Document 751

The Chyngin Scots Language

Author(s): Robert Fairnie

Copyright holder(s): Robert Fairnie


HOU much daes a language hiv tae chynge afore it cannae be cried the same language ony mair? There a guid wechty scuil o thocht gaun aboot the day, maistly in estaiblishment quarters but in some pairts o the Scots language muvement an aw, that threaps the language spoken the day in Scotland is that faur removed frae the Scots that wis spoken twa-three hunder year syne that it cannae be cried Scots ony mair, but juist an Inglified kinna ill-moothit slang that’s the tred-merk o the uneducatit warkin clesses (if there is sic a thing the day). Funny, wis it no the Scots language o thae uneducatit warkin clesses that, in thae days gane bye, wis taen up bi thair monarch an the nobility aboot a hunder year afore it happened in England?

There wis a time in England whan words the likes o right, light, night an knight an mony ithers wis pronounced the same wey as they war in Scots sic as richt, licht, nicht an knicht. But thon aw chynged juist ower fower hunder year syne an the ‘ch’ soond wis drappit. Mony ither chynges taen place in the English language ower thae fower hunder year, baith in the pronunciation an wi the inclusion o new words borraed intae it frae ither leids. Words the likes o golf, clan, caddie, glamour, blackmail, whisky, scone, raid, flat, gruesome, wraith, heckle, stalwart, flunkey, rampage, uncanny, eerie, pony, pet an mony ithers wis borraed frae the Scots language. Hou mony Elizabethans wad unnerstaund the modern meanins o wicked, gay, cool, gig, pictures or new words sic as concentration camp, blitzkrieg or the bends? Ay, in mony weys the English language haes chynged a lot ower thae fower hunder year but naebody wad be glaikit eneugh tae threap that it’s chynged that muckle it cannae be cried pure English ony mair. Aw languages haes tae chynge if they dinnae want tae dee an Scots, like English, is nae different.

In a raicent airticle in the Scotsman, Allan Massie pynts oot that no mony o us, apairt frae scholars, cuid unnerstaund the writins o Dunbar or Gawaine Douglas athoot a keek or twa at a glossary. Daes he think there wad be mony English speakers cuid read Chaucer athoot daein the same? Some o his hecklin o raicent written forms o Scots haes a pynt an we tak a stick tae brack oor ain backs if we dinnae pey nae heed tae it but we maunna faw in wi his consaits aboot the state o spoken Scots the day. He threaps that the best we can howp for is that mair o us will write an speak English in a Scots fashion, wi a guid creeshin o Scots vocabular. Weel, tae uise thon kenspeckle English expression déjà vu, hiv we no been this wey afore? Up until the time King Henry IV o England an his coort taen up speakin English insteid o Norman French, haed the Scots no been writin an speakin English in a Scots kinna wey wi a guid creeshin o local vocabular for a hunder year afore that? An wis it no juist aboot thon time that the Scots nobles fund oot that the English uised in Scotland wisnae juist the same as the English uised in England sae they stertit tae cry thair ain kinna English 'Scots', efter the country it wis spoken in?

Walter Elliot haes a thing or twa tae say aboot the purity o Scots in his poem, “Pure Border Scots”; in his case, his ain Border Scots, but ither byeleids o Scots is no aw that different as regaird tae chynges. In his poem, Walter gies a leet o aw the languages that’s been chucked intae the pat tae mak up the ‘Pure’ Border Scots. It stertit wi the forebeir o Welsh, follaed bi German that haed tae hae its name chynged intae Auld English. Efter the Battle o Carham the Gaelic o the Scots an the Celtic tung o the Picts wis melled intae the ‘jorum’. This wis suin follaed wi the Norse o the Vikings an Danes an then the Norman French an northern English in the peacefu Norman Conquest o King David’s time. Walter feinishes wi German, Dutch an the Hindi o the Gypsies at Yetholm. Thon’s a richt mixter-maxter but for aw the chynges, it wis ne’er ever threapit the language wisnae Scots. An whit’s mair, the chynges didnae stap thare an still gauns on tae this day. Scots sodgers o the 19t century brocht hame words like peelie-wallie back frae India an the 20t gied the Scots idiom o ‘pittin yer gas at a peep’ an the pure Scots idiom in the English words, ‘pure dead brilliant’. There hunders mair like thon but want o space gars us keep the examples doon tae thae twa-three. As Walter says at the hinneren o his poem, it’s the variety that gies it its vigour an strength.

