Every Sunday, I sing in a church choir. One of my favourite parts is listening to the minister’s sermon. That’s not because I’m religious, but because he shares my dry sense of humour.
Last week, he read the Parable of the Fisherman, but he felt it was too well-known to have the same impact. To freshen it up, he elected to read it in the Scots language.
I’ve previously discussed on this blog my relationship with Scots. The bottom line is that I can understand it, but it takes a lot of concentration to, especially when written rather than spoken. Even more effort is required to speak it myself.
I’ve been told that this experience is consistent with learners of other languages. When listening, you can often form a general sense of what is being said, whereas speaking it requires precise phrasing.
In the case of Scots, many words are mutually intelligible with English while others can be inferred from the context. A good introduction is to look at humorous Twitter updates from native speakers. These don’t usually require much explanation, thanks to their brevity, and they offer an insight into our somewhat nihilistic culture.
My pal Paul Malgrati is a poet from France who has learnt both English and Scots as foreign languages. He frequently weaves them together in his pieces, including one devoted to his Scottish partner that wasn’t shared publicly. French is already considered to be a romantic language, and peppering it with Scots sounds makes it distinctly his own.
This put me in mind of my own partner, who is Dutch. She speaks excellent English, and I love the peculiarities of her speech. For instance, I had to think for a moment when she described a car glovebox as a ‘dashboard cupboard’. She also speaks several other European languages.
One day, it would be great to learn Dutch to add an extra level to our communication. After all, I already know how to switch between English and Scots depending on the situation, and I reckon I’d be able to do it with an unfamiliar language, just as those around me have done.