Learn more about Scottish English
Scottish English is usually taken to mean the standard form of the English language used in Scotland, often termed Scottish Standard English. It is the language normally used in formal, non-fictional written texts in Scotland. Some people consider Scottish English to include Scots whereas others treat it separately.
Scottish English is the result of language contact between Scots and English after the 17th century (dialect contact may be more accurate in that the indigenous Language Lowland Scots was a related variety). The resulting shift to English by Scots-speakers resulted in many phonological compromises and lexical transfers, often mistaken for mergers by linguists unfamiliar with the history of Scottish English. Further more, the process was also influenced by interdialectal forms, hypercorrections and spelling pronunciations. (See Phonology below)
The standard spelling, grammar, and punctuation of Scottish English tend to follow the style of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). However, there are some unique characteristics, mainly in the phonological and phonetic systems, many of which originate in the country's two autochthonous languages, the Scottish Gaelic language and Scots. The speech of the middle classes in Scotland often conforms to the grammatical norms of the written standard, particularly in situations that are regarded as formal. Highland English is slightly different from the variety spoken in the lowlands in that it is more phonologically, grammatically, and lexically influenced by a Gaelic substratum.
General items are outwith, meaning outside of; pinkie for little finger; doubt meaning to think or suspect; and wee, the Scots word for small (which also occurs in Hiberno-English). Correct is often preferred to right (meaning "morally right" or "just") when the speaker means "factually accurate".
In some areas there is a substantial non-standard lexis (shared with Scots) apparently acquired from the Romany language and from Eastern European languages; examples include gadge (lad, chap) and peeve (alcoholic drink).
There is a wide range of (often anglicised) legal and administrative vocabulary inherited from Scots. depute /ˈdɛpjuːt/ for deputy. proven /ˈproːvən/ for proved, and sheriff substitute for acting sheriff.
Simplified overview of the Scottish vowel system for Central Scotland. The vowel numbers are those from the scheme devised by A.J. Aitken. The Lexical Sets are those from the scheme devised by J.C. Wells. Phonetics are in IPA.
|Scots||Vowel||Scottish English||Lexical Set|
|8a||aye (always), gey (very), Mey (May), pey (pay), wey (way)||əi|
|10||evite (avoid), jyne (join), pynt (point), ile (oil), chyce (choice)|
|1s||bite, bide, price, wife, tide||bite, bide, price, wife (/ai/)||PRICE|
|1l||five, size, fry, ay (yes), kye (cows), fire||aˑe||five, size, fry, eye, die, lie, tied, fire|
|2||meet, need, queen, sieven (seven), deil (devil), here, gie (give)||i||meet, need, queen, see, meat, steal, here||FLEECE
|11||ee (eye), dee (die), dree (endure), lee (untruth), see|
|3||meat, braith (breath), deid (dead), heid (head), steal, peir (pear), meir (mare)||Merges with 2, 4 or 8|
|4||aik (oak), ait, (oat), saip (soap), baith (both), hame (home), stane (stone), hale (whole), tae (toe), gae (go), late, pale, bathe, day, say, mair (more), care||e||late, pale, bathe, day, say, away, May, pay, way, care, mare, pear||FACE
|8||bait, braid (broad), hail, pail, pair||e: may merge with 4||bait, braid, hail, pail pair|
|5||throat, coat, thole (endure), rose, afore (before)||o may merge with 18||throat, coat, rose, before, oak, oat, soap, both, home, stone, whole, toe, go, shoulder, old, cold, mow, snow, grow, over, solder, colt, roll, more, Forth||GOAT|
