Reach 07 - Scots in Translation

Writing & Publishing | Sgrìobhadh agus Foillseachadh

"There is no standard spelling for hoose,” says Dr Susan Rennie, and as someone who has worked with dictionaries for many years, she should know. This is just one problem that a translator of Scots might face, as there is currently no standardised form of the traditional language. It is no easy task, but Dr Rennie is hoping her new project will make things easier for aspiring Scots translators.

Dr Rennie was first approached by a former student of the College of Arts, Jax McGhee, who now works for Giglets, a company that produces e-books for schools. Their new venture was developing Scots translations of classic pieces of literature, but as Dr Rennie says, the world of Scots publishing can be a scary place without academic advice. As a first step, Dr Rennie produced a sample translation of Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, which translates into Scots as The Legend o Sleepery Howe. This initial stage allowed the publisher to expand their Scots publishing programme.

Giglets then asked Dr Rennie to do four more translations, a sure sign of the success of their first collaboration. But instead of simply accepting the work on her own behalf, Dr Rennie saw an opportunity to give her students some hands-on experience of professional translation. She knew first-hand that many students are interested in translating Scots and in children’s publishing, as they are a generation who have grown up with Scots around them in schools (such as books from the Itchy Coo imprint, which Dr Rennie helped to found). Dr Rennie was right about the popularity of the project: after receiving around 50 sample translations, eight student translators were chosen to take part.

The four works that the students would translate were Dracula, Macbeth, Peter Pan and The Legend of Knockmany. By working together in pairs the students were placed in a very realistic situation, as it is common for professional Scots translators to collaborate because of the lack of standardisation. Dr Rennie acted as a sub-editor for each of the translations, and she had regular meetings to offer feedback on the students’ work as it progressed. Giglets were happy for there to be some variation in spelling and style, as Dr Rennie says: “I wanted the students to develop as writers, so they had to bring something personal to the translation.” All the students were credited as co-translators in the published e-books, and several also worked to produce glossaries to their texts.

There are few professional Scots translators, and publishers are wary of giving work to people who do not have proven experience. Dr Rennie is confident that this stype of apprenticeship programme can give students a much-needed first step into the industry. She describes it as “training in translating skills, publishing skills and also lexicographical skills”, three important strands for gaining future work. Dr Rennie has already written several references for the student translators who graduated this year, and their translation experience has played a significant role in their CVs and applications.

Jax McGhee of Giglets commented “The Scots translation project with the University of Glasgow has been our most successful creative collaboration to date. We always knew that it could be a tricky project as expertise on Scots is hard to come by. Susan has been fantastic to work with, she has guided the entire project and supported the development of an excellent and enthusiastic team of translators.”

The project is particularly timely because children’s publishing is a real growth area at the moment, and the Scots language is also gaining more official recognition. Creative Scotland recently launched a new Scots Language Policy, encouraging new creative projects to embed Scots within their plans. Dr Rennie expects there to be an increased demand for Scots translators to produce Scots versions of websites, for example, as well as other such opportunities as a result.

For this reason, Dr Rennie is keen to maintain the relationship that she has built with Giglets, and to expand this to other publishing companies. If other publishers have an interest in developing Scots translations, they are encouraged to get in touch with the College of Arts. For Dr Rennie, this could mean a higher status for Scots translation within the College, too: “I’d love to see a strand of Scots translation as part of the Translation Studies programme we offer at Glasgow. I could see that happening.”




If you wish to find out more about this article or about how you can progress your ideas (i) as an academic wishing to engage with a non-academic organisation or (ii) as a non-academic organisation interested in engaging with the academic knowledge base, please email the College of Arts KE Team.


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