Following on from our 'History of Scottish languages' series by Paul Kavanagh, Newsnet Scotland is happy to present a new series on Scottish languages myths written by the same author.  As Paul remarked in the introduction to the language history series, there is a knowledge vacuum in Scotland regarding our linguistic heritage and our languages.  Into a knowledge vacuum rush myths, stereotypes and misinformation.

Yet Scotland's languages are central to its culture.  Over a long period of time Scotland's languages have been relegated in importance and that has had a profound influence over Scottish self-confidence and the way Scots see themselves as a people.  This process has been driven by the spread of myths and misinformation about Scotland's languages, caused by the ignorance which is itself a product of a lack of education on the subject.  It is the intention of Newsnet Scotland to raise awareness of this matter through this series and beyond.  Each article on the series will be published on Sundays and will tackle one myth in particular.  Today we start the series with one of the most common and widespread myths, the myth that Scots is not actually a language at all.

To read our 10 part series on the 'History of Scotland Languages' click: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

Myth 1. Scots isn't a language, it's just a dialect of English

by Paul Kavanagh

Scots is not a single dialect.  The Doric of the North East and the traditional speech of the Glaswegian working classes are rather different from one another, yet all Scots dialects share a fundamental unity of linguistic features which are absent from any other "English dialect".1. Scots is a collection of dialects which are clearly most closely related to one another, and together they form a distinct group which is sharply differentiated from anything else that can be called English.

So whatever Scots is, it is not a dialect.  However this still leaves the question - does the group of dialects called Scots count as a group of English dialects?  This question does not have a simple yes or no answer.

There's a linguistic rule of thumb for determining whether two speech varieties should be considered as dialects of a single language or as different languages.  If speech varieties are mutually intelligible then they are dialects of a common language, whereas speech varieties which are not mutually intelligible represent different languages.  By 'mutually intelligible' linguists mean that speakers of the speech varieties in question can communicate with one another freely and immediately upon their first encounter, without a speaker of one variety having to learn the other.

In Scotland this apparently simple test is not so simple in to put into practice.  All Scots speakers understand Standard English.  Scots speakers acquire a knowledge of Standard English at school or from the media and are deluged in English from a very young age.  All modern Scots understand English with native competence.  This means linguists cannot test Scots speakers to discover how much English they understand natively, because all Scots speakers have already learned English.

It is however possible to test the reverse, and here linguists discover that people who speak only Standard English find traditional Scots quite opaque.  The intelligibility test can only be applied to English speakers who are not Scottish and who have no prior experience of listening to Scots.  Standard English speaking Scottish people usually understand traditional Scots to some degree, but this is because of passive exposure to Scots and so again is due to language learning.  (Although the vocabulary of traditional Scots often presents considerable problems for modern Scottish English speakers.)  By this simple test, traditional Scots, which is nowadays confined to rural districts and largely to elderly speakers, is not mutually intelligible with Standard English and so Scots counts as a distinct language in its own right.

There's another simple objective linguistic test.  Dialect variation is normal in all languages.  Dialects of a single language typically merge imperceptibly into neighbouring dialects.  Within the parts of Britain where nowadays people speak a language descended from Old English, it is possible to travel from Cornwall to Northumbria without crossing any sharp linguistic frontiers, the speech of one locality is only slightly different from that of its neighbours and the local dialects change very gradually across the country.  However upon reaching the Scottish-English border something unprecedented happens, the political border coincides with an abrupt linguistic frontier.  Nothing like this occurs anywhere else in the English speaking world.

No other English dialect or dialect group is so sharply and clearly distinguished from its neighbours. Even if Scots were to be considered a set of English dialects, it's not just any old set of dialects, it's quite unique.

The sum total of the linguistic changes which take place along the Scottish-English border is substantial, and the changes involve all aspects of a linguistic system - vocabulary, pronunciation, grammar and syntax (or word ordering rules).  The changes are so significant and so numerous that Scots dialects can be linguistically differentiated from English dialects more easily and accurately than Dutch dialects can be linguistically differentiated from German dialects.  The linguistic changes which occur at the Scottish-English border leave descriptive linguists in no doubt that here they are dealing with something other than normal dialect variation.  The Scottish-English political border is also a significant linguistic frontier.  It can only be called a language border.

By linguistic criteria there is no doubt that traditional Scots is a different language from English, however the distinction between dialect and language owes more to culture and politics than it does to linguistic factors, according to a famous saying "a language is a dialect with an army and a navy".  There are many examples of mutually intelligible speech varieties being regarded as different languages, and there are many examples of the opposite phenomenon - speech varieties which are not remotely mutually intelligible being considered as dialects of a single language.  In answering the question "language or dialect?", politics and culture trump linguistics every time.  A couple of examples may help to illustrate the point.

Urdu and Hindi are universally regarded as different languages.  Urdu is written in an alphabet derived from Arabic via Persian, Hindi is written in the Devanagari script which is indigenous to northern India, so the two look very different on the page.  Hindi speakers have no hope of reading Urdu, or vice versa, but this is purely because the two use different alphabets.  Despite the different alphabets the spoken languages are perfectly mutually intelligible on the colloquial level, and speakers of Urdu and Hindi can communicate with one another without any difficulties and without any need to learn the other's tongue.  In fact it's even possible to conduct a fairly lengthy conversation without being certain whether the parties are speaking Hindi or Urdu.  Problems only arise in the formal language, because Hindi takes its formal and literary vocabulary from Sanskrit, whereas Urdu makes use of loanwords from Arabic or Persian.  Hindi and Urdu owe their status as different languages to the fact that each has an independent literary tradition - a cultural not a linguistic factor.  Each is the official language of a state, Urdu is the official language of Pakistan, Hindi the main official language of India, these political factors reinforce the perception that Hindi and Urdu are "different languages".

In China the opposite happens.  The different dialects of Chinese are different languages from a linguistic point of view.  Cantonese and Mandarin are no more mutually intelligible than English and German yet because their speakers share the same written language and a common Chinese culture and identity, they are regarded as different dialects of a single Chinese language.