There ae thing aboot Walter Elliot’s writin, it’s no artificial, made up or pitten on in ony wey for that’s the wey he speaks. He haes nae want tae mak his writin leuk mair ‘Scots’ bi uisin words his mooth daesnae uise cause, as he says hissel, it’s the Border Scots that he uises in baith speech an writin an if he says whit he speaks is Border Scots, wha’s gaun tae daur tell an Elliot he disnae? Whit’s mair, e’en Allan Massie wad hiv tae accept that maist Scots speakers the day wad hae nae bother at aw unnerstaundin his kinna written Scots e’en athoot a glossary.

We hiv tae lairn tae accept for Scots whit English taks for granted an that’s that nae language ever bides pure for langer nor a wee thocht in the vastness o time. Scots can never be siccar till the native Scots speakers sterts readin whit the screivers is writin, for literacy in ony leid is the only gate tae a bigger vocabular. But there ower mony purist writers the day waitin for some kinna education miracle that’ll gar thae speakers tae aw stert speakin the language that they write insteid o it bein the ither wey roond. This miracle isnae gaun tae happen an thon fact haes been pruived ower an ower agane bi thae purist authors thairsels. Efter readin an writin thair ain pitten on kinna language for years, there no ane o thaim haes been heard speakin it as a language.

The Scots language shuid be richt thankfu for the growein band o authors that tries tae match thair writin nearer tae the Scots uised bi the day’s Scots speakers. Thank guidness for the writers o Itchy Coo. Thank guidness for the authors o the ScuilWab frae the Scots Language Dictionaries. Thank guidness for writers the likes o Walter Elliot an the mony ithers o that ilk. If the native speakers o a kinna English that’s no heard furth o Scotland, an English that haes a guid creeshin o Scots vocabular, can identify wi this 21t century kinna Scots literature, there a guid chance o thaim biggin up thair vocabular an reddin up thair gremmar, idiom an speech habits juist bi discoverin that they’re literate in this Scots. The particular ‘English’ spoken in Scotland in the 21t century haes the same richt tae be cried Scots as the particular ‘English’ spoken in Scotland at the stert o the 15t century haed. The difference atween the twa is nae mair nor an aiblins a sicht less nor it is atween the praisent Queen’s English an Chaucer’s.

This work is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

The SCOTS Project and the University of Glasgow do not necessarily endorse, support or recommend the views expressed in this document.


Cite this Document

APA Style:

The Chyngin Scots Language. 2024. In The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved 24 July 2024, from

MLA Style:

"The Chyngin Scots Language." The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow, 2024. Web. 24 July 2024.

Chicago Style

The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech, s.v., "The Chyngin Scots Language," accessed 24 July 2024,

If your style guide prefers a single bibliography entry for this resource, we recommend:

The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. 2024. Glasgow: University of Glasgow.


Information about Document 751

The Chyngin Scots Language


Text audience

General public
Audience size 100+

Text details

Method of composition Wordprocessed
Year of composition 2004
Word count 1292

Text medium

Web (webpages, discussion boards, newsgroups, chat rooms)
Other Newsletter

Text publication details

Publisher Scots Tung
Publication year 2004
Place of publication Scots Tung Wittens
Edition No 124
Part of larger text
Contained in Scots Tung Wittens
Editor R Fairnie

Text setting

Other Scots Language Campaign

Text type



Author details

Author id 95
Forenames Robert
Surname Fairnie
Gender Male
Decade of birth 1930
Educational attainment College
Age left school 16
Upbringing/religious beliefs Protestantism
Occupation Consultant Marine Structural Engineer (Retired)
Place of birth Musselburgh
Region of birth Midlothian
Birthplace CSD dialect area midLoth
Country of birth Scotland
Place of residence Musselburgh
Region of residence Midlothian
Residence CSD dialect area midLoth
Country of residence Scotland
Father's occupation Fisherman
Father's place of birth Musselburgh
Father's region of birth Midlothian
Father's birthplace CSD dialect area midLoth
Father's country of birth Scotland
Mother's occupation Fishwife
Mother's place of birth Musselburgh
Mother's region of birth Midlothian
Mother's birthplace CSD dialect area midLoth
Mother's country of birth Scotland


Language Speak Read Write Understand Circumstances
English Yes Yes Yes Yes At work
German Yes Yes Yes Yes In Germany to communicate with two grandsons
Scots Yes Yes Yes Yes Wherever Scots is understood