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Doric dialect (Scotland)

Doric was formerly used to refer to all dialects of Lowland Scots but is now usually used as a name for the dialect spoken in the north-east of Scotland.

Pronunciation and lexis

The main phonetic differences between Doric and other Lowland Scots dialects are as follows:

  • wh is IPA [f] instead of [ʍ] (ie, /f/ and /ʍ/ have merged) — [fɪt] meaning "what" instead of [ʍɪt], [fa:] meaning "who" instead of [ʍɑ:] or [ʍɒ:]. In more anglicised areas such as Inverurie and Aberdeen, wh is often used .
  • aw, au and aa are pronounced [a:] instead of [ɑ:], [ɒ:]— aw, a' or aa meaning "all".
  • An a before /b/, /g/, /m/ and /ŋ/ may be /ə/ or /ʌ/.
  • ui (often anglicised oo or dialectialised ee) is pronounced [i(:)] and [wi(:)] after /g/ and /k/ e.g. abeen meaning above instead of abuin, gweed and qheet instead of guid ("good") and cuit ("ankle").
  • The cluster ane is pronounced [in], e.g. in ane and a(i)nce.
  • Initial /g/ and /k/ as in gnap and knowe are pronounced.
  • "Y" /j/ sounds often occur after certain initial consonants, e.g. "tyauve" for taw.

Doric contains a number of words not found in other dialects of Lowland Scots. Also, because it expanded into areas where Scottish Gaelic was formerly spoken, and the Eastern Highlands, it contains a few loanwords from that language, as well as Norse. Loanwords from Pictish are curiously absent, except within placenames, notably those beginning with "Pit-".

As with other parts of Scotland, the travelling folk maintained a distinct lexis of Doric, much of which is recorded in Stanley Robertson's stories.

Origin of the name

As The Oxford Companion to English Literature explains:

"Since the Dorians were regarded as uncivilised by the Athenians, 'Doric' came to mean 'rustic' in English, and was applied particularly to the language of Northumbria and the Lowlands of Scotland and also to the simplest of the three orders in architecture."

The term "Doric" was used to refer to all dialects of Lowland Scots as a jocular reference to the Doric dialect of the Ancient Greek language. Greek Dorians lived in Sparta amongst other places, a more rural area, and were supposed by the ancient Greeks to have spoken laconically and in a language that was thought harsher in tone and more phonetically conservative than the Attic spoken in Athens. Doric Greek was used for the verses spoken by the chorus in Greek tragedy.

Use of the term Doric in this context may also arise out of a contrast with the anglicised speech of the Scottish capital, because at one point, Edinburgh was nicknamed 'Athens of the North'. The upper/middle class speech of Edinburgh would thus be 'Attic', making the rural areas' speech 'Doric'.

Doric literature

North east Scots has an extensive body of literature, mostly poetry, ballads and songs. During the Middle Scots period writing from the North-East of Scotland adhered to the literary conventions of the time. Indications of particular "Doric" pronunciations were very rare. The 18th century literary revival also brought forth writers from the North–East. Local dialect features were rare in the eighteenth century, the extant literary Scots conventions being preferred. In later times a more deliberately regional literature began to emerge.

In contemporary prose writing Doric occurs usually as quoted speech, although this is less and less the case. As is usually the case with marginalised languages, local loyalties prevail in the written form, showing how the variety "deviates" from standard ("British") English as opposed to a general literary Scots "norm". This shows itself in the local media presentation of the language e.g. Grampian Television & The Aberdeen Press and Journal. These local loyalties, waning knowledge of the older literary tradition, and relative distance from the Central Lowlands, ensure that the Doric scene has a degree of semi-autonomy.

Doric was used in a lot of so called, 'Kailyard' literature, a genre which paints a sentimental, melodramatic picture of the old rural life, and is currently very unfashionable. This negative association still plagues Doric literature to a degree, as well as Scottish literature in general.

The most famous novelist to use Doric in his novels was George MacDonald from Huntly, who is commonly considered one of the fathers of the Fantasy genre, an influence on C. S. Lewis and Tolkien, and a friend of Mark Twain.

Lewis Grassic Gibbon's Scots Quair trilogy is set in the Mearns, and has been the basis of a successful play and television series. It is very popular throughout Scotland, and tells the story of Chrissie, an independent-minded woman, mainly in a form of English strongly influenced by the rhythms of local speech.

A version of Aesop's Fables has been published in Doric, as well as some sections of the Bible.

The North East has been claimed as the "real home of the ballad" , and according to Les Wheeler, "91 out of a grand total of (Child's) 305 ballads came from the North East - in fact from Aberdeenshire", which makes the usual name of "Border Ballad" a misnomer put about by Sir Walter Scott.

Contemporary writers in Doric include Sheena Blackhall, a poet who writes in Doric and Scottish Gaelic, Mo Simpson, who writes in the Aberdeen Evening Express, and peppers her humour column with "Doricisms" and Doric words. The Doric has also featured on stage and television, notably in the sketches and songs of the Aberdeen-based comedy trio Scotland the What?.