In some parts of southern China the Classical Chinese written language and Chinese culture were adopted by indigenous groups who then came to regard themselves as Chinese and who became accepted as Chinese by their Chinese neighbours.  Structurally the indigenous languages happen to resemble Chinese, being tonal languages with a so called isolating structure like Chinese. 2. Speakers of these languages, most of which have names unfamiliar to Westerners, borrowed thousands of Chinese loanwords so much of their vocabulary came to be familiar to Chinese speakers.  After a few generations the speakers of some of these languages 'forgot' that they were separate languages and came to believe them to be Chinese dialects.

This happened amongst sections of the Zhuang people of southern China.  The Zhuang live in a region where due to internal migrations there are speakers of various mutually unintelligible Chinese dialects living in close proximity to one another.  Since many of the local Chinese people speak dialects other Chinese people cannot understand, it's not too difficult to comprehend why the Zhuang language - spoken by a group which had become Chinese in culture - should also have been regarded as a 'type of Chinese'.  When the Chinese government embarked upon its mass literacy campaigns after the Communist revolution, they conducted the first linguistic surveys of the country.  Many Zhuang clans were shocked to discover that their language, which both they and their Chinese neighbours believed to be a regional dialect of Chinese, was actually a different language related to Thai and not genetically related to Chinese at all.

The examples of Urdu/Hindi and Zhuang show that cultural, social and political factors can be so strong that they lead people to classify different literary styles of a single language as "different languages" and to classify unrelated languages as "dialects of a single language".

So what does this tell us about Scots?  During the 16th century when Scotland was an independent state there was no doubt about the status of Scots as a language.  As well as being linguistically differentiated from its English relative, Scots enjoyed the same political and cultural development as other emerging European state languages.  Scots was thi Kingis Scottis in exactly the same way as English was the King's English or French was la Langue du Roi.  Scots was the language of the Scottish royal court, of government, administration and law.  A literature based upon the usage of the royal court in Edinburgh was well established and this literature did not look solely to English literary traditions for inspiration, it was a truly European literature.  The use of Latin was beginning to decline in this historical period, and across Europe vernacular languages were starting to be used in fields which had formerly been the sole preserve of Latin - like law and legal reports, self-consciously 'artistic' literature, and prose texts like histories, medical tracts and scientific writing.  Scots was used in all these areas as naturally as Dutch was being used for the same purposes in the Netherlands or English in England.  Like these other languages, 16th century Scots was beginning to establish its own standard spelling system (an orthography) whose rules and norms differed significantly from those of English.

Had Scotland remained an independent nation, there is little doubt that the Scots language would have continued on this path of development and would today be universally recognised as a standard European language on a par with English, French or Danish.  It would be seen as about as different from English as Portuguese is from Spanish.

But history intervened.  In other parts of Europe the Reformation was a massive boost to the standardisation of vernacular languages as one of the tenets of the reform movement was that everyone should be able to read scripture in their own language.  However in Scotland the Reformation was very closely followed by the Union of the Scottish and English crowns under a monarch with strongly absolutist and centralising tendencies.  A single English language bible was prescribed for all.  (The Welsh had already received their own Authorised Version of the bible under Queen Elizabeth I of England.)

Probably more than any other single factor, the political decision to adopt an English language bible fatally undermined the Scots literary language.  The exclusive use of English in church services in that religiously obsessed age created an association in the minds of Scots speakers between the English language and formal and dignified speech.  Since the bible was the only written text many people ever read, it also created a strong association in the minds of Scots speakers between the English language and writing.  Increasingly the use of Scots was relegated to the domestic and the familiar.

Until 1707 Scottish national institutions still made regular use of written Scots, however due to the immense prestige of the English language bible and the large number of English texts which came from the printing presses of England, English spelling habits, vocabulary and constructions began to permeate the language.  The Scots written language was falling into decay.  During this period distinctively Scots letter combinations fell into disuse, for example the spelling quh disappeared.  This sequence of letters represented a sound pronounced variously "wh", "f" or "chw" in different parts of Scotland.  With its loss the only option open to Scots writers was to use English spelling, fracturing the written unity of Scots.  So for example the word written quhit 'what' in old literary Scots and pronounced whit in the West but fit in the North East could now only be written as whit or fit.  Written Scots was becoming dialectalised and divided.

After 1707 the Scots language suffered another body-blow, although the written language was increasingly anglicised, the Scots spoken language had remained relatively unaffected and Scots was still the everyday spoken language of all classes of Scottish society.  After 1707 the Scottish upper and middle classes abandoned spoken Scots and adopted spoken English with gusto. English, and not Scots, was the only appropriate language for an educated North Briton.

With the loss of the old Scots formal literary language came the loss of the spoken variant of that literary language.  By the late 18th century the usual written language corresponding to spoken Scots was Standard English, and increasingly the Standard English spoken language was regarded as the only proper form of speaking on formal or dignified occasions.  Written and spoken English were now the formal and literary styles which corresponded to colloquial Scots, and so gradually Scottish people began to perceive Scots as a type of English.

This did not occur in Catalonia.  Here the middle classes, especially the middle classes of Barcelona, remained faithful to their traditional spoken language even though the use of written Catalan was eclipsed in the 18th century by written Spanish.  Like Scots the written Catalan of this period was composed in a spelling system based upon the orthography of its linguistic rival and close relative.  Spanish words, expressions and constructions began to appear in Catalan texts.  Catalan could easily have sunk to the level of a mere 'dialect of Spanish'.  However the crucial difference between Scotland and Catalonia was that Catalonia, despite its political subjugation to Madrid, remained the most developed and prosperous part of the country.  Spanish became associated with backward ideas and social conservativism as during the 19th century the Barcelona middle classes fostered the development of a restored Catalan literary language as a symbol of their social progression and political liberalism.  Catalan regained its status as a language.  In Scotland the opposite occurred, our middle and upper classes believed Scotland to be backward and looked to London for their model of social progress.

This situation has continued to the present day.  Modern Scottish people became like the Zhuang, we forgot our language's past and came to consider it as a dialect of some other language.  Throughout the modern period the use of English has continued to expand in Scotland with English taking over more and more of the uses which were previously the sole preserve of Scots.  The advent of mass literacy and the mass media have greatly strengthened the position of English vis a vis Scots.  Spoken varieties of Scots have become deluged with English words, expressions and pronunciations to the point where modern urban varieties of Scots could legitimately be considered as English dialects from a linguistic perspective.  These highly anglicised varieties are the only type of Scots which many Scottish people encounter nowadays, reinforcing the perception that Scots is nothing more than an English dialect.

