Hands up if you know what a ‘kintra’ is

Today I afford an opportunity to the entire Scottish cabinet unlikely to be repeated on the No Thanks! blog, a chance for readers to see each minister’s latest tweet unadorned by political comment. Here they are:

  • Nicola Sturgeon July 28. Looking forward to having this new whisky distillery in my constituency.
  • John Swinney July 25. Fabulous to see the stunning @FRC_Queensferry close up. An iconic project for Scotland. Well done to the whole team.
  • Michael Matheson July 15. Keeping crime down and communities safe
  • Angela Constance July 18. Angela Constance Retweeted Scot Gov Fairer. Thanks to the @STARprojPaisley for hosting this important announcement this morning
  • Fiona Hyslop July 27. Well done @ScotWFootball what a game! What a win against Spain and you got us to to the Euros -so proud of you all #SWNT #OurGirlsOurGame
  • Derek Mackay July 20. Oppose UKgov raising state pension age to 68 forcing millions of people to wait longer for their entitlement. Huge issue with no engagement.
  • Shona Robison July 27. The Transplant Flame #whbtg
  • Keith Brown July 25. Good news for children and young people in Clackmannanshire!
  • Fergus Ewing July 27. Surgeries, for constituents only, tomorrow in #Grantown #Nairn & #Inverness No appointment necessary. Full details
  • Roseanna Cunningham July 27. I’m a day ahead of myself!! Never mind. For the bees……. #pollinator.

You can check on Twitter, if you wish, that my transcriptions are accurate. I have omitted emojis used in a couple of the tweets, as well as images attached to others. As you will see shortly, I am not concerned about the substantive content of what ministers were saying.

Here’s another tweet, this time with its attachment, The National newspaper’s publicity for the latest column by their regular contributor, Rab Wilson:

Apart from the subject matter, can you spot any difference between the extract from Mr Wilson’s article and the ministerial tweets?

Correct. Ten are written in plain English, one in something very different. Many claim it’s Scots. I’ve been through the online arguments about whether it is or isn’t a separate language or dialect and I don’t intend to reprise them here.

What I would assert with absolute certainty is that in over thirty years of living as an adult in Scotland I have never seen anyone write like this outwith the rarefied confines of those actively promoting the wider use of ‘Scots.’

I made a comment to that effect, also on Twitter, citing especially the word ‘kintra.’ I was perfectly aware of what Wilson meant by it from the context of his column but had never seen ‘country’ spelt  like that. The sceptical tone of my comment, I guess, led someone to direct me to this entry on the Dictionary of the Scots Language (Dictionar o the Scots Leid) website:

So that was me gubbed. The word exists.

Except, that like all good dictionaries this one then references the examples it cites, for example:

1868 … kintra-clash … There gaed a souch o’ kintra clash That he had dreed a sair stramash.

The nine examples given date from 1789 to 1897, which was exactly 120 years ago. None is more recent. This may of course be because the word has not been reviewed in one of the two more recent supplements to the dictionary. I suspect that the more plausible explanation is that it’s archaic and no one normally uses it now. Except Rab Wilson, who is also a poet and may be forgiven to that extent, although he is not writing poetry here and I would not have thought The National’s limited readership much interested in that art form.

That brief extract above from his article includes two words I cannot find in the Dictionary of the Scots Language – ‘leeterally’ and ‘heichweys.’ It also contains words I would regard as no more than an attempt to write a standard English language word in a way that mimics the pronunciation of Scots (or at least some variant(s) of it), for example:

  • an – and
  • o – of
  • wey – way.

But pronunciation of standard English varies enormously throughout the nations and regions of the UK. If anyone is minded to read out loud they can impose their own pronunciation on ‘and.’ I can’t see a reason for simple words like that to be spelt differently.

I’m not attempting to judge a whole language/dialect but it seems to me that this brief extract from a longer article substantially comprises words that are archaic, or invented, or unnecessarily attempt to mimic a particular pronunciation.

Tucked away at the bottom of the dictionary pages you’ll also see this:

which leads me back via the SNP cabinet and their punctilious use of standard English in their own tweets to the question of their relationship with the Scots language. In 2010, their ‘Ministerial Working Group on the Scots Language’ produced a report on the subject. Rab Wilson was a member of that group (as was Michael Hance, director of the Scots Language Centre, which I characterised in a previous post as ‘a wee bittie oot o’ control’). Various other illuminati of what I can only think of as the Scots language lobby served on the group too.

Seven years later, many of their recommendations have worked through the bureaucracy of government to the extent that there are Scots language pages on the Scottish government and Scottish parliament websites. A revealing subject for another blog post might be how much money government, its agencies and parliament have spent promoting Scots in various ways.

