Weans spread the rule of Scots

14th February 2003 at 00:00
Stirling pupils are roping in MSPs and schools across the country to create a dictionary, writes Eleanor Caldwell

A visit to St Ninian's Primary in Stirling requires a change of linguistic mindset. Chap at the main door and ask to speak to the heidie, Gill Friel. If she is not available, you could speak to one of the class schoolies. If you arrive at lunchtime, the children will probably be busy enjoying their pieces in the lunchie.

Scots is enjoying a revival partly thanks to the school's P7 pupils. They wrote to every primary school in Scotland in November, asking the children and teachers to send them their favourite Scots word and its meaning. They also contacted all the MSPs, asking for a contribution to their project and requesting them to use the word as often as possible in the course of parliamentary and constituency work.

Within the first week of the Scots project, the pupils received 230 words.

Now they have a vast amount of data from 700 schools and 70 MSPs. Everyone who submits a word receives a formal certificate of adoption to underline their commitment to use the word regularly.

St Ninian's P3-P7 children are working in class to put the words into sentences to illustrate how they are used. The complete collection is to become a dictionary called A Word From the Weans, which will contain all the words submitted, where they came from, their meaning and the context in which they are used. It will also include a list of endangered words to encourage people to keep them in use.

The project is sponsored by the computer company Hewlitt Packard, which will collate the results, and the Saltire Society, which will put its name on the publication. Further funding comes from a National Lottery Heritage grant and Stirling Council.

A version of the dictionary is expected to appear on the Internet before the end of this school session and the printed version should be available by October. The Scottish Parliament will be one of the first recipients.

MSP for North East Scotland Irene McGugan, who is a member of the cross-party group on the Scots language, is delighted with the response so far from other MSPs. Speeches in the chamber already have more of a Scots air. She admits, however, that long debates can often leave her feeling "a'

wrought up" (terribly tired).

MSP for Stirling and former teacher Sylvia Jackson was planning to use her word to good effect in the next debate on housing. "Shoogly" (shaky), she says, would refer to a member of the opposition's line of argument, not to the housing in question.

A daily competition to come up with the most original words has been running in the office of Bruce Crawford, MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, among his research and clerical staff. Mr Crawford has already submitted "sark" (vest).

The St Ninian's Primary children tested MSPs on their knowledge of Scots at a presentation of their project at the Scottish Parliament in late November. Ian Jenkins, MSP for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale and former principal teacher of English at Peebles High, revealed his Rothesay roots with a sound understanding of "pokey hat" (ice cream cone). There was slight hesitation from some of the politicians about the role of a "tattie bogle" (scarecrow), but the children were relieved that everyone knew what a "cludgie" (lavatory) was for.

A couple of children with accents from south of the border pronounced their words perfectly and were really enjoying "just speaking like everyone else".

Their headteacher sees the project as an important contribution to the national cultural strategy debate. Mrs Friel has developed several successful writing projects in the school and sees this as a natural extension of creative language work.

Mrs Friel, who is originally from England, says that the English have not yet found a meteorological term to equal "dreich", maybe because the weather is never dreich in England. The P7 boys and girls point out that it's only drookit Scottish puddocks who truly appreciate a dreich day.

All contributions can be e-mailed to awordfromtheweans@hp.com

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