So is Scots a language or a dialect of English?  Other English dialects have never been anything else, they have never been used as literary languages with their own spelling traditions and range of spoken and written styles.  Scots is what French linguists term a langue manquée 'a frustrated language', it is a language which due to historical, political and cultural factors has come to function as a dialect of English.

No English dialect has the history or resources of Scots.  No English dialect is linguistically differentiated from other English dialects in the way Scots is differentiated from English.  It would be perfectly possible to revive a standardised literary variety of Scots which is distinct from English both in its linguistic "raw material" and in its standard norms.   It is also perfectly possible to revive a system of Scots spelling which provides all spoken dialects of Scots with a single orthography which highlights the commonalities between the dialects and promotes the perception of them as local expressions of a single Scots language.  Nothing new or artificial need be created, because Scots either already possesses all these properties or it once did.

What Scots once was, it could be again.  It's up to the speakers of Scots to decide.  If you want Scots to be a language, start treating it as though it was.

1. For details of the linguistic features which define Scots, and an explanation of the different dialects of Scots see: http://www.dsl.ac.uk/ and click on "History of Scots to 1700". Some of the explanation is rather technical.

2. An isolating language is one in which grammatical relationships are signalled by word order and by independent words and particles.  The kind of structure a language has is no guide to its genetic affiliations.  English has strong isolating tendencies, but its close relative German has a more synthetic structure.  A synthetic language is, to simplify somewhat, one in which grammatical relationships are signalled by special suffixes or prefixes.

Comments  

 
# Bugger the Panda 2011-02-20 11:36
Quote:
There's a linguistic rule of thumb for determining whether two speech varieties should be considered as dialects of a single language or as different languages.


Does that make Spanish and Portuguese dialects of the same?

I was in Portugal last week and had a discussion with a number of Portuguese on the closeness of Spanish and Portuguese to French, the Langue D'Oc and Catalan.

I said I could follow written Catalan and Portuguese through my knowledge of French but has less success with Spanish and the Oc.

Every Portuguese said the Spanish is intelligible to all Portuguese, all they had to do was concentrate. Spaniards they said, if they concentrate hard and it is spoken distinctly can understand Portuguese.

My daughter, who speaks French and Spanish was in Brazil last year on business and was chatting away in Spanish to the Brazilians, whilst they spoke back to her in Portuguese (Brazilian version).


I was in Japan and asked my business agent who was reading a newspaper in old script which way was he was reading it; up or down, left to right or vice versa and how did he know which way to go.

He explained that these were old Chinese characters which are so many that most Japanese have difficulty memorising them and thus have to use a simplified alphabet.

When asked if he could therefore read Chinese, he said he could.

Koreans and Japanese who are linguistically and genetically related cannot read each others language but can speak to each other.

What is a distinct language seems to me to be very difficult to define.

Maybe it all depends on whether we want it to be or not and why?

added 12:12

Sorry just seen the second post and realise I had forgotten my good manners. This really is a great read and a thought provoker ,

I was always brought up top read and write Queens English but outside school we always spoke, in the street with my pals and at home a variation of Scots, which we were always told was a dialect of English.

A dialect is a language with an Army and Navy, indeed
 
 
# cjmasta 2011-02-20 12:04
What a great read. Thanks newsnet and Paul Kavanagh for answering many questions I have often wondered about.
 
 
# Holebender 2011-02-20 12:14
As the man said, a language is a dialect with an army and a navy. By this definition, Portuguese is not a dialect of Spanish, or vice versa.
 
 
# Aucheorn 2011-02-20 13:00
During this period distinctively Scots letter combinations fell into disuse, for example the spelling quh disappeared. This sequence of letters represented a sound pronounced variously "wh", "f" or "chw" in different parts of Scotland.

At last ..... I now know why there are many pronunciations of my name Farquharson. ( local pronunciation :- Fa-cher-son )

When I moved up to (rural) Moray 13 years ago, I found no problem in understanding the locals, who very definitely speak Scots, but friends and others from Englandshire do quite often have a blank look on their faces. In fact now I find that when I'm speaking to locals I do use Scots far more than I ever did in the central belt.

Thank you Paul your articles are much appreciated.
 
 
# European 2011-02-20 13:37
Administrative question for Newsnet Scotland team: Have you changed the links for the previous articles (nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7,, 8, 9 and 10)?

At the moment, for example, nos. 3, 4, 5 and 6 all point to Article 6 in the series. And the others are a bit messy. Is that something you could streamline (it has also knocked my "tinyurl" links all to pot in my comment of February 4). I'll wait until you get it sorted before I renew my links in that comment.

Thanks
 
 
# ScotlandUnspun 2011-02-20 14:04
Quoting European:
Administrative question for Newsnet Scotland team: Have you changed the links for the previous articles (nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7,, 8, 9 and 10)?

At the moment, for example, nos. 3, 4, 5 and 6 all point to Article 6 in the series. And the others are a bit messy. Is that something you could streamline (it has also knocked my "tinyurl" links all to pot in my comment of February 4). I'll wait until you get it sorted before I renew my links in that comment.
Thanks


Hi, sorry - there's a problem with the joomla plaform with these things. I will try and fix now.
 
 
# European 2011-02-20 15:25
Hi, ScotlandUnspun ... thanks, we're almost there :-)

No. 2 is still a problem ... I think "features" has to be changed to "affairs-scotland".
Will these then be stable enough for me to set up a new set of tinyurl links?

Regards
 
 
# frankly francophone 2011-02-20 15:39
As my comment seems to be too long to appear here, I have posted it at my site:

rueclementmarot.blogspot.com/.../...
 
 
# cynicalHighlander 2011-02-20 15:45
Quoting Aucheorn:
At last ..... I now know why there are many pronunciations of my name Farquharson. ( local pronunciation :- Fa-cher-son )

got yah.

YouTube - Doric call centre: www.youtube.com/.../
 
 
# InfrequentAllele 2011-02-20 16:01
frankly francophone

Fascinating and detailed reply. Many thanks. I agree that the political, practical and financial dimension is huge and needs to be highlighted. There are massive obstacles in the way, and they may well prove too massive to overcome.

