Scots (The Scots leid) refers to Anglic varieties derived from early northern Middle English spoken in parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland. In Scotland it is sometimes called Lowland Scots to distinguish it from Scottish Gaelic traditionally spoken in the Highlands and Islands. Scots is also spoken in parts of Northern Ireland and border areas of the Republic of Ireland, where it is known in official circles as Ulster Scots or Ullans.
Native speakers in Scotland and Ireland usually refer to their vernacular as (braid) Scots (Eng: Broad Scots) or use a dialect name such as Teri, the Doric or the Buchan Claik. The old-fashioned Scotch occurs occasionally, especially in Ireland. Some literary forms are often referred to as Lallans (Lowlands).
Since there are no universally accepted criteria for distinguishing languages from dialects, scholars and other interested parties often disagree about the linguistic, historical and social status of Scots. Although a number of paradigms for distinguishing between languages and dialects do exist, these often render contradictory results (see Dialect). Consequently, Scots has, on the one hand, been traditionally regarded as one of the ancient dialects of English, but with its own ancient and distinct dialects. Scots has often been treated as part of English as spoken in Scotland but differs significantly from the Standard Scottish English taught in schools, similarly to how Schwyzerdütsch is regarded as the vernacular dialect of German in Switzerland, albeit with Standard German used in schools and media.
On the other hand, it has been regarded as a distinct Germanic language the way Swedish is distinct from Danish. Its subordination to Anglo-English has also been compared to the subordination of West Frisian to Dutch in the Netherlands. However, use of the word subordination in this context also implies that a standard or proper version of the language, in this case English, actually exists. Thus Scots can be interpreted as a collective term for the dialects of English spoken or originating in Scotland, or it can be interpreted as the autochthonous language of Lowland Scotland. See Status below for further discussion.
The word Scot was borrowed from Latin to refer to Scotland and dates from at least the first half of the 10th century. Up to the 15th century Scottis (modern form: Scots) referred to Gaelic (a Celtic language and tongue of the ancient Scots, introduced from Ireland perhaps from the 4th century onwards). Since the late 15th century, Anglic speakers in Scotland also started occasionally referring to their vernacular as Scottis and increasingly called Gaelic Erse (from Erisch, or "Irish"), now often considered pejorative.
Northumbrian Old English had been established in southeastern Scotland as far as the River Forth by the 7th century. It remained largely confined to this area until the 13th century, continuing in common use while Gaelic was the court language. Early northern Middle English, also known as Early Scots, then spread further into Scotland via the burghs, proto-urban institutions which were first established by King David I. The growth in prestige of Early Scots in the 14th century, and the complementary decline of French in Scotland, made Scots the prestige language of most of eastern Scotland. By the 16th century Middle Scots had established orthographic and literary norms largely independent of those developing in England.
Modern Scots thus grew out of the early northern form of Middle English spoken by the people of southeastern Scotland and northern England. Northern Middle English, or Early Scots as it is also known, made its first literary appearance in Scotland in the mid-14th century, when its form differed little from other northern Anglic dialects, and so Scots shared many Northumbrian borrowings from Old Norse and Anglo-Norman French. Later influences include Dutch and Middle Low German through trade with and immigration from the low countries, as well as Romance via ecclesiastical and legal Latin and French owing to the Auld Alliance. Scots has loan words resulting from contact with Gaelic. Early medieval legal documents show a language peppered with Gaelic legal and administrative loans. Today Gaelic loans are mainly for geographical and cultural features, such as ceilidh, loch and clan. Many Scots words have also become part of English: flit (to move home), greed, eerie, cuddle, clan, stob (a post).
Before the Treaty of Union 1707, when Scotland and England joined to form the Kingdom of Great Britain, there is ample evidence that Scots was widely held to be an independent language as part of a pluricentric diasystem.
The linguist Heinz Kloss considered Modern Scots a Halbsprache (half language) in terms of a Ausbausprache - Abstandsprache - Dachsprache framework although today, in Scotland, most people's speech is somewhere on a continuum ranging from traditional broad Scots to Scottish Standard English. Many speakers are either diglossic and/or able to code-switch along the continuum depending on the situation in which they find themselves. Where on this continuum English-influenced Scots becomes Scots-influenced English is difficult to determine (see language change below). Since standard English now generally has the role of a Dachsprache, disputes often arise as to whether or not the varieties of Scots are dialects of Scottish English or constitute a separate language in their own right.
The British government now accepts Scots as a regional language and has recognised it as such under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.
Evidence for its existence as a separate language lies in the extensive body of Scots literature, its independent — if somewhat fluid — orthographic conventions and in its former use as the language of the original Parliament of Scotland. Since Scotland retained distinct political, legal and religious systems after the Union, many Scots terms passed into Scottish English. For instance, libel and slander, separate in English law, are bundled together as defamation in Scots law.
After the Union and the shift of political power to England, the use of Scots was discouraged by many in authority and education, as was the notion of Scottishness itself. Many leading Scots of the period, such as David Hume, considered themselves Northern British rather than Scottish. They attempted to rid themselves of their Scots in a bid to establish standard English as the official language of the newly formed Union. Enthusiasm for this new Britishness waned over time, and the use of Scots as a literary language was revived by several prominent Scotsmen such as Robert Burns. Such 18th and 19th century writers were well aware of cross-dialect standard literary norms, but during the first half of the 20th century, knowledge of such norms waned and currently there is no institutionalised standard literary form. During the second half of the 20th century, enthusiasts developed regularised cross-dialect forms following historical orthographic conventions, but these have had a limited impact. In much contemporary written Scots language, local loyalties usually prevail, and the written form usually adopts standard English sound-to-letter correspondences to represent the local pronunciation.
No education takes place through the medium of Scots, though English lessons may cover it superficially, which usually entails reading some Scots literature and observing local dialect. Much of the material used is often Standard English disguised as Scots, which has upset both proponents of Standard English and proponents of Scots alike. One example of the educational establishment's approach to Scots is "Write a poem in Scots. (It is important not to be worried about spelling in this – write as you hear the sounds in your head.)", whereas guidelines for English require teaching pupils to be "writing fluently and legibly with accurate spelling and punctuation.". This can be seen as revealing the institutionalised disregard for the idea of treating Scots as a language on a par with English and as a teaching method to perpetuate the experience of the pupils' and teachers' parents being taught in school that Scots is 'bad spelling', so that pupils will self-censor any Scots that they do know. Scots can also be studied at university level. The educational system often fails to further the objective to produce people able to read, write, and speak Scots as an autonomous alternative to English, thus contributing to its perceived status as a series of local dialects of English.
The use of Scots in the media is scant and is usually reserved for niches where local dialect is deemed acceptable, e.g. comedy, Burns Night, or representations of traditions and times gone by. Serious use for news, encyclopaedias, documentaries, etc. rarely occurs in Scots, although the Scottish Parliament website offers some information on it.
It is often held that, had Scotland remained independent, Scots would have remained and been regarded as a separate language from English. On the other hand, a situation similar to that of Swiss German and standard German might have occurred. Equally, the present situation might have occurred, where the social elites and the upwardly mobile adopted Standard English, causing institutional language shift. A model of language revival to which many enthusiasts aspire is that of the Catalan language in areas spanning parts of Spain, France, Andorra and Italy, particularly as regards the situation of Catalan in Catalonia.
A survey carried out by the General Register Office for Scotland in 1996 suggested that while 30% of Scots responded "Yes" to the slightly ambiguous question "Can you speak the Scots language?", only 17% responded yes to the clearer question "Can you speak Scots?". On the basis of this survey, the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament decided not to include a question about the Scots language in the 2001 Census.
A practical snag with the attempts to institutionalise a single variety of Scots, especially for official use, is that it incorporates vocabulary from literary Scots (e.g. the use of "ken", meaning "know", which still occurs colloquially in many Eastern dialects but is entirely absent in others such as Glaswegian). An example is the Scots-language home page of the Scottish Parliament. This site also uses the coinage "wabsite" (for "website") although it is not clear who is responsible for assuming such a word might exist in Scots or - more crucially - is even in use by anyone.
On one hand, well-off Scots took to learning English through such activities as those of the Irishman Thomas Sheridan (father of Richard Sheridan), who in 1761 gave a series of lectures on English elocution. Charging a guinea at a time (about £65 in today's money), they were attended by over 300 men, and he was made a freeman of the City of Edinburgh. Following this, some of the city's intellectuals formed the Select Society for Promoting the Reading and Speaking of the English Language in Scotland. Other people who scorned Scotticisms included intellectuals from the Scottish Enlightenment like David Hume and Adam Smith who went to great lengths to get rid of every Scotticism from their writings. This was not universally welcomed, as was illustrated by the summary by F. Pottle, James Boswell's 20th century biographer, concerning James' view of speech habits of his father Alexander Boswell, a judge of the supreme courts of Scotland : He scorned modern literature, spoke broad Scots from the bench, and even in writing took no pains to avoid the Scotticisms which most of his colleagues were coming to regard as vulgar.
On the other hand, the education system also became increasingly geared to teaching English, though this was initially impaired by the teachers' and students' lack of knowledge of English pronunciation through lack of contact with English speakers. Aspects of English grammar and lexis could be accessed through printed texts. By the 1840s the Scottish Education Department's language policy was that Scots had no value "...it is not the language of 'educated' people anywhere, and could not be described as a suitable medium of education or culture". Students, of course, reverted to Scots outside the classroom, but the reversion was not complete. What occurred, and has been occurring ever since, is a process of language attrition, whereby successive generations have adopted more and more features from English. This process has accelerated rapidly since wide-spread access to mass media in English, and increased population mobility, became available after the Second World War. It has recently taken on the nature of wholesale language shift. These processes are often erroneously referred to as language change, convergence or merger. Residual features of Scots are often regarded as slang.
Examples of the first English literature include the Lord's Prayer in Northumbrian Anglo-Saxon from c. 650, which begins "Faeder ure, Thu the eart on heofonum,". Some Scottish and Northumbrian folk still say "oor faither" and "thoo art". Among the earliest Scots literature is John Barbour's Brus (fourteenth century), Whyntoun's Kronykil and Blind Harry's Wallace (fifteenth century). From the fifteenth century, much literature based around the Royal Court in Edinburgh and the University of St Andrews was produced by writers such as Robert Henryson, William Dunbar, Douglas and David Lyndsay. The Complaynt of Scotland was an early printed work in Scots.
After the seventeenth century, anglicisation increased, though Scots was still spoken by the vast majority of the population . At the time, many of the oral ballads from the borders and the North East were written down. Writers of the period were Robert Sempill, Robert Sempill the younger, Francis Sempill, Lady Wardlaw and Lady Grizel Baillie.
In the Victorian era popular Scottish newspapers regularly included articles and commentary in the vernacular, often of unprecedented proportions.
In the early twentieth century, a renaissance in the use of Scots occurred, its most vocal figure being Hugh MacDiarmid whose benchmark poem A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle (1926) did much to demonstrate the power of Scots as a modern idiom. Other contemporaries were Douglas Young, Sidney Goodsir Smith, Robert Garioch and Robert McLellan. However, the revival was largely limited to verse and other literature.
In 1983 William Laughton Lorimer's translation of the New Testament from the original Greek was published.
Highly anglicised Scots is often used in contemporary fiction, for example, the Edinburgh dialect of Scots in Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh (later made into a motion picture of the same name, though with language allegedly Anglicised even more to make it suitable for an international audience).
There are at least five Scots dialects:
The southern extent of Scots may be identified by the range of a number of pronunciation features which set Scots apart from neighbouring English dialects. The Scots pronunciation of come [kʌm] becomes [kum] in Northern English. The Scots realisation [kʌm] reaches as far south as the mouth of the north Esk in north Cumbria, crossing Cumbria and skirting the foot of the Cheviots before reaching the east coast at Bamburgh some 12 miles north of Alnwick. The Scots[x]-English[∅/f] cognate group (micht-might, eneuch-enough, etc) can be found in a small portion of north Cumbria with the southern limit stretching from Bewcastle to Longtown and Gretna. The Scots pronunciation of wh as /ʍ/ becomes English /w/ south of Carlisle but remains in Northumbria, but Northumbria realises “r” as /ʁ/, often called the burr, which is not a Scots realisation. Thus the greater part of the valley of the Esk and the whole of Liddesdale can be considered to be northern English dialects rather than Scots ones. From the 19th century onwards influence from the South through education and increased mobility have caused Scots features to retreat northwards so that for all practical purposes the political and linguistic boundaries may be considered to coincide.
As well as the main dialects, Edinburgh, Dundee and Glasgow (see Glasgow patter) have local variations on an Anglicised form of Central Scots. In Aberdeen, Mid Northern Scots is spoken by a minority. Due to them being roughly near the border between the two dialects, places like Dundee and Perth can contain elements and influences of both Northern and Central Scots.
During the 20th century a number of proposals for spelling reform were presented. Commenting on this, John Corbett (2003: 260) writes that "devising a normative orthography for Scots has been one of the greatest linguistic hobbies of the past century." Most proposals entailed regularising the use of established 18th and 19th century conventions, in particular the avoidance of apostrophes where they supposedly represent "missing" English letters. Such letters were never actually missing in Scots. For example, in the 14th century, Barbour spelt the Scots cognate of 'taken' as tane. Since there has been no k in the word for over 700 years, representing its omission with an apostrophe seems pointless. The current spelling is usually taen.
During the 20th century, with the decline of spoken Scots and knowledge of the literary tradition, phonetic (often humorous) representations became more common.
The following is a guide for readers. How the spellings are applied in practice is beyond the scope of such a short description. Phonetics are in IPA.
Wis 'was' may replace war 'were', but not conversely: You war/wis thare.
Many verbs have forms which are distinctive from English (two forms connected with ~ means that they are variants):
Certain verbs are often used progressively He wis thinkin he wad tell her, He wis wantin tae tell her.
Verbs of motion may be dropped before an adverb or adverbial phrase of motion A'm awa tae ma bed, That's me awa hame, A'll intae the hoose an see him.
Adverbs are also formed with -s, -lies, lins, gate(s)and wey(s) -wey, whiles (at times), mebbes (perhaps), brawlies (splendidly), geylies (pretty well), aiblins (perhaps), airselins (backwards), hauflins (partly), hidlins (secretly), maistlins (almost), awgates (always, everywhere), ilkagate (everywhere), onygate (anyhow), ilkawey (everywhere), onywey(s) (anyhow, anywhere), endweys (straight ahead), whit wey (how, why).
A third adjective/adverb yon/yonder, thon/thonder indicating something at some distance D'ye see yon/thon hoose ower yonder/thonder? Also thae (those) and thir (these), the plurals of this and that.
In Northern Scots this and that are also used where "these" and "those" would be in Standard English.
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