Document 595

Scots version of History of Scots essay

Author(s): Robert Lawson

Copyright holder(s): Robert Lawson


Thi status o thi Scottish Leid in Scotland is, at aw levels o yaise, complex an indefinite. Speakers yaise a wide variety o dialects an registers rangin frae Scottish Standard English tae Scots, yit thire seems tae be unwritten rules as tae quhilk variety tae yaise. Nae written standard exists, yit Scots in aw its forms is yaised in numerous literary fields. In education diffrent schuils support a Scottish literature an leid curriculum tae varying degrees, yit in Scottish schuils texts writtin in Standard English ur mair commonly studit. Quhile Scots kin be seen tae hae a clear linguistic claim o’er speakers, haein a large boadie o modern an historical literature, an influential literary renaissance, an a wide range o speakers, it’s seen bi mony folk as wrang, slovenly an careless, bit othirs, sic like McClure, ur attemptin tae improve thi respectability o Scots.

Thi claim that thi Scots leid is a ‘priceless national treasure’ mibbie suggests McClure waants Scots tae be promotit tae an elevatit state o significance, fur it tae be protectit an yaised accordingly, an thire is thi implication that it cannae be yaised as a tool fur communication. Liz Niven perhaps best tells o a possible future fur Scots,

"Until living Scots used by the pupils is accepted as a rich an vibrant leid in its own right…then the past an present literature o Scotland will be locked away in a glass kist, visible but never fully kent." (Niven, 1998:58)

This wid seem like McClure’s appeal, that thi leid ‘be locked away in a glass kist’, unchanging and unchangeable, but his position is actually very different frae that impliit by thi quote ‘Scots is a precious national treasure’. McClure argues a convincing case in his book "Why Scots Matters", fur makin Scots mair accessible, prominent an valuable in aw areas o yaise, combatin a widespread belief that Scots is ‘substandard’ quhile attemptin tae reverse common attitudes tae Scots.

"We have allowed [Scots] to deteriorate in status and in scope, to occupy an ever-diminishing place in the national life, and in our own time come under the threat of extinction. No one who is familiar with even a part of the corpus of Scots literature, no one with an interest in language and its resources…can contemplate the decline o Scots unmoved." (McClure, 1988:63-64)

How is Scots yaised an promoted in modern Scotland? How important is thi Scottish leid in Scotland?

When discussin Scots, thi distinction atween leid an dialect needs tae be considerit, an is particularly important wi regards tae Scots since thi ambiguity atween leid an dialect adds tae Scots’ uncertain position. Some linguists believe that a leid is simply a dialect wi a flag, quhile othirs yaise thi distinction that dialects ur mutually intelligible, quhile leids urnae. This however, hus its limitations. Some dialects o thi same leid kin be mutually unintelligible, fur example Southrin English an Glaswegian, quhile sum leids kin be mutually intelligible, fur example Spanish an Italian. E’en separate leids sic as Swedish an Norwegian could be argued tae be merely twa dialects, but poletically this isnae thi case, as Webster argues.

"Languages do not exist in a vacuum. Language is part of culture, and as such gets highly politicised. It turns out, for example, that Swedish and Norwegian are probably two dialects of the same language. Tell this to a Swede or a Norwegian, however, and you might get hurt, because neither Sweden nor Norway will admit to speaking a language even vaguely connected to that of their closest rival." (Webster, para 5:1997)

In Scots a nummer o dialects exist, an a comparison o Northiastern dialect an Glaswegian dialect shows that althouch uniformity exists in some areas, thay ur twa gey individual dialects. This transcript o a well-kent comedy sketch portrays a Northeastern dialect.

(1) ‘Bunty, I wis shocked fan I read that. Fit’s thi world comin’ til? Bairns watchin’ TV fan thiy should be sayin’ thiir tables or getting learned richt grammar. I mean, fan we wis at thi school, we never got TV.’ (Buff Hardie: 1987)

Compared wi thi Glaswegian dialect yaised by Ian Banks in "Thi Bridge" obvious dialectal differences become apparent.

