6 August 2002

Classroom door is opening to Scots dialect

Auld armadillos airm in airm, birlin bears wi big bahoochies and crabbit crocodiles wi clarty claes will soon be helping Scottish schoolchildren learn their ABC the Scots way - and will hopefully shatter the belief that Scots is a dirty word in the classroom.

In a major initiative to get children of all ages and abilities in touch with their traditional culture and heritage, the University of Dundee-based Itchy Coo project is producing a new range of books for children from pre-school to Advanced Higher level, written in traditional Scots. The Itchy Coo books - a series of sixteen including Animal ABC : A: Scots Alphabet - is the largest ever creation of Scots language resources for children and will, say their authors, elevate the Scots language to its rightful place in classrooms across the country..

The books' launch later this month will come just days after a meeting of the International Reading Association in Edinburgh was told that teachers are doing children a disservice by believing that "speaking Scots was akin to swearing in the classroom."*

Teacher, author and Itchy Coo National Schools Scots Language Development Officer Matthew Fitt has already visited 40 Scottish schools to involve children and teachers in Scots language workshops. He says the demand for the books, the first four of which are due out this August, has grown beyond all expectations.

He said, "In 1991, the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum advised that the languages pupils bring to school should be fostered and encouraged. Many children use Scots in their day-to-day life but are discouraged from using it at school and often don't know what common words found in their own street's name, such as "brae" and "burn" actually mean.

"It is vital that their understanding of Scots isn't lost, because access to their own culture will disappear with it. Nor will they be able to access their country's literature, from the works of Robert Burns to those of the 20th century authors such as Hugh MacDiarmid and William Soutar.

"Many teachers have been working extra hard to promote Scots but have been hindered by a lack of resources - it is Itchy Coo's aim to provide better resources and, encouragingly, advance orders for the books have already risen into their hundreds."

Following lottery funding from the Scottish Arts Council, the first four Itchy Coo titles are to be published by Black and White Publishing in August. They are Animal ABC - A Scots Alphabet by Susan Rennie, Planet Fankle, also by Susan Rennie, The Hoose o Haivers by Matthew Fitt, Susan Rennie and James Robertson, and A Scots Parliament by James Robertson. The series of books aims to reflect dialect and regional differences within Scots and will encourage children to use their local form of Scots, as well as introducing them to other dialects and to the tradition of literary Scots.

The content of Itchy Coo publications will reflect contemporary, multicultural Scotland and encourage children to use Scots to describe a wide variety of experiences and situations.

Itchy Coo author Susan Rennie said, "We believe that the time is now right, because of significant cultural, educational and political changes in the way Scots is perceived, to launch Itchy Coo, which we hope will satisfy the pressing demands from teachers and education departments for such material. It could be very empowering for children who were once discouraged from using words like "heid" to find that they do have a place after all.

"Over the project's two years, we hope to have created a one-stop source for Scots material of all kinds, which can then be developed further to provide more books and other multi-media resources. We hope that Itchy Coo will transform the image and status of Scots. However we see the project not as a flag-waving exercise but as a means of enabling thousands of young Scots to articulate and appreciate their own language and culture in ways that have seldom been available to them before."

*Janet Paisley , a poet, writer and former teacher, speaking at a meeting of the International Association in Edinburgh yesterday said, "Speaking Scots is akin to swearing in the classroom. Yet most children are perfectly fluent and articulate if they are allowed to be. They are always fluent in their spoken language. Recounting stories is second nature if they do it in their own tongue."

At the same meeting, Glasgow University English lecturer Graham Caie said, "They (students) have not been allowed to develop properly at school because they have not been encouraged to speak in their own dialect. They tell me they have been criticised for the way they speak at school."

For more information on the Itchy Coo project and titles, contact Matthew Fitt on 01899 221 467, James Robertson on 01337 831129 or Susan Rennie at the University of Dundee on 01382 348601 Or, visit itchy-coo.com