Scottish English



Scottish English ( gd, Beurla Albannach) is the set of varieties of the
English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language of the Indo-European language family, with its earliest forms spoken by the inhabitants of early medieval England. It is named after the Angles, one of the ancient Germanic people ...
spoken in
Scotland Scotland (, ) is a Countries of the United Kingdom, country that is part of the United Kingdom. Covering the northern third of the island of Great Britain, mainland Scotland has a Anglo-Scottish border, border with England to the southeast ...
. The transregional, standardised variety is called Scottish Standard English or Standard Scottish English (SSE). Scottish Standard English may be defined as "the characteristic speech of the professional class n Scotlandand the accepted norm in schools". IETF language tag for "Scottish Standard English" is en-scotland. In addition to distinct pronunciation, grammar and expressions, Scottish English has distinctive vocabulary, particularly pertaining to Scottish institutions such as the Church of Scotland,
local government Local government is a generic term for the lowest tiers of public administration within a particular sovereign state. This particular usage of the word government refers specifically to a level of administration that is both geographically-loca ...
and the
education Education is a purposeful activity directed at achieving certain aims, such as transmitting knowledge or fostering skills and character traits. These aims may include the development of understanding, rationality, kindness, and honesty ...
and legal systems. Scottish Standard English is at one end of a bipolar linguistic continuum, with focused broad Scots at the other. Scottish English may be influenced to varying degrees by Scots.Stuart-Smith J. ''Scottish English: Phonology'' in Varieties of English: The British Isles, Kortman & Upton (Eds), Mouton de Gruyter, New York 2008. p.48 Many Scots speakers separate Scots and Scottish English as different registers depending on social circumstances.Aitken A.J. ''Scottish Speech'' in Languages of Scotland, Association for Scottish Literary Studies, Occasional Paper 4, Edinburgh:Chambers 1979. p.85 Some speakers code switch clearly from one to the other while others style shift in a less predictable and more fluctuating manner. Generally there is a shift to Scottish English in formal situations or with individuals of a higher social status.


Scottish English resulted from language contact between Scots and the Standard English of England after the 17th century. The resulting shifts to English usage by Scots-speakers resulted in many phonological compromises and lexical transfers, often mistaken for mergers by linguists unfamiliar with the history of Scottish English. Furthermore, the process was also influenced by interdialectal forms, hypercorrections and spelling pronunciations. (See the section on phonology below.)


Convention traces the influence of the English of England upon Scots to the 16th-century Reformation and to the introduction of printing. Printing arrived in London in 1476, but the first printing press was not introduced to Scotland for another 30 years. Texts such as the Geneva Bible, printed in English, were widely distributed in Scotland in order to spread Protestant doctrine. King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England in 1603. Since England was the larger and richer of the two Kingdoms, James moved his court to
London London is the capital and List of urban areas in the United Kingdom, largest city of England and the United Kingdom, with a population of just under 9 million. It stands on the River Thames in south-east England at the head of a estuary dow ...
in England. The poets of the court therefore moved south and "began adapting the language and style of their verse to the tastes of the English market".McClure (1994), p. 36 To this event McClure attributes "the sudden and total eclipse of Scots as a literary language". The continuing absence of a Scots translation of the Bible meant that the translation of King James into English was used in worship in both countries. The Acts of Union 1707 amalgamated the Scottish and English Parliaments. However the church, educational and legal structures remained separate. This leads to important professional distinctions in the definitions of some words and terms. There are therefore words with precise definitions in Scottish English which are either not used in English English or have a different definition.