I always try to be positive when discussing Scottish languages, but the truth is I am far from optimistic about their long term survival. Possibly the best that can be hoped for are networks of speakers without a territorial base who are a minority within a predominantly English speaking population.

The language shift that's occurred in Belarus in the 20th century is an illustration of the difficulties involved and just how great the obstacles are. Belarusian has largely given way to Russian even though there is a standard written variety of Belarusian (actually there are two competing varieties, which doesn't help).

The fact about Scotland is that the political will and the popular desire to restore Scots as a "normalised" language in the Catalan manner simply aren't there. It's debatable whether such a development would be desirable in Scotland anyway. There are costs and enormous practical implications involved.

It's perfectly legitimate to discuss how much we want to spend on Scottish languages and how we want to spend it, and to debate and discuss the ways in which the Scottish Goverment promotes and fosters Scottish languages.

But the main point I wanted to address in this article is that many modern Scottish people think of Scots as being an English dialect on a par with Cockney or Geordie, yet it's not. There's a whole lot more to Scots.
 
 
# cokynutjoe 2011-02-20 16:14
Excellent essay Paul, answers a lot of questions I never found anybody able to answer before.
 
 
# European 2011-02-20 16:17
Thanks, ScotlandUnspun :-)
 
 
# Mad Jock McMad 2011-02-20 17:44
The Scots Language is alive and well and still spoken across Scotland. It may not be written, often, but it is spoken every day.

It is clear that the English Language was used as a tool by Westminster in the process of 'colonising' Scotland just as its imposition as the language of 'law' and 'learning' in all of its colonies.

There is a way, in my opinion, that the structure of the 'Scottis' Language carries on in the novels of Iain Banks Wasp Factory for one and others such as 'But n' Ben Ago-go by Matthew Fitt, Alan Spence's 'The Pure Land' have a content and style that is clearly 'Scottish'. Even Ian Rankin's 'Rebus' would not work with out its dark Scottish centre in Edinburgh's architecture, cultural division and 'under' language.

The most powerful exposition of the Scottis language comes in the form of poetry and song and the legacy - Burns, Edwin Muir, Matt McGinn and Meg Bateman amongst many past and present.

In many respects just a small change in the teaching of 'English' in Scotland would be all that is necessary to complete the renaissance o' oor ain tongue.
 
 
# Cumbie Neil 2011-02-20 18:06
I've got no issue with the idea of the Lallans language and their being distinct dialects of it. However i question whether the Glaswegian of the working classes is a Lallans dialect. I think it is more an English dialect with added Lallans words.

I'm happy to be disproved on this but i've never heard a decent argument to actually justify it as an actual full blown dialect of Lallans, can anyone comment?
 
 
# InfrequentAllele 2011-02-20 20:18
When you consider modern Glaswegian Scots in isolation and compare it to English, it looks and acts like an English dialect. Glaswegian Scots is one of the Scots varieties most heavily influenced by English. But the point is that Glaswegian should not be considered in isolation, it should be considered within the broader context of varieties of Scots and how Scots as a whole interacts with English. Then the truth about Glaswegian Scots is revealed, it is a fascinating example of an interlect, the product of prolonged contact between two closely related languages.

I plan to deal with these "intermediate" language varieties in a future article.
 
 
# frankly francophone 2011-02-20 20:54
The fact that there is substance in the claim that what is left of the Scots language in everyday use does indeed derive from a language in its own right is a discovery which it is clearly valuable to help people to make and which everyone who has a connection with Scotland deserves to make. It is an illumination of immense value. I appreciate, of course, Infrequent, that providing that is essentially what you are seeking to do. I'm sure I've never seen it done so well.

In my view the Scottish education system could and should certainly be teaching people about the particular nature of the development of language of all types in Scotland. One deserves to know all major aspects of the history of one's country, after all, even if it is not independent. I would even go further. For so long as Scotland is not independent, these are matters of common UK heritage, which the education systems of other parts of the UK should not be ignoring. They will continue to treat them inadequately, of course, and the resulting misconceptions will continue to make their way north of the Border, not least the notion that Scots is simply a dialect of English.
 
 
# cokynutjoe 2011-02-20 23:05
The late Jack House claimed to recognise about fourteen different Glasgow dialects. Pity he's not around to enlighten us!
 
 
# sneckedagain 2011-02-20 23:18
Glasgow language has a significant Irish dimension and Gaelic/Erse influences as well (youse, keecch etc)
 
 
# InfrequentAllele 2011-02-21 00:06
Keech is general Scots. It has the variant form kich in other Scots dialects.

Youse/yese is probably due to the influence of Irish English. During the 20th century it became widespread in Scots. It filled a gap in the pronoun system, you/ye was the only personal pronoun lacking a plural form.

A feature of Glasgow speech which is certainly due to Irish influence is the construction - be (jist) efter X-in, where X is a verb. eg. A'm (jist) efter cuttin the gress = I have just cut the grass. This construction is a word for word translation of the Irish construction táim tar eis baint an fhéir. The Irish construction, like the Glasgow one, refers to events which have been completed in the very recent past.

The similar Sc. Gaelic construction has a less immediate reference, eg. Tha sibh air Gàidhlig a ionnsachadh. 'You have learned Gaelic' lit. 'You are after learning Gaelic' This doesn't imply that you've just this minute learned Gaelic, you might have learned it a while ago. The meaning of the construction as used in Glasgow suggests it comes from Irish, not Sc. Gaelic.
 
 
# Aucheorn 2011-02-21 09:13
cynicalHighland er 2011-02-20 15:45
Quoting Aucheorn:

At last ..... I now know why there are many pronunciations of my name Farquharson. ( local pronunciation :- Fa-cher-son )


got yah.

YouTube - Doric call centre: www.youtube.com/.../

One of the reasons I hate calling "Call Centres" I usually have to spell everything and as for mail, I had a collection of the more outrageous names and addresses meant for me. Thank god for our local postman ha invariably got it right.

I never cease to laugh at that sketch.
 
 
# cokynutjoe 2011-02-21 09:49
At one time (when we were poor!)there were "Shan Shops" in Glasgow, these sold off two day old stuff cheaply from the big bakeries. The term "Shan" is possibly still used in the bakery business, Gaelic for "old" I fancy.
 
 
# Blanco 2011-02-21 11:37
Quoting cokynutjoe:
The late Jack House claimed to recognise about fourteen different Glasgow dialects. Pity he's not around to enlighten us!


