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Auld Lang Syne and the Rebirth of Scottish
December 30, 2011 - By: - In: Language - Comments Off on Auld Lang Syne and the Rebirth of Scottish

Every year, I have but one New Year’s resolution, to learn the words of Auld Lang Syne, the drop-the-ball sappiest of sentimental songs, sung as the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve. But sad to say,  Uncle Kenny forgets, mostly by the second glass of champagne, so I end up mumbling my way through, except for the “Auld Lang Syne” part and something about old acquaintances being forgotten.

But in my musical studies this year, I discovered that I’d only been singing the drunken English translation, which seems unauthentic, especially for a Robert Burns fan like myself. So I’ve decided to hitch up my kilt and learn the original Scottish version first penned by the immortal bard in 1788. This so I can forget it even faster.

Here’s the real deal, in Scottish, by Gerrry McGregor.

Hard to follow for me. (Translation and original at the bottom of this post.)

Burns, who died at the age of 37 in 1791 after getting a tooth pulled, might just be the guy who saved Scottish, which is the local language of the Lowlands more closely related to English than the Scottish Gaelic spoken in the Highlands.

As British political and economic dominance of Scotland increased through the Middle Ages, English became the language fo choice in Scotland, but the Lowland Scots changed it enough so that English from down south often required translators to understand it. By the early 16th century what was once called Inglis had become the language of daily use, and its speakers started to refer to it as Scottis and to Scottish Gaelic, which had previously been titled Scottis, as Erse (Irish). But at the same time, Scottish as a stand-along language was losing the war of the printing presses to London inksters. And as its literary voice was lost, so too went the language’s prestige, as polite society came to think of the broad Scotch spoken by the lower classes to be too, well, low class. So educated Scots like James Boswell, biographer of Brit dictionary writer Samuel Johnson, would use only proper English when hobnobbing in London, and return to “braid Scots” (broad Scots in English) only for chasing wenchs and other lairdly pursuits back home.

But Robert Burns, by writing so beautifully in the same vulgar language, singlehandedly brought literary Scotch back, and Scottish continues strong to this day, whether language or dialect. Again thanks to Burns’ poetry, Scotch has found a foothold in countless other languages with “Auld Lang Syne,” meaning “long time ago” normally surviving translation no matter what has been done to the rest of the lyrics.

I’ve included one example, the Hokkien version, performed (?) by the hosts of Singapore’s ClickNetwork. I’m pretty sure they cooked the subtitles, since I don’t recall “Give them shit” in the chorus of the original. Hokkien speakers can let us know if it’s the subtitle or the lyrics themselves that have been adapted. But “Auld Lang Syne” survives even this linguistic hatchet job.

So to all my Old Lang Syne readers, and newer ones too, I’ll raise a glass to you, this Hogmany (That’s the last day of the year for Scots) and offer best wishes for a new year both happy and prosperous. 干杯, Skål, Prost, 乾杯, На здоровье, etc., etc.

And finally, for your NewYear’s edification, the Scottish version, with English translation below:

Auld Lang Syne by Robert Burns

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne!

We twa hae run about the braes,
And pu’d the gowans fine,
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit
Sin auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl’t in the burn
Frae morning sun till dine,
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
Sin auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere,
And gie’s a hand o’ thine,
And we’ll tak a right guid willie-waught
For auld lang syne!

And surely ye’ll be your pint’ stowp,
And surely I’ll be mine,
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne!


Should old acquaintances be forgotten,
And never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintances be forgotten,
And days of long ago !

For old long ago, my dear
For old long ago,
We will take a cup of kindness yet
For old long ago.

We two have run about the hillsides
And pulled the daisies fine,
But we have wandered many a weary foot
For old long ago.

We two have paddled (waded) in the stream
From noon until dinner time,
But seas between us broad have roared
Since old long ago.

And there is a hand, my trusty friend,
And give us a hand of yours,
And we will take a goodwill draught (of ale)
For old long ago!

And surely you will pay for your pint,
And surely I will pay for mine!
And we will take a cup of kindness yet
For old long ago!

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