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Scottish languages (Scots and Scottish Gaelic)

I wanted to share some facts about these two languages for many reasons. Feel free to contribute your knowledge or chat about either of these languages.

Many people confuse the two or sometimes just assume that there is one "Scottish", the tongue of Scotland. There is, in fact, more than one language native to Scotland, each with different names. Scotland's official language is English, but British Sign Language, Scots and Scottish Gaelic are all recognized minority languages.

Here are the differences (big ones!)

Scots is a lot like a differently spoken/written form of English. An English speaker can easily understand a lecture or text in Scots, as it is a sister Germanic language of English, but there are many differences such as spelling and pronunciation, making it strange and even laughable to those who had no idea it existed. There are about a million and a half speakers of Scots, mainly but not exclusively in Scotland.

Scottish Gaelic, on the other hand, is a Goildelic Cletic language more related to modern Irish. In fact, I think if one can speak Irish with fluency, Scottish Gaelic is likely to be as easy or easier for them, since both are descended from Middle and Old Irish. Knowledge in Scottish Gaelic is rarer than knowledge in Scots, as efforts to revive Scottish Gaelic has been laughed at and looked down upon by the general population of Scotland (at least in past years), but less than 90,000 people have any knowledge in Scottish Gaelic.

Here are examples to compare the two further:



Wikipedia article about English

Do you prefer one to the other? Why do you like or dislike either of these languages? In your opinion, is it important to have awareness of either of these languages? Why or why not? To speakers of English: How much Scots can you understand? Are there any Irish learners here that can understand some of the Scottish Gaelic without looking up words?

I hope you enjoyed the post.

August 12, 2016



This is so interesting, thank you very much for sharing this! I must admit I've only knew that such thing as Scots existed but nothing more about it.

It's really sad that such languages are almost extinct. I regret especially what happened with the Celtic languages which seem to be a truly fascinating language family. They should now stand as a fully respectable family next to the Romance, Germanic, Baltic and Slavic families and not be a handful of small or even extinct languages spoken by less than a million people, which are not even used too much in their own countries. Hopefully some efforts for their revival will achieve something significant in future.


Scots is not like a badly written / spoken form of English any more than Dutch is like a badly written / spoken form of German.

They're separate languages, and it's neither fair nor accurate to make one out to simply be an inferior version of the other.


What if it is a case like Dutch and Afrikaans? Afrikaans started as "bad Dutch" in South Africa and then was recognized as a separate language in the early 20th century. So Afrikaans is "bad Dutch" but also its own perfect language. Scots and English could be poor versions of each other due to linguistic evolution.


I don't think it's really appropriate to call a type of language "bad." Languages develop, and geographically/culturally isolated groups of speakers tend to change how they speak. This doesn't make the new version "bad."

I also think "bad [language]" is an especially loaded term, given that (because of colonialism) many of the most popular world languages started in Europe, which results in people calling the "bad [language]" the version of the language that isn't in Europe and isn't spoken by white people. An example of this is the racism inherent in Spanish nationals insisting that their form of Spanish is