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The New Testament in Scots
W L Lorimer. Canongate Classics, Edinburgh 2001.   ISBN 1 84195 144 7. £9.99

This is a popular paperback edition of William Lorimer’s lifework – a translation of the New Testament into Scots from the Greek originals.

Professor Lorimer died in 1967.  He taught Latin and Greek for many years, mainly at St Andrews University .  He was a keen linguist who learned to read quite a few of the lesser-used European languages including Frisian, Romaunsch and Romanian.  “He became interested in the problems encountered by linguistic minorities in reviving or developing their language.”  He came to the conclusion that Scots, if were to be revived, needed a good modern dictionary and a good modern translation of the New Testament.  After all, it was the widespread adoption of the Authorised Version of the Bible in Scotland that almost killed Scots off as a literary language.

In 1957, two years after his retirement, he began his work.  It took him the last ten years of his life.  The translation is not uniform, but varies from book to book reflecting the various styles of Greek used by the individual writers of the Gospels and the other books of the New Testament.

In a lengthy introduction his son, Robin Lorimer, explains his late father’s methods and enthusiasm for this monumental task. After his father’s death, Robin Lorimer edited the handwritten text for final publication in 1983.

I have a copy of that 1983 first edition.  It’s a handsome volume, but it’s enormous!  It’s not too practical for everyday reading.

By contrast, the Canongate paperback edition is handy to use.  The text is broken up into single column paragraphs.  This makes it very readable. Most English Bibles and New Testaments print the text in double columns and print each verse as if it was a separate paragraph.   This is good for finding references but it interferes with the narrative flow.  In Lorimer’s Scots text, verse references only appear on the top right of each page.

Throughout this splendid translation, the timeless message of the New Testament speaks clearly to us.  In the second chapter of John’s Gospel – a report of the wedding feast at Cana where Jesus turned water into wine – the bridegroom is told, “Aabodie pits doun his guid wine first and keeps back his puirer wine till fowk is fu, but ye haired your wine till nou!

William Tyndale’s ‘ploughboy’ New Testament in English and Martin Luther’s German New Testament did much to establish and standardise their respective vernacular languages.  Enthusiasts for the Ulster-Scots language revival should get hold of a copy of Lorimer’s Scots New Testament. Keep it by your bedside and read from it regularly.  It will improve your grasp of written and spoken Scots and maybe do your soul good too.

David Kerr

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