Online Encyclopedia Search Tool

Your Online Encyclopedia


Online Encylopedia and Dictionary Research Site

Online Encyclopedia Free Search Online Encyclopedia Search    Online Encyclopedia Browse    welcome to our free dictionary for your research of every kind

Online Encyclopedia

Scots language

Scots (or Lallans, meaning 'Lowlands'), properly Lowland Scots, is a Germanic language used in Lowland Scotland, as well as parts of Northern Ireland and border areas of the Republic of Ireland, where it is known in official circles as Ulster Scots or Ullans but by speakers simply as "Scotch" or "Scots". On the whole, Lowland Scots descends from the Northumbrian form of Anglo-Saxon, albeit with influence from Norse via the Vikings, Dutch and Low Saxon through trade with, and immigration from, the low countries, and Romance via ecclesiastical and legal Latin, Anglo-Norman and later Parisian French owing to the Auld Alliance. Lowland Scots also has loan words resulting from contact with Scottish Gaelic, a Celtic language distinct from Lowland Scots still spoken by some in the Highlands and islands to the west. Loan words from Scottish Gaelic are mainly for geographical and cultural features, such as clan and loch ('lake'). Like any living language, Lowland Scots has changed to some extent over the years, though it has arguably remained closer to its Anglo-Saxon roots than English. Many Lowland Scots words have become part of English: flit, 'to move home', greed, eerie, cuddle, clan, stob, 'a post'.

Lowland Scots (Lallans Leid)
Spoken in: Scotland, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland
Region: Scotland: Lowlands, Northern Ireland: County Antrim, County Down, County Derry, Republic of Ireland: County Donegal
Total speakers: 1.5 million (Scotland); 30,000 (Northern Ireland)


Language codes
ISO 639-3 sco



Whether the varieties of Lowland Scots are dialects of English or constitute a separate language in their own right is often disputed. Before the Union, when England joined Scotland to form the Kingdom of Great Britain, there is ample evidence that Scots was widely held to be a language other than English [1] .

The British government now accepts Lowland Scots as a regional language and has recognised it as such under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Evidence for its existence as a separate language lies in the extensive body of Lowland Scots literature and independent, if somewhat fluid, orthographic conventions; in the existence of several Lowland Scots dialects; in the substantial lexical, grammatical, and phonological differences from other Anglic varieties and in its former use as the official language of the original Scottish Parliament. Since Scotland retained distinct political, legal, and religious systems after the Union, many Lowland Scots terms passed into Scottish English. For instance, libel and slander, separate in English law, are bundled together as defamation in Scots law.

Since the Union, perceptional and language change (see below) have resulted in Lowland Scots being regarded as a group of English dialects or at best a group of dialects closely related to English. There is no standard literary form. During the second half of the 20th century, enthusiasts developed regularised cross-dialect forms following on some historical orthographic conventions, but these have had little impact. When Lowland Scots is written, local loyalties usually prevail, and the written form is usually Standard English adapted to represent the local pronunciation. No education takes place through the medium of Lowland Scots, though English lessons may cover it superficially. This is often not much more than reading some Lowland Scots literature and observing local dialect. Much of the material used is often little more than Standard English disguised as Lowland Scots. Lowland Scots can also be studied at university level. Nowhere in the education system is the objective to produce people able to read, write, and speak Lowland Scots as an autonomous alternative to English, thus confirming its de facto status as a series of local dialects of English. The use of Lowland Scots in the media is scant and is usually reserved for niches where local dialect is deemed acceptable, e.g. comedy, Burns Night, or representations of traditions and times gone by. Serious use for news, encyclopaedias, documentaries, etc. rarely occurs in Lowland Scots, although the Scottish Parliament website offers some information in it.

It is often held that had Scotland remained independent Lowland Scots would have remained and been regarded as a separate language from English. This has happened in Spain and Portugal where two independent countries devoloped standardised languages. Portuguese originating from a common Galician-Portuguese language, which itself originated from a common Ibero-Romance language shared with Castilian Spanish. On the other hand a situation similar to that of Swiss German and High German may have occured. Equally the present situation may have occured where the social elites and upwardly mobile adopted Standard English causing institutional language shift. A model of Language revival aspired to by many enthusiasts is that of the Catalan language in areas spanning parts of Spain, France, Andorra and Italy, particularly regarding the situation of Catalan in Catalonia itself.

