Welcome to Disnae World

25th October 1996 at 01:00
A common theme in many recent educational initiatives has been the encouragement of the use of the Scots language and culture as part of the teaching process, or "bringing the language of the playground into the classroom", as BBC Scotland would have it.

Most staff welcome these developments, even a former colleague in the English department who hailed from Tunbridge Wells and was dispatched to help in the primarysecondary transfer programme. "It's all right," he was told. "There's a unit for you to teach."

So there was, but it was a Scots language unit. He was faced with some awkward decision. Should he take primary 7 through the trials and tribulation of the Wee Malkies in an accent that was somewhere between Ken Livingstone and Tony Hancock, or succumb to the offer from a Scots colleague and mime to a pre-recorded tape?

The definition of "Scots" words can be fraught with danger. Some pupils are under the impression that anything they are not normally allowed to say in class will be permitted under the guise of Scots, providing the Rs are rolled sufficiently, and others produce a mixture of slang and Rab C Nesbit as being the epitome of contemporary Lallans.

Language as she is spoke by our pupils rarely fails to be rewarding. Their vocabulary is gathered eclectically via Australian soaps, Arnie videos and peer group invention and it can be the lexical equivalent of a white-knuckle ride seeking to invade this linguistic minefield. Genuine Scots words like gallus and school-based coinages like barry can have differing nuances in various parts of the country, and sometimes a word appears that defies etymology.

I well remember Kim, a third year in the Youth Strategy Centre. She suddenly took to exclaiming that people, events and situations were "very sprong". The expression spread like wildfire and was adopted by staff as well as pupils: newcomers producing a confident display would be left in no doubt as to how sprong they were considered. Sprong related to anything that was done in a slightly devil-may-care fashion, and seemed to carry a level of approbation, if not admiration.

Experience in the classroom would seem to indicate that, despite the multimedia barrage faced by our pupils, there remain many guid Scots words in everyday playground use and I was consciously proud of this last Saturday, as I prepared to attend a wedding ceilidh.

With the usual lack of foresight, I found myself, at 11am, short of a belt buckle for me and a pair of socks for my son. I figured the safest bet was to head for the highest concentration of kilt shops, in the capital's Royal Mile, where I would have the widest choice of merchandise. Never having entered such establishments previously. I was a bit overawed by the sheer Scottishness of it all: death by a thousand Scottie dogs, as I once heard it described.

However, what took my eye, was the purchase being made by the gentleman ahead of me in the queue. He looked quite normal, but he was in the process of buying a full-sized, William Wallace sword, all six foot of it, forged in Toledo, Spain. What was he going to do with it?

As he left, I was careful to keep out of his way, and I caught the eye of the proprietor. He looked as if it was an everyday type of sale, and as he was fierce, red of beard, kilted and leather waistcoated, I merely asked for a pair of socks and a belt buckle.

What I really wanted to say, of course, was "very sprong".

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