|18||cot, God, on, loch, bocht (bought), horse, Forth||ɔ||cot, God, on, golf, knoll, horse||LOT
|6||aboot (about), bouk (bulk), poupit (pulpit), lood (loud), pouder (powder), shouder (sholder), room, mooth (mouth), hoose (house), loose (louse), cou (cow), nou (now), fou (full) (sour), pushion (poison), plew (plough), oo (wool), oor (hour), soor||u||boot, fruit, moon, pool, rule, loose, poor, do, chew, blue, true, two, moor, sure||GOOSE|
|put, good, hook, room, full, pull, wool, pulpit||FOOT|
|7||buit (boot), fruit, guid (good), muin (moon), uiss (use n.), uise (use v.) luve (love), dae (do), muir (moor), puir (poor), shuir (sure)||ø merged with 4l, 15s|
|9||Boyd, noise, boy, joy||oi||Boyd, noise, boy, joy, avoid, join, point, oil, choice, poison||CHOICE|
|12||faut (fault), saut (salt), fraud, mawn (mown), auld (old), cauld (cold), hauch (meadow), cause, law, snaw (snow), aw (all), awa (away), faw (fall), twa (two), faur (far), daur (dare), waur (worse)||ɑ:/ɔ:||bought, fault, salt, fraud, cause. law, all, fall, war||THOUGHT|
|13||nowt (cattle), cowt (colt), gowf (golf), sowder (solder), lowse (loose), chowe (chew), growe (grow), knowe (knoll), fower (four), ower (over), rowe (roll)||ʌu||about, loud, powder, mouth, house, louse, cow, now, plough, bough, hour, sour||MOUTH|
|14||duty, feud, rule, news, dew, few, blue, true|
*heuk (hook), *neuk (nook), *beuch (bough), *teuch (tough), *pleuchs (ploughs)
|duty, feud, news, dew, few, use n., use v., cure||CURE|
|15||bit, pit (put), lid, hiss, gird (hoop), his, nixt (next), whither (whether), yird (earth), fir||ɪ||bit, lid, hiss, give, his, fir||KIT|
|16||met, bed, ledder (leather), meh (bleat), ser (serve), Perth, Ker||ɛ||seven, devil, next, whether, earth, met, bed, leather, breath, dead, head, leaven, revel, vex, serve, Perth, defer, Ker||DRESS|
|17||sat, lad, man, jazz, vase, warst, mar||a||sat, lad, man, jazz, vase, far, mar||TRAP
|19||butt, bud, buss, buff, wird (word), fur||ʌ||butt, bud, bus, buff, buzz, love, bulk, tough, word, worse, worst, fur||STRUT|
* From development of Vowel 7 before /k/ and /x/.
Pronunciation features vary among speakers, and there are social and regional differences (Wells 1982):
- It is a rhotic accent, with r still pronounced before consonants or silence. It may be [r] (an alveolar trill), though more commonly a alveolar tap [ɾ] and especially post-alveolar approximant [ɹ], depending on the phonological context.
- The differentiation between "w" in witch and "wh" in which, [w] and [ʍ] respectively survives.
- The phoneme /x/ is also still common in names and in SSE's many Gaelic and Scots borrowings, so much so that it is often taught to incomers, particularly for "ch" in loch. Some Scottish speakers use it in words of Greek origin as well, such as technical, patriarch, etc. (Wells 1982, 408).
- L is usually dark, though in areas where Gaelic was recently spoken—including Dumfries and Galloway—a clear l may be found.
- Vowel length is usually regarded as non-phonemic, but is a crucial aspect of the accent (Scobbie et al. 1999). It most clearly affects /i/, /u/ and /ae/. Predictable short vowel duration gives many Scottish accents a distinctive "clipped" pronunciation before two classes of consonants, namely nasals, for example spoon [spun] and voiced stops, especially /d/, e.g. brood /brud/. This is generally the same as in the Scots language, but the latter includes minimal pairs for /ae/ e.g. gey, "very" vs. /aːe/ e.g. guy. Vowel length is nearly phonemic in SSE because when open syllable verbs are suffixed they remain long, thus vowel length clearly distinguishes e.g. crude vs. crewed, need vs. kneed, and side vs. sighed.
