Scottish English

Scottish English is one of several languages spoken in Scotland today, alongside Scottish Gaelic, and a number of more recent heritage languages such as Italian, Punjabi, Urdu, Polish, and Cantonese. 

Scottish English is a cover term for two linguistic varieties, Scottish Standard English and Scots.

Scottish Standard English continues a form of Southern Standard English which was adopted by the upper and middle-classes in Scotland especially from the early 18th century on wards, following the Union of the Parliaments in 1707. Scottish Standard English is linguistically very much like Southern Standard English in terms of its grammar and much of its vocabulary, but is spoken with a Scottish accent.

Scots continues an earlier form of English, known as Old English, and was spoken first in southern Scotland from the 7th century, though Scottish Gaelic was more common. After the Norman Conquest in 1066, migration into Scotland from the north of England also brought in Northern forms of English, influenced by Scandinavian and French. Scots developed into a separate language from English, with a flourishing literature in the 15th and 16th centuries fostered by the Scottish court in Edinburgh. 

The re-introduction of English into Scotland began with the Union of the Crowns in 1603, and gradually Scottish Standard English became used as the language of education, the church and the state. Scots literature continued to develop, most famously in the writing of Robert Burns, and is today used by many fine authors and poets. Scots is also spoken and understood by many living in Scotland today. It is distinct from Scottish Standard English in terms of grammatical forms (e.g. cannae ‘can’t’, didnae ‘didn’t’), vocabulary (e.g. dreich ‘grey, dull, damp and miserable [for weather]’, bampot ‘madman, idiot’ ) and sounds (e.g. hink for thinkaff for offheid for head, etc.).

Scots is recognised to fall into four main dialect categories: Insular (Orkney; Shetland); Northern (Caithness, North East, East Angus, Kincardine); Central (the Central Belt including Edinburgh and Glasgow); Southern (the Borders). In many rural areas, Scots is positively evaluated. In the Central Belt and the main urban conurbations, the centuries-old linguistic differences that make Scots different from Scottish Standard English are often regarded as instances of ‘slang’ or ‘bad language’.

Our study for the Sounds of the City project was all about how a variety of Scots, Glaswegian, has changed over the 20th century. You can learn more about Scottish English, and Scots, at many of Scotland’s Universities.

For more links and references about Scottish English, click here