Scots and Scottish Gaelic?
Will Scotland care?
Scots or Scottish Gaelic?
Scotland had and has traditionally been
home to two languages:
The Celtic language of the Highlands and
Islands- Scottish Gaelic.
The Germanic language of the Lowlands,
and east of Scotland- Scots (Lallans).
Today we are going to talk about Scots.
Scots, which has no official status, is still
spoken by about 20% of the Scottish
population, mainly in the Lowlands.
It is also known in Ulster where it is known
as Ulster Scots.
It has various names including:
Lowland Scots, Lallans, Scots Leid, Braid
Scots, Doric, Teri, Buchan Claik.
Listening to Scots
There is no real standard for Scots, so
many local variations exist.
Because of its unofficial status, it is usually
thought of as a dialect (series of dialects).
Mainly Aberdeen and the Borders.
Some, however, prefer to think of Scots as
a language in its own right.
Attitudes towards Scots
The 2010 Scottish Government study of
public attitudes towards the Scots
language found that 64% of Scottish
people ‘don’t really think of Scots as a
Origins of Scots
Scots is an abbreviation for Scottis (ie
Scottish). This term has only been used
since the 15th century.
Before that the word used was Inglis
(Scottis before the 15th century meant
Scottish Gaelic!). Erse was also used to
mean Scottish Gaelic.
Origins of Scots
 Scots developed from Northumbrian Old
English, a speech form that became established
in southern Scotland after the 7th century. (SE
 Everywhere else used Scottish Gaelic, or
Brythonic (Strathclyde).
 By the 15th century this situation was completely
reversed. Scots became the predominant
language in the south of Scotland.
Early towns in Scotland favoured the
spread of Scots. French which had been
the language of the courts declined.
Between 1610-1690s some 200,000 Scots
–speakers settled in Ulster (NE Ireland).
A more standardized form of English was
also used in Scotland after 1707 (Act of
Scots today
In Scotland today those who speak Scots
are able to use it in a range of speech
forms that includes ‘broad Scots’ and
standardized English.
This is known as a diglossic situation. It
can also be called ‘code-switching’.
The ‘colour’ of one’s language can cross
many hybrids.
Scots Today
Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish
between English-influenced Scots and
Scots-influenced English.
This of course leads to disputes about
whether Scots can be classed as a
‘language’ in its own right.
Scots Today
The government of the United Kingdom
now accepts Scots as a regional language
and has recognized it as such under the
European Charter for Regional or Minority
The Scottish Executive (government) has
made a similar declaration:
Scots Today
The Scottish Executive recognizes and
respects Scots (in all its forms) as a
distinct language and does not consider
the use of Scots to be an indication of poor
competence in English.
More later on the Scottish Government’s
stance on Scots.
The ‘Northern British’ and their languages
Following the 1707 Act of Union, many
Lowlander Scots considered themselves
to be ‘Northern Britons’ rather than Scots.
This of course indicates that the Act of
Union was instrumental in constructing a
new identity for the peoples of the Britain
(especially those in the Celtic regions!).
The ‘Northern British’ and their languages
Many of those who lived in Edinburgh and
Glasgow did their best to rid themselves of
Scots (the language). Not only in the
spoken language but also in their written
Famous Scottish thinkers of the time like
David Hume and Adam Smith went to
great lengths to eradicate their Scottish
The ‘Northern British’ and their languages
This was the beginning of the class
distinction between who mainly spoke
Scots and those who sought to speak a
standardized form of English.
This was largely going to be true until the
beginning of the 20th century.
Scots writing
Yet, Scots had been a medium for writing.
Much of the best of this Scots writing
derives from the 15th century (Royal Court
in Edinburgh).
William Dunbar, Robert Henryson, Gavin
Douglas, David Lyndsay.
William Dunbar c1465-c1530
He hes done petuously devour,
The noble Chaucer, of makaris flour,
The Monk of Bery, and Gower, all thre;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
The gude Syr Hew of Eglintoun,
And eik Heryot, and Wyntoun,
He hes tane out of this cuntre;
Timor mortis conturbat me
Scots writing
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuies
Scots as a literary language saw a revival.
The name which especially comes to mind
is that of Robert Burns (Burns Night etc).
His writing was a hybrid of Scots and
English very often, no doubt partially
reflecting the norms of his day (17591796)
Writing in Scots in the early 20th century
 The novelist Sir Walter Scott also brought
conversations in Scots into his work. 19th c.
 In the 1920s there was a renaissance in the use
of Scots, focussed especially on the poet Hugh
 His most famous poem was ‘A Drunk Man Looks
at a Thistle’ (1926).
 This showed that Scots could be used for high
Hugh MacDiarmid
A Drunk Man Looks at a Thistle- first lines
I amna fou' sae muckle as tired - deid dune.
It's gey and hard wark coupin' gless for gless
Wi' Cruivie and Gilsanquhar and the like,
And I'm no' juist as bauld as aince I wes.
Archaic and obscure words, to create an
integrated Scots literary language.
Scots in the Twentieth century
Writing Scots waned by the 20th century
(although it was still widely spoken).
In the 1930s children were
physically punished for speaking Scots
The Scottish Education Department in the
1940s stated that Scots was not the
language of educated people.
The language itself went through important
changes, especially in urban
 centres.
Using Scots- Wir Ain Leid
 Well into the 1950s, children were still punished
for speaking their ‘mithertongue’.
 During all of the 20th century there were small
numbers of writers who employed Scots.
 Translations, (1983 New Testament by William
Laughton Lorimer).
 Novels/Films (Transpotting by Irvine Welsh)
 Cyberpunk- But’n’Ben A-Go-Go (Matthew Fitt)
Scots in the Twentieth century
Successive generations have adopted
more and more features from
Standardized English.
In the opinion of some speakers, Scots
was a form of ‘slang’.
More recently (post 2000), some changes
have taken place in the attitudes of people
to Scots. (pluralism in society).
Spoken Scots in the Media
Comedy Programmes (TV) Stand-up
Comics (The Big Yin= Billy Connolly)
Drama programmes (TV)
Interviews with members of the public
Billy Connolly
Connolly sometimes uses Scots freely in
his routines.
He has also written plays in Scots, eg: An’
Me Wi’ A Bad Leg Tae.
Attitudes to Scots
 What on earth are we Scots going to do about
our 'mither tongue'? On the one hand, most of
us would like to see the Scots tongue survive,
 strongly resent the idea that it's a 'low' form of
speech fit only for comedians and servants. Yet
on the other, we seem unable to stop
 ourselves from laughing like idiots every time we
hear a few words of Scots used in a public
place, so strongly have we come to associate it
 with the uncouth, the ill-educated, the infantile,
and the unmentionable
Attitudes to Scots
It would not be difficult to find a way of
speaking Scots which would become the
central form of the language, and in fact
this process has been happening with
Gaelic as its media use has expanded.
Ie, a need for a ‘standard’
Attitude of the Scottish Government to
March 2011
See recommendations.
Scots in the 21st century
No education takes place through the
medium of Scots (compare this with
Scottish Gaelic), but Scots is now
integrated into ‘English’ classes.
Scots can be studied at university level.
Perceptions of the language.
Scots for school kids
Songs for children in Scots.
Hogmaney Song in Scots

Scots or Scottish Gaelic?