When Rabbie Burns wrote his poetry, the radio hadn’t been invented yet, so it’s unlikely most folk had ever heard English spoken by an Englishman. Presumably everybody used Scots pronunciations for English words, blissfully unaware that they were pronounced differently south of the border.
Of course, many words are spelt in a way that makes the difference obvious, but I reckon the Bard’s poems would have been read by himself with many more Scots features than most people do today.
If he had written his poems today, I believe he would have used many more Scots spellings to prevent the readers from substituting English pronunciations.
To illustrate this, I’ve tried to respell one of his most famous songs, A Man’s A Man For A’ That, and I’ve also added the West Central Scots pronuncation in IPA:
Is there for honest Poverty Is thare for honest povertie ?z ðer f?r ?hon?st ?pov?rt? That hings his head, an’ a’ that; That hings his heid, and aw that; ðat h??z h?z hid ?n ? ðat The coward slave — we pass him by, The couart sclave — we pass him by, ð? ?ku?rt sklev wi pas h?m bae We dare be poor for a’ that! We daur be puir for aw that! wi d?r bi per f?r ? ðat For a’ that, an’ a’ that. For aw that, and aw that. f?r ? ðat ?n ? ðat Our toils obscure an’ a’ that, Our tyles obscure and aw that, ur t?ilz ?b?skjur ?n ? ðat The rank is but the guinea’s stamp, The rank is but the guinie’s stamp, ð? ra?k ?z b?t ð? ??in?z stamp The Man’s the gowd for a’ that. The man’s the gowd for aw that. ð? manz ð? ??ud f?r ? ðat
What though on hamely fare we dine, Whit tho on hamelie fare we dine, ??t ðo on ?hemli fer wi d?in Wear hoddin grey, an’ a’ that; Weir hoddin gray, and aw that; wir hod?n ?re ?n ? ðat Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine; Gie fuils thair silks, and knaves thair wine; gi f?lz ðer s?lks an nevz ðer w?in A Man’s a Man for a’ that: A man’s a man for aw that: ? manz ? man f?r ? ðat For a’ that, and a’ that, For aw that, and aw that, f?r ? ðat ?n ? ðat Their tinsel show, an’ a’ that; Thair tinsel shaw, and aw that; ðer ?t?ns?l ?? an ? ðat The honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor, The honest man, tho e’er sae puir, ð? ?hon?st man ðo er se per Is king o’ men for a’ that. Is king o men for aw that. ?z k?? o m?n f?r ? ðat
Ye see yon birkie, ca’d a lord, Ye see yon birkie, cawed a lord,* ji si jon ?b?rk? k?d ? l?rd Wha struts, an’ stares, an’ a’ that; Wha struts, and stares, and aw that; ?? str?ts ?n sterz ?n ? ðat Tho’ hundreds worship at his word, Tho hunders wurships at his word,* ðo ?h?n?rz ?w?r??ps at h?z w?rd He’s but a coof for a’ that: He’s but a cuif for aw that: hiz b?t ? k?f f?r ? ðat For a’ that, an’ a’ that, For aw that, and aw that, f?r ? ðat ?n ? ðat His ribband, star, an’ a’ that: His ribband, star, and aw that: h?z ?r?b?n star ?n ? ðat The man o’ independent mind The man o independent mynd ð? man o ?nd??p?nd?nt m?in He looks an’ laughs at a’ that. He leuks and lauchs at aw that. hi l?ks ?n l?xs at ? ðat
A prince can mak a belted knight, A prince can mak a beltit knicht, ? pr?ns kan mak ? ?b?lt?t n?çt A marquis, duke, an’ a’ that; A marques, deuk, and aw that; ? ?markw?s djuk ?n ? ðat But an honest man’s abon his might, But an honest man’s abuin his micht, b?t ? ?hon?st manz ??b?n h?z m?xt Gude faith, he maunna fa’ that! Guid faith, he maunna faw that! g?d feð hi ?m?ne f? ðat For a’ that, an’ a’ that, For a’ that, an’ a’ that, f?r ? ðat ?n ? ðat Their dignities an’ a’ that; Thair dignities and aw that; ðer ?d??n?t?z ?n ? ðat The pith o’ sense, an’ pride o’ worth, The pith o sense, and pride o wirth, ð? p?? o s?ns ?n pr?id o w?r? Are higher rank than a’ that. Are heicher rank than aw that. ar ?hiç?r ra?k ð?n ? ðat
Then let us pray that come it may, Than lat us pray that come it mey, ð?n lat ?s pre ðat k?m ?t m?i (As come it will for a’ that,) (As come it will for a’ that,) ?z k?m ?t w?l f?r ? ðat That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth, That sense and wirth, ower aw the earth,** ðat s?ns ?n w?r? ?ur ? ð? (j)?r? Shall bear the gree, an’ a’ that. Sall beir the grie, and aw that. sal bir ð? ?ri ?n ? ðat For a’ that, an’ a’ that, For a’ that, an’ a’ that, f?r ? ðat ?n ? ðat It’s coming yet for a’ that, It’s comin yet for aw that, ?ts ?k?m?n j?t f?r ? ðat That Man to Man, the world o’er, That man tae man, the warld ower, ðat man te man ð? ?war?ld ?ur Shall brothers be for a’ that. Sall brithers be for aw that. sal ?br?ð?rz bi f?r ? ðat
I’m not entirely sure how deuk should be pronounced, so I have given the English pronunciation above.
* Update (5 July): I had originally changed lord and word to laird /lerd/ and wurd /w?rd/, but several people in the Scots Language Centre’s Facebook group pointed out that Burns had probably intended these words to rhyme, even though they don’t rhyme either in Scots or English.
** Update (22 February): I had originally changed earth to yird /j?rd/, but further feedback from the Facebook group mentioned above suggested an intended rhyme with wirth.
There’s an interesting thing in Maori orthography. 150-200 years ago, ‘wh’ was aspirated by most speakers of English in NZ, and the aspirated sound was identical to a sound in Maori. Since then there has been a divergence. Kiwi English speech has lost the aspiration, and spoken Te Reo (Maori) speech has moved to an ‘f’ sound for that which was once aspirated ‘wh’. So you get the oddness of a town spelled Whitianga pronounced ‘Witianga’ by Europeans and ‘Fitianga’ my Maori (and Europeans trying to be correct). I think there is a case for Maori othography to change to reflect this — change place names like that to Fitianga, Fakapapa etc. Other Polynesian languages use ‘f’ where Maori used ‘wh’. It would end the dual pronunciation of place names over the course of a single generation and make the names less confusing for tourists.
Is a’/aw pronounced like the ‘a’ in Small or longer, like southern English ‘or’?
Kind of — it’s unrounded. It’s very similar to the first ‘a’ in Swedish ‘prata’.
No, that’s ‘Småland’ in Swedish.