Our gratitude to all who turned out for our trilingual evening of Swiss dialect, High German, and Glaswegian crossover.
Pedro Lenz’s Der Goalie bin ig has sold over 20,000 copies in his native Switzerland. The piece is written in the Swiss-German dialect of the Bern canton, which – until recently – begat a very limited written tradition (in preference to the standard “High” German). Sound familiar? Only a few weeks ago, Janet Paisley reminded us that few Scots speakers know how to write down the words they’ve spoken all their lives.
The movement to write in the Bernese dialect started – of all places – with rock music. After a period of having been regarded as retrogressive and nostalgic, this form of communication has now emerged as a vital part of Swiss culture about which people recognise the need to celebrate. Sweet old ladies have occasionally thanked Pedro for looking after the language, to which he responds that “the language doesn’t need looking after; it’s not ill!”. Pedro was inspired to write this book by his stays in Glasgow (which he describes as “a raw place, but the people have big hearts”) and also by his own experiences of leaving grammar school early to work on a building site, and hear the stories of those at the disenfranchised end of Swiss society.
Donal McLaughlin has translated Der Goalie bin ig as Naw Much of a Talker, using Glaswegian as an insightful proxy for the relationship of Bernese dialect to German. The effect gives great power to the narrator’s voice (a former drug addict who stumbles through life with good intentions). A seminal influence on both Pedro and Donal was the work of James Kelman and Tom Leonard, and the readings in both tongues gave us an appetising flavour of a great story with telling moral undertones, laced with dry humour.