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Snippets of our history

Elaine Webster

News cuttings

Scottish Language Dictionaries is delighted to have received some newspaper cuttings from Dr. Rhona Alcorn who discovered them in the Angus McIntosh archive. The cuttings date from the 1950s and give fascinating insights into the public perception of the work of the dictionaries at that period and attitudes to Scots. One article in The Scotsman entitled The Older Scottish Language: Sir W. Craigie's Dictionary, dated 27th June 1953, was written by A J Aitken, the eminent scholar who was to go on to be a subsequent editor of A Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue. The article reminds us of the unique nature of this project:

Sir William Craigie's Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue is the first really adequate record of the Scottish language of the time when Scotland was still an independent nation and its language a national language on a par with English and other literary vernaculars of Europe.

A J Aitken pays tribute to the distinguished career and scholarship of Sir William Craigie and reminds us of one of the strengths of A Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue:

For each word it presents an account of the spellings and a brief etymological note, but the Dictionary's outstanding feature is its copious sections of illustrative quotations, set out to demonstrate the development of the word both in usage and application and in form and in application.

In the article, he makes a plea for engagement with the wider community and encourages all to contribute:

...several of the most copious and most valuable contributors to the Dictionary's first collections were people who responded to the original appeal simply because they were interested and felt they could be useful.

The 1953 newspaper cutting clearly communicates the desire to engage with the wider community and involve them in the work of the dictionaries:

This article is written in the hope of encouraging any persons – and not only professional scholars and historians – who are interested in the earlier history of this country and its older language to help fill the gaps in the Dictionary's collection of excerpts.

The dictionary regularly benefits from evidence gathered from different geographical areas. It is important to collect samples of Scots use before local expertise and knowledge is lost. Scottish Language Dictionaries' Editors have recently identified thematic areas such as trades, including fishing and mining, as well as aspects of Scottish urban life which are changing.

If you are interested in learning more the ways evidence was collected in the past, the publication Scotland in Definition: A History of Scottish Dictionaries edited by Iseabail Macleod and J Derrick McClure (Edinburgh, John Donald 2012) has articles on key Scots and Gaelic dictionary projects.

The newspaper cuttings beautifully illustrate the desire of lexicographers to engage with the community and share enthusiasm for Scots which is still evident today. Please let us know if you have any other newspaper cuttings or letters relating to the work of the dictionaries and the scholarship of the editors.

The mechanism for collecting evidence and the ways our users contribute to our work has changed but the principle is unchanged. The online Dictionary of the Scots Language ensures that A Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue and The Scottish National Dictionary are now both readily available to users who are interested in older Scots and modern Scots, as the language changes and develops. All the entries are free to access for all those keen to research and value the language.