Friday 10th June 2016: Link between language and songs.

Oh boy. Audiences. You don’t pull your punches, do you?

This question has innumerable PhDs of stuff to say. I am going to talk about the following:

  1. Scots in song.

Now, a couple of nots:

I am not going to talk about the link between language and music. But boy is that deep. And maybe I will end up talking about it a bit. Who can say? This is a magical mystery tour! I’m a passenger as much as you! Wait. Who’s driving?

I am not going to go into loads of detail on the Proper Science research that our Creative Learning leader, Dr Michael Dempster, has done on this subject. Mostly because my understanding is predominantly ‘oh, it’s so cool, basically he’s found these things that are like Scots but in music form and I don’t remember them or anything else about them but it’s really cool.’ You will be able to read proper explanations of his theories soon in his new book. Keep an eye here to find out when it’s out and about.

So. Scots in Song.

Song is one of those places where Scots has managed to stay acceptable. Poetry is similar. This is for a number of reasons, and since I’ve only dine one lonely bullet point so far I’ll do some more. Some reasons why I think Scots is more acceptable in song than in other situations.

  1. Robert Burns – Scotland’s most successful writer and Top Export sort of is the Scots language for many people. Auld Lang Syne caught the world at the start of mass culture and became everyone’s national song. Apparently in China they think it is a native Chinese song. Scots is safe, poetic and couthie in song. It is like singing hymns with ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ in – not really okay for life, but jolly good fun with a rousing, Victorian tune. Saying that, it doesn’t mean that people necessarily sing the Scots songs in a very Scots way. Even Eddi Reader Anglicises/Americanises. Not Mairi Campbell in the Sex and the City movie though. What a champ. Anyway. Off point. Or is it?
  2. Anglicisation of Scots in song – Maybe one of the reasons Scots is easier in song is precisely because you don’t have to have a Scots accent to sing it. Given that we sing all pop songs with American accents, and English people sing folk with a West Country accent, or the New Folk lot all sound like they come from South London via private school (for all three you can go to Laura Marling). For a great chat about Multilingual identity in song, have a look at ‘Lisa Loves Linguistics’ talking about Rihanna. Scots has long been considered fine in song. It’s safe, it’s local, it’s folk.
  3. Song is oral – We are much more likely to learn a song by ear than other forms of culture. We learn them orally even from recordings. I can recreate every sound in Cerys Matthews voice is ‘International Velvet’. I’ve never looked at the words, as evidenced in the fact that I am often singing  the sounds with no link to meaning – ‘if you’d sinis bot and ickalinnin‘. Even the Welsh. Print likes to standardise, the ear doesn’t mind quite so much. (PS. What is his ‘godforsaken soy?’)
  4. Old Scots is safe Scots – Most of the Scots songs that are performed and heard in 2016 are well over a century or more old. The Proclaimers have sung eloquently on the subject of not even being allowed a Scottish accent in contemporary music. Maybe that means Scots is not as safe in songs as I think? Isobel McArthur doesn’t feel it’s safe in her show, ‘How to Sing It‘ which investigates the struggles and richness of accent diversity within her one voice.

I’m giving up the bullet points. Too many reasons and too few. One thing I feel is certain, if Scots has any clout as a language, it is in large part due to song, which has validated it, protected it, passed it on, and enlivened it.

Thank you, song.



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