Some substantive reflections on the song we hear everywhere on New Year’s Eve can help us welcome 2007 with a fresh perspective on one of the world’s most frequently distorted conflicts.
Hundreds of millions of celebrants sing “Auld Lang Syne” at the stroke of midnight without comprehending the meaning of the words or even recognizing the language of the lyrics. How many people could define the “auld lang syne” they are so enthusiastically toasting? The lines of the song sound lovely (especially after a long evening of liquid refreshment) but few revelers ever make it to the third stanza and fewer still could provide a working translation:
“We twa hae run about the braes
And pou’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
Sin auld lang syne.” *
Obviously, the 1780’s poem by Robert Burns wasn’t written (and isn’t sung) in standard English but rather provides the world’s most famous lines in “Scots” (or “Braid”) – which is either a distinctive regional dialect or an authentic, independent language—depending on your cultural and political perspective. Today’s British government recognizes Scots as a “regional language” under the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages.
Of course, the current Scottish Nationalist Movement honors, and even exalts, the lilting vernacular that’s part of their ancient heritage, as well as the Gaelic dialects still spoken in various pockets of the Scottish Highlands. The Scots have lovingly nurtured and sustained their separate nationality and, amazingly enough, recent surveys show clear majorities in both Scotland and England favoring full, final Scottish independence – severing the 1707 union that brought the two nations together to form the “United Kingdom.” In 1999, the nationalists won the right to elect a separate Scottish Parliament --- “reconvened,” as they put it, “after a 300 year hiatus.” Alex Salmond, a member of the British Parliament and leader of the Scottish National Party, recently pointed out in a letter to the Wall Street Journal: “The 20th century saw several new independent countries in Europe, including Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Finland, to name just a few. For now, Scotland remains an anomaly – a stateless nation. But this may soon change.”
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