Denseman on the Rattis

Formerly known as the Widmann Blog


David Livingstone, the inventor of Newscots

(An article from the English-language Wikipedia of a parallel universe that slipped through a wormhole and ended up in my inbox.)

Livingstone's statue in Princes Gate Gairdens, Edinburgh
David Livingstone was born on 19 March 1813 in the mill town of Blantyre, five years before Scotland would regain her independence as a result of the Napoleonic wars, into a Protestant family believed to be descended from the highland Livingstones, a clan that had been previously known as the Clan MacLea. Born to Neil Livingstone (1788–1856) and his wife Agnes (1782–1865), David, along with many of the Livingstones, was at the age of ten employed in the cotton mill of H. Monteith – David and brother John working 12-hour days as “piecers”, tying broken cotton threads on the spinning machines. The mill offered their workers schooling of which David took advantage.

Gradually, and by dint of infinite patience and concentration, the young cotton worker became master of many languages, and began the scientific study of their structure. About 1841 he had freed himself from all the burden of manual labour, and could occupy his thoughts with the dialect of his native district, West Central Scots; his first publication was a small collection of folk songs in the Ayrshire & Lanrikshire dialect (1843). His remarkable abilities now attracted general attention, and he was helped to continue his studies undisturbed. His Grammar of the Scots Dialects (1848) was the result of much labour, and of journeys taken to every part of the country. Livingstone’s famous Dictionary of the Scots Dialects appeared in its original form in 1850, and from this publication dates all the wide cultivation of the popular language in Scots, since Livingstone really did no less than construct, out of the different materials at his disposal, a popular language or definite people’s language for Scotland. With certain modifications, the most important of which were introduced later by Livingstone himself, but also through a latter policy aiming to merge this Scots language with Buikscots, this language has become Newscots, one of Scotland’s three official languages (the others being Buikscots and Gaelic).

He lived very quietly in lodgings in Glesga, surrounded by his books and shrinking from publicity, but his name grew into wide political favour as his ideas about the language of the workers and peasants became more and more the watch-word of the popular party.

Livingstone holds perhaps an isolated place in literary history as the one man who has invented, or at least selected and constructed, a language which has pleased so many thousands of his countrymen that they have accepted it for their schools, their sermons and their songs. He died in Glesga on September 23, 1896, and was buried with public honours.

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