I grew up and went to school in Glasgow. I see The Lonely Planet Guide to World Cities describes the Glasgow dialect as `the most impenetrable` in the UK. Anyone familiar with Stanley Baxter`s wonderful lessons of “Parliamo Glasgow” might agree. In fact, the dialects of Aberdeenshire have more words unique to them than any of the Glasgow dialects. Anyone who has lived in the north east of Scotland will have heard the common greeting “Fit like” to which the correct answer is “Chavin”. This can be translated as a polite enquiry about one`s general condition with the reply that it is satisfactory. I never mastered the Doric when I lived in Aberdeen so can`t say much about it. I can ,however, confirm that natives of that area who used it to confuse me succeeded totally. At school however I was surrounded by Glasgow dialect which parents and teachers roundly condemned as “bad English” or “lazy English” as if one language could be more vigorous than another. To us at school it was inexplicable that the unintelligible poetry of Robert Burns was not considered “bad English” for some reason and the best English was the equally opaque words of Shakespeare. Having said that, if any of my fellows had taken this seriously to the extent of saying “Prithee ma`am ,an it please you, I beg leave to visit the latrine” I suspect this would have been regarded as insolence worthy of severe upbraiding ( another word we discovered in the “excellent ” English of the Bible without understanding. What, we often wondered ,would be the consequences of “upbraiding”)
One of the strangest controversies to my young mind arose from the frequent use by my classmates of the word “smashin”. Please note that I have not used an apostrophe at the end, resisting the urging of spellchecker to make me do so. This, to a great extent, is the point of this post. Teachers would insist that the word was “smashing” and the final “ng” should be sounded. Spellchecker obviously had such a teacher. Young debutantes or society girls have also often been known to refer to things as “smashing” with pronunciation which would have avoided upbraiding. Even at school I wondered if this was entirely correct since I was well aware that the term “smashin” did not convey any of the sense of the verb “to smash”. It conveyed a sense of total admiration rather than any hint of destruction. Only later when I learned some of the Gaelic language did light dawn. It should be remembered that in the rapid industrialisation of Glasgow in the 19th century many workers and families were drawn from the Highlands and Islands where the native language was Gaelic. In Gaelic the word “math” means “good” The phrase “Is math sin” means “that is good” or even “very good”. Need I say more? My classmates were simply importing a very expressive phrase from their native or ancestral language. They were more multicultural than their teachers. Similarly, the beautiful area of Perthshire referred to in maps and guides as The Sma` Glen should not have an apostrophe either. No letter has been missed out. The glen is not “small” it is “math” or beautiful “Is math Gleann”. My fellow pupils also had to suffer derision or perhaps even upbraiding when they referred to the huge cranes of Clydeside visible from much of Glasgow as “cranns”. The word “crann” in Gaelic refers to the mast of a ship or a tree trunk. That may be where we got the Glasgow word. Equally likely is that they were using the version of the word inherited from Old English “cran”. Scots words did not go through the Great Vowel Shift which would have changed “cran”, rhyming with “ran” to “crane”, rhyming with “pain”. Similarly, the word “wrath” in Scots rhymes with “bath” not “moth”. In either event my classmates were truer to linguistic tradition than their teachers. Bernard Shaw said that whenever an Englishman speaks he makes another Englishman despise him. The attitude is not confined to the English. Her strange way of speaking was certainly one of the main reasons Margaret Thatcher was never accepted in Scotland. I have heard Americans dismissed as ignorant when reporting that they “dove” into their swimming pool. In fact what they are using is the older English form,using the so-called strong verb form where a vowel is changed ( like hang but hung). English has lost that and could be said,therefore, to be less correct. Better than that,however, I would suggest, is for everyone to be a little more humble about condemning the speech of others. They are often perfectly justified in their usage. Language is a living thing and changes.