English in Scotland - a phonological approach

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2006 25 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Linguistics



1 Introduction

2 The History of languages in Scotland
2.1 The languages of Scotland in the first millennium AD
2.2 The emergence of Scots
2.3 National Identity
2.2 Today’s situation

3 The Phonology of Scottish English
3.1 Consonants
3.1.1 The consonantal inventory
3.1.2 Rhoticity
3.1.3 Stops
3.1.4 Glottallization
3.1.5 H-dropping
3.1.6 Yod-dropping
3.1.7 /x/ and /W/
3.1.8 /l/
3.1.9 /T/ and /D/
3.1.10 Voicing assimilation
3.2 Vowels
3.2.1 The vowel inventory
3.2.2 Vowels before /r/
3.2.3 Scottish Vowel Length Rule
3.2.4 Back merger
3.2.5 Diphthongs
3.3 Suprasegmental features

4 Scots - a language it its own right?

5 Conclusion

6 References

1 Introduction

What is a language? How can we define it and what is its use? Without a speaker it would not exist, without a second speaker it would be useless. Everybody owns a part of it and contributes to its existence. It can only be defined by paying attention to the individual competence. This is important to consider when it comes to the description of a language as it is always only an approach towards reality.

This paper aims to outline the phonological aspects of Scottish English, where this notion is of great importance due to the complexity of Scottish English. Most competences of the Scottish population rank from broad Scots to Scottish Standard English (SSE) depending on class and occasion (SSE being the well-accepted accent of Standard English with only slight variation across the country and Scots referring to the actual dialect with large variation).

There is an ongoing debate concerning definitions and categorizations around Scottish English which this paper aims to outline.

“What is the historical background of today’s phonological situation in Scotland?”, “How can we understand attitudes of the Scottish people towards their own language?”, “what are the phonological aspects of SSE and Scots?” and “can Scots be considered a language in its own right?” are the main questions which will be discussed in this paper.

Neither the vocabulary and grammar, nor the language Gaelic (spoken by only 1,16% of the Scottish population) will be included in the phonological discussion.

2 The History of Languages in Scotland

In this chapter the historical development of the languages spoken today in Scotland will be outlined.

It has to be stated that it is almost impossible to connect certain phonological features to concrete historical dates in the history of Scotland, because they always depend on a longer period of time to arise. However, there are a number of historical events which explain today’s attitudes of the Scottish population concerning their languages. Furthermore, they help us understand why the situation in Scotland is most different from the rest of the British Isles.

2.1 The languages of Scotland in the first millennium AD

The very first people known to have lived in the area what is now Scotland were the Picts. Today, very little is known about them. In the 6th century the people living in Ireland settled in the west of the mainland and founded the kingdom Dalriada. Scotia was the Latin name for Ireland and “Scot(t)i” the name for its Gaelic speaking people. Paradoxically, the Germanic language Scots is named after Celts (compare McArthur 2003:81). By the time the Irish settlers had established themselves in the 7th century there were four kingdoms:

1. In the Eastern Highlands the Picts
2. The Scots (the Irish settlers) in the Western Highlands and the Hebrides
3. The Britons (kingdom Strathclyde) in the area of Glasgow
4. The Angles reigned north of the river Humber

In AD 867 the Danes established a Norse-Kingdom and contributed the fifth language spoken at that time in Scotland: three Celtic languages, Old English and Norse (Murison in Aitken 1979:3ff.).

2.2 The emergence of Scots

The Anglo-Saxons spoke a northern dialect of Old-English (OE) which was highly influenced by Norse. Murison points out how strong it affected the Old-English speech:

Above all, the Norseman profoundly affected the speech of northern England by introducing a Scandinavian or Old-Norse element into the sound-system

and vocabulary which still strongly survives today in modern Scots.

(Murison in Aitken 1979:4)

Murison speaks about the “absence of the palatalisation of gutturals in connection with front vowels” (Mursison in Aitken 1979:4) in Norse. Where English employs ch and y, Norse retains k and g which can be found in Scots vocabulary: kirk (Scots), church (SE); rig (Scots), ridge (SE); and so on. On the other hand Gaelic is said to have only very little influence on OE at all (see Crystal, 1995:8).

