Scots in the Census

Dae Ye Ken Whit Ye're Sayin?

The census form asks “Do you speak / read / write/ understand Scots?” The reason for this question is that supporters of the Scots language have campaigned for it, as recognition of the staus of Scots as a language.

 A PEND is a bow ruifit, or airched close atween hooses.

Scots has historical grounds to call itself a language, it was once spoken and written in the royal Scottish court and in the original Scottish Parliament.

In 1600 King James VI wrote to Sir Walter Dundas, “Richt traist freind we greit you hertlie wele.”

 A burgage LAND was grund held in legal tenure in a burgh, the LAND cuid be the grund or the biggin on the grund.

Campaigns for Gaelic have brought Gaelic medium education, bilingual Gaelic / English signage and the option to fill in documents in Gaelic. Campaigners hope that Scots will enjoy similar measures.

A feature of the Scots language is that many people in Scotland, Scots speakers among them, are doubtful about the term ‘the Scots language.’  The language of Burns is widely recognised as Scots, and so closely identified as Scots, that some people regard Scots as belonging to the 18th Century. Such people may be less keen to recognise Scots as the language of Duncan MacRae’s ‘Wee Cock Sparra’, Stanley Baxter’s Parliamo Glasgow, Francie and Josie’s patter, the couthy humour of Oor Wullie and The Broons, the voices of Scotland the What?, Chewin the Fat and Garry, Tank Commander. 

MANSE, like mansion comes  fae a Latin root, and meant a property, maist aften belangin a religious body; nooadays it's only fund in The Kirk or Church of Scotland. 

Is it coincidence that these examples of modern Scots are all used to comic effect? Generations of schoolchildren, punished for speaking their own tongue, learned to regard the language of home as inferior to English and even as ‘slang’. Consequently, in ‘public’ situations, English is often considered essential for a polite or sophisticated image - the appropriate way to address a stranger or superior. 


KIRK comes frae Auld Norse whaur CHURCH comes frae Anglo Saxon; baith thay aulden day leids were Germanic and the connection's aye there yet.

In the more isolated areas of Scotland, North East, South West, Borders, Caithness, Orkney and Shetland, the native tongue has maintained a stronger foothold against Anglicisation than in the more densely populated areas. This has led to the concentration of Scots in regional dialects which is responsible for some of the confusion around the issue of ‘What is Scots?’ If a Borderer cannot understand an Aberdonian, can they be speaking the same language?

 BRAE comes frae Auld Norse for a hill.

In the first half hour of my first day working in Caithness, the farmer said, “Will pit e peedie chill in e hoat boax.” I wasn’t sure what he’d said, but the lamb under his oxter was a clue and the hoat boax held the key.
I had heard of peedie, derived from the French petite, as a marker of Orcadian. After a day in the county, I realised that chill or chilly applies to any animal or person – hot or cold. I understood it was the Northern form of the word chiel, used in Burns’ poetry and the Aberdeenshire bothy ballads – although, outside the North East, less common now than in earlier times.  

A DYKE is a waa that can be biggit frae stanes, or wi whit's taen oot o the grund whan a body's diggin a DITCH - that micht be cried a DYKE in England

The claim that these regional variations are dialects of English, like those of Yorkshire or Somerset is to ignore history. English and Scots, respectively, derive from the Anglian and Saxon languages of the Anglo Saxons, which come from the Germanic lineage of the very ancient Indo European family of languages.

Scots ‘moose’ and ‘hoose’ preserves the Anglo Saxon sounds, mus and hus, whereas the Southern English forms were subject to the Great Vowel Shift of 1450 – 1750 which produced the ‘ow’ sounds of ‘mouse’ and ‘house’.
Scots keeps the Anglo Saxon words ALD and HOOSE. English chynged ALD to old and  HUS tae house sometime atween 1450 and 1750.

Some basic concepts from modern Germanic languages sound familiar to Scots.   
The German phrase ‘Meine Tochter melkte die Kuh’ translates in to Scots as ‘My dochter milked the coo’ and ‘sechs, sieben, acht’ is closer to Scots for ‘6, 7, 8’ than English. The greeting, ‘Braw day,’ is as easily understood in Sweden as in Scotland.

All living languages change over time, as English has changed from Anglo Saxon, through the language of Chaucer, Shakespeare and Dickens to the changes we hear in news bulletins from 1940s though 1970s to the present day.
 The LADE taks the watter tae the mill.

Some changes come from ‘simplifying the rules’ - pick ’n’ mix, kwik fit, kwik print and satnav; some from new aspects of life - roughneck and roustabout, laptop and iPod. Once they are accepted, they may then be adapted; webcam came in to use and spawned owlcam and badgercam at the hands of TV naturalists. Throughout history, languages have been influenced by other languages; we now have a vocabulary of terms for curries and accompaniments that would have been alien to our grandparents. The Auld Alliance brought French words into Scots – ashet, aumrie, chaumer, gigot, mutton; the Vikings left their mark on Scotland and North of England with brae, birk, bick, dyke, kirk, kist as well as big to build and  prig to plead, while their influence is dominant in Orkney and Shetland. 
It's a WYNDIN road tae the KIRK

Language is more than vocabulary. Scots has its own grammar, which influences much of the ‘English’ used by people in Scotland, termed ‘Scottish English’ by linguists. The use of the definite article, ‘the’ in phrases such as ‘up the stairs’, ‘go the messages’, ‘in the hospital’, ‘at the school’, ‘the measles’ is Scottish.

A Scot may Anglicise the words ‘sair heid’ to ‘sore head’, but the expression is Scots, contrasting with English ‘headache’. In England, a sore head is the result of a bump rather than stress or a hangover.

Many older Scots remember when Scots shared the European idiom of naming the half hours, not as half past, but as half or half off  the next hour, so 4.30 was half five – ‘half way to five’. The idiom was not English, but the form was absorbed into English, probably after WW II and is now used as a shortened form of half past.  

If this has given you a sore head or gien ye a sair heid, at least you know how to answer the census.