(2) Thin ah thogt I herd a noyse cumin frae ma pockit; taeok oot thi wee goldin statyou an lookt at it. Stil lookt sortaef like a frog, though it seamed tae have wings or sumthin on its bak. Enyway, ah looked at it, thin at thi watter, an I thought; whit thi hell, I’ll swim it. (Banks, 1986: 167)

Thi replacement o <wh-> wi <f-> in <fan> fur <when> an <fit’s> fur <what’s>, thi velar fricative /x/ representit by thi <-cht-> spelling, thi preposition <til> an definite article yaise in <thi school> all show excerpt 1 as bein Scottish, specifically Northeastern Scots. Ane interestin feature o this transcript is that thire ur dummy apostrophes in participles an imperfect verbs, <comin’>, <watchin’>, quhen in Scots theres nae final <g> tae be replac’t. This is a direct influence o English orthographical conventions modell’t oan Scots. In excerpt 2 there’s a closer correlation atween spoken an written forms, an it soonds representitive o a Glaswegian dialect, but thire ur gey few Scottish lexical items, an e’en within itself thire kin be foond mony a variant spellings, <thogt> an <thought>, <lookt> an <looked> an <ah> an <I>. This highlichts thi lack o a written standard, a hing that hus an influential effect oan thi teachin o Scots in schuils. E’en thouch ane definin point o a leid is satisfied, distinct dialects occurrin within thi leid, it still remains difficult tae define Scots as a hail due tae its complicatit history.

Scots was aince a very separate leid frae English, an as sic wis gaen thi misnomer o Scottis bi Gavin Douglas, which originally referr’t tae Gaelic. When thi centre o power moved frae Edinburgh tae London wi James VI, Standard English, since it was adoptit bi James, rapidly became thi norm fur communication, quhile Scots slowly fell intae disuse an social discrimination. Scots, in ony form, then came a dialect o English, but wi thi literary renaissance o thi early 20th century an moves tae improve thi status o Scots, its leid/dialect position aince again became undecidit. Syne Scots is distinctive in its vocabulary, spelling, pronunciation an grammar, hus a considerable body o literature, has a large nummer o users, hus significant dialectal variation within itself an is recognised as bein different frae English, it wid seem that Scots suld be considered as a leid. But Scots hus nae written standard, isnae taucht as a formal leid an husnae been yaised tae deal wi a range o domains such as technology an science. Its position is sae complicatit that e’en linguists such as McClure hae changed thir opinion oan Scots.

"Scots is a language, a vehicle for the thoughts and feelings of one particular section… of the human family." (McClure, 1988:71)

He changed his stance 10 years later howe’er.

"Scot is certainly not a 'dialect'… but with equal certainty it is not a 'language' in the full sense that English and French are languages." (McClure, 1998:11)

His change in stance micht be political, gin it is strange tae see sic an active supporter o Scots change his view oan Scots sae decisively. Thi decision is a difficult ane tae mak, an ane quhilk micht ne’er be answer’t, but ane hing quhilk is gey definite is hoo Scots is yaised bi speakers, an hoo it is perceived bi othirs socio-linguistically.

As all othir leids, Scots hus a continuum o registers wi Scottish Standard English at ane end o thi scale an Scots at thi othir. Scots is usually regardit as mair ‘Scottish’ than Scottish Standard English, since it retains features quhilk are historically characteristic o Scots, i.e. nae final <g> on verbs, thi negative participle <nae>, loss o grammatical number agreement, <thire’s three men>, different vowel segments frae English, tae name but a few. Scottish Standard English has less o thise characteristics, because is mair o an approximation o a Standard English accent. Ane major advantage quhilk SSE hus ower Scots is thi ease wi speakers o othir varieties o English can unnerstaun it. SSE help’t speakers move away frae thi types o social discrimination an stigma associatit wi Scots, but allow’t thim tae still be identified as Scottish through thiir accent. Douglas also supports this view.

"Why should Scottish Standard English enjoy such comparatively high status over Scots? One of the key reasons must be the ease of comprehensibility it has for speakers of other Englishes… It is no less comprehensible than American or Australian English." (Douglas, 2000:53)

Alongside thise differences thire traditionally exists a dichotaemy atween Scots an SSE o informality an formality. Most speakers yaise Scots quhen speaking wi close freends or faimily, an yaise SSE in mair formal situations, university, schuil, joab interviews an quhen interactin wi people o a higher social class. This dichotaemy also serves as a social marker, where speakers hae thiir social class identified through thiir speech. This social discrimination exists primarily through thi promotion o Standard English or SSE as ‘proper’ speech, quhile Scots is seen tae be ‘bad English’ or ‘lazy English’. In speech thi division atween Scots, SSE an Standard English is evident, it is in writing thi division atween SSE an Standard English becomes less so. This division is e’en mair profoond in education, where Scots an Standard English exist alangside each othir, but no necessarily in harmony.