Compare and contrast Kelvinside ("we're only here for the banter") with Maryhill ("sports socks - two furra pound")...
 
 
# cokynutjoe 2011-02-21 17:24
Youse yins, for the first time, will be asked questions in the coming census on Scots! As the Aberdeen landlady said tae her guests "mind noo, if yese run oot o toilet paper ye've a guid Scots tung in yer heid!"
 
 
# Tocasaid 2011-02-21 20:35
Quote - However upon reaching the Scottish-English border something unprecedented happens, the political border coincides with an abrupt linguistic frontier. Nothing like this occurs anywhere else in the English speaking world.

Is there actual evidence for this? Go to Berwick and its pretty hard to determine if they're Scots or English/ Northumbrians. I'm sure in northern rural Northumbria there's little difference either.

I'd agree with above poster regarding Glaswegian but would extend it to most 'Scots' dialects. Almost all of us speak English with some Scots words. Pure Scots - Scottish Anglic as some are suggesting? - would probably have to be revived as Cornish was.
 
 
# InfrequentAllele 2011-02-21 21:01
Yes, there is actual evidence for it. I wouldn't have said it existed otherwise.

A language border is defined by a bundle of isoglosses. An isogloss is the geographical boundary between two variant forms. So for example the typically Scots vowel phonology is bordered by Northern English vowel phonology along a line which corresponds almost exactly to the Scottish English political frontier. Another isogloss following the almost identical line is the pronunciation of -r. There are quite literally hundreds, if not thousands, of individual isoglosses which distinguish Scots dialects from Northern English dialects and which all run pretty much along the same geographical line, corresponding to the political frontier.

This bundle of isoglosses tends to splay out somewhat in the east around Berwick.

A brief description of the Scots-English border is given in an article entitled "Scottish accents and dialects" by AJ Aitken, published in Language in the British Isles, P Trudgill ed. Cambridge Uni. Press 1984. Prof. Aiken was universally acknowledged as the leading expert in Scots linguistics in the 20th century. (He sadly died a few years ago.) Prof Aitken called the bundling of isoglosses along the Scottish-English political frontier "by far the most copious bunch of isoglosses" anywhere within what can be called English and went one to add, "the number of important Scotticisms [ie linguistic features proper to Scots] which extend to or only just over the Border is remarkably high, including SVLR as a whole [Scottish Vowel Lengthening Rule], Scots nicht - English neit [ie, the preservation of preconsonantal /x/], and other examples; innumerable realisation phenomena, a striking one is the realizations of Vowel 19 as universally unrounded in Scots as [u in but] regularly rounded in Northern England; another is the different treatment of the r phoneme on either side of the border; some selectional forms; and innumerable lexical items." His listing was by no means exhaustive.

If you want a more detailed list of the many lexical items which are found in Scots which do not extend into Northern English, see Speitel HH "The Word Geography of the Borders" Scottish Literary Supplement no 6 17-38, 1978.

I should add that Speitel deals only with lexical items found in colloquial speech. He does not deal with the enormous number of Scots literary words which are not found in any English dialect. No other English dialect, other than standard English itself, has a literary vocabulary.
 
 
# InfrequentAllele 2011-02-21 21:13
Scots would not have to be revived like Cornish was.

Scots is still spoken by a significant number of Scots. It is not an extinct language. Fairly conservative and intact varieties of Scots are probably actively used by rather more people than actively use Gaelic. The forthcoming census will provide much needed information in this regard.

Many, if not most, of the speakers of highly anglicised Scots varieties retain the fundamentals of Scots - they use English words but Scots phonology, Scots grammar, and Scots syntax. If you like they speak Scots in English drag. Reviving Scots for these speakers is a process of vocabulary expansion and enrichment, not the teaching of an entirely lost language.
 
 
# Cumbie Neil 2011-02-21 21:27
Quoting InfrequentAllel e:
Scots would not have to be revived like Cornish was.

Scots is still spoken by a significant number of Scots. It is not an extinct language. Fairly conservative and intact varieties of Scots are probably actively used by rather more people than actively use Gaelic. The forthcoming census will provide much needed information in this regard.

Many, if not most, of the speakers of highly anglicised Scots varieties retain the fundamentals of Scots - they use English words but Scots phonology, Scots grammar, and Scots syntax. If you like they speak Scots in English drag. Reviving Scots for these speakers is a process of vocabulary expansion and enrichment, not the teaching of an entirely lost language.


Where is Lallans spoken in significant numbers? And where is the evidence that this is the case and that it is in greater numbers than Gaelic?

All i ever hear is an English dialect with added Lallans words, i couldn't say it is the full blown Lallans language which can be seen in literature of the past.
 
 
# oldnat 2011-02-21 21:33
Cumbie Neil @ 21:27

With respect, you should read the discussion of what a "dialect" is before making that kind of comment. Do you know what is meant by phonology, grammar, or syntax?
 
 
# InfrequentAllele 2011-02-21 21:39
Cumbie Neil

That's why the forthcoming census is so important. It will enable these areas to be identified and speakers to be quantified. Currently estimates for the number of Scots speakers vary wildly from around 100,000 to over 2 million. In large part this variation is caused by differences in the definition of what counts as Scots. Lower estimates are only counting speakers of relatively conservative and intact varieties. These varieties are typically recessive, and don't tend to be used much in public places or amongst non-family members or with people who are not close friends.

What you're calling English dialects with added Lallans words are often Lallans dialects with added English words. The underlying structure, syntax and phonology of working class Glaswegian speech remains solidly Scots even though a considerable amount of traditional Scots vocabulary has been lost in the city. I ought to know, its my native dialect.
 
 
# Cumbie Neil 2011-02-21 22:30
Quoting oldnat:
Cumbie Neil @ 21:27

With respect, you should read the discussion of what a "dialect" is before making that kind of comment. Do you know what is meant by phonology, grammar, or syntax?


Yes, i do, hence why i do not personally consider the way people i come in contact with in Scotland speak is Lallans, it smacks simply of an English language dialect with added Lallans words.

As i have already mentioned i am happy to be disproved on the subject, but as yet no one has given any basic examples that can show Lallans as an everyday day langauge in Scotland.

