other people were not using them enough. So we set out to do something about it.

The children produced "ready reckoners" with lists of about 10 words which could be used at home or in other classrooms, and gave them out to teachers, friends and families. They can still be found on fridges and walls in Dunblane. People who used Scots words were given a star certificate produced on the class computer and signed and dated by one of the children. Lucky recipients at this stage included parents, grandparents and teachers - many more people and organisations both locally and nationally were to receive one before we were done.

The manager of our local swimming pool in Stirling christened the beginners class the Pollywogs and the improvers Puddocks, and resurrected the pool's previous slogan "Wha's for a dook?".

Dunblane Tesco was persuaded to label several products in Scots and use some Scots advertising slogans. A focus group of six children and the trading manager worked out a marketing strategy which led to the children printing official Tesco labels such as "neeps", "clabbydoos" and "bubblyjock" on the store's computer, and displaying them for a trial period of three weeks.

Posters proclaiming "Tatties, tumshies and tablet - you'll get them all at Tesco" and "Get your messages at Tesco and you'll be laughing like a pooch on pay day" were hung everywhere, to the delight of all involved with the project.

The publicity led to the children appearing on Reporting Scotland, promoting their initiative to the whole country. Whenever the children saw an example of good use of the Scots language, they brought it in to class and a star certificate was sent out. Recipients included the local branch of Waterstones for a quote in Scots around the wall, Maclays Ales of Alloa for "Thrapple Quencher" and a grandpa from England who, on receipt of his dictionary, wrote a letter to his grandson using lots of Scots words, even though he had never heard of most of them before.

The 5-14 language guidelines state that there is a distinctive Scottish culture worthy of transmission and study. The Scots language is very beautiful and in it are many words for which there is no exact equal in English. If children don't use it, it will die out.

So, with no apologies to Trainspotting ... Wear baffies, eat pieces, don't clype, shoogle the table, get drookit, hunt the gowk, have a poke of chips, be thrawn, bile yer heid and be a wee skunner.


Talk of the toun: Elaine Wyllie, who caught the Scots word bug while searching for gowans and throstles, reads her pupils' dictionary

* The entries in every school's dictionary must be written in the following order: word; definition; child's name; region; category; a sentence written by the child using the word in context;
* Sayings should be written in a separate section, in Scots with an English translation;
* Text and illustrations should be very clear;
* Children should illustrate as many words as possible using fine black pen;
* They should design the cover and any other title pages;
* Extra pages can be included as desired - eg thanks page, dedication page, "about the authors" page, foreword, local history page, endangered words page, etc;
* A limited edition of their local dictionary could be signed, numbered and given to individuals or organisations in the community;
* The children's school publication could be in their handwriting or written on computer, the size and method of binding decided by the school;
* The computer disc, preferably PC or Mac, should be sent, along with print-out and illustrated school publication to Scots Dictionary, TES Scotland, Scott House, 10 South St Andrew Street, Edinburgh EH2 2AZ Project guidelines tom finnie

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