A NEW edition of one of the world’s greatest literary works, Don Quixote, has been published with a chapter rendered entirely in Scots for the first time.

In a bold attempt to market Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes to a new and perhaps younger audience, Spanish publishers and academics commissioned new translations of chapters of the 17th-century masterpiece, widely reckoned to be the first modern novel. Backed by the government of Andalusia and published by Antonio Machado Libros and the Universita Complutense of Madrid, the new edition is called El Quijote Universal, Siglo (century) XXI – the Spanish name Quijote reflecting the change in that language from the 1600s.

It could be said that the venture is Quixotic and perhaps tilting at windmills, as the book is already the most translated novel in history, but the publishers decided to include languages into which Don Quixote was not known to have been previously translated. The chapter in Scots is therefore among the 150 languages and dialects in the new edition commissioned to mark the 400th anniversary of Cervantes’s death last year.

The chapter was translated by Professor Hugh O’Donnell of Glasgow Caledonian University’s department of Social Sciences, Media and Journalism. The academic says it took just a few hours to translate the chapter, an excerpt from which The National publishes today – for comparison with the famous English translation by John Ormsby, check the Project Gutenberg website’s Don Quixote where it can be found at Volume Two, chapter XXIV.

O’Donnell stresses that his form of Scots is very much based on the spoken Scots of his parents and grandparents. In O’Donnell’s chapter cousin becomes kizzen, chapel is chaipel, soldier is sodger, standing is staunin and so on.

“I spent the first 20 years of my academic life as a linguist and then moved into to media studies and cultural theory, but kept all my languages going,” he said.

“The co-ordinator at the Unversity of Cantabria in Spain came to me looking for someone to translate the chapter from Spanish into Scots and I was happy to do so.

“They chose the chapter and then all I had to do was to translate it into a blend of my father’s Coatbridge Scots and my mother’s Ayrshire Scots. In the end it was more my mother’s Ayrshire Scots that I chose, as Rabbie Burns would have understood it.

“I know there will be some people who will question what is Scots and what is not, but to me it isn’t Scots unless I can hear it spoken and understand it. I have translated the chapter very much as I would expect to hear Scots spoken in the street.

“There’s not much use in putting in ancient words that no one will understand nowadays – it would be like me writing you an email and putting in words like ‘forsooth’ that no-one has spoken in 200 years. “It is great that Scots has been chosen but my fear is that no-one will be able to read the whole book in its entirety because there are so many different languages in it, including some Slavonic languages that not many people will have heard of.

“It’s an absolutely fascinating idea, however, and if it gets people interested in reading Cervantes then perhaps they will be able to access the book in a language they can understand.”

The new edition also contains a chapter in Scots Gaelic and Irish Gaelic, though previous attempts have been made to translate Don Quixote into both languages.

Cervantes started writing Don Quixote at the beginning of the 17th century but he had already been a published novelist with La Galatea, a pastoral romance written around 1585. He had married Catalina de Salazar the previous year, and her great uncle, a courtly figure called Alonso de Quesada y Salazar, was the inspiration for Don Quixote.

Cervantes also travelled widely in his roles as a soldier and tax collector and those journeys clearly left their mark as Quixote spends a great deal of time travelling with his servant Sancho Panza. Remarkably, the author was also inspired by his time in prison – he was twice jailed for irregularities in his tax collection accounts. The contribution of Cervantes to modern fiction cannot be understated and his greatest innovation was to use the speech of the ordinary people for the first time, inspiring many authors and playwrights to start doing the same.

O’Donnell added: “Cervantes was a really interesting guy. As well as his writing career he was often away fighting wars and Don Quixote had to be published in instalments.

“We all know the story about the giants and windmills. You may never have heard of or read a word of Cervantes but we all know the phrase ‘tilting at windmills’.”

Or as they say in Scots, tiltin at winmills.


An exclusive extract from the chapter, translated by Professor Hugh O’Donnell

‘No faur fae here”, replied the kizzen, “there’s a chaipel whaur a hermit bides, they say he wis a sodger, considert a guid christian, an very discreet an charitable as weel. Next tae the shrine he’s goat a wee hoose, which he built at his ain expense; but even though it’s wee he can receive guests”.

“Dis this hermit by oany chance hae hens?”, asked Sancho.

“Few hermits are withoot them”, replied Don Quijote, “cause the yins we hae noo are no like thae yins in the deserts ae Egypt, wearin palm leafs an eatin roots fae the grun. An dinnae think that because Ah’m talkin weel ae these yins Ah’m no daein the same fur the ithers, whit Ah’m sayin is that the penances they unnertake noo dinnae come near the harshness an scarcity back then. But that disnae mean they’re no aw guid folk. At least, Ah consider them tae be guid; an when the worst come tae the worst, the hypocrite whae pretends tae be guid dis less hairm than the public sinner.”

At this peint, they saw a man comin alang oan fit taewards whaur they were staunin, walkin quickly an beatin a mule that wis loadit doon wi lances an halberds. When he came alangside them he greetit them an kept gaun. Don Quijote said tae him: “Ma guid man, stoap, ye seem tae be gaun faster than this mule needs”.

“Ah cannae stoap, sire”, the man replied, “cause the weapons ye see me cairryin here hae tae be yaised the moarn; sae Ah need tae keep gaun, an guidbye tae ye. But if ye want tae ken whit Ah’m cairryin them fur, Ah intend tae fin ludgins the nicht in the inn which is jist up fae the shrine. An if ye’re gaun the same wey, ye’ll fin me there, whaur Ah’ll tell ye wunners. Sae guidbye yince mair”.

An he proddit the mule furrit in such a wey that Don Quijote had nae time tae ask him whit were the wunners he intendit tae tell them; an since Don Quijote wis raither curious an wis aye driven by the desire tae learn new things, he ordert them tae set oot richt away tae spend the nicht at the inn, withoot gaun tae the shrine, whaur the kizzen had wantit them tae stey.

Sae that’s whit they did, they mountit up an aw three ae them heidit strecht fur the inn, whaur they arrived just afore nichtfaw. The kizzen said tae Don Quijote that they should stoap at the shrine fur a drink. As shin as Sancho Panza heard this, he goat his haorse tae heid fur the shrine, an sae did Don Quijote an the kizzen; but as Sancho’s bad luck wid hae it, the hermit wisnae at hame; at least that’s whit the hermit’s female assistant they fun at the shrine said. They asked her fur expensive wine; she said her maister didnae hae oany, but if they wantit cheap watter she’d be very happy tae gie them some.

“If it wis watter Ah wis efter”, replied Sancho, “there’s wells alang the wey whaur Ah could hae satisfied ma thurst. Oh, thae waddin ae Camacho an the abundance at Don Diego’s hoose, hoo sairly Ah miss ye!”

At this peint they left the shrine an spurred their hoarses furrit heidin fur the inn; an shortly efter they came across a young man whae wis gaun aheid ae them no very fast; an sae they came alangside him.