AH wis claucht up in a Facebook discussion anent a favourite threip o some o thaim wha write in the leid; whether we need a strict orthography fir Scots or no. Nou aince, a lang time syne, ah wis keen oan the idea o a Scots orthography; ie a defined system that set oot, if nae exactly in stane but in “guid black prent”, the wey that Scots shuid be spelt oan the page.

Fir masel, ah abandoned that idea. Ah cam roond tae the idea that there is sic a rich diversity o dialects in Scotland that fowk in aa airts hae thair ain wey o spellin (an pronunciation) fir whit can be verra seemilar wirds. It seem’t wrang tae me tae try an dae awa wi hunners o years o hou fowk scrievit/spak a wird, an lik Orwell’s “thought police” dictated tae thaim thair wis anely yin wey tae spell a wird in Scots. It’s a richt personal view, but ah like this linguistic diversity an “elasticity” in Scots. In his series o poems Unrelated Incidents at ae pynt the poet Tom Leonard hus a BBC type newsreader tell us “thirza right way ti spell ana right way ti tok it. this is me tokn yir right way a spellin” – a great bit o satire that hilariously pricks the bubble o thae language thought police! Thair’s mony a wey tae spell Scots, frae the auld middle Scots o the medieval makars, throu Fergusson an Burns, til the 20th-century Scots revival wi MacDiarmid, Garioch, Alexander Scott, Marion Angus, etc, an in til wir ain day wi Liz Lochhead, Jackie Kay, Don Paterson, Stuart Paterson, etc. The feck o these makars dinnae subscribe tae ae orthography (cause thair isnae yin at the meenit!) an they aa hae their ain “idiosyncratic” Scots spellin systems. An why no!? Thon’s whit gies us aa oor individual voices.

At the raicent Scots Language Society annual Collogue, hauden at Perth, this perennial orthographic nettle wis glaumed at aince agane. Eftir decades o collishangie oan the subject the jury is still oot. At the Collogue this year the commattee hud prentit oot some facsimile copies o the first twa Lallans magazines fir the fowk. Lallans, the journal o Scots airts an letters, wis first prentit in 1973. Its then editor wis the kenspeckle writer in Scots, JK Annand. It wis fascinatin tae spier the pages o these wee 20-page haund typed, photocopied pamphlets. An frae the get-go o Lallans it’s obvious that the thorny kinch o orthography wis weel forrit in its creators’ minds.

The magazine then, as it is til this verra day, wis enveesaged as a bi-annual production, comin oot at Mairtinmas an Whitsunday – nou Yuill an Summer. In issue two thair is an interestin editorial (bi JK Annand?) that tackles heid-oan the orthography issue. Annand states “the orthographie o Lallans has aye been a sair question”. He ettles that Scots wir lucky tae be spared “a Doctor Johnson to tell us that there is anely ae richt wey tae spell a word that is spoken a dizzen different ways up an doun the land, and sae oor poets and story tellers, and scrievers o aa kinds hae carried on spellin in some maist byordnar weys”. He then gangs oan tae pynt oot the various guid an bad pynts o this. It hus helped presairve til this day the parochial spellins an pronunciations o sindrie airts, but, Annand says, “on the ither hand it has made it possible for chiels of nae literary ability to palm off on their misguidit readers a leid that they cry Scots but that is in fact nocht but a mispronouncit English, wi nevir a sklent o a Scottish word or idiom to be seen”.

In this twa-page editorial he gangs oan; ettlin thair is muckle to be said for mair uniformity i the spellin o Scots. He then maks a statement that ah hae heard elsewhaurs in aamaist the samen tone in raicent weeks “Lallans will ne’er be gien rale standin as a leid in its ain richt sae lang as it is presentit in the mixter-maxter that we hae the day”.

Likesay, this threip anent Scots orthography wis prentit in 1973 – mair as 40 year syne – an in this auld copy o Lallans there’s alsae a Scots Style Sheet (a spellin/grammar system) that wis devised in 1947. Annand alsae cites the late Dr David Purves, a champion o the Scots leid, an the “Standard Scots” system that Purves hissel developed.

Here in 2017 are we ony further forrit? Fowk still scrieve in Scots, an e’en mair speik it in their daily lives. In the 2011 UK census, that spiered o Scots gin they cuid speik, read an write Scots, 1.2 million (aamaist 25 per cent o Scots) replied in the affirmative that they cuid – an seemt prood tae admit it.

Despite the perceived lack o ony offeeshul orthography fir the leid, Scots language is a hardy beast that refuses tae dee; keep mind, gin ye’re concernt wi richt weys o spellin, that we hae 10 muckle volumes o the Scottish National Dictionary! Plus a Concise Scots Dictionary an the free mobile phone app, Scots Dictionary for Schools, see https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/scots-dictionary-for-schools/id940655692?mt=8 please pit this oan yours an the weans’s phones! It’s braw! An wull cost ye naethin!

The orthographic collieshangie likesay wull nae dout rumble oan – but aiblins we micht airgue that Scots hus survived acause it hus nae strict orthography? Mibbes thair’s somethin in oor auncient Scots character that rails agin “authority” an ony attempts tae try an pit a ‘straicht-jaicket’ oan a thing o beauty that hus aye-an-oan rin wild an free!? Think oan; “nemo me impune lacessit”.

Rab Wilson is a Scots poet and a health campaigner