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Language Data - Scots PDF Print E-mail
, Tuesday, 20 September 2005 by Eilidh Bateman   
What is Scots?
Scots is the language of Lowland Scotland and the Northern Isles. It is also used in parts of Ulster. Along with Scottish English and Gaelic, it is one of Scotland's three main languages at the present time.

Where did it come from?

Scots is descended from a form of Old English, brought to the southeast of what is now Scotland around the seventh century by the Angles, one of the Germanic-speaking peoples who began to arrive in the British Isles in the fifth century. English is also descended from the language of these peoples.

By the 11th century, Gaelic, descended from the Celtic language brought over from the north of Ireland by the original Scots, had become the dominant language in most of the emerging kingdom. At this point, another form of Northern English arrived - the speech of the followers of the Anglo-Norman landowners and of the members of the newly settled monastic orders, who came north mainly from what is now Yorkshire. This area had been part of the Danelaw and the language had strong Scandinavian elements still seen in Scots (and northern English) to this day (e.g. gate street, kirk church).

How did it develop?

This language flourished in the growing trade in the newly-formed burghs, and it developed with further influence from French (e.g. ashet serving plate, douce quiet, respectable), Latin (e..g. dominie schoolmaster, preses chairman), Dutch (e.g. loun lad, redd clear, tidy) and Gaelic (e.g. glen narrow valley, whisky). Before the sixteenth century, it was usually called 'inglis' (i.e. English - 'scottis' referred to Gaelic). From the 1500s it came to be known as 'scottis' and in this, the Stewart period, it began to develop a written standard, just at the time when the East-Midland dialect of English was becoming the basis for a written standard in Tudor England. It was the vehicle for the works of the great late-medieval makars (poets) like Robert Henrysoun, William Dunbar, Gavin Douglas and David Lyndsay.

What happened to it?

After the Scottish Reformation (1560), the Union of the Crowns (1603) and the Union of the Parliaments (1707), southern English gradually became the language of most formal speech and writing and Scots came to be regarded as a 'group of dialects' rather than a 'language'. It continued, however, to be the everyday medium of communication for the vast majority of Lowland Scots, and was used creatively in poetry, song and story. It reached its pinnacle of literary achievement in this period in the work of Robert Burns.

Where is it now?

At present Scots is primarily a spoken language, with a number of regional varieties, each with a distinctive character of its own, and is heard widely in most parts of the country. Scots use a mixture of Scots and English in their speech, with some using mostly Scots and others mostly English. In this sense the language exists as part of a continuum with Scottish Standard English. You can hear people speaking Scots and using Scots words in most parts of Scotland. People have a strong emotional attachment to the language and often feel most comfortable using it amongst their friends and family.

After centuries of neglect and indeed opposition, Scots is now much more widely appreciated as an important part of Scottish culture. It has been recognised as a language under the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages and there is an increasing awareness of its cultural and social value. In recent years there has been an explosion of writing in Scots, some of it in the writer's own distinctive dialect, and new technology has provided opportunities for Scots speakers to express themselves in their own language.

What is its future?

Excellent books and teaching materials are being produced to encourage the use of Scots among the young. Changing attitudes and a greater respect for diversity have led to increasing support for the language. However, more still needs to be done and the development by the Scottish government of specific policies to support Scots would represent a great leap forward.

This information with thanks to the Scots Language Centre
Scottish Language Dictionaries - An Introduction to Scots
Itchy Coo publishers, Braw Books for Bairns o Aw Ages


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