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Scots language

Total speakers: 1.5 Million +
Language codes
ISO 639-3: Sco

Scots (or Lallans meaning lowlands) is the form of speech used in lowland Scotland, and parts of Northern Ireland and border areas of the Republic of Ireland. Although, there has been some dispute as to whether Scots is a dialect of English, or a separate language in its own right, the British government now accepts Scots as a language and has recognised it under the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages. Evidence for its existence as a separate language lies in the extensive body of Scots literature; in the existence of several Scots dialects; and in its former use as the official language of the original Scottish Parliament.

There is little doubt that, had Scotland remained independent, Scots would be regarded as a separate language from English. This has happened in Norway with Norwegian. Norwegian, once regarded as a dialect of Danish, has been regarded as a language in its own right since Norwegian independence in the nineteenth century.

Since England joined Scotland to form the Kingdom of Great Britain, it is probably more correct to regard Scots as a group of dialects closely related to English. However, since Scotland has distinct political, legal and religious systems there are many terms that are only used in Scotland. For instance, libel and slander, separate in English law, are bundled together as defamation in Scots law.

On the other hand, many Scots words have become part of English: flit (move home), greed, eerie, cuddle, clan, stob (a post).

There are at least five Scots dialects:

As well as the main dialects, Edinburgh, Dundee and Glasgow have local variations on an Anglified form of Central Scots. In Aberdeen, Mid Northern Scots is spoken.


Nouns usually form their plural in –(e)s but some irregular plurals occur: ee/een eye/eyes, cauf/caur calf/calves, horse/horse horse/horses, cou/kye cow/cows, shae/shuin shoe/shoes. Nouns of measure and quantity unchanged in the plural fower fit four feet, twa mile two miles, five pund five pounds, three hunderwecht three hundredweight.

Diminutives in –ie, burnie small burn (brook), feardie/feartie frightened person, coward, gamie gamekeeper, kiltie kilted soldier postie postman, wifie woman, rhodie rhododendron, in -ock, bittock little bit, playock toy, plaything, sourock sorrel and Northern –ag, bairnag little bairn child, Cheordag Geordie, -ockie, hooseockie small house, wifeockie little woman.

The modal verbs mey may, ocht tae ought to, and sall shall, aren’t usually used in Scots but occur in anglified literary Scots. Can, shoud should and will are the preferred Scots forms. Scots employs double modal constructions He'll no can come the day He won't be able to come today, A micht coud come the morn I may be able to come tomorrow, A uised tae coud dae it, but no nou I could do it once, but not now.

The present tense of verbs ends in –s in all persons and numbers except when a single personal pronoun is next to the verb, Thay say he's ower wee, Thaim that says he's ower wee, Thir lassies says he's ower wee They say he's too small, etc. Thay’re comin an aw but Five o thaim's comin, The lassies? Thay've went but Ma brakes haes went. Thaim that comes first is serred first Those who come first are served first. The trees growes green in simmer The trees grow green in summer.

Wis (was) may replace war (were), but not conversely: You war/wis thare.

The regular past form of the verb is –it or –t(e)d, according to the preceding consonant or vowel hurtit, skelpit smacked, Mendit, kent,kenned knew/ known, cleant/cleaned, scrieved scribbled, telt/tauld told, dee’d died. Some verbs have distinctive forms greet/grat/grutten weep/wept, fesh/fuish/fuishen fetch/fetched, lauch/leuch/lauchen laugh/laughed, gae/gaed/gane go/went, gie/gied/gien give/gave/given, pit/pat/pitten put/put/put/, git/gat/gotten got/got/got.

Scots prefers the word order He turnt oot the licht to He turned the light out and Gie me it to Give it me.

Certain verbs are often used progressively He wis thinkin he wad tell her, He wis wantin tae tell her.

Verbs of motion may dropped before an adverb or adverbial phrase of motion A’m awa tae ma bed, That’s me awa hame, A’ll intae the hoose an see him.

Ordinal numbers ending in –t seicont, fowert, fift, saxt - second, fourth, fifth, sixth etc. first, Thrid/third - first, third.

Adverbs are usually of the same form as the verb root or adjective especially after verbs. Haein a real guid day Having a really good day. She's gey fauchelt She's awfully tired.
Adverbs are also formed with –s, -lies, lins, gate(s)and wey(s) –wey, whiles at times, mebbes perhaps, brawlies splendidly, geylies pretty well, aiblins perhaps, airselins backwards, hauflins partly, hidlins secretly, maistlins almost, awgates always, everywhere, ilkagate everywhere, onygate anyhow, ilkawey everywhere, onywey(s) anyhow, anywhere, endweys straight ahead, whit wey how, why.

Verbless subordinate clauses introduced by an and expressing surprise or indignation She haed tae walk the hale lenth o the road an her sieven month pregnant, He telt me tae rin an me wi ma sair leg and me with my sore leg.

Negation occcurs by using the adverb no, in the North East nae, as in A'm no comin I'm not coming, or by using the suffix –na (pronunciation depending on dialect), as in A dinna ken I don’t know, Thay canna come They can’t come, We coudna hae telt him We couldn't have told him, and A hivna seen her I haven't seen her. The usage with no is preferred to that with –na. With contractable auxiliary verbs like –ll for will, or in yes no questions with any auxiliary He'll no come and Did he no come?

The relative pronoun is that for all persons and numbers, but may be left out Thare's no mony fowk (that) leeves in that glen There aren't many people who live in that glen. The anglicised forms wha, wham, whase (who, whom, whose) and the older whilk (which) are literary, whilk is only used after a statement He said he'd tint it, whilk wis no whit we wantit tae hear. The possessive is formed by adding ’s or by using an appropriate pronoun The wifie that’s hoose gat burnt, the wumman that her dochter gat mairit; the men that thair boat wis tint.

A third adjective/adverb yon/yonder, thon/thonder indicating something at Some distance D’ye see yon/thon hoose ower yonder/thonder? Also thae (those) and thir (these), the plurals of this and that. In Northern Scots this and that remain so in the plural.

Scots has changed to some extent over the years, as any living language does, though some would say that it has been more loyal to its Anglo-Saxon roots than English: compare kirk (Sc) with church (En) and ken (Sc) with know (En).

Interest in it was also revived by Hugh MacDiarmid's Lallans Movement in the 1920s.

Examples can be found on the Internet from John Barbour in the 14th century up to MacDiarmid in the 20th century, for those who are interested. But the most famous Scots literature worldwide is undoubtedly Robert Burns poetry of the late 18th century. An humorous example can be found in the Burns supper article, in the form of the Address To A Haggis.

The book Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh was written using the highly anglicised Edinburgh dialect of Scots (and later made into a movie of the same name, though with language allegedly watered down for an international audience). Robert Burns is the most famous of the poets to have written in Scots.

These Germanic language dialects are distinct from Scottish Gaelic, a Celtic language still spoken by some in the Highlands and Islands to the west, though several Scots words, such as clan, loch, are Gaelic and others such as gowk come from Norse.

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