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Contents:
  1. Literary Language and Scottish Identity
  2. Learning resources
  3. Scottish literature
  4. "The thirty-nine steps"

Anyone who does not conform is banished beyond the pale, or worse.


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None of these identifying characteristics is pace the Book of Judges necessarily essential. All of which is really to say that there are obvious ways in which we can draw upon language variety, as one resource amongst many, to construct a powerful sense of community. If we consider the literature and languages of Scotland at the beginning of the twenty-first century, it is clear that even if we wanted to we would have a tremendous problem in identifying simple, workable shibboleths.

Literary Language and Scottish Identity

This difficulty has indeed always been with us. Once you move from the particularities of tribal identity to the complexities of a multicultural nation, the range of identities and potential markers of identity becomes huge. What shibboleths can we possibly all share?

Particularly, what kind of literary language can we all claim ownership of? What kind of language binds us together as a single, national community? As well as being multicultural, Scotland has always been multilingual. And there is, of course, the strong Gaelic tradition in Scottish writing, beginning in the s and reaching peaks in the 18 th and 20 th Centuries.

The instinct to seek shibboleths in the face of this rich cultural and linguistic diversity has been passionately condemned by Professor Ronnie Jack. Certainly not Scots, says Professor Jack. The desire to equate the Scottish literary tradition with a tradition of writing in Scots with the grudging addition of Gaelic is distorting and reductive, and forces us to neglect in particular work in English and Latin.

However, I worry that his beloved classicism tends to depoliticise the linguistic tradition. In brief, Professor Jack has argued that the key to understanding linguistic diversity in Scottish literature is the classical notion of decorum. Tragedy scorns to babble trivialities, and, like a married woman obliged to dance at a festival, will look rather shamefaced among the wanton satyrs. If ever I write satyric dramas, my dear fellows, I shall not be content to use merely the plain, unadorned language of everyday speech I shall aim at a style that employs no unfamiliar diction, one that any writer might hope to achieve, but would sweat tears of blood in his efforts and still not manage it — such is the power of words that are used in the right relationships, and such is the grace that they can add to the commonplace when so used.

According to Professor Jack, the language of the Scottish mediaeval makars is a prime example of the continuing influence in Scotland of a classical theory of decorum:.

Learning resources

The complex high style, drawing its coinages mainly from Latin and French, is used for the topics you hold to be the most serious and noble; the middle constitutes the normal style and draws mainly from Scots and Inglis, while the staccato, low style, supplemented mainly by Scandinavian and Germanic loanwords, is used for low subjects, vituperation and farce. Burns and his predecessors did revive something but it was not THE vernacular. English is a vernacular as well as Scots. Nor was literary Scots revived at the expense of English, in a defensive spirit of linguistic nationalisms.

What they did revive on rhetorical criteria, was the full and varied range of styles by returning Scots diction to interlace as complement and supplement to English within all registers.

Scottish literature

Now, this view can and does give powerful explanatory accounts of the use of language in many Scottish texts. A theory of decorum depends upon a consensus that says: this language is lofty ie Latin and French , this language is low ie Norse-derived Scotticisms , and this language is plain. Many Scottish writers, consciously or unconsciously, refuse to accept this view of language.

Social consent, in the view of political theorist Antonio Gramsci and indeed linguist Noam Chomsky , is always manufactured, always subject to contention and negotiation. The ebbing of Gaelic in the lowlands of Scotland was not the result of some physical exclusion of Gaels, but rather a consequence of the rise in economic power of the burghs, where Inglis was the language of commerce and administration to the extent where it eventually replaced Latin as the language of the law, and Gaelic as the language of everyday communication. Writers have long played a part in challenging as well as upholding the current social order, and some literature can be seen as confronting the rules of decorum that imply a certain social structure.

The Scots Language (or Dialect?!)

Nowadays one challenge is: why do we have signs in English and Gaelic in the new Scottish parliament — but not in Scots? The argument from decorum, ie that it is not appropriate to use Scots in such contexts, perhaps simply masks a more fundamental truth: certain social groups within our society branded by their shibboleths are still being systematically excluded from access to power and resources.

To summarise the argument so far: when you move from the relative homogeneity of a tribe to the multicultural complexities of a nation, you can no longer rely on a clear-cut set of shibboleths that everyone knows and uses as a common badge of identity. Instead you have a complex range of linguistic markers which are evaluated, and praised or stigmatised, according to rules of decorum.

What I want to do now is consider some writings from different linguistic traditions in Scotland and consider how the authors use language to respond whether directly or implicitly to the prevailing linguistic and social orders. However, in the spirit of the conference, I want to focus instead on more recent work: one extract from a forthcoming novel, and two from still-fairly-newish New Writing Scotlands , Volumes 15 and16, Some Sort of Embrace and the appropriately-titled The Glory Signs.

"The thirty-nine steps"

They reached the end of the street. Ahead lay the Tramway, a theatre which none of them had ever been in, not even when the Mela had been there. The Mela wis jis fur kids and cooncilurs. Sal and his dosts preferred machines to people. They were noisy, irascible, silicon-based like Michael Jackson. Just moving to the beat of chip upon chip, a twitch of the film-star thigh, the hot shoulder shuffle.

The Way Forward for the Scots Language

They were on the film set, they were living in total. There were no spaces in their existence. No gaps of silence. The Gang turned west, away fae the Mosques, towards Maxwell Park. To the pond, and the trees. To muck up the quiet. To fill it wi gouts ae Bhangra and Bassie. The sound of generations carved into each corniced ceiling. Key Features: Original - presents new approaches to what is literature and what is Scottishness. Inclusive - Gaelic and diasporic writing, Latin writing, theological writing, legal writing, and context chapters.

Comprehensive - provides the fullest coverage of Scottish literature ever and the first survey for almost 20 years. Distinguished contributors from many countries. Influences the agenda for critical debate on Scottish writing in the twenty-first century. He has held senior appointments at the universities of Strathclyde, Edinburgh and Manchester, and visiting appointments in history and literature globally at universities including Yale, Trinity College, Dublin, New York University and Charles University, Prague. Reviews This exciting new history unites scholarship and imagination, cutting across narrow divisions of period and language and adopting multiple perspectives to bring out as never before the varieties of Scots, Gaelic and Latin writing.

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