Nevertheless, the northern dialect of OE spoken by the Anglo-Saxons can be considered the source of what is today Scots: During the tenth century the monarch of the Scots extended its borders south of the Forth, into Anglo-Saxons territory since the latter were not able to control the region. In 1122 King David reunited the kingdom north of the Forth with the kingdom south of the Firth of Forth. When he died in 1153, Scotland had achieved the stature of a nation. The following two centuries it fought for independence, since the Anglo-Saxons would not accept Scotland’s claims. What is Scots today was called Inglis in the beginning as it derived from a dialect spoken in England (see Mursison in Aitken 1979:3ff.). During the course of history, however, Scots moved further away from the English language: what was spoken north of the Humber in England and Scotland until the 15th century, became limited to Scotland after the 15th century, but remained intelligible with English varieties (Early Scots 14th to 15th century, Middle Scots 15th to late 16th century).

The following centuries the status of Scots declined: The absence of a bible in Scots, the joining of the crowns of England (1603) and the union of the parliament (1707) were reasons for the replacement of Scots through English in many institutions (modern Scots, 17th century till present day). In the twentieth century the so-called Scottish renaissance emerged, it was led by influential writers of that time who invented an appropriate uniform writing system for Scots known as synthetic language or Lallans (=Lowlands). (McArthur 2003:62). In Comparison to other British dialects, Scots has an own literary and linguistic tradition and enjoys attention from institutions such as European Bureau of lesser used languages. The following figure outlines the origin of Scots (the left branch).

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 1 (Aitken 1979:87)

2.3 National Identity

Throughout it’s history, Scotland has been involved in conflicts with England. The inferiority complex evoked by the stronger opponent and the rights of independence inhibited by the English can be seen as the root of a strong national identity and a certain prestige of Scottish dialects in Scotland different from dialects in England.

In medieval times when England occupied Scotland in 1296 it was not willing to support the English army against France. The first strong national identity evolved and resulted in the so-called “Auld Alliance” with France and as consequence a long lasting hostility against England developed. The following war for Independence from English suppression lasted until 1328 and caused further conflicts from the English side claiming reparations which led to famines and poverty in Scotland (see INT2).

When the reformation reached England in 1534, Scotland as well as Spain and France did not participate. This decision triggered a chain of events which finally resulted in the personal union in 1603, when Scotland and England were only ruled by one monarch (King James I.) and kept two separate parliaments. A century of tumults motivated by religion followed. The aim of the Company of Scotland (founded 1696) to establish a colony in the area of Panama resulted in the “biggest economic disaster” (INT2). Almost 1/3rd of the whole Scottish wealth was lost. This crisis and the English boycott forced Scotland to join the Real Union in 1707. The Scottish parliament was removed and the Scots sent a limited number of members of parliament to the new parliament in Westminster, in fact, that meant an under-representation of the Scottish. Only in 1885 a ministry of Scotland was founded. The Depression in 1931 caused the working classes to claim the total independence from England, but only in 1999 after 300 years of English domination an independent Scottish parliament was voted for and was still not provided with all authorities.

Scottish history supports the idea of sociological attitudes influencing linguistic behaviour, which has already been the object of investigation to scholars. E.g. Janet Menzies has investigated what school children in Scotlandthink about attitudes towards Scots and Glasgow dialects. The investigation was carried out at Lochend Secondary School in Glasgow. Menzies wanted to research the status of Glasgow dialect and Scottish dialects, and the children's feelings concerning national identity. Most of the children considered themselves to be Scottish (68%), while 32% considered themselves British. It was mostly the older children who considered themselves Scottish, since they apparently had a greater sense of nationality. The children listened to tape recordings on which people talked with different English dialects, some with more English English and some with more Scottish English. The children thought that the person who spoke with a more English English dialect sounded snobby. However, they thought that if they spoke like that they would more easily be able to get a job in the future. This is quite interesting since almost half of them dislikedEnglish English or even considered it to be unpleasant. (INT1)

These facts emphasise the prestigious and important role which Scots plays in Scotland. It is especially true for dialects from the rural areas. (Figure 2 shows a map of the today’s Scots variations discussed in 2.4).

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 2 (Crystal 1998:332)



ISBN (eBook)
File size
852 KB
Catalog Number
Institution / College
University of Marburg – Anglisitik und Amerikanistik
English Scotland Varieties phonology varietät phonologie




Title: English in Scotland - a phonological approach