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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

Plane and Douce in Edinburgh

5th February 2015

On Sunday 8 February there will be a special event in the Greyfriars Church, Edinburgh, to highlight the use of the Scots language in church services and preaching. Called ‘Plane and Douce: Scots Warschip in the Kirk efter 1560’, Professor Jane Dawson will lead off at 3pm with a lecture on services after the Reformation, followed at 4.15pm by Dr Jamie Reid-Baxter and Martin Ritchie with a re-enactment of a service in Scots based on examples from the 1620’s. It would be true to say that we are suffering from a collective amnesia when it comes to this aspect of Scots and that religious activity in the language was, in fact, a common part of Scottish life until relatively recent times.

On the one hand, there is an argument that the reformers singularly failed in the chief tenet of the Reformation – that is, to provide the scriptures in the vernacular (whether in Scots, in Gaelic, or Norwegian) – and, instead, became simply the vehicle for promoting English-backed regime change and control over Scotland, so that the idea of a church ‘of Scotland’ becomes debatable. It is certainly true that the reformers were often obsessed with achieving religious and political conformity with England with little thought of the cost to Scotland.

A counter argument runs says that in 1560 the reformers quickly needed a Bible that was ideologically sound (i.e. Calvinist) and so they adopted the nearest version which was in English. They simply read out the English text but pronounced it as Scots and replaced words and phrases unknown in Scotland with Scottish equivalents, which meant they were still able to deliver the scriptures ‘in the vernacular’. Indeed, there is plenty of evidence that ministers and readers paraphrased the English Bible into Scots well into the 19th century and, in some cases, the beginning of the 20th century. Alongside this, Scots and Scotticised religious texts were occasionally being produced. So the assumption that services and preaching after 1560 must have been in English, because of the existence of an English Bible, is an assumption fraught with difficulties. Scotland was, and remained, linguistically complex.

The event at Greyfriars is free and refreshments will be provided during the break.