Scrievin and writin in Scots: Liz Niven

Liz Niven portrait
Category: Writing

I hope that if you'd like to try writing in Scots, you're in a school that gives you the opportunity to or have employer or outlet that'd like to read it. If you speak Scots already, it means you’ll be writing in your own language. If you don’t speak Scots, you’ll be fascinated with this wonderful language, its descriptive vocabulary and its unique ways of talking about the world around you. Why say upside down when you can say tapsalteerie? A big fuss? A stramash is much better!  Or a bourach! Miserable weather? Dreich sums it up.

Even if you’re a Scots speaker, it can be hard to write in it. Most of us arenae used tae it. Jist let it slip intae yer writin at furst if ye’re no sure. See whit A mean? Dead easy. Ye don’t have tae write every word in Scots. It’s got a shared (Germanic)  background wi English so it’s sometimes a wee bit similar. Ither times it’s naethin like it. But it means ye can float in an oot if ye like. In fact, that’s the wey maist o us talk in Scotland nooadays. A wee bit Scots, a wee bit English an a fair mix o baith. Folk call it Scottish English. Although A’ve noticed a lot o pupils cry it writin in Scottish.

Tae be honest, that’s the way A usually speak, bit oddly enough, gin A stert scrievin in it somethin kinna weird happens an A stert tae yaise aw these wurds in ma writin that A widnae usually yaise when A’m speakin! Whit’s that aboot?  A’ve come tae the conclusion it sterts tae jist feel richt tae me. Thir’s a music aboot it an efter a whyle scrievin in it ye jist want tae fun the richt wurds an weys o scrievin that fits thon music. An the grammar an aw fir it’s no just vocabulary.  Like,  A’d mibbie write, ‘That’s no very fair, but’.  An in English ye would usually say, ‘But that’s not very fair’.  Or, A’d mibbie say, ‘Aw naw, A’ve got the flu again’. In English, ye’d mibbie say, ‘Oh no, I’ve got flu again’. A teeny wee difference addin in ‘the’ but that use o the definite article  is quite a Scottish wey o speakin.  So , listen tae yerself saying things. Or yer pals. An stert tae notice how it’s probably a wee bit different fae English.

Seeing Scots written down, and trying to read it as much as possible, gives you tons of examples to use as models.

And don’t worry about spelling too much at the start. There’s lots of dialect variations. It’s not got a standard form like English. There’s brilliant Scots dictionaries and thesaurus an aw if ye want to find new wurds or help wi weys tae spell wurds. Bit maistlie jist gie it a go fae listenin tae yersels an folk aroon ye. Staun at a bus queue. Wait in the Co-op or Tesco. Ye’ll soon hear plenty o real folk speakin it.  An everyday language.  Oor language.  Wan, yin, ane tae be written in as weel as spoken. Maist ava – enjoy it!


For the UN’s International Mother Language Day on 21 February, we're running a series of blogs from authors from around Scotland. Check out our #AneYinWan Scots tag on your favourite social network for more Scots celebrations. 

Liz Niven

Liz Niven is a Glasgow-born, Dumfries-based poet with collections and pamphlets of poetry in Scots and English languages. She's collaborated with artists in a range of mediums to create text-based installations, interior and exterior. Former teacher, Scots Language Development Officer and Cultural Co-ordinator, she's been facilitating creative writing for many years. Check out her Live Literature profile.