My Heid did Ake

Teresa wrote “Oh god my head somebody please just shoot me now.” My friend Jasmin also suffers from migraine. I thought of this poem, by William Dunbar, (c. 1460 – c. 1520) one of the so-called Scottish Chaucerians. The text is is in Middle Scots, rather then the more usual Chaucerian Middle English, so there are various dialectical differences, most of them northern forms (even Norse forms), rather than southern or London dialect, and some rare borrowings from Gaelic.

On His Heid-ake

MY HEID did yak yester nicht,
This day to mak that I na micht,
So sair the magryme dois me menyie,
Perseing my brow as ony ganyie,
That scant I luik may on the licht.

And now, schir, laitlie, eftir mes,
To dyt thocht I begowthe to dres,
The sentence lay full evill ill find,
Unsleipit in my heid behing,
Dullit in dulnes and distres.

Full oft at morrow I upryse,
Quhen that my curage sleipeing lyis,
For mirth, for menstrallie and play,

Scots wha’ Hae

Dave Winer points to a BBC story: “A new dictionary is being compiled which will put tens of thousands of Scots words dating back as far as 800 years on the Internet.” Sponsored by the University of Dundee, the project will created a web site for the online dictionary that will contain illustrative quotations for each word, necessitating at text archive. The acronym for the text archive (all such dictionaries must have acronyms!) will be (SCOTS)—the Scottish Corpus of Texts and Speech.

The resulting dictionary is a Scots version of things like the Oxford English Dictionary, the OED, or Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru, GPC, the Dictionary of the Welsh Language. These dictionaries trace words as they are used through time, with illustrative extracts showing the word as is was really used at various dates.

Scots, by the way, is a separate language, or at least a dialect. It is not English. It is sometimes called Lallans, or Traditional Scots, often called Braid Scots, the Doric, the Buchan Claik or the Moray Claik. It is not Scottish Standard English. Scots is sometimes referred to as a dialect of English, with ancestry in Old English, but given that there are distinct dialects within it, and distinct differences in syntax and vocabulary, I tend to think it’s closer to being a language than a dialect. It dates back to the middles ages as well, with poets like Robert Henryson, William Dunbar, and other so-called “Scottish Chaucerians“.