Learn the Lingo
Lesson 1: Introduction
No matter how well a visitor to Scotland can speak English, there will always be a few times when they ask themselves: what the hell are these people talking about? Don’t worry, it’s because most people here pepper their speech with Scots, an ancient and highly expressive language that has been blended with English to create a hybrid unique to this country.
Not to be confused with Gaelic, which is a Celtic language and is spoken in the Highlands, Scots is the traditional Germanic language of the Lowlands of Scotland and is closely tied to English. Scots was the state language in the kingdom of Scotland until the political union with England in 1707. The poet Robert Burns is probably the most famous writer in Scots – when people around the world attempt to sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ on New Year’s Eve, for example, they are not only singing a Burns song, they are singing in Scots.
Scots is also commonly known among its speakers by the alternative names Doric and (Auld) Scotch. Because there is no agreed standard Scots, native speakers will also often refer to their variety by a geographical name from which their version originates. Technically speaking, the English word for Scots is ‘Scottish’, which has traditionally been contracted to ‘Scotch’. Nowadays, less than half of the Scottish people speak Scots. The General Register Office for Scotland, which is based in Edinburgh, estimated in 1996 that 1.5 million people (30 percent of the population) speak Scots. The remainder of the population may not ordinarily speak Scots, but their speech is continuously influenced by it nonetheless. For example, many people may borrow selected Scots words or idioms into their English, often without realising it - ‘wee’, ‘aye’, ‘nae’, ‘bairn’ and even ‘mingin’ are all words borrowed from Scots. Other popular words are glaikit (used to describe a stupid, vacuous person), gallus (used to describe a self-confident person), crabbit (bad-tempered), blether (a chat) or teuchter (a person from the countryside).
PHRASES TO TRY
1. ‘Lang may yer lum reek’
‘May you live a long and happy life’ or literally ‘long may your chimney smoke’
2. ‘My feet’s lowpin’
‘My feet are sore’
3. ‘Ah’ve got a rare drouth on me’
‘I’m very thirsty’
4. ‘A’m affa hungry, whaur can a get a bit scran?’
‘I’m very hungry, where can I get something to eat?’
5. ‘Are the a nicht club roon here?’
‘Is there a night club around here?’
6. ‘M’on get yer coat, hen, ye’v pullt.’
‘Get your coat love, you’ve pulled.’
With thanks to Dauvit Horsbroch and the Scots Language Centre, Perth, 01738 440 199, www.scotslanguage.com