Jack continues to explore his native language –
Last week I explored the history of the Scots language and how it relates to English, and I briefly mentioned Robert Burns.
A few weeks ago people all over the world celebrated at Burns Nights or Burns Suppers remembering his poetry and songs. He is often referred to as ‘the ploughman poet’ and he certainly worked on farms at various times. But that suggests that he was somehow less educated and lowly. However his father paid for him to be educated by a tutor and he attended schools. So he learned French, Latin and Mathematics – so not uneducated at all.
But another part of his learning was from an old woman who lived with his family and was well versed in traditional stories and folk-tales.
He had his first book of poems and songs published in Kilmarnock and headed to Edinburgh, where he became the ‘toast of the town’. This has always struck me as a parallel to Bob Dylan heading to New York and becoming the toast of that town. What’s interesting about that connection is that Bob has often said that among his favorite songs are some by Burns.
Burns was always ambitious and wanted to be recognized both in Scotland and elsewhere, so he wrote in Scots, Scots/English and in standard British English for different audiences.
Sadly he was eventually dumped by Edinburgh society and they moved on. But when he died at the age of 38 thousands of his compatriots turned up for his funeral. That, I’m sure was because they all recognized what others around the world ever since did!
When I was a kid all schools in Scotland had annual competitions for songs and poems by Burns, and I’m sure that played a big part keeping the language alive.
This time I’ve just been looking at Burns’ connections to language. Next week I’ll examine the other well known aspects of his life.