- SSE usually distinguishes between [ɛ]-[ɪ]-[ʌ] before [r] in herd-bird-curd, in Received Pronunciation these have merged into [ɜː].
- Many varieties contrast /o/ and /ɔ/ before [r] as in hoarse and horse.
- SSE contrasts [oːr] and [uːr], as in shore and pour vs. sure and poor.
- Fool and full have [u] or [ʉ] or [y] in SSE where RP differentiates.
- SSE pronounces both cot and caught [ɔ].
- Cat and cart are differentiated as allophones, but are not phonemes, so that Sam and psalm are homophonous.
- The following may occur in colloquial speech, usually among the young, especially males. They are not usually regarded as part of SSE, their origin being in Scots:
- The use of glottal stops for [t] between vowels or word final after a vowel, for example butter /ˈbʌʔəɹ/ and cat /ˈkaʔ/.
- The realisation of the nasal velar in the suffix "-ing" as a nasal alveolar "in'" for example talking /ˈtɔːkɪn/.
- th-glottalisation, i.e., the use of /h/ where Scottish Standard English has /T/ in initial and intervocalic position leading to pronunciations such as /hɪŋ/, /hɪŋk/ and /hri/ for "thing", "think" and "three". This occurs across Lowland Scotland.
Syntactical differences are few though in colloquial speech shall and ought are wanting, must is marginal for obligation and may is rare. Many syntactical features of SSE are found in other forms of English, e.g. English English and North American English:
- Can I come too? or Can I come as well?' for "May I come too?"
- Have you got any? for "Do you have any?"
- I've got one of those already. for "I have one of those already."
- It's your shot. for "It's your turn."
- My hair is needing washed. or My hair needs washed for "My hair needs washing."
- Amn't I invited? for "Am I not invited?"
- How no? for "Why not?"
The use of "How?" meaning "Why?" is unique to Scottish and Northern Irish English.
Note that in Scottish English, the first person declarative I amn't invited and interrogative "Amn't I invited?" are both possible. Contrast English English, which has "Aren't I?" but no contracted declarative form. (All varieties have "I'm not invited".)
Other examples are distinctively Scots:
- Dae ye ken Ken kens Ken? for "Do you know Ken knows Ken?"
- Am I no invited? for "Am I not invited?"
Other influences from Scots may occur, depending on the speaker.
- Abercrombie, D. (1979). “The accents of Standard English in Scotland.”, In A. J. Aitken & T. McArthur (eds.),: Languages of Scotland. Edinburgh: Chambers, 65–84.
- Aitken, A. J. (1979) "Scottish speech: a historical view with special reference to the Standard English of Scotland" in A. J. Aitken and Tom McArthur eds. Languages of Scotland, Edinburgh: Chambers, 85-118. Updated in next.
- Corbett, John, J. Derrick McClure, and Jane Stuart-Smith (eds.) (2003). Edinburgh Student Companion to Scots. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 0-7486-1596-2.
- Foulkes, Paul; & Docherty, Gerard. J. (Eds.) (1999). Urban Voices: Accent Studies in the British Isles. London: Arnold. ISBN 0-340-70608-2.
- Hughes, A., Trudgill, P. & Watt, D. (Eds.) (2005). English Accents and Dialects (4th Ed.). London: Arnold. ISBN 0-340-88718-4.
- Scobbie, James M., Nigel Hewlett, and Alice Turk (1999). “Standard English in Edinburgh and Glasgow: The Scottish Vowel Length Rule revealed.”, In Paul Foulkes & Gerard J. Docherty (eds.),: Urban Voices: Accent Studies in the British Isles. London: Arnold, 230–245.
- Wells, John C. (1982). Accents of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-22919-7 (vol. 1), ISBN 0-521-24224-X (vol. 2), ISBN 0-521-24225-8 (vol. 3).
 See also
 External links
- Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech - Multimedia corpus of Scots and Scottish English
- The Speech Science Research Centre at Queen Margaret University College in Edinburgh.
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