Denseman on the Rattis

Formerly known as the Widmann Blog


Burns in real Scots

Burns wrote his poems in Scots, but he generally used English orthography.

For instance, here’s a bit of Auld Lang Syne together with its pronunciation in IPA (thanks to Wikipedia):

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?
??d o??ld ?.kw?n.t?ns bi f??.?ot,
?n n?.v?? br?xt t? m?in?
??d o??ld ?.kw?n.t?ns bi f??.?ot,
?n o??l l?? s?in?
And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere !
and gie’s a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught,
for auld lang syne.
?n ðe?rz ? ho??n, m? tr?s.t? fi??!
?? ?i?z ? ho??n ? ð?in!
?n wi?l tak ? r?xt ??d w?.l? wo??xt,
f?? o?l? la? s?in.

NY - Albany: Washington Park - Burns Monument
NY – Albany: Washington Park – Burns Monument, a photo by wallyg on Flickr.
It’s not obviously if you don’t know Scots that hand and right should be pronounced at /ho??n/ and /r?xt/ (rather than RP /hænd/ and /ra?t/) — one might (wrongly) assume that only words that are spelt differently should be pronounced differently from standard English with a Scottish accent.

Sadly, these days even Scots find it hard to liberate themselves from English when they recite or sing the Bard’s poems.

For instance, if you go to BBC’s page about A man’s a man for a’ that, there are a good number of renditions of the poem. However, none of them are likely to resemble how Burns himself would have pronounced it. Even fairly basic words such as head is pronounced as /h?d/ rather than /hid/ by most of them.

Have we got to the point where most people in Scotland are unable to pronounce the words shared between English and Scots in Scots rather than English when they haven’t been spelt in a way to indicate the difference? If so, somebody needs to republish Rabbie Burns’s poems in Scots orthography before people get irrevocably used to the English pronunciation.

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