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The origins of the Scots language

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Where does the Scots language come from?

Scots voiceover and subtitles:

English voiceover and subtitles:

Researchers from the Angus McIntosh Centre for Historical Linguistics have created these videos to explore the origins and earliest developments of the Scots language.

They worked with Hamish MacDonald, the Scots Scriever in Residence at the National Library of Scotland, as well as with accomplished Scots translator Derrick McClure of the University Aberdeen, in order to share their work in modern Scots as well as in English.

The videos were made as part of a research project on Older Scots, “From Inglis to Scots”. The project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and hosted by the Angus McIntosh Centre.

Scots: a language in its own right

The aim of the videos is to explore the early history of the Scots language and disentangle its relationships with other languages and language groups such as English, Celtic, French and Norse.

In the past, many people – including some speakers of Scots themselves – have viewed Scots as a “bad” version of English rather than a language with its own unique history and rich cultural heritage.

Linguistics researchers at Edinburgh are working to better understand Scots’ unique position and features and help people engage with it and celebrate its importance. See, for example, this blog post from the Bilingualism Matters (also hosted in our Linguistics department) about the importance of Scots language in education:

Scots in the Scottish Curriculum

As well as producing these videos, researchers and students at the Angus McIntosh Centre have also worked with the National Library of Scotland to produce resources for readers of the Buke of the Howlat.

The resources are part of the National Library of Scotland’s “Wee Windaes” project celebrating the Scots language in literature. The resource offers an insight into the handwriting, spelling and pronunciation of this 15th-century Scots poem.

The Buke of the Howlat

More information

Angus McIntosh Centre for Historical Linguistics

2 comments

  1. Why are the Scots of Dalriada referred to as Irish “raiders” but the “waves of Jutes, Angles and Saxons” referred to just as “settlers”?

    Good video , but upper Galloway was Gaelic speaking until 1700s, and the lower parts until the 1500-1600s.

    • Hi Steven! Thanks for the feedback. ‘Raiders’ is an accurate description of both groups, as is ‘settlers’; we just chose one term for one group, the other term for the other and intended no distinction. Your point re Gaelic is of course true, but we regrettably we had to sacrifice many such details in our brief overview.
      Best wishes,
      Rhona Alcorn
      Chancellor’s Fellow in Linguistics and English Language at the University of Edinburgh

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