Language Change

After the union of Scotland and England the issue of language became topical and foremost was the question of whether Scots should speak English or Scots. Gaelic was never considered an option, at the time it was relegated to the Highlands and Islands. Scots became considered to have a substratal relationship to English as opposed to an adstratal relationship or put another way Scots became heteronomous and not automonous to English.

On one hand well-off Scots took to learning English through such activities as those of the Irishman Thomas Sheridan (father of Richard Sheridan) who in 1761 gave a series of lectures on English elocution. Charging a guinea at a time (about £65 in todays money) they were attended by over 300 men and he was made a freeman of the City of Edinburgh.

On the other hand the education system also became increasingly geared to teaching English though this was initially impaired by the teachers' and students' lack of knowledge of English pronunciation through lack of contact with English speakers. Aspects of English grammar and lexis could be accessed through printed texts. By the 1840s the Scottish Education Department's Language policy was that Scots had no value " is not the language of 'educated' people anywhere, and could not be described as a suitable medium of education or culture". Students of course reverted back to Scots outside the classroom but the reversion was not complete. What occurred and has been occurring ever since is a process of language suicide whereby successive generations have adopted more and more features from English, a process that has accelerated rapidly since wide-spread access to mass media in English and increased population mobility became available after the Second World War. It has recently taken on the nature of whole-scale language shift . These processes are often erroneously referred to as language change, convergence or merger.

A rather more positive take on this is that rather than reject English culture the lowland Scots mastered and conquered it, becoming bilingual and writing some of the greatest works of the time such as Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations in what was still a foreign language. Though most younger Scots today see a Scottish accent i.e. Scottish English as a sufficient marker of their Scottishness and are generally not interested in retaining bilingualism in a language they consider old fashioned, parochial or simply uncool. Residual features of Scots (often regarded as slang) in the speech of the young urban working class are often derogatorily referred to as Ned speak.


Among the earliest Lowland Scots literature is Barbour's Brus (14th century). Whyntoun's Kronykil and Blind Harry's Wallace (15th century) From the 13th century much literature based around the Royal Court in Edinburgh and the University of St. Andrews was produced by writers such as Henrysoun, Dunbar, Douglas and Lyndsay.

After the 17th century, anglicisation increased, though Lowland Scots was still spoken by the vast majority of the population. At the time, many of the oral ballads from the borders and the North East were written down. Writers of the period were Sempill, Lady Wardlaw and Lady Grizel Baillie.

In the 18th century, writers such as Ramsay, Fergusson, Burns and Scott continued to use Lowland Scots. Scott introduced vernacular dialogue to his novels.

Following their example, such well-known authors as Robert Louis Stevenson, William Alexander, George MacDonald and J. M. Barrie also wrote in Lowland Scots or used it in dialogue.

In the early 20th century, a renaissance in the use of Lowland Scots occurred, its most vocal figure being Hugh MacDiarmid. Other contemporaries were Douglas Young, Sidney Goodsir Smith, Robert Garioch and Robert McLellan. However, the revival was largely limited to verse and other literature.

In 1983 W. L. Lorimer's magnificent translation of the New Testament from the original Greek was published.

Highly anglicised Lowland Scots is often used in contemporary fiction, for example, the Edinburgh dialect of Lowland Scots in Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh (later made into a movie of the same name, though with language allegedly anglicised even more to make it suitable for an international audience).

But'n'Ben A-Go-Go by Matthew Fitt is a cyberpunk novel written entirely in what Wir Ain Leid (Our Own Language) calls "General Scots". Like all cyberpunk work, it contains imaginative neologisms.