My concern on this subject in relation to the Census is one of ignorance of the public as to what is Lallans. I hear people all the time say they speak Scots when in fact they are speaking English with a Scots accent and occasional lallans words.
 
 
# snowthistle 2011-02-21 22:55
Wish I had a fiver for every time my mother threatened to send me to elocution lessons if I didn't speak properly saying "we'll have none of that scruffy slang in this house".
I am now married to a middle class Englishman who despairs of my funny little word orders and the strange little words I come out with (I always thought thrawn was an English word?).
 
 
# mato21 2011-02-21 23:03
The shame lies with the education system that tried to thrash the Scots out of us Unsuccesfully I am pleased to say in my own case I often, to this day have to think of the English alternative words when I am trying to make myself understood in certain company
 
 
# InfrequentAllele 2011-02-21 23:59
The Scots Language Centre, who were involved in the work to get the Scots language question into the census, are aware of the difficulties many people have identifying what is Scots.

They discovered that by playing sound files of examples of Scots, people could easily determine whether they themselves speak or understand the language. They have produced a website with examples and easy guides in order to help you determine whether or not you can speak Scots. The website has only recently come online and the Scots Language Centre has promised to write an article for Newsnet about it.

The site is called AyeCan, and can be found here

www.ayecan.com/
 
 
# snowthistle 2011-02-22 09:55
Thanks for the link. I can certainly understand West Central Scots. I used to work in an Ice Cream Van in Possil and at that time I could speak it fluently but, since moving to East Dunbartonshire, I've become a little rusty.
 
 
# snowthistle 2011-02-22 11:37
My absolute favourite was the mothers who used to say "come here you to me till I leather yer bahoukie"
 
 
# Tocasaid 2011-02-22 14:52
Quoting InfrequentAllel e:
The Scots Language Centre, who were involved in the work to get the Scots language question into the census, are aware of the difficulties many people have identifying what is Scots.

They discovered that by playing sound files of examples of Scots, people could easily determine whether they themselves speak or understand the language. They have produced a website with examples and easy guides in order to help you determine whether or not you can speak Scots. The website has only recently come online and the Scots Language Centre has promised to write an article for Newsnet about it.

The site is called AyeCan, and can be found here

www.ayecan.com/


Have checked out yon site and can say that it only confirms what I said. Most of us speak Scottish English - no more. That's English with some influence of Scots/Anglic - both vocab and grammar. The only dialects I would say were different enough to qualify as 'different' were Caithness, Angus maybe and Shetland. The other samples of 'Scots' were mostly English with a few Scots words here and there. Aye, it might confuse the English but then again a Doric speaker would probably get lost with a Glaswegian. Equally David Cameron or Milliband would probably have the same problem understanding Geordie or Mancunian - or do they not count as they don't have an army?

I don't have evidence on this but I'd imagine that Shetlandic has more differences to 'Borders Scots' than Borders has to Northumbrian. Certainly as Lowlander, I can understand Borders and Northumbrian a lot easier than Shetlandic.

Sorry, Scots/Inglis did exist as an equal dialect of Anglo-Saxon as did 'Standard' English but it has long since merged into localised forms of international English.
 
 
# cokynutjoe 2011-02-22 15:11
As a Glaswegian I don't have any problem understanding Shetland or Doric, Border is even easier but Northumbrian can be fairly unintelligable.To me,it's the only English accent I struggle with.
 
 
# InfrequentAllele 2011-02-22 16:54
Tocasaid
Would you interpret the following short sentence as Scots or English: The grey cat sits at the fire.

In fact it's equally Scots and English. Scots and English are closely related languages and so they have a great deal in common. However I suspect you would insist it's English and only English, so for you the sentence The muckle grey cat sits at the fire then becomes "English with a Lallans word", instead of what it actually is - a perfectly well formed Scots sentence. You're doing this because you're taking English as your sole point of reference.

I could devise equally intelligible sentences in any pair of closely related languages you care to mention: La casa moderna de la mama sera derribada.

Is that Spanish or Catalan for "Mum's modern house will be demolished"? Or perhaps it's not Spanish or Catalan, it could be Occitan. Can you tell? What basis are you using to reach your decision? Now consider this sentence: La casa moderna de la mama sera derribada per el arquitect.

Is that Catalan now? Or is it just Spanish with two Catalan words in it? Both the Catalan words are very similar to their Spanish equivalents anyway, per = por and arquitect = arquitecto. No Spanish speaker would fail to understand the sentence as "Mum's modern house will be demolished by the architect." But that doesn't mean Catalan and Spanish are not different languages.

Scots remains vastly more than a dialect of English. It is still perfectly possible for Scots speakers to write literary Scots, but since this variety of Scots is not taught in our educational system few speakers know how to write it. Catalan speakers and Scottish Gaelic speakers are taught literary varieties of their spoken language, they are taught spelling systems which are specific to their own language. Scots speakers are not taught a literary variety of Scots, and are not taught a spelling system which is specific to Scots. Acquiring command of a literary variety of Scots is not difficult for Scots speakers, even those of us who were brought up with one of the more anglicised varieties of modern Scots. When I taught myself literary Scots I did not have to approach it as a new language. I was merely expanding upon the knowledge of a language I already spoke.

However because literary Scots is not taught, and because Scots orthography is no longer used, the sole reference point modern Scots speakers have is standard English. Scots is then judged to exist only in so much as it differs from English, and the huge number of linguistic features which are proper to both English and Scots as closely related languages become perceived as solely English.

We've got an anglocentric view of our languages, and perhaps ironically this anglocentric view is most strongly established amongst certain promotors of Gaelic. After all, Sc. Gaelic is clearly a different language from English, so you don't need to consider its close relationship and mutual intelligibility with Irish dialects or Manx nor the fact that the Sc. Gaelic literary language dates only to the 18th century. In the middle ages if you'd asked the Gaelic speakers of the Scottish Lowlands what language they spoke they'd have told you it was Irish.

By virtue of your personal background you have had considerable passive exposure to Scots, and therefore already understand it to a degree. The fact you understand the sound files on the AyeCan doesn't mean that they're all in English. It means that you have some passive knowledge of Scots. The sound files were prepared by academic linguists and experts in Scots, I believe they know rather more about the linguistic aspects of Scots than you or me. If you require evidence please go and read some of the many linguistic descriptions of Scots. I've read them. Have you?

