Please mind your language

19th April 1996 at 01:00
Iseabail Macleod profiles a dictionary that aims to foster the use of Scots and to promote a positive attitude towards its teaching. Along with the production of dictionaries, the Scottish National Dictionary Association's broader aim is to encourage the use of the Scots language, and there is no better way to achieve this than to foster its use in schools. It was habitual in the past to discourage or forbid it.

In the 1990s, more than ever before, there is a positive attitude towards the teaching of Scots in schools and the Kist, launched in February, is probably the greatest leap forward so far in that direction. We hope that the new Scots School Dictionary will be a further major step in the campaign. A dictionary is after all an essential tool in the maintenance and furtherance of a language.

For the first time the SNDA is publishing a two-way dictionary, Scots-English, English-Scots. The main sources for the text, the Pocket Scots Dictionary and the Concise English-Scots Dictionary, were compiled partly with school use in mind.

The policy of making the dictionary as clear and simple to use as possible has been taken a stage further in the new book. Definitions have been worded in as simply as possible and clear typefaces have been used; this is, of course, space-consuming, but is essential.

Dictionary-makers are wont to apply descriptive rather than prescriptive policies to their work, that is recording the language as it is used, rather than laying down the law about what it should be. They have to remember however that, whatever their policies, dictionaries will be used by some as a standard, perhaps especially for spelling. ("How do you spell..?" "Look it up in the dictionary.") Some care has therefore been taken in the choice of spellings, in particular for the first headword on the Scots-English side. This refines the policy adopted in the Concise English-Scots Dictionary of choosing spellings which are most likely to elicit the modern Scots pronunciation and which, without contravening this, follow the historic practices of Scots orthography.

The introduction to the SSD is designed to be child-friendly, though how many children - or adults - will actually read it is a question we cannot answer. For those with the patience to do so, however, it will help to make the dictionary more useful. Further help to that end will be available later in the year in the shape of a booklet, or rather pad of photocopiable sheets, of activities to help in the building up of reference skills and in familiarising children with the Scots language on paper.

There are plans also for an electronic version (on CD-Rom) in 1997, also accompanied by activities and games, and we hope that this will help to bring the Scots language into the 21st century and to dispel the idea that it is concerned only with the past.

The SNDA's new word collection scheme, despite underfunding, has turned up considerable evidence of new developments in Scots, new words, expressions, and usages.

One interesting area is the wider use of gipsy words, especially among children in the Lothians. Barrie (very good), gadgie (a man; originally a non-gipsy), chore (to steal) were formerly restricted to gipsy areas such as the Yetholm district of Roxburghshire, but they are now heard in Edinburgh playgrounds. A language developing in this age group cannot be said to be moribund.

The word collection depends mainly on voluntary help and if anyone would like to take part, contact us at the SNDA, 27 George Square, Edinburgh EH8 9LD (phone and fax 0131 650 4149).

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