They say that language reflects a society’s culture, its’ way of life and its’ environment. If any of these changes, as they undoubtedly will over time, then a language will adapt and evolve. I use evolution in this context, because words and phrases are subject to the same “survival of the fittest” process as plants and animals. I see this as a natural phenomenon and attempts to stymie it tends to lead to extinction. Look at Gaelic and, to a lesser extent, Scots. Languages that were almost deliberately regulated out of existence.
But they cling on, I think, because the culture and way of life was so deep and rich that their meaning could still only be expressed using the language that had evolved to describe it.
I was born and raised in Edinburgh at a time when saying “I didnae dae that” was almost as punishable as the thing that I did not do. For the avoidance of doubt, I really didnae dae it. But my “slang” was not that far away from the “English” that was in the classroom, on the radio and TV and that the minister spoke.
My father was born near Strathdon and his mother, sister and brother never lost the Doric influence. And cousin Sandy frae Huntly wis unintelligible tae me maest o’ the time. I was embarrased when, in describing a joiner’s technique, my german wife had to translate. To her, “That’s the aller wey” made immediate sense. I am no linguist, but I find it fascinating how languages of one culture influence that of another. George frae oor hamlet swipes the flair wae a bissom just as my mother-in-law does in Germany. A bissom is a brush in Doric and German by the way. My Grannie and Auntie Bettie had that ability to say “aye!” when breathing in which I always found fascinating and unique to the Doric speaking world. Or so I thought. I learned that Scandinavians also do this and that The Sami people who inhabit the norther parts of Sweden, Finland and Norway even incorporate it into their throat singing.
So, Doric has been influenced by other cultures to add to its rich palette of nouns and adjectives, and the other wee bits, to reflect and describe life in the north east of Scotland. Historically, we were part of the trading and transport super-highways of the day. When the most practical way to get around was by sea. This explains why Sutherland (“The south lands” ) is called this. As far as the Norse were concerned, it formed the most southernly part of their kingdom. They probably sang about it whilst breathing in.
This is why Doric matters. It has as much right to thrive in the global soup of language as any other. Because it has evolved over centuries to reflect a way of life rooted in the soil, washed by the sea and shaped by ordinary folk. It has been altered by battles, invaders, traders, new friends and old traditions. It is in itself an old tradition portrayed through bothy ballads and through the ordinary lunes and quines that keep speaking it.
Funny thing is, it is named after a Greek sub-culture. Now that’s another story…..
Angus McCurrach MSc. (Psych.) BSc. (Psych) Dip.(Soc.Sc.) Cert.(Couns.) MBpS
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