There are greater linguistic differences between Borders Scots and Northumbrian English than there are between Borders Scots and Shetlandic. Borders Scots and Shetlandic share the same fundamental phonological system and syntactic structure, just for starters. Border Scots and Shetlandic also share the common Scots heritage of Scots literary vocabulary, which is not available to Geordie speakers.

The reason you find Shetlandic more difficult to understand is because it happens to be one of the modern Scots dialects which has best preserved traditional Scots vocabulary and it additionally has a stock of Norse words from the Norn language which are not found in other Scots varieties. You understand Northumbrian English because you speak English and have a degree of passive knowledge of Scots. Personally I don't find Geordies difficult to understand.

If you're going to insist on calling Scots "Anglic", then you should not complain if people call Scottish Gaelic "Hibernic". Scots or Lallans already has two perfectly good names. Inventing new ones doesn't clarify matters any.
 
 
# Tocasaid 2011-02-22 22:15
I agree that 'Scots' is not just a 'dialect' of English or 'bad' English. However, it has become so diluted in the past 300 years or so that it barely exists. Even Scots academics such as McClure (in Why Scots Matters) accepts that it is difficult to determine just what is 'Scots'. If academics find it difficult, what about the rest of us?

I still don't see the Norn/ Northumbrian points though. Shetland probably has more 'foreign' influence than Northumbria - parts of Northumbria were in Scotland for periods just as Shetland was not part of Scotland for a long time. And, why would Scots not be 'availalbe' to Northumbrians? Surely the people mixed. I could point to Islay and Ulster - different nations, different 'literatures' but still many similarities in their Gaelic.

And to quote:

We've got an anglocentric view of our languages, and perhaps ironically this anglocentric view is most strongly established amongst certain promotors of Gaelic. After all, Sc. Gaelic is clearly a different language from English, so you don't need to consider its close relationship and mutual intelligibility with Irish dialects or Manx nor the fact that the Sc. Gaelic literary language dates only to the 18th century. In the middle ages if you'd asked the Gaelic speakers of the Scottish Lowlands what language they spoke they'd have told you it was Irish.

Anglocentric? But isn't 'Scots' Anglo-Saxon? And wasn't the renaming of Inglis as 'Scots' the first step in the Anglicisation of Scotland? As to Gaelic, true, there was a common classical Gaelic that was sharded between the bards and 'filidhean' of Alba and Eireann though the languages probably diverged at far back as 1000 years ago. I doubt if Gaelic was ever know by the Scots (and here I mean the original Scots/ Gaels) as 'Irish'. Certainly, if you go back to the days of the Lia Fail/ Stone of Destiny, the kings of Alba were blessed by the 'Beannachd do Righ Alban'. I understand too that the armies of Wallace and Bruce used the slogan 'Albannaich'. True, the Bruce did appeal to the 'common tongue' that we shared with Ireland and perhaps if Ireland had become the major power in these isles instead of England then we'd have a similiar 'Goidelic' argument. However, that didn't happen.

I'm not 'anti Scots', I just think that its been swamped by its bigger Sasannach cousin. In a similar way, some Gaelic dialects have died. I'm sure in parts of say Strathspey you can find old people who speak with the occasional Gaelic word or phrase and with a Gaelic influence on grammar - for example 'Im just after making the tea'. But despite this, these Gaelic dialects are dead.

Like I say, I'm not 'anti' Scots but I think you've got a lot of work to do to prove to a lot of otherwise interested people that it isn't just another 'revival' similar to Manx or Cornish.
 
 
# InfrequentAllele 2011-02-23 00:44
The literary vocabulary of Scots is not available as a part of the potential linguistic repertoire of a Northumbrian dialect speaker any more than the literary vocabulary of Norwegian or French. Use of this literary vocabulary sociolinguistic ally marks a speech variety as Scots. It's got nothing to do with people mixing or not mixing.

If you want to revive Manx amongst the modern Manx people you need to teach them Manx grammar, Manx phonology, Manx syntax and Manx vocabulary in their entirety. You'd have to teach them every single aspect of the Manx language as an entirely new and unfamiliar language, exactly the same as teaching them Greek, Yoruba or Chinese.

But let us imagine we want to teach Scottish people the most "extreme Scots" variety of Scots possible, a variety as different from English as it is possible for any Scots variety to be. This would presumably be some literary variety of Scots making exclusive use of traditional Scots orthography and full use of Scots vocabulary, preferentially selecting those forms most distinct from English. (The same process of deliberate differentiation from a closely related language actually occurred during the standardisation s of modern Slovak, Catalan and Frisian, amongst other languages.)

Now I am not actually advocating such a development, but let that pass for now. All I want to establish in this thought experiment that the target language is a type of Scots which is as far from English as it is possible for a variety of Scots to be.

Even with such a maximally differentiated type of Scots, one which even you would not hesitate to classify as "a different language", we would still not have to teach it as a foreign language to modern Scots speakers. Modern Scots speakers already know the phonology, the grammar, the syntax and the basic vocabulary of Scots. What they don't know are the Ausbau aspects of Scots, the traditional rules of Scots spelling, the literary vocabulary, those aspects of a language which are due to cultural development and which are typically transmitted during the course of a formal education.

Crucially, and this is what makes Scots an entirely different kettle of fish from any English dialect, we would not have to invent these Ausbau features of Scots ab nihilo, they already exist - they're just not taught any more.

Speakers of all languages acquire Ausbau features of their language only by being taught them. We know the Ausbau features of English because we're taught them as a part of our education. Even the languages of pre-literate societies have Ausbau features, usually transmitted during tribal initiation rites, or as part of an education in traditional oral literature.

What we find instead amongst modern Scots speakers is that they continue to speak Scots, but use Ausbau features from English. The only Ausbau features Scots speakers have access to are English Ausbau features, they're the only ones we get taught. English forms are thus socially marked as educated or polite and Scots speakers use English forms as stylistic equivalents of Scots forms in more formal or less intimate social occasions. Scots forms are socially marked as uneducated or uncouth, and are felt to be appropriate only for informal occasions or to express humour.

It's because we have these deeply ingrained social attitudes to language use, and because all Scots speakers are bilingual in English (so we also go in for code-switching), that we find myriad examples of utterances from Scottish people which are ambiguously Scots or English, hence McClure's remarks about how it can sometimes be difficult to be sure if a person is speaking Scots or English.

