On Thursday 11 September the National Library of Scotland (NLS) hosted an event sponsored by Bibliography of Scottish Literature in Translation (BOSLIT) where three scholars and translators discussed the future of literary translation into Scots.
The panel comprised Susan Rennie, editor of the Dictionary of the Scots Language, creator of the Scots Tintin and one of the co- founders of the Scots language imprint, Itchy Coo; J. Derrick McClure, writer, academic and translator of works including Alice in Wonderland and works by Sorley Maclean into Scots; and Tom Hubbard, former editor of BOSLIT, poet and novelist who was the first librarian of the Scottish Poetry Library.
After an introduction from Andrew Martin of the NLS, each panellist took it in turn to read from their translations. As the talk’s title suggested, the range of texts was wide and the readings displayed the richness that Scots can bring to translation.
All three linguists acknowledged the challenges involved in translation when the rhythms of one language’s poetry for example, may not sit with the structure and constraints of another. A culturally acceptable metre for translation has to be found and cultural adjustments made. Though not directly quoted on the platform, James Robertson’s The Hoose at Pooh’s Neuk, a translation of A. A. Milne’s classic from Itchy Coo; is a deceptively simple example of this sensitive and subtle skill.
The more it snows
The more it goes
rather beautifully becomes
The mair it
The mair it
The mair it
The radical contribution to the Scottish Renaissance by poet Hugh MacDiarmid was discussed. MacDiarmid elevated the Scots language from the kailyard to one whose “buried expression” is worthy of a platform for translation of the likes of Proust and Joyce. Then as now the danger is that this academic use of the language can become Scots for Scholars and effectively disenfranchise actual Scots speakers. It may be great fun for linguistically talented academics to translate a miscellany of texts in to a variety of Scots dialects but it can smack of the esoteric. Older native speakers not used to seeing Scots in print, except recently in the trend for putting random words on the likes of mugs and tee shirts, can be confused to see thir ain tung in formal print.
Susan Rennie, who is involved in school projects, quoted Perth poet William Soutar’s lovely phrase of Scots riding home “on a cock horse”. In other words, it is the young; the new generations of potential Scots speakers and learners who will no longer find it strange to see the words that are used naturally to also be seen on the printed page. Rennie’s work in translating some of Hergé’s well- loved Tintin texts, particularly aimed at teenagers, is doing just that. Her work is a self- confessed adaptation rather than a direct translation, which is right for this popular comic strip medium.
The variety of disciplines and texts used by these three very different academics showed the potential depth of Scots and its dialects but as language evolves constantly, maybe the rhythms of Scots speech of now should also be included. To see a language in print is empowering and so is hearing it in unabashed on public platforms.