Ex Die in DIEM

by duncan mcnicholl

Lullans

It’s a sair fecht

Translated directly, “it’s a sore fight”. less directly, “it’s a hard fight”, I suppose. And what is meant by this fight? Life. Life is a hard fight, and when it’s getting tough, or promising you hurt, you can say that it’s a sair fecht, and be confident that you’re speaking to and as part of the tribe that we call scots.

The scots language is known as Lullans, or “lowlands”, to distinguish it from the language of the highlands, which traditionally was Gaelic. It’s an ongoing debate in linguistics (as so many things are) whether lullans is a language or a dialect, but of course it’s somewhere in between. Like almost all things, the way we speak lies on a spectrum that goes from language to dialect, or broad accent to RP, or lullans through Scottish Standard English to English, insofar as the latter has ever been standardised at all.

And of course it isn’t even that simple: we change how we speak depending on context, going from a high Latinate register when we talk about philosophy or politics to a lower Germanic register when we talk to and about our friends, or reduce our vocabulary to be understood by learners or run away with dialects in the company of those who we grew up with.

It’s tribal, and sometimes it defines exclusionary groups, an us that isn’t them, and sometimes it acts as a shibboleth, letting us know that we’ll be understood and what we share from the roots up. I can’t tell if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that we have these variations, and when I concentrate on it I start to suspect that like so many things it depends on how it’s used.

The way we are as people is subject to our control, as a group if not individually, and that’s why we have to choose to be good to each other. Not just good to the people who already know it’s a sair fecht, or those who sound like us, or who are part of the tribe. Good to everybody. As much as we can, and for as long as we can.

It’s the only way we’re going to get through the fight.