Older Scots Poetry in Romance Translation

Ruggero Bianchin is a PhD Student at the University of Glasgow, working in English and linguistics. In this post, he discusses the significance of BOSLIT for his research, explaining how the ongoing project to revive the database helped him break new ground.

It gives me great pleasure to write of BOSLIT. My doctoral thesis is called Older Scots Poetry in Romance Translations, and the title itself gives away how I could hardly overestimate the importance of BOSLIT as one of my essential sources. At a time when I was not sure yet what shape my research proposal should take, the data I found on BOSLIT allowed me to make concrete plans for my current PhD project.

I first became aware of BOSLIT during one of my many browsing sessions in the early stages of my research, when I was trying to sketch a full picture of which works from the Older Scots poetical canon had been translated and published in Romance languages (spoiler alert: woefully few).

At the time though, BOSLIT was available only as a downloadable XML dataset from the National Library of Scotland’s website. Very quickly, I realised that it would be extremely difficult for me to consult it in that form, so I sought assistance from my supervisors. Thus, I heard the great news: BOSLIT was in the process of being taken care of at Glasgow University. Unfortunately, it would not be available through a user-friendly interface again for several years, but I was put in touch with the new BOSLIT committee who helpfully suggested specific software I could use to make the most of it for the time being.

Italian translation of Robert Henyrson’s The Testament of Cresseid (Luni Editrice, 1998)

And so, until June 2022 BOSLIT has appeared to me as an unforgiving, never-ending list of names of authors and books overbearingly swamped with millions of apparently random forward slashes and numbers. But as much as this was clearly not ideal, it was also still tremendously useful, and so I chugged along. In its relaunched form, I have been alerted to some things I slightly dreaded (it became evident that the picture I had been painting in my PhD was incomplete), which are also things I rejoice in: there are (just a few) more translations in circulation than I had gathered, increasing the chances that the particular era of Scottish literature I am researching may be read and appreciated more.

With its records so easily retrievable, casual readers and researchers alike can map the international reception of any Scottish book, be it a minor kailyard novel, or a medieval makar’s piece of flyting. They can find out whether these were translated by an influential publisher or perhaps by some obscure enthusiast within a self-financed journal – BOSLIT can supply the data to seek all of these publications out, and it’s braw.

Simple access to its contents also makes it easier to spot gaps in what has or hasn’t been translated so far, or maybe was translated a long time ago and sorely needs a new updated version that might make use of lexicographical resources unavailable to translators in times past (i.e. the excellent Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue for us medievalists). Yes, you’ve guessed it: this blog post ends with a not-too-subtle and highly unlikely call to arms for all Older Scots poetry aficionados and translators out there – check the BOSLIT out now and let’s get to work!

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