Last Saturday, a nice lady asked me: “What’s your first language?”
I happily replied “Scots” and she smiled, nodded and explained she was of Scottish descent. On Wednesday, another nice lady asked me what part of Glasgow I came from, which was less welcome but not an intentional insult. I provided a polite answer: “Eh’m fae Dundee and proud of it.”
But I didn’t always show it.
At school, I was regularly told by teachers to speak “properly”, which meant to avoid words that wouldn’t be understood by someone more homogeneously British.
Supportive relatives who I loved reinforced the message because they’d come from a less privileged background than I was enjoying, and knew the price of being seen as lower-class in Dundee. There you would live and, unless you were very lucky, there you would remain.
Then I went off to university in Glasgow to study law, which pretty much meant the previous sixth-year class of Hutchesons’ Grammar School had gathered in a lecture theatre, mostly to ignore the rest of us. I still had an east of Scotland accent and it was used to judge me. I quickly adapted my mode of speech to more general Scots, and seethed.
Six years ago, I emigrated to Canada and went through the same thing again. Even in this progressive country, immigrants face prejudice, and having a strong foreign accent marks you as fresh off the boat. So again I muted my accent, in the interests of being accepted and understood.
Last week, Dundee poet Gary Robertson saw success with a YouTube video of his work (you can see it above this article) Mick McCluskey’s Oary Topia, a brilliant rant celebrating Dundonian dialect, that was born of one of those all-too-common classroom incidents. Gary is a legend.
Look, I understand why we need to speak English sometimes and to be understood. I write in English here, for example. But our culture as Dundonians is wonderfully rich, and using someone’s culture to deny them opportunities – to put them down and keep them down – is simply oppressive.
In short: Hey teacher, shut yer pus. Eh’m fae Dundee and proud of it.
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