Thi teaching o Scots in thi classroom is just as complex as its yaise is ootside thi classroom. Many dominies feel uneasy aboot introducin quhat is stereotypically regardit as ‘gutter Scots’ or Urban Scots intae thi classroom.

"I’m quite comfortable with a broad accent and the use of Scots words, but I don’t like ‘gonnae’, ‘ah’ve went’, ‘youse’ – it’s just slack speech." (Teacher comment, 1998;108)

E’en though these ur justified forms in Scots, it is the attitude to Scots as ‘incorrect English’ quhilk need tae be address’t afore Scots kin exist as a legitimate subject in thi eyes o dominies. Scots suldnae hae tae compete tae gain recognition, it suld be able tae be yaised alongside English. English isnae thi only subject tae be affected in this waiy.

"Even the teaching of Scottish history has only recently been given the focus it deserves. For many of us we kent fine the date of the battle of Hastings bit naething at aw aboot Necthansmere or Athilstaneford or Culloden or Flodden." (Niven, 1998, 63)

Quhen pupils ur bein taucht ony subject, whethir it be Maths, History, oar anothir subject in thi curriculum, thi texts yaised ur regularly scrieved in Standard English, an pupils are dissuadit frae yaisin Scots in essays an oral answers.

All too affen Scots is repress’t as a legitimate medium, in baith speech an writin, unless it is a patriotic occasion sic like Burns Nicht oar St Andrews Day. Hodgart argues that thi promotion o the English hus been tae thi unfortunate detriment o Scots.

"Since thi stert o state education an imperialistic mono-lingual policy o ‘correct’ English has dominatit in Lowland Scotland…. Scuilteachers hae often actit as cultural gestapo inflictin nearhaun fatal damage on oor ability tae express oorselves in Scots wi ony real confidence, an it still gaes on, fur this kinna culural brainwashin is just aboot endemic in pairts o oor educational system." (Hodgart, 1998:77)

Quhile thire hae been moves tae incorporate a higher level o Scottish material intae thi English curriculum in thi form o thi Scottish texts in thi Higher Still program, Advanced Higher papers in Scottish Literature an Leid, an thi publishing o "Thi Kist", it still hus tae compete wi a educational system quhilk hus thi majority o its texts writtin in English. In this waiy Scots kin be seen again tae be plac’t in a position o less importance, despite thi fact it is thi principal leid o maist pupils. McClure believes this stance is gauntae continue unless mair measures ur implementit tae ensure Scots kin be yaised bi pupils withoot ony fear o stigmatisation.

"Until Scots is taught – and, much more important, used as a living language, for teaching and conversation – on an equal footing with English, its status will not change, and its decline will not be halted." (McClure, 1995:25)

Despite sic moves, it is only in recent years that a mair comprehensive literature an leid curriculum fur Scots hus become available. Less than 5 year syne Scottish Literature consistit o Burns an a few othir Scottish writers, an Scottish leid was ne’er seriously considert fur study. It wis only at higher levels o education that wider Scottish literary texts became accessible, but gey few, wi thi exception o Burns, were scrieved in Scots. This pints tae ane major problem wi thi teaching o Scots in secondary schuils. Bi secondary age maist pupils hae been condition’t tae regard Scots as unsuitable fur school purposes, an quhile thiy are confident using it in speech, thiy are unfamiliar wi scrieved Scots. Reversing this mindset kin be sair difficult, as Hodgart highlichts.

"Generation o cultural brainwashin in thi classroom isnae easily owercome." (Hodgart, 1998:89)

Fur Scots tae be readily acceptit by baith pupils an dominies, thi teachin o it hus tae begin at thi same time as English. Withoot this, pupils faced wi written Scots later in life ur gaunae regard it as unfamiliar an foreign, e’en though it is thir ain leid. Scots is noo an integral part o thi Scottish curriculum an thire ur options tae yaise Scots fur essay writin, but this is still in its infancy. Writin in Scots is perhaps maist actively encouraged through competitions run by Thi Burns Federation an Thi Association fur Scottish Literary Studies amangst othirs, an writin in Scots ootwith this area kin be frown’t upon. It’s only gaunae be through thi education o the wee yins that Scots will be regardit as natural an acceptable. The proablem wi scrieved Scots is that nae definitive written standard exists as it does fur English, and although proposals hae been put foreward, Lallans fur example, nane hae satisfactorily dealt wi thi proablems Scots orthography poses. Quhile thire ur attempts tae reform Scots at schuil level, thi position o Scots at university level is again problematical.

