IN Shakespeare’s great pley

The Marchand o Venice, Portia an her lassie list aw the suitors whit his come tae win her haund, an her gowd. She rejecks them yin at a time by naitional stereotype. The German aye steamin, the Scot aye fechtin wi the Englishman, the Prince o Morocco she hates fir o the colour o his skin. An whit o the Englishmannie? He speaks nae ither leid but complains that Portia disnae speak his: “[H]e hath neither Latin, French, nor Italian, and […] will come into the court and swear that I have a poor pennyworth in the English.” He’s an awfie fashion sense an aw, but thon’s fir anither column.

Whit A want tae luik at is monolingualism. The monolingualism o English-speakers on thir inches his bin a joke we’ve telt aboot oorsels fir fower hunner year. An, as ivver, a baur we tell aboot oorsels, is a story we tell aboot oorsels – a wey tae big up oor identity, mak oor place in the warld.

Sic monolingualism is, o course, a fiction. We ken in Scotland we’ve hid Scots, English, Gaelic and British Sign Leid rummlin aroon thegither fir centuries o oor history. Ony bairn daein their SQA Scots Language Award kens that Scots wurds come frae Frisian, French, Latin, Flemish, Romany – an ony nummer o ither leids that his bin spoken alang wi Scots in its time. An the day, in 2018, the big schuil roon the corner frae ma bit, Hillheid High, his ower 40 leids spoken.

An yet, we still tell the same auld story aboot oorsels – nivver learnin ither leids, nivver readin ither leids.

Aw weel, ye think tae yersel, the ideal is that ye’d read the likes o Anne Frank, War and Peace or Metamorphosis in the original leid, but a translation is fine.

But reader – we dinnae een bother wi translations! The organisation Literature Across Frontiers did a survey a few year syne tae see the stent o the problem. In 2008 they fund that o the buiks published in the UK, 0.8% wis owerset poetry, fiction or drama – aboot 700 oot o mair nor 90,000.

A ken! Whit are we thinkin, cooriein awa in oor tottie wee corner o Anglic leid culture an ignorin the bonnie ocean o the warld.

An it’s no juist buiks. Wi English-leid Hollywood comin the peter ower oor picter hooses an TVs, we’re no aften garred tae read subtitles, or see dubbed picters. An it’s sic like wi the stage. This year’s braw Cyrano – a translation frae the French o Edmond Rostand intae the Scots o Edwin Morgan – is a grand wee bit o an exception.

Cyrano is a collaboration atween the Naitional Theatre o Scotland, Glesga’s Citizen’s Theatre and Embrae’s Royal Lyceum. A wis interestit tae see whither translations wis the ordinar or unco fir thae institutions. At the Embrae Festival, the NTS hid a pley that yaised French an English thegither, but had nae translations this year. Fir the Citz, this is their ainly production o a translation this year. At aw. The braw Lung Ha company did a wee run o Three Sisters, earlier i the year, but it wisnae producit bi the Citizens Company.

But, it disnae hae tae be this wey. Sittin in at the Lyceum is artistic director David Grieg. Mibbes his ain Scottish-internaitional bairnhood maks him mair open tae stories frae ither places, but fir the Lyceum Cyrano is the fourth translation o the year aifter Antigone (Sophocles), The Lover (Marguerite Dumas) and Rhinoceros (Ionesco).

An whit a translation Cyrano is. Gin ye’ve the chance tae catch the end o its run at the Lyceum, or at Eden Court in Inverness the week aifter neist, dae it. It’s rerr terr – an clever. It’s no hemmed in by fashin aboot correctness, it’s freed by its leid and it frees the leid in turn. It’s fu o that concept that cam intae the English leid frae this very pley – panache. It gies a windae intae the mind o anither culture, an intae oor ain leid an aw.

It wis the windae o translations that gied me the confidence tae stert tae scrieve in the Scots aifter years o studyin it, speakin it an reciting it, but bein ower feart tae pit finger tae keyboard. A stertit wi The Hoose at Pooh’s Neuk, ane o the braw translations o bairnie literature that hae appeared ower the last decade. The playful, naitural, interestin Scots opened no juist a winnock, but a door fir me tae daunner through tae a new, auld place.

A suid mention, o coorse, that awmaist ivvry single pley by the likes o NTS, the Citz or the Lyceum is translatit – it is translatit intae British Sign Leid by, aften, a single person, in awmaist nae time avaw. Aften the interpreter is gien the script aboot a twa-three days afore the performance, but – and mibbe disnae get a single rehearsal.

Imagine acceptin that fir a translation o a text o Russian intil English – “Richt, actors. We’ll pley ye a recordin o the Russian an youse suid aw read the script an then translate it oan the fly on the nicht – see ye at curtain up!’

That’s anither fir anither column.