The speech of the middle classes in Scotland tends to conform 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. Similarly, the English spoken in the North-East of Scotland tends to follow the phonology and grammar of Doric. Although pronunciation features vary among speakers (depending on region and social status), there are a number of phonological aspects characteristic of Scottish English: * Scottish English is mostly rhotic, meaning is typically pronounced in the syllable coda, although some non-rhotic varieties are present in Edinburgh and
Glasgow Glasgow ( ; sco, Glesca or ; gd, Glaschu ) is the most populous city A city is a human settlement of notable size.Goodall, B. (1987) ''The Penguin Dictionary of Human Geography''. London: Penguin.Kuper, A. and Kuper, J., eds (1996) ' ...
. The phoneme may be a postalveolar approximant , as in Received Pronunciation or General American, but speakers have also traditionally used for the same phoneme a somewhat more common alveolar flap or, now very rare, the alveolar trill (hereafter, will be used to denote any rhotic consonant). **Although other dialects have merged non-intervocalic , , before ( fern–fir–fur merger), Scottish English makes a distinction between the vowels in ''fern'', ''fir'', and ''fur''. **Many varieties contrast and before so that ''hoarse'' and ''horse'' are pronounced differently. ** and are contrasted so that ''shore'' and ''sure'' are pronounced differently, as are ''pour'' and ''poor''. ** before is strong. An epenthetic vowel may occur between and so that ''girl'' and ''world'' are two-syllable words for some speakers. The same may occur between and , between and , and between and . *There is a distinction between and in word pairs such as ''witch'' and ''which''. *The phoneme is 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). * is usually velarised (see dark l) except in borrowings like "glen" (from Scottish Gaelic "gleann"), which had an unvelarised l in their original form. In areas where Scottish Gaelic was spoken until relatively recently (such as
Dumfries and Galloway Dumfries and Galloway ( sco, Dumfries an Gallowa; gd, Dùn Phrìs is Gall-Ghaidhealaibh) is one of 32 unitary council areas of Scotland and is located in the western Southern Uplands. It covers the counties of Scotland, historic counties of ...
) and in areas where it is still spoken (such as the West Highlands), velarisation of may be absent in many words in which it is present in other areas, but remains in borrowings that had velarised in Gaelic, such as "loch" (Gaelic "loch") and "clan" (Gaelic "clann"). *, and are not aspirated in more traditional varieties, but are weakly aspirated currently. *The past ending ''-ed'' may be realised with where other accents use , chiefly after unstressed vowels: ''ended'' , ''carried'' *The Scottish Vowel Length Rule is a distinctive part of many varieties of Scottish English (Scobbie et al. 1999), though vowel length is generally regarded as non-phonemic. According to the Rule, certain vowels (such as , , and ) are generally short but are lengthened before voiced fricatives or before . Lengthening also occurs before a morpheme boundary, so that short ''need'' contrasts with long ''kneed'', ''crude'' with ''crewed'', and ''side'' with ''sighed''. *Scottish English has no , instead transferring Scots . Phonetically, this vowel may be pronounced or even . Thus ''pull'' and ''pool'' are homophones. * ''Cot'' and ''caught'' are not differentiated in most Central Scottish varieties, as they are in some other varieties.Wells, pp. 399 ff. *In most varieties, there is no - distinction; therefore, ''bath'', ''trap'', and ''palm'' have the same vowel. *The ''happY'' vowel is most commonly (as in ''face''), but may also be (as in ''kit'') or (as in ''fleece''). * is often used in plural nouns where southern English has (baths, youths, etc.); ''with'' and ''booth'' are pronounced with . (See Pronunciation of English th.) *In colloquial speech, the glottal stop may be an allophone of after a vowel, as in . These same speakers may "drop the g" in the suffix ''-ing'' and debuccalise to in certain contexts. * may be more open for certain speakers in some regions, so that it sounds more like (although and do not merge). Other speakers may pronounce it as , just as in many other accents, or with a schwa-like () quality. Others may pronounce it almost as in certain environments, particularly after and .


Scotticisms are idioms or expressions that are characteristic of Scots, especially when used in English. They are more likely to occur in spoken than written language. The use of Scottish English, as well as of Scots and of Gaelic in Scotland, were documented over the 20th century by the Linguistic Survey of Scotland at the University of Edinburgh. Examples include: * meaning "What a dull, miserable, overcast day" (of weather) * is the equivalent of the English crying (). * ''I'm feeling quite drouthy'' meaning "I'm feeling quite thirsty" * ''That's a right (''or ''real) scunner!'' meaning "That's extremely off-putting" * ''The picture still looks squint'' meaning "The picture still looks askew/awry" * ''You'd better just caw canny'' meaning "You'd better just go easy/Don't overdo it" * ''His face is tripping him'' meaning "He's looking fed up" * ''Just play the daft laddie'' meaning "Act ingenuously/feign ignorance" * ''You're looking a bit peely-wally'' meaning "You're looking a bit off-colour" * ''That's outwith my remit'' meaning "It's not part of my job to do that" * ''It depends on what the high heid yins think'' meaning "It depends on what the heads of the organisation/management think" * ''I'll come round (at) the back of eight'' meaning "I'll come round just after eight o'clock" * ''We're all Jock Tamson's bairns'', stock phrase meaning "None of us is better than anyone else" (i.e. socially superior) * ''I kent his faither'', stock phrase meaning "he started off as humbly as the rest of us before achieving success" * ''You're standing there like a stookie'' meaning "you stand there as if incapable of stirring yourself" (like a plaster statue, a stucco figure) * ''He's a right sweetie-wife'' meaning "He likes a good gossip" * ''I didn't mean to cause a stooshie'' meaning "I didn't mean to cause a major fuss/commotion" * ''I'm swithering whether to go'' meaning "I'm in two minds/uncertain as to whether to go" * ''Ach, away ye go!'' stock phrase meaning "Oh, I don't believe you" Scotticisms are generally divided into two types: covert Scotticisms, which generally go unnoticed as being particularly Scottish by those using them, and overt Scotticisms, usually used for stylistic effect, with those using them aware of their Scottish nature.


