SCOTS A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE LANGUAGE

First of all, what is Scots? A good question indeed. Nowadays, some people might think it is lazy and careless English. Others may say it is familiar or slangy English. This is not true. In fact, the Scots language does not come from what we now call English at all. You do not believe it?! […]

First of all, what is Scots? A good question indeed. Nowadays, some people might think it is lazy and careless English. Others may say it is familiar or slangy English. This is not true. In fact, the Scots language does not come from what we now call English at all. You do not believe it?! You better had! This is the truth…

Let’s travel back in time to the most important events of Scotland’s past. Edinburgh was captured by the Anglo-Saxons in the seventh century, and ever since then parts of Scotland have spoken a Germanic language. This means that Scots descended from a form of Anglo-Saxon, although Gaelic (descended from Celtic) was spoken by the majority of the population until the Reformation. The geographical area of Gaelic speaking people was wider than that of Scots. Nevertheless, Scots was the language of court and government under the monarchy of the Stewarts.

Astonishingly, the use of English as a spoken language – that is to say Standard English with a Scottish accent, rather than Scots – only began in the eighteenth century. It did not become general until later. In Lothian the Anglo-Saxons spoke a northern (‘Northumbrian’) dialect of Old English. With Scandinavian and Norman-French elements added, its linear descendant was gradually adopted throughout southern and north-eastern Scotland. Until the fifteenth century, it was known as Inglis, not to be mixed up with English. It then became the official language of the Kingdom of Scotland and was then called Scottis or Scots. By the way, this was the language of the poets Henryson, Dunbar, and Douglas, who lived and worked around 1500.

The status of Scots has declined since the sixteenth century. Unfortunately, in the absence of a translation of Scots, the language of the English Bible became Scotland’s language of religion. The Union of the Crowns of Scotland and England in 1603, and afterwards the Union of the Parliaments in 1707, had the effect that the official written language of the country was the English of England.

Do you believe it?!

By 1761 there was word of Scottish Members of the British Parliament taking lessons in elocution so that the English might understand them better. The desire to speak correct English intensified at that time. Scottish people met the English more often, and they were made fun of because of their speech. This was one of the many issues which demoralised the Scottish people. Scots was then declined to the role of domestic dialect. The official language, even in most literature, was English, though, with an accent which could be identified as Scottish accent, partly because there were some Scottish words in the vocabulary. This Scottish English exists now together with Scots in an accent and traditional-dialect set-up which you might compare to that in the north of England.

In the meantime, another language was spoken throughout the northern and western parts of Scotland, in the Highlands and Islands. As we all know, this was Gaelic. To be more precise, it was Scottish Gaelic. If you are interested in hearing this language, there is some good news for you. It is still spoken, mainly in the Hebrides, though the number of Gaelic-speaking people diminishes. But there has been a revivalist movement recently which has improved the language’s situation.

Scots – Where Is It Now?

Today, Scots is most of all a spoken language with regional dialects. Scottish people use a mixture of Scots and English; some use mostly Scots, whereas others use mostly English. That is why the language exists as part of a continuum with Scottish Standard English. People are emotionally attached to the language and feel very comfortable using it when talking to their families and friends. It is now seen as an important part of Scottish culture. There has been a new national consciousness, and people are aware of their distinctness. Walking through Edinburgh nowadays, the pride of the people can be seen, felt and heard everywhere. But it is no arrogant behaviour which meets you in the streets. People are kind and friendly, even towards tourists! If you have a question or if you just want to chat: go ahead!

Team Edinburgh September/October 2009

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EIN KOMMENTAR ZUM FAKE

  1. Mike has added a suggestion, note on 10. April 2017 | Permalink

    In fact, the Scots language does not come from what we now call English at all. You do not believe it?! You better had! This is the truth…
    Northumbrian English was once the dominant language in England, so to say modern Scots doesn’t derive from English is ridiculous

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