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  • Writer's pictureKaren M Edwards

The Guid Scots Tongue: Language or Dialect?

I knew it would be difficult at first for readers to get used to the Scots language in my novel, but I decided that I needed to show the difference between the lower class and upper class. I may have lost readers, but it seemed more authentic to the story. (After reading these articles below, I'm beginning to wonder if using Scots, especially the Fifian dialect, is a political statement!) In actuality, the upper class probably spoke a more refined variation of Scots and their language would not be so anglicized. But Calum was around English speakers a lot with his service in the navy so, he's likely to sound more English than Scots.

The voices of the characters in my head (yes, writers hear voices) had the same accent I had when I was 7-8 and living in Crail, just down the road from Pittenweem.

Several years ago in an English language/linguistics class I wrote a research paper on the Scots Language and learned it is a type of English and somewhat related to Middle English (remember reading Chaucer?). But language changes over the years. In about 1400s there was a Great Vowel Shift that started in London. A Wikipedia article has a good explanation if you want to get technical: click here. Now you know why English is so complicated and unpredictable and why accents in the UK differ quite a bit from region to region. There are regional differences in the USA, but they’re not so pronounced. (That wasn’t supposed to be a pun).

People are divided whether Scots (sometimes called Lallands) is a language or a dialect. The Scots (people) are diglossic (two-tongued), learning “proper” English in school but speaking in Scots at home. (I would imagine that Blacks in the US would be considered diglossic but Hispanics and Asians bilingual as they speak two completely different languages,). Then there’s the Highlands and Gaelic (pronounced Gallick, not Gaylick like Irish); they’re sister languages but they are different. Unfortunately, Gaelic in both Scotland and Ireland is dying out. There’s a movement in Scotland to preserve Scots as can be seen in a video below, Whit’s a Scots Language?

Glasgow has a reputation for speaking the broadest Scots. I had a hard time understanding what they were saying even when I knew that they had “modulated” their accent for a foreigner.

Take a look at these articles and videos on the Guid Scots Tongue.


Novowitz, Dan. (2018) " How the English Failed to Stamp Out the Scots Language." Atlas Obscura.


Langfocus (2017) “The Scots Language (or Dialect?)” A video by an American who does a great job with explaining Scots and its history.

BBC (2018) “Whit’s Scots Language?”

View of St. Andrews

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1 comentário

Meg Grierson
Meg Grierson
21 de jan. de 2019

Wow - these language notes are FASCINATING! I've been studying Irish Gaelic for several years now, and I'm enchanted by it. It didn't take me long to adjust to the language in your beautiful book at ALL - and it added so much! It gave the whole piece a lilt reminiscent of How Green Was My Valley or Outlander. I love the language of the British Isles, and you capture it so perfectly!

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