The Scottish Language Varieties and their Influences on the Scottish Identity

Seminar Paper 2005 15 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Linguistics


List of Content

1. Introduction

2. Scots now and then
2.1. History of Scots
2.2. Scots Identity and Status
2.3. Attitudes towards Scots

3. Modern Scots
3.1. Accent, Dialect or Language
3.2. Varieties of Scots
3.2.1. Regional Variety Mid Scots Southern Scots Northern Scots Insular Scots Scots outside of Scotland
3.3. Some Linguistic Features

4. Summary

5. List of Works Cited

1. Introduction

When people think of Scotland the images they have in mind are usually very restricted. Most of us combine the country with the myth of Nessie, the Clans and their tartan culture, the good whisky, the Highlands and the famous Highland Games. All these existing images of Scotland make up a large part of the country’s culture but Scotland is more than that. Only the minority of us might think of Scotland as a country with a long and problematic history and just some are regarding the fact that it has still not gained its entire independence. It is a country full of contrasts and difficulties which you cannot only become aware of when you consider the geographical situation but also the social, political and cultural circumstances.

A today’s problem resulting from Scotland’s long history is the question of Scottish identity, and accompanied by that the language problem. Language is an element of culture and people express through their language and speaking behaviour identities and attitudes. In Scotland the situation is quite difficult. As part of the United Kingdom the official language spoken in Scotland is Standard English but depending on the area you are visiting, you can also find speakers of other varieties such as Scots or Gaelic or even dialects. However, these varieties are said to be non- standardised languages and therefore are not officially used in Scotland. That leads to the problem that speakers of these varieties have the feeling not to be part of the speaker community and consequently they cannot identify themselves with these. The issue that now has to be surveyed, is the question what types of languages are existing in Scotland and how do these language varieties influence the identities and attitudes of Scots.

For that reason I have planned to concentrate on one of Scotland’s languages and would like to write my paper about the Scots and their tongue. In the first part I will deal with the Scots, their nation and their development. The main focus in my work will be the re-flection on Modern Scots, the problematic of the Scots’ status and its varieties. I am going to discuss if it is a distinct language, an accent or a dialect and will also look at the different varieties of Scots inside and outside of Scotland to give an overview of existing forms. The literary resources I have worked with are mainly taken from the works of Görlach, Dósa and several encyclopaedias of English language like the Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language or the Edinburgh History of the Scots Language.

2. Scots now and then

2.1. History of Scots

The Scotland we know today was in earlier times populated by several groups of invaders who came from Ireland, Scandinavia and the Low Countries. These groups of people had a different ethnic and linguistic background what meant that with their arrival on the British Isles several new languages were spoken there. The Scotiae, these were the people who came from Ireland and settled in the West of Scotland, spoke Gaelic. The East of Scotland was populated by Germanic tribes speaking their own language as well as the from Scandinavia coming Norse speaking people who settled in the North. Under these language communities the Gaelic one was the most widespread in the 11th century, and Gaelic was not used in daily conversations only but also as the language for official businesses. Due to the Norman conquest of England in 1066 people from the North of England occupied the South of Scotland what let to an increasing number of speakers because in these two regions the languages were the same. This language “Inglis”, as it was called, became the language of the kings at the end of the 12th century and was seen as the precursor of the Scots tongue. At this point of time there was the coexistence of the two main languages Gaelic and Inglis.

The 15th century marked an important change for Inglis. Instead of Latin, Inglis was now used as the language for all official businesses in Scotland reaching from the use in courts and the Scottish parliament to the use in universities, schools, the people’s professions and their daily commitments and matters. This language was named “Scots” when Scottish writers like Robert Burns or Sir Walter Scott wrote texts in Scots that were admired all over in Europe. In 1603 the Scottish King James VI succeeded the throne of England and his court moved from Scotland to London what constituted the turning point of the Scots language. English replaced Scots, which now was not longer the official language but went into decline. When the Treaty of Union in 1707 was signed to form the country of Great Britain this just meant the worsening for the status of Scots. English was from now on seen as the official language and the tongue of the upper, educated classes whereas Scots was the minority language only spoken by lower classes and a language with the status of an provincial dialect.

Although Scots was of minor status and was neglected during the 19th century, nowadays the Scots try to save their language and want to regain respect for it (“Siol nan Gaidheal”).

2.2. Scots Identity and Status

According to Dósa one way of expressing national identity is “through the forms of speech a nation uses” (Dósa 69). Since the Union of the Crowns in 1603 and the determining of English as the official tongue in the UK, the Scottish nation has been struggling to find their identity through language. Formerly being the country where Scots was the language of state, the Union let to confusion among the people in Scotland. They were torn between using the official English in daily conversations and on the other hand using Scots to express their Scottish pride and unity with their country. Until today this problem of the identity of Scots people is not entirely solved but in the last years the efforts made by Scottish Parliament and institutions to “re-defin[e] of what Scotland as a historical, cultural and now also political entity represents today” (Dósa 69) is a step into the right direction. A major matter of fact in these debates is of course the concern of the linguistic status of Scots.

When Scots was replaced by English and consequently lost its social prestige because it was defined as the language of lower classes, this was a time when there was still a long way to go to revive the Scots language. Hugh MacDiarmid, a Scottish writer and poet, and like him other authors like Burns and Scott, tried to renew the status of Scots by promoting the language through their literary works. The contribution to the acceptance of Scots by all these poets of the Scottish Renaissance let to a rising interest in the language. Although Scots was named a “corrupt form of English” (“Siol nan Gaidheal”) it is nowadays a popular language for literature, songs and the entertainment sector as well as for the ordinary Scottish people, who speak it in company of family and friends. At the beginning of the 1990’s the BBC Scotland promoted Scots by broadcasting shows on television and radio where the dialogue was held in Scots, and also a “Scots Language Week” with talks about and in Scots were put on the air. The most obvious revival of the Scots language can however be seen in the production of Scots dictionaries like the Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Lan-guage or the Scottish National Dictionary. Another interesting aspect in regaining prestige in Scots is the translation of the New Testament into Scots by William Laughton Lorimer which was published in 1983. Even the courses offered at the Universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh at the beginning of 1991 to improve one’s Scots is a sign, that the Scottish try to express their identity by their language. Despite all these attempts to establish Scots as a major language in Scotland, it is still a long way to go because at the moment it is just existing as a covert language besides English (“Siol nan Gaidheal”; Dósa 69).



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University of Potsdam – Institut für Anglistik/ Amerikanistik
Modern Scots Reflections Variety




Title: The Scottish Language Varieties and their Influences on the Scottish Identity