Scotland;s Flags

Robert Burns
and the
Scots Dialect

Eighteenth century Scottish culture was complex and confused, though the period around Burns time was the second "golden age" of literary and intellectual Scotland. ( The first was the fifteenth century , when the Scottish Chaucerians wrote some of the best poetry then being produced in Europe.)

The second age between 1740 and 1830 produced an astonishing galaxy of talent - poets, philosophers, men of letters, scientists, engineers and architects.

If we look at Burns in the context of the social and cultural forces of the Scotland of his day we are more able to understand his achievement and place him in proper perspective. Remember that the union of parliaments was in 1707 and with it came the threat of the total submergence of Scottish culture.

There are two ways in which a baffled and frustrated nation can attempt to satisfy its injured pride.

1. It can accept the dominance of the culture of the country which has achieved political ascendancy over it and can endeavour to beat that country and achieve distinctions by any standard the dominant culture may evolve.

2. It can attempt to rediscover its own national traditions, and by reviving and developing them find a satisfaction that will compensate for its political impotence.

18th century Scotsmen chose both these ways.

Adam Smith, David Hume, and Hugh Blair were among those who chose the first way.

Allan Ramsay, David Herd, Robert Fergusson and Robert Burns were among those who chose the second.

To the former we owe the philosophical and scientific movements that made 18th century Edinburgh perhaps the most distinguished intellectual centre in Europe.

To the latter group we owe the revival of interest in older Scottish literature, in Scottish folk traditions and in Scottish antiquities; Burns was the culmination of the movement, his letters are fine examples of Standard English yet he chose to use the Scots dialect and the old Scottish verse forms when he was writing poetry.

Burns development was towards a new harmony of English and Scots, with complete mastery in each, the perfect example being Tam o'Shanter. But look at Is There for Honest Poverty, the fusion of Scots and English is complete in this poem also. Words and phrases as "cuif" and "Guid faith, he mauna fa' that" exist cheek by jowl with "Their tinsel show" and " Tho' hundreds worship at his word." He was never a backwater poet using an obscure language but fused the two to raise awareness of the Scottish Nation from local incidents, through to a National level and reach out internationally to the universal.

Listen to the dialect on my CD of Burns poems - The Greatest Poems in the World.
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Burns Importance to Scotland and to Scots the World Over

Burns and 18th Century Oppression

Burns the Patriot Bard

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