Not just a corrupt form of English;Books

19th June 1998 at 01:00
A SCOTS GRAMMAR. By David Purves. Saltire Society, pound;7.99.

In the great debate over whether Scots is a language or a dialect, David Purves argues that the question of the status of any form of speech is essentially political.

He sees the loss of prestige of Scots, the state language before the Union of the Crowns in 1603, as a direct result of Scotland's loss of political independence. And he has now lodged a pre-emptive strike before the parliament is established to ensure that, if Scots is to come into its own again, people get it right.

In a back-to-basics approach, he contends that the key to teaching the language, based on the "anchor" of its literature, is a grounding in grammar. This is quite distinct from English grammar, he says, adding tartly: "Some of the so-called Scots currently written and published may be syntactically and idiomatically English and attempts to compensate for its inauthenticity by spelling English words in an unusual way".

Dr Purves, past president of the Scots Language Society, helpfully appends the SLS spelling recommendations drawn up in 1985: "ane" instead of "yin", "een" or "wan", for example; "ay" for yes and "aye" for always.

This is a short book, but its very shortness makes it user-friendly, and it is backed by an excellent list of references for those wishing to delve deeper into Scots grammar.

He frequently draws on literary examples, but is no blate to criticise them when necessary: Hugh MacDiarmid's "Yin canna thow the cockles o yin's hert" is attacked as an Anglicisation. The equivalent of the English impersonal pronoun "one" is either a personal pronoun or "a bodie".

Grammar books have a reputation for dryness. This one is a glorious reminder of the richness of the Scots language, not a mere corruption of English but vibrant and expressive in its own right.

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