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?

Chorus:
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!

Translation:

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

Chorus:
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!

16 Responses to “Auld Lang Syne and the Rebirth of Scottish”

  1. Francis Wilkerson says:

    When comparing the two I can see how words could have changed because they are pretty close. But even with the similarities between the two, some of the words aren’t even close

  2. Awesome McAwesome says:

    You’re not alone. I don’t think many people actually know the words to the whole song. Most people try to sing it, but are usually kissing or clinking glasses before they they remember to keep singing.

  3. Chaz says:

    The Scottish accent is so cool. I have always liked it and Irish. I just speak the plain ole’ American english.

  4. Claudia Hopkins says:

    Very nice historical spin on this blog. Always enjoy learning something new. Now I will look into this Robert Burns and learn a little more. Thanks

    • Ken says:

      But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
      In proving foresight may be vain;
      The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men
      Gang aft agley,
      An’lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
      For promis’d joy!

  5. McDaddy says:

    The Hokkien version is not the version to sing at dinner with the folks. The girl with the pink hair certainly has a deep voice.

  6. Gretchen Tate says:

    I always think of Dan Fogelberg when I hear Auld Lang Syne.

  7. Jesse Roy says:

    Poor guy. That must have been one horrible dentist. How exactly does one die from getting a tooth pulled? I guess this was pre-Joseph Lister?

    • Ken says:

      “His household presented a melancholy spectacle: the Poet dying; his wife in hourly expectation of being confined: four helpless children wandering from room to room, gazing on their miserable parents and but too little of food or cordial kind to pacify the whole or soothe the sick. To Jessie Lewars, all who are charmed with the poet’s works are much indebted: she acted with the prudence of a sister and the tenderness of a daughter, and kept desolation away, though she could not keep disease. – “A tremor,” says Maxwell, “pervaded his frame; his tongue, though often refreshed, became parched; and his mind, when not roused by conversation, sunk into delirium. On the second and third day after his return from the Brow, the fever increased and his strength diminished. On the fourth day, when his attendant, James Maclure held a cordial to his lips, he swallowed it eagerly – rose almost wholly up – spread out his hands – sprang forward nigh the whole length of the bed – fell on his face and expired. He was thirty seven years and seven months old, and of a form and strength which promised long life; but the great and inspired are often cut down in youth while “Villains ripen gray with time”.

  8. Holly Graves says:

    I actually thought you had your fingers in the wrong position with the original. I did fine reading it the first few lines, but then I was lost. The second one makes more sense, although when I sing in out loug I have trouble fitting in all of the words to the melody.

  9. Curtis Gentry says:

    Great blog. I love it when you have a little interesting history mixed in. Now I have something to talk about at New Year’s eve parties.

  10. Tritboss says:

    Another great example as to why I keep coming back to this blog. Once again a worthwhile read and something to think about.

  11. Charles says:

    This year be sure to keep the champagne from uncle Kenny and have a few printed pages of the origianl lyrics to get the party started. Actually, have uncle Kenny lead the song and dangle the bottle infront of him like a carrot :) I am sure he (and everyone else) will be able to sing the whole thing this time. Happy New year!