My native dialect is a highly anglicised variety of Scots. I have in my lifetime learned or had lessons in more languages than I can shake a stick at, and purely for my own interest I have also learned how to speak and write a dense literary variety of Scots - such as is found for example in Lorimer's translation of the New Testament. When I taught myself this variety of Scots, I did not have to approach it as I approached Gaelic when I first began to learn that language. Neither was it like when I started learning Norwegian, Spanish or Catalan. When I learned a dense literary variety of Scots, I was merely expanding upon the knowledge of a language I already knew and was learning how to use that language in ways I hadn't previously used it. It was a very different learning experience from learning a new language.

There are insuperable obstacles in the way of developing and introducing such a literary variety of Scots, I agree with you there. And those obstacles are why it will most likely never happen. But the point I want to make here that these obstacles are not linguistic obstacles, they are cultural and social obstacles, and obstacles related to attitudes to language use. They are not obstacles related to the linguistic nature of the modern Scots language itself, a language which remains very much alive.
 
 
# oldnat 2011-02-23 01:03
InfrequentAllel e @ 00:44

I spend a lot of time in North Carolina, USA, with my family.

Their form of the English language, that my son has learned to talk (it helps that he is an actor) is different from what I speak, and both are different from what my relatives in Essex speak.

My Dutch niece & nephew speak a form of English in which I recognise a lot of Scots constructs which bring them into regular conflict with English teachers in their Dutch schools.

I don't know enough about language to be able to differentiate the technicalities. Nor does my niece - but she will still fillet anyone trying to "correct" what she as a native speaker of what her mother would describe as English (this gets horribly complicated!!!) says.
 
 
# InfrequentAllele 2011-02-23 01:32
Oldnat @01:03

English is a language with several standard varieties. American Standard English - the norms to which speakers of American English look - is slightly different from English Standard English. Scottish Standard English differs slightly again. These standard languages overlie the various spoken dialects - whether they are dialects of English or of Scots.

Scottish Standard English permits the use of a number of forms which originate in Scots. Most are optional variants, others are obligatory and we're often not consciously aware that they are Scottish. Aitken refers to these as obligatory covert Scotticisms. One example is the use of 'can' instead of English Standard English 'may' as a modal verb of permission. Another is the syntax of verb negation. "Can't you do it?" is the unmarked form in English Standard English, but *Cannae ye dae it? is scarcely possible in Central Scots at least, only "Kin ye no dae it?" Consequently Scottish Standard English speakers tend to avoid the English construction "Can't you do it?" and instead say "Can you not do it?", a word for word translation of the Scots construction, which sounds a bit odd to speakers of other varieties of Standard English. It strikes them as putting unnecessary emphasis on the negative.
 
 
# InfrequentAllele 2011-02-23 03:14
Tocasaid

By the way, just to clarify. When I said that your attitude to Scots was 'anglocentric' I did not mean to imply that you are 'anti-Scots' or in any way unpatriotic. I was merely attempting to show that your point of reference for deciding whether something is Scots or English is Standard English. On the other hand you would not decide whether something was Sc. Gaelic or Irish solely by reference to Irish. You would consider both Sc. Gaelic and Irish as independent points of reference.

The point I'm labouring to make is that we should always consider Scots varieties with reference to the Scots language as a whole, and not as independent localised speech forms which we compare only with Standard English.
 
 
# MacNaughton 2011-03-21 09:29
Paul, these articles are very welcome and make excellent reading, allow me to add my voice to the chorus of congratulations .

The case of Catalá is indeed instructive. No text was translated into Catalá for approximately 250 years. The language was effectively reconstituted by a bunch of amateur enthusiasts at the end of the 19C. The first Catalan dictionary came about after an advert was placed in the newspaper calling for people to send in contributions. The whole of Catalan civic society began to respond against all expectations, the tradesman offering the vocabulary used in his own area of expertise, the scholar digging out some archaic expressions from the past, the poet offering some choice phrase, the translator - and translation is so vital for a language to grow - offering some neologism etc... each man chipping in with his peseta's worth, from all corners of society: democracy in action, civic society in action. Doesn't that sound very Scottish?

The priest responsible for the call was simply overwhelmed by the response and a convention was called in which Catalan society literally decided upon the newly reconstituted written language. This was the beginning of the process of "normalización", which is to say a) the normalisation of the language, its use in all walks of life, but also, and most crucially absent in the case of Scots, b) deciding on its "normas" or rules. You cannot have a language without rules, at least not one as fragile as Scots.

You are right to say that Catalonia's status as the driver of the Spanish economy helped the status of Catalan and its survival; indeed, Gallego, is a much more relevant example in that sense, because it was largely abandoned by its middle class too, like Scots. In Scotland, it has also been pointed out that our independent institutions, and the protestant religion, were far more important in terms of the national identity, serving as its focus. You needed English to trade; you still do.

Still, can you imagine a public convention to elect a body to hammer out a new language, from the remnants of medieval Scots, literary Scots, and the various different versions of Scots spoken today? It is a pipedream, but there is something about it which is so democratic, so healthy, that it is tempting to indulge the imagination.

Ultimately, I don't believe Scots will ever be restored. For one thing, a great number of Scotland's writers prefer to use Scots as a literary language within the context of English, creating an estranging effect - and crucially keeping them within the vast cultural field which is work in the English language. A reference here is Kafka and Czech German, which by all accounts Kafa effectively revitalised and used to stunningly alientating effect in his writing (alas I don't speak German well enough to know) - though crucially did not abandon altogether. And so it has been and will continue to be with Scots: a guerrilla language with a whiff of danger about it, something subversive about it, which will continue to be used in a context in which the expectation is standard English.

Ultimately, Scotland's great linguistic potential, almost as great as its energy potential, has largely been allowed to go waste. Not enough people in Scotland care about language it seems to me - any language. If you go to Wikipedia and check out the number of artciles available per language, take a look at Catalan. The number is staggering for the size of the country - it is a country of translators and linguists, a place obsessed with language, perhaps too much. I fear that such enthusiasm in Scotland ends up channeled into other areas, though maybe things can change.

There are three great lectures here in Spanish on the history of Catalá if you or anybody else is interested:

march.es/.../...
 

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