Scots Language

Part of one’s family heritage is a native language. It doesn’t mean you have to be fluent in an ancestral language but be aware of it and maybe a few key phrases.

An example of a couple of declining languages includes Scottish Gaelic which has become the figurehead for minority languages in Scotland. This is sensible; it is a very old and very distinctive language (it has three distinct r sounds!), and in 2011 the national census determined that fewer than 60,000 people speak it, making it a worthy target for preservation.

Another minority language in Scotland is called ‘Scots’, and it’s sometimes referred to as a joke, a weirdly spelled and accented local variety of English. Is it a language or a dialect? Scots really is a fascinating centuries-old Germanic language that happens to be one of the most widely spoken minority native languages, by the national percentage of speakers, in the world. You may not have heard of it, but the story of Scots is a story of linguistic imperialism done most effectively, a method of stamping out a country’s independence, and also, unexpectedly, an optimistic story of survival. Scots has faced every pressure a language can face, and yet it’s not only still here—it’s growing.

Scots language arrived in what is now Scotland around the sixth century. Before then, Scotland wasn’t called Scotland, and wasn’t unified in any real way, least of all linguistically. It was less a kingdom than an area encompassing several different kingdoms, each of which would have thought itself sovereign—the Picts, the Gaels, the Britons, even some Norsemen.

Means: ‘Do you want to dance?

The Anglian people, who were Germanic, started moving northward through England from the end of the Roman Empire’s influence in England in the fourth century. By the sixth century, they started moving up through the northern reaches of England and into the southern parts of Scotland. Scotland and England always had a pretty firm border, with some forbidding hills and land separating the two parts of the island. But the Anglians came through, and as they had in England, began to spread a version of their own Germanic language throughout southern Scotland.

The big change between Scots and what is now English came with the Norman Conquest in the mid-11th century, when the Norman French (William the Conqueror) invaded England. The Normans never went north towards Scotland, so Scots never incorporated Norman language changes. As a result, the Scots preserved the Germanic language. By 1500, Scots was the main language of Scotland. The king spoke Scots. Records were kept in Scots. Some other languages remained, but Scots was by far the most important.

It can be difficult to understand the Scots language, some portions you understand but most you do. So Scots is a language and not a dialect.

Here is an example from a sign on a gasoline station: Ye may gang faur an fare waur’ translated means – You may go further and do a lot worse.

Scots today – there are 1.5 million of Scotland’s 5.3 million people declared that they read, spoke, or understood Scots. Maybe one of your ancestors has Scots as their native language.

Photos: Scotsman; a few Scots language words; a Scots phrase; and UK map.

Related Blogs:

Scotland of Long Ago

Scottish-American Heritage

MacGregor Clan

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