At university Scots becomes an academic pursuit, but students are often plac’t in a difficult position wi regards tae thi dichotaemy between Scots an English. Scots is studit as a legitimate subject, but mony students feel self-conscious yaisin Scots when talkin tae a tutorial group oar professor, an even mair so scrievin academic essays oan Scots. This is a direct implication o a hierarchy quhilk deems Standard English oar SSE as mair correct than Scots, an again this kin only be combatit through educating pupils in primary an secondary schuil. Although a loat o work hus been done fur Scots tae be recognised and yaised bi schuil weans and students, this still neglects a large section o thi population yaise Scots. Fur Scots tae be recognised as a leid by aulder generations mair work hus tae be done tae actively promote it ayont the classromm and lecture thearter.

It is generally acceptit bi Scottish linguists that Scots no in educational institutions need tae be informed aboot their ain leid, since this is the furst means bi which it kin be maintained. There’s a widespread belief amang thi population o Scotland that poetry principally refers tae English poetry, sic like Milton, Donne et al, quhile Burns represents Scottish literature, and this is yit a forerunner tae ane o the major disadvantages o how Scots perceive their ain leid: maist dinnae perceive it as a leid. Until Scots unnerstaun and believe their leid is ane, a wee kin be done tae improve its status. McClure believes that a direct result o non-promotion o Scots, Scottish culture micht be under threat.

"For Scots, the position is not beyond hope. The first and most urgent necessity…is to disencumber ourselves of the attitude which has crippled the national life for generations: the notion that what is English is natural and right, and what is Scottish is a provincial aberration." (McClure, 1988:65)

Kin Scottish culture exist withoot a Scottish Leid? Leid and cultural ur inextricably connectit tae ane another, and it’s gey near impossible tae hae ane withoot t’other. Wi thi loss of Scots Language, there’s a possible loas o thi culture o Scotland. Kin thi culture o Scotland be convey’t bi Standard English? Nae other culture expresses itself through another leid, and Scotland is nae different. It is through the yais o a unique leid that Scotland projects its individuality, its heritage and its traditions.

"The Scots Language is a mark of the distinctive identity of the Scottish people, and as such we should be concerned to preserve it, even if there were no other reason, because it is ours." (McClure, 1988:60)

Whit is thi future o Scots? It’s nigh impossible that Scots is gaunae cease tae exist since it’s yaised bi mony a folk frae mony a different background an social situation. If present reforms continue tae be successful there micht weel be an upsurge o national interest in Scots, howe’er this is doubtful due tae the firm hauld Standard English hus oan mony aspects o daily life in Scotland, as McClure also states.

"It cannot be realistically envisaged that Scots… could displace English entirely from a position of importance in the national life." (McClure, 1988:63)

Thi maist probable ootcome fur Scots wid be fur it tae exist in muckle the same waiy as it hus done fur the past 50 year, existin alangside Standard English, primarily yaised fur speech atween faimily and freends, an as a medium fur literary texts. The Scots Leid is gauntae continue tae play an important and noticeable part o life in Scotland, and since it’s ane part o the culture quhilk reflects Scotland’s history, waiy o life and social structure, it’ll ne’er be loast. Scots micht be seen tae be a ‘treasure’ in some quarters, but the reality is tae ensure that it doesnae remain in this state, and that it be adopted as a powerful, respectit communicative tool capable o mony roles bi the Scottish folk.

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Scots version of History of Scots essay. 2024. In The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved 17 June 2024, from

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Information about Document 595

Scots version of History of Scots essay


Text audience

Adults (18+)
Audience size 3-5

Text details

Method of composition Wordprocessed
Year of composition 2004
Title of original (if translation) History of Scots essay
Author of original (if translation) Robert Lawson
Language of original (if translation) Standard English
Word count 3112

Text medium

Other Essay submitted for university course.

Text setting


Text type



Author details

Author id 741
Forenames Robert
Surname Lawson
Gender Male
Decade of birth 1980
Educational attainment University
Age left school 18
Occupation Student
Place of birth Lanark
Region of birth Lanark
Birthplace CSD dialect area Lnk
Country of birth Scotland
Place of residence Glasgow
Region of residence Glasgow
Residence CSD dialect area Gsw
Country of residence Scotland
Father's place of birth Lanark
Father's region of birth Lanark
Father's birthplace CSD dialect area Lnk
Father's country of birth Scotland
Mother's place of birth Wishaw
Mother's region of birth Lanark
Mother's birthplace CSD dialect area Lnk
Mother's country of birth Scotland


Language Speak Read Write Understand Circumstances
English Yes Yes Yes Yes
Scots Yes Yes Yes Yes