There are at least five Lowland Scots dialects:

  • Northern Lowland Scots, spoken north of Dundee, often split into North Northern, Mid Northern—also known as North East Scots and affectionately referred to as "the Doric"—and South Northern.
  • Central Lowland Scots, spoken from Fife and Perthshire to the Lothians and Wigtownshire, often split into North East and South East Central, West Central and South West Central Lowland Scots.
  • South Lowland Scots, spoken in the border areas.
  • Insular Scots, spoken in the Orkney Islands and Shetland Islands
  • Ulster Scots, spoken by the descendants of Scottish settlers as well as those of Irish descent in Northern Ireland and County Donegal in the Irish Republic, and sometimes described by the neologism "Ullans", a conflation of "Ulster" and "Lallans".

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


Many writers now strictly avoid apostrophes where they supposedly represent "missing" English letters. Such letters were never actually missing in Lowland Scots. For example, in the 12th century, Barbour spelled the Lowland Scots equivalent of 'taken' tane. Since there has been no k in the word for over 700 years, representing its omission with an apostrophe seems pointless. The current spelling is usually taen. The following is more a guide for readers. How the spellings are applied in practice is beyond the scope of such a short description. Phonetics are in X-SAMPA.


Most consonants are usually pronounced much as in English but:
<c> for /k/ or /s/, much as in English.
<ch> for /x/, also <gh>. Medial <cht> may be /D/ in Northern dialects. loch (Lake), nicht (night), dochter (daughter), dreich (dreary), etc.
<ch> word initial or where it follows <r> /tS/. airch (arch), mairch (march), etc.
<gn> /n/. In Northern dialects /gn/ may occur.
<kn> /n/. In Northern dialects /kn/ or /tn/ may occur. knap (talk), knee, knowe (knoll), etc.
<ng> is always /N/.
<nch> usually /nS/. brainch (branch), dunch (push), etc.
<s> and <se> for /s/ or /z/.
<r> /r/ is always pronounced.
<t> may be a glottal stop between vowels or word final. In Ulster dentalised pronunciations may also occur, also for <d>.
<th> /D/ or /T/ much as is English. Initial <th> in thing, think and thank, etc. may be /h/.
<wh> usually /W/, older /xW/. Northern dialects also have /f/.
<wr> /wr/ more often /r/ but may be /vr/ in Northern dialects. wrack (wreck), wrang (wrong),write, wrocht (worked), etc.
<z> may occur in some words as a substitute for the older <3> (yogh) /jI/ or /N/. e.g. brulzie (broil), gaberlunzie (a beggar) and the name Menzies, etc.

Silent letters

The word final <d> in <nd> and <ld> but often pronounced in derived forms. Sometimes simply <n> and <l> or <n'> and <l'>. auld (old), haund (hand), etc.
<t> in medial <cht> (<ch> = /x/) and <st> and before final <en>. fochten (fought), thristle (thistle) also <t> in aften (often), etc.
<t> in word final <ct> and <pt> but often pronounced in derived forms. respect, accept, etc.


In Lowland Scots, vowel length is usually conditioned by the Scots vowel length rule. Words which differ only slightly in pronunciation from Scots English are generally spelled as in English. Other words may be spelled the same but differ in pronunciation, e.g. aunt, swap, want and wash with /a/, bull, full v. and pull with /V/, bind, find and wind v., etc. with /I/.

