A History- 2nd Revised and Augmented Edition
2. Burns in German
2.1 The Translation Challenge 2.1.1 “An unknown tongue” When in the mid-eighteenth century Scots Members of Parliament took up their seats at Westminster they were mortified to find that the English of Scotland they spoke was only half-intelligible to the Englishmen of England they spoke to.511 When in 1786 a Scots poet presented his Poems chiefly in the Scottish dia- lect to the public a number of commentators found them only half-intelligible to educated readers: there were references to the “provincial dialect”512 and “un- known tongue”513 in which the poems were written and which was said to ob- scure their beauties and detract from the pleasure of reading them. But was the Scottish language of the eighteenth century so far removed from English, and in what “Scottish dialect” were the poems of the Kilmarnock volume written? As David Murison has pointed out,514 “Scots and English are essentially dialects of the same original language, Anglo-Saxon, and the differences between them are far outweighed by their similarities.” The similarities include a large common vocabulary and common basic grammar, the differences are linguistic, stylistic and thematic and were in the fifteenth century so marked as to create the impres- sion of two distinct languages. By the 1800s however, due to English cultural and political domination, a widespread anglicisation of Scots had taken place, bringing the written language very much closer to English, as official documents and prose literature indicate. In popular poetry though there were attempts – as in the work...
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