Scottish English has inherited a number of lexical items from Scots, which are less common in other forms of standard English. General items are , the Scots word for small (also common in
Canadian English Canadian English (CanE, CE, en-CA) encompasses the Variety (linguistics), varieties of English language, English native to Canada. According to the 2016 Canadian Census, 2016 census, English was the first language of 19.4 million Canadians o ...
New Zealand English New Zealand English (NZE) is the dialect of the English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language of the Indo-European language family, with its earliest forms spoken by the inhabitants of early medieva ...
, probably under Scottish influence); or for child (the latter from Common Germanic, cf modern Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Icelandic, Faroese , West Frisian ''bern'' and also used in Northern English dialects); '' bonnie'' for pretty, attractive, (or good looking, handsome, as in the case of Bonnie Prince Charlie); ''braw'' for fine; ''muckle'' for big; ''spail or skelf'' for splinter (cf. spall); ''snib'' for bolt; ''pinkie'' for little finger; ''janitor'' for school caretaker (these last two are also standard in
American English American English, sometimes called United States English or U.S. English, is the set of variety (linguistics), varieties of the English language native to the United States. English is the Languages of the United States, most widely spoken lan ...
); ''outwith'', meaning 'outside of'; ''cowp'' for tip or spill; ''fankle'' for a tangled mess; ''kirk'' for 'church' (from the same root in Old English but with parallels in other Germanic languages, e.g. Old Norse , Dutch ). Examples of culturally specific items are '' Hogmanay'', '' caber'', '' haggis'', '' bothy'', '' scone'' (also used elsewhere in the British Isles), '' oatcake'' (now widespread in the UK), '' tablet'', ''rone'' (roof gutter), '' teuchter'', '' ned'', ''numpty'' (witless person; now more common in the rest of the UK) and ''landward'' (rural); ''It's your shot'' for "It's your turn"; and the once notorious but now obsolete '' tawse''. The diminutive ending "-ie" is added to nouns to indicate smallness, as in ''laddie'' and ''lassie'' for a young boy and young girl. Other examples are ''peirie'' (child's wooden spinning top) and ''sweetie'' (piece of
confectionery Confectionery is the Art (skill), art of making confections, which are food items that are rich in sugar and carbohydrates. Exact definitions are difficult. In general, however, confectionery is divided into two broad and somewhat overlappi ...
). The ending can be added to many words instinctively, e.g. ''bairn'' (see above) can become ''bairnie'', a small shop can become a ''wee shoppie''. These diminutives are particularly common among the older generations and when talking to children. The use of "How?" meaning "Why?" is distinctive of Scottish, Northern English and Northern Irish English. "Why not?" is often rendered as "How no?". There is a range of (often anglicised) legal and administrative vocabulary inherited from Scots, e.g. ''depute'' for ''deputy'', '' proven'' for ''proved'' (standard in American English), ''interdict'' for '"injunction", and '' sheriff-substitute'' for "acting sheriff". In Scottish education a ''short leet'' is a list of selected job applicants, and a ''remit'' is a detailed job description. '' Provost'' is used for "mayor" and '' procurator fiscal'' for "public prosecutor". Often, lexical differences between Scottish English and Southern Standard English are simply differences in the distribution of shared lexis, such as ''stay'' for "live" (as in: ''where do you stay?'').


The progressive verb forms are used rather more frequently than in other varieties of standard English, for example with some stative verbs (). The future progressive frequently implies an assumption (). In some areas perfect aspect of a verb is indicated using "be" as auxiliary with the preposition "after" and the present participle: for example "He is after going" instead of "He has gone" (this construction is borrowed from Scottish Gaelic). The definite article tends to be used more frequently in phrases such as ''I've got the cold/the flu'', ''he's at the school'', ''I'm away to the kirk''. Speakers often use prepositions differently. The compound preposition ''off of'' is often used (''Take that off of the table''). Scots commonly say ''I was waiting on you'' (meaning "waiting for you"), which means something quite different in Standard English. In colloquial speech ''shall'' and ''ought'' are scarce, ''must'' is marginal for obligation and ''may'' is rare. Here are other syntactical structures: * ''What age are you?'' for "How old are you?" * ''My hair is needing washed'' or ''My hair needs washed'' for "My hair needs washing" or "My hair needs to be washed". * ''I'm just after telling you'' for "I've just told you". * '' Amn't I invited?'' for ''Am I not invited?'' Note that in Scottish English, the first person declarative ''I amn't invited'' and interrogative ''Amn't I invited?'' are both possible.

See also

* Bungi dialect of the Canadian Metis people of Scottish/British descent * Dialect * Glasgow dialect * Hiberno-English * Highland English * Languages of the United Kingdom * Regional accents of English * Scottish Gaelic language * Scottish Corpus of Texts and Speech * Ulster English



* * 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. * * * * *McClure, J. Derrick (1994) "English in Scotland", in * * * *

Further reading


External links

Listen to BBC Radio Scotland Live (many presenters, such as Robbie Shepherd, have a noticeable Scottish accent)
and compare side by side with other English accents from Scotland and around the World.
BBC Voices
- Listen to a lot of the voice recordings from many parts of the UK
Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech
- Multimedia corpus of Scots and Scottish English
Sounds Familiar?
isten to examples of Scottish English and other regional accents and dialects of the UK on the British Library's 'Sounds Familiar' website
Recent pronunciation changes in Scottish English
(audio, starting at 7:10) {{Authority control Standard English Dialects of English