“Language is the roadmap of a culture. It tells you where its people came from and where they are going.” - Ria Mae Brown
Scotland, with its flourishing, grassy landscapes, windswept moors and ancient castles, was voted as the most beautiful country in the world by a Rough Guides survey. But hold up, before you plan your next trip, take a moment to familiarise yourself with Scottish English using our guide.
Be prepared - Scotland actually has its own variation of the English language! Scottish English is often quite difficult to understand, even for native English speakers. There are actually three official languages in Scotland: English, Scottish Gaelic and Scots.
Scotland is renowned for its gorgeous, sparse landscapes and warm, welcoming hospitality. The English spoken there is a little different, but the dialect also happens to be very charming.
In the following article, we'll be going back to the origins of Scottish English, with its mix of Old English and Scots language. Once we've covered the linguistic history, we'll take a look at how it differs from other types of English, the peculiarities of the spellings and pronunciations, and how you can brush up on your Scottish English!
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Scottish English, Linguistically Speaking
Scottish English can also be referred to as Scottish Standard English. The written form is most often seen in non-literary texts, and it is regularly confused with Scots, which is actually its own unique language. Scots is actually a Germanic language related to English.
So what are the origins of Scottish English?
Scottish English emerged from a mixing between English and Scots. This mixing of the two languages into something we would recognise as Scottish English today came about in the 17th century as the emerging language changed linguistically. After its union with England in the year 1707, Scottish underwent great transformations, whilst still retaining its autonomy. This balance between integration and independence formed the language's identity, which ties into Scottish culture.
A mix of unique semantics, phonology, punctuation and grammar developed into a language that the people of Scotland use to express themselves today. However, there are many different Scottish dialects, and Scottish English varies greatly depending on the region. You can find different types of Scottish English in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, The Highlands, The Lowlands, The Shetland Islands etc.
Scotland is a small but growing country - in fact, the population has increased by 30,000 in twenty years - and there are many opportunities for study and work there. This is a great reason to find out more about Scotland and its dialects.
The Particular Vernacular of Scottish English
Just as we mentioned before, Scottish English is as varied as Scotland itself. Like every other Anglophone country, different regions speak English in their own unique way, with different pronunciation of vowels and consonants, different grammatical forms and syllable stress. However, Scottish dialects have plenty of common features with one another, and once you've explored these features a little, you'll be comfortable speaking to anyone anywhere in Scotland.
Scotland is very different from English, its closest neighbour below the southern border. The strong Scottish accent is one of the more recognisable aspects of Scottish English, and its this accent that most new learners find more difficult about it.
In terms of particular vocabulary, Scots will use "laddie" (that's lad + ie!) when referring to a young boy and "lassie" (lass+ie!) when talking about a "young girl". Often Scots will replace the word "small" with the very cute and diminutive "wee".
These aren't likely to be words you'll learn in English class! You'll need to travel to Scotland or take on a private tutor with a Scottish accent. Sometimes Scottish pronunciation runs closer to American English than British English! For example, unlike other types of British English, the words "cot" and "caught" are pronounced the same in the Scottish accent! Linguists call this the cot-caught merger and it appears in more often in American English than in British English.
Unlike in England and Australia, where the often dropped after a vowel, Scottish English speakers pronounce the "r" sound anywhere it is found in a word and they don't drop it after the vowel. And the stereotype is true - the "r" sound in Scottish English is often rolled! However, it's produced by something called an alveolar tap, where the tongue taps the roof of the mouth only once, and not by an alveolar trill, which is more common with other rolled sounds.
The word "how" is used quite peculiarly in Scottish as well - it often replaces the word "why". This is true for Ireland and some parts of northern England as well. This isn't the English that Queen Elizabeth speaks!
Scottish English has, in turn, influenced other types of English. For example, did you know that many administrative and legal terms are actually Anglicised forms of Scots or Scottish English?
Now, let's look at some quintessentially Scottish words and phrases...
- How no? - this means "Why not?"
- Bairn - a child
- What age are you? - this is how the Scots ask how old you are
- Aye - replaces yes
- Tattie - a potato
Even for the serious ESOL learner, Scottish English is no walk in the park! Scottish English shares some features with other forms of English, but is totally different in other ways.
So, would you like to know what's so special about American English?
The Similarities with Other Types of English
Whilst the British Isles have their own linguistic cultures and histories, don't forget that English is the world's most spoken language.
Anyone learning to speak English can learn to speak Scottish English.
It's generally a better idea to learn a more standard form of English and speak with a general English accent if you're doing business or studying abroad in an Anglophone country. However, if you simply love the Scottish language and culture or plan to be living, travelling, studying or working in the land of tartan, you can start adapting your English to reflect the Scots dialect. Start by replacing "yes" with "aye"!
Would you like to learn English online?
Resources For Learners of Scottish English
Are you sold on Scottish English? Dive right in with radio, podcasts, films and TV series. There are so many ways to appreciate the Scottish language and culture.
Try starting with local radio. BBC Scotland and BBC Alba are two options - although BBC Alba is in Scottish Gaelic.
Every European country has its own music, culture and folk history, but sometimes these can be hard to seek out. There is a diversity of great Scottish media that can expose you to the Scottish accent! Try searching for Scottish bands on your favourite music streaming service.
Scottish linguistics are inextricably tied to Scottish culture and history, and these blend to form the contemporary Scottish national identity.
If you want to learn Scottish English, your best option is to work with a native speaker. If you check out the tutor listings on Superprof, there are tutors from all over the country who can teach you English. If you want to improve your accent, why not work with a tutor from Scotland?
If you're unable to find any Scottish English tutors around you, don't stress. There are plenty of online tutors who teach English privately via video conferencing. Skype tends to be the most favoured programme by online tutors, so make sure you download it and set up your microphone and webcam properly before your lessons! With a good internet connection, you can receive private tutorials from anyone anywhere in the world! Now you just need to find a tutor you like.
There are so many tutors with listings out there, and finding one who suits your needs can be tricky. Lucky for you, many English tutors listed on Superprof will offer you free tutoring for the first hour. This lets you "try before you buy", so to speak, and you see if you click with the tutor before committing to ongoing lessons with them. You can see in this first lesson is their teaching style suits you, and figure out the specific details of your sessions, such as location, rates and how often you plan to meet. Why not try out a few different tutors before you decide on one who will help you perfect your Scottish English!