The unstressed vowel /@/ may be represented by any vowel letter.
<a> usually /a/ but in south west and Ulster dialects often /A/. Note final a in awa (away), twa (two) and wha (who) may also be /A, O/ or /e/ depending on dialect.
<au>, <aw> and sometimes <a>, <a'> or <aa> is /A/ or /O/ in Southern, Central and Ulster dialects but /a/ in Northern dialects. The cluster <auld> may also be /Vul/ in Ulster. aw (all), cauld (cold), braw (handsome), faw (fall), snaw (snow), etc.
<ae>, <ai>, <a(consonant)e> usually /e/. Often /E/ before /r/. In Northern dialects the vowel in the cluster <-ane> is often /i/. brae (slope), saip (soap), hale (whole), hure (whore), ane (one), ance (once), bane (bone), etc.
<ea> <ei> and <ie> usually /i/ or /e/ depending on dialect. /E/ may occur before /r/. Root final this may be /@i/ in Southern dialects. In the far north /@i/ may occur. deid (dead), heid (head), meat (food), clear, speir (enquire), sea, etc.
<ee> and <e(Consonant)e> usually /i/. Root final this may be /@i/ in Southern dialects. ee (eye), een (eyes), steek (shut), here, etc.
<e> usually /E/. bed, het (heated), yett (gate), etc.
<eu> for /(j)u/ or /(j)V/ depending on dialect. Sometimes erroneously <oo>, <u(consonant)e>, <u> or <ui>. beuk (book), ceuk (cook), eneuch (enough), leuk (look), teuk (took), etc.
<ew> usually /ju/. In Northern dialects a root final <ew> may be /jVu/. few, new, etc.
<i> usually /I/ but often varies between /I/ and /V/ especially after <w> and <wh>. /{/ also occurs in Ulster before voiceless consonants. big, fit (foot), wid (wood), etc.
<i(consonant)e>, <y(consonant)e> and <ey> usually /@i/ or /aI/. <ay> is usually /e/ but /@i/ in ay (yes) and aye (always). In Dundee it is noticeably /E/
<o> usually /O/ but often /o/.
<oa> usually /o/.
<ow> and <owe>, seldom <ou> usually /Vu/. Before <k> vocalisation to /o/ may occur especially in western and Ulster dialects. bowe (bow), howe (hollow), knowe (knoll), yowe (ewe), etc.
<ou>, <oo> and <u(consonant)e> usually /u/ Root final /Vu/ may occur in Southern dialects. cou (cow), broun (brown), hoose (house), moose (mouse) etc.
<u> usually /V/. but, cut, etc.
<ui>, also <u(consonant)e> and <oo> usually /2/ in conservative dialects. In parts of Fife, Dundee and north Antrim /e/. In Northern dialects usually /i/ but /wi/ after /g/ and /k/ and also /u/ before /r/ in some areas e.g. fuird (ford). Mid Down and Donegal dialects have /i/. In central and north Down dialects /I/ when short and /e/ when long. buird (board), buit (boot), cuit (ankle), fluir (floor), guid (good), schuil (school), etc. In central dialects uise v. and uiss n. (use) are [je:z] and [jIs].


Negative <na> /A, I/ or /e/ depending on dialect. Also <nae> or <y> e.g. canna (can't), dinna (don't) and maunna (mustn't).
<fu> (ful), /u, I, A/ or /e/ depending on dialect. Also <fu'>, <fie>, <fy>, <fae> and <fa>.
The word ending <ae> /A, I/ or /e/ depending on dialect. Also <a>, <ow> or <y> e.g. arrae (arrow), barrae (barrow) and windae (window), etc.

Some grammar features

Not all of these are exclusive to Lowland Scots and may also occur in varieties of English.


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). Regular plurals include laifs (loaves), shelfs (shelves) and wifes (wives), etc.


Diminutives in –ie, burnie small burn (brook), feardie/feartie (frightened person, coward), gamie (gamekeeper), kiltie (kilted soldier), postie (postman), wifie (woman), rhodie (rhododendron), and also 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), both influenced by the Scottish Gaelic diminutive -ag (-óg in Irish Gaelic).

Modal verbs

The modal verbs mey (may), ocht tae (ought to), and sall (shall), aren't usually used in Lowland Scots but occur in anglicised literary Lowland Scots. Can, shoud (should), and will are the preferred Lowland Scots forms. Lowland 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).

Present tense of verbs

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.

Past tense of verbs

The regular past form of the verb is –(i)t or –(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/gone), gie/gied/gien (give/gave/given), pit/pat/pitten (put/put/put/), git/gat/gotten (got/got/got).

Word order

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

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).

Subordinate clauses

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 occurs 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?

Relative pronoun

The relative pronoun is that ('at is an alternative form borrowed from Norse but can also be arrived at by contraction) 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 affectations; 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 Lowland Scots this and that are also used where "these" and "those" would be in Standard English.

See also

External links

  • The Scots Language Dictionary
  • Dialect Map
  • Scots-online
  • The Scots Language Society
  • Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd.
  • ScotsteXt —books, poems and texts in Lowland Scots
  • Lounge Linguists and Literati.
  • SAMPA for Scots
  • Scots in Schools
  • Scots at University

Last updated: 02-05-2005 11:16:09
Last updated: 02-27-2005 05:09:20