Meantime, every, and I mean every, Scot can read and understand standard English, which is the pre-eminent modern international language. As more and more non-native English speakers have rushed to learn English, it seems that the SNP government has determined to retreat into the promotion of Scots, not only in the sphere of culture but also public administration. It is, of course, yet another way nationalism attempts to prove that we’re different and should therefore be separate.

And yet the reality, as we see from the latest tweets of senior SNP politicians, is very different. They utter not one single word of Scots between them; standard English throughout, to a man and woman. Some might say, and this could be a telling jibe, that this is how educated elites speak, and maybe there is a touch of hypocrisy amongst those ministers – ‘Do as I say, not as I do.’ But aren’t they also showing through their writing the reality of the situation?

In any event, government attempts to mould how people speak and write are likely to be doomed to long-term failure. Ask the French and their Academie Francaise. Even more, ask Ireland, which has seen the use of Irish, their first official language, fall consistently over nearly one hundred years of independence to a point at which under 2% of the population spoke it on a daily basis in 2016.

If many already see Rab Wilson’s use of Scots in public discourse as anachronistic, how many more will do so in future?

Footnote. You may also wish to check a previous post I wrote on the SNP’s promotion of Scots in schools. It deals with a separate but related issue. And Rab Wilson features again.


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7 Responses to Hands up if you know what a ‘kintra’ is

  1. Nick Halsey says:

    does kintra maybe mean country? and what language is that? some kind of gælic? or has he just made it up?


  2. Robert Davies says:

    I wrote part of my dissertation about this in 2009, looking at how artificial the “Scots” versions of Roald Dahl by Matthew Fitt were nothing more than a bastardised amalgamation of obscure and ancient Scots dialect mixed in with some Glaswegian and Dundonian.
    There’s a particular group that want to make “Scots” the new Gaelic… we’ve got enough folk with chips on their shoulders as it is!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Sam Duncan says:

    That’s nationalism for you. One description I read of its origins in the 19th Century described it as the idea that “distinct language groups” must have their own states; for the nationalist, nation and language almost one and the same.

    Those of us who speak English (or Spanish, or French) might find this idea odd, given that so many different nations share our tongue, but nationalist movements have always been big on this. The Irish promoted their Gaelic, despite, even before its decline, it being a minority language. The Welsh do much the same. I hesitate to mention it, but although the German language itself was already universal, the Nazis invented new words to replace borrowed Latin and Greek: “telephon” became “fernsprecher”, for example, and rather than some variant on “television”, they had “fernseher” (which, presumably becuase it was so new, actually stuck and is still used today). They also imposed blackletter type; to them, roman and sans-serif type simply weren’t German. It seems petty, but it helps create the feeling of difference.

    Now, to be perfectly clear, I’m not saying the SNP are Literally Nazis. But it’s obvious that language always goes with the nationalist territory. That “feeling of difference”, the impression that “we” are not the same nation as “them”, is essential. Since lowland Scots, being decended largely from Saxons (ask the highlanders), speak the same language as our compatriots to the south, our lot have had to invent one.

    Like so much else. As my brother (who is, if anything, even more anti-SNP than myself) often says, they claim to love Scotland, but all they ever do is try to change it. I won’t deny I have a problem with nationalism per se, but theirs often seems to be for a nation I don’t even recognise.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Lulu says:

    I’m not a linguist but am all for celebrating or promoting minority languages and dialects. It seems a shame that politically motivated use of a dialect has to emphasise differences rather than overlaps and shared heritage You’ve only to visit Newcastle where they talk of canny folk and neuks and probably other words I haven’t spotted.
    In barchester towers one of the Somerset yokel characters talks about greeting, as in crying, which now is considered a Scots word. 150 years ago it was used in the south of England.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. neilking says:

    I suppose Rab’s argument would be that “Scots” (or whatever it’s called) has never had a written form (is orthography the word for that?) due to English cultural imperialism preventing it being taught in schools and therefore he has no alternative but to make it up now. I still think it’s load of grievance-seeking, ultra-nationalist, chip on shoulder bollocks but I do get that argument (without commenting on whether it has any historical merit).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Roger White says:

      Curiously I’ve just been reading a book called ‘Past and Present in Aberdeenshire’ published by the Rev. William Paul in 1881. He was a local minister for many years and includes many anecdotes in which his parishioners are clearly speaking in the Doric (though he doesn’t use that word). And whether or not his orthography is standard, guess what? I can understand almost everything, apart from one or two archaic words I had to check. Unlike much of Mr Wilson’s Scots.


  6. giesabrekk says:

    I said something like this on Twitter a couple of years back.
    If they are forcing the schoolchildren to learn it then they should use this language in the Scottish Executive.
    They would be the only ones speaking it though as I can imagine neither the Conservatives nor Labour nor the Libdems would use this.
    The separatists should be using it all over the social media outlets.

    Liked by 1 person

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