For an example of Doric literature, see the poetry of Charles Murray. Here is his short poem, Gin I was God:


GIN I was God, sittin' up there abeen,
Weariet nae doot noo a' my darg was deen,
Deaved wi' the harps an' hymns oonendin' ringin',
Tired o' the flockin' angels hairse wi' singin',
To some clood-edge I'd daunder furth an', feth,
Look ower an' watch hoo things were gyaun aneth.
Syne, gin I saw hoo men I'd made mysel'
Had startit in to pooshan, sheet an' fell,
To reive an' rape, an' fairly mak' a hell
O' my braw birlin' Earth,--a hale week's wark--
I'd cast my coat again, rowe up my sark,
An' or they'd time to lench a second ark,
Tak' back my word an' sen' anither spate,
Droon oot the hale hypothec, dicht the sklate,
Own my mistak', an, aince I cleared the brod,
Start a'thing ower again, gin I was God.
IF I were God, sitting up there above,
Wearied no doubt, now all my work was done,
Deafened by the harps and hymns unending ringing,
Tired of the flocking angels hoarse with singing,
To some cloud edge I'd saunter forth and, faith,
Look over and watch how things were going beneath.
Then if I saw how men, I'd made myself
Had started out to poison, shoot and fell,
To steal and rape and fairly make a hell
Of my fine spinning Earth -- a whole week's work --
I'd drop my coat again, roll up my shirt,
And, ere they'd time to launch a second ark,
Take back my word and send another flood,
Drown out the whole shebang, wipe the slate,
Admit my mistake, and once I'd cleared the board,
Start everything over again, if I were God.

Recent developments

2006 saw some interesting developments on the Doric front. Firstly, an Aberdeen hotel decided to use a Doric voice for their lift. Phrases said by the lift include "Gyaun Up" [gʲɑ:n ʌp] (Going up), "Gyaun Doun" [gʲɑ:n dun] (Going down), "atween fleers een an fower" [ə'twin fli:rz in ən 'fʌur] (between floors one and four) Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, Maureen Watt of the SNP took her Scottish Parliamentary oath in Doric. She said "I want to advance the cause of Doric and show there's a strong and important culture in the North East." She was required to take an oath in English beforehand. There was some debate as to whether the oath was "gweed Doric" [gwid 'do:rɪk] or not, and notably it is, to a certain extent, written phonetically and contains certain anglicised forms such as "I" rather than "A", and "and" instead of "an":

"I depone aat I wull be leal and bear ae full alleadgance tae her majesty Queen Elizabeth her airs an ony fa come aifter her anent the law. Sae help me God"

There is also some controversy over the use of "majesty" for a Scottish monarch.

Select vocabulary

The most distinctive, and common Doric phrase is - "Ay ay, fit like?" (Ay Ay, whit like? - "ay" is sometimes spelt aye) - "Hello, how are you?"

  • "Caumie doun!" - Calm down
  • "Causey Mounth" – the road over the "Mounth" or Grampians
  • "Claik" – the Doric dialect of Buchan fishing villages
  • "Foggy bummer" – Bumblebee
  • "Fa? (wha?) Fit? (whit?) Fit wey? (whit wey?) Faur? (whaur) Fan?" (whan) - "Who? What? What way? Why? Where? When?"
  • "Far aboots?" (Whaur aboots?) – Whereabouts? (Aberdeen is nicknamed "Furry Boots City" from a humorous spelling of far abootsfurry boots.)
  • "Futret" (Whitrat) – Weasel or other Mustelid, but commonly used for ferret now
  • "Louns an quines" (louns an queans) – Lads and lassies, boys and girls. (NB "loun" or "loon" has no derogatory connotation in Doric)
  • "Min" – Man, as in "Ay ay, min".
  • "fou lang" (hou lang) - how long
  • "for a filie" (for a whilie) - for a long time
  • "gealt" - cold

  • "Fit like?" (Whit like): A greeting, essentially, "How are you doing?", to which the response is "Aye... tyauvin on." (Aye tawin on) "Fine, thanks"
  • "Fit?" (Whit): "What?"
  • "Fit ye deein?" (Whit ye daein?): "What are you doing?"
  • "Far div ye bide?" (Whaur div ye bide?): "Where do you live?"
  • "Foo's yer doos?" (Hou's yer dous?): Literally "How are your pigeons?", now used as "How are you?" A stock phrase, not so often used in speech as to send up Doric.
  • "Aye peckin": Literally "Always pecking." This is the reply to "Fou's yer doos?"
  • "Fit's adee?" (Whit's adae?): "What's wrong?"
  • "Gie's a bosie!": "Give me a hug!"
  • "A'm fair forfochten": "I am very tired."
  • The Broch - Fraserburgh also Burghead near Elgin.
  • "A'm fair dancin mad" - I am in a towering rage.
  • "Nae bad at aw" - Not bad at all
  • "Ken fit like?" - Know what I mean?
  • "A'll hae an ingan ane an aw." - I'll have an onion one as well.
  • Ken this, man, ye'r an awfu bein. - You're up to no good you know


See also

External links

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