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ALISTAIR HEATHER: A biled heid and a skelped behind – Scots is alive in Dundee and here’s the video to prove it

Alistair Heather
Alistair Heather

I had the tremendous pleasure over winter lockdown of hosting Dundee’s Scots Language Sessions.

It was a weekly online getthegither with two dozen Scots speakers of varying dialects, backgrounds and confidence. We had class guests like sangster Sheena Wellington, poet Gary Robertson and broadcaster Billy Kay.

Every black dark Thursday evening the participants would turn up bubbling with ideas, crack and hamework contributions.

I’m fae Newbigging in nearby Angus so thought I was fairly au fait wi aahin Dundnese, but I learned a huge amount every week.

We talked about Scots place names in week one. The Cowp for the waterfront landfill/nature reserve and The Hully for Balgay cemetery.

The Puddockie for the quarry, coming fae the Scots ‘Puddock’ for frog. Presumably the quarry’s their breeding ground.

Even simple stuff like Pletie for the landing on a tenement was a brand-new discovery to me.

A quilt of Scots names has been woven by generations of Dundonians and it lies thick across the city.

Scots is a beautiful, rich and ancient language, and Dundee’s hame to it but for a lang time, ye wernae allowed tae use Scots in work, and certainly no in school, in this city.

Aulder yins tell me they’d get a skelp wi the tawse and “corrected” into “proper English”. That must’ve been some trauma. But the times they are a-changing.

Scottish folk are getting mair comfortable with wir ain culture, speech and history, and Scots is benefitting fae that general uptick in national confidence.

Gies some of your time

On June 4, a traditional music organisation called Hands Up For Trad is pushing a thing called “Gies a Scots Phrase Day“.

It’s an open invite to aabdy that has a bit of Scots, in whatever dialect, to record themselves saying it on their phone and stick it up on social media, wi the hashtag #GiesaScotsPhraseDay

The idea’s simple; we’ll hear aa sorts o dialects, get a snapshot of Scots voices, and draw oot all sorts of wisdom and humour on the road.

I’m dead keen to see Dundee massively overrepresented. I think Scotland doesnae quite realise how rich and diverse the dialect here is.

They ken about ‘circles’ and ‘plehn pehs’, but there’s a world beyond that we can introduce them too.

I wanted to get a few Dundee Scots phrases on camera. So I went to the part of Dundee with the highest density of Scots speakers. To figure out where that was, I looked up the 2011 census of Scotland.

Which bit of Dundee, if you were guessing, would hae the maist Scots speakers?

I first thought Whitfield would be a good shout. I ran the numbers, and 38.9% of Whitfield adults speak Scots. No bad, considering that the national average is 30%.

Lochee, Menziehill and Maryfield came oot at about 40%. Strong.

There are mair Scots speakers in Happyhillock than there are Gaelic speakers in Stornoway. Remarkable

Ardler was next, boasting an impressive 43% of adults speaking Scots. Ye can imagine that eh. Ging aboot the wee shopping precent there an ye can easily be speaking Dundonian Scots the hail time nae bother.

But the crown of Dundee’s Maist Scots Postcode goes to Happyhillock, Douglas and Craigie – DD4 land – where an impressive 45.5%, or nearly half the adults, speak Scots.

Put it this way, there are mair Scots speakers in Happyhillock than there are Gaelic speakers in Stornoway. Remarkable.

So I set up my camera just outside Hyatt’s and the Ladbrokes on Happyhillock Road, and proceeded to hassle passers-by for an hour.

Ane o them an a smack in the pus

Some gallus characters rolled straight up and gied us their favourite phrases. “A’m needin ane o them anaa, ay?”. Others were flegged by the camera and scuttled past me sayin ‘A’d better no be in yer film.’

A mother said “I dinnae speak Scots, we were telt at school no to.” A cheery, aulder boy said to me “Eh’ll smack yer pus” when asked for his favourite Dundee phrase.

He shuffled off with a cheeky smile toward the and I still genuinely dinnae ken if he was telling me his favourite phrase of threatening me. Either way, I appreciated his guid use of Scots.

I scooped up a wee pile of great phrases. But there’s hunners mair out there, so I’m pleading with you to record and share them.

They are a part of this city’s great heritage, rich culture and unique identity. Let’s get them out there and celebrate them.

Scots in Dundee isnae just a unique way of expressing ourselves. It is a way of passing on identity, humour and memories. Language is the bogie we cart our culture around in.

Dundee will be hosting the Scots Language Awards in September, which usually has a guid skelp of local winners and nominees.

Then we might also be hosting the Na Trads Traditional Music Awards in December which also have a big Scots language element.

Scots is on the up and up across Scotland, and this year is a great chance for Dundee to stake its claim as the Scots City.

Use it at work, use it wi the bairns. If you’re a teacher use it in the classroom.

But to get started, get oot your cameraphone, record yourself saying a great Dundee Scots phrase, and stick it online with #GiesaScotsPhraseDay.

This is our chance to let the world hear Dundee’s bonnie Scots Language.

Spikkin Scots: Listen to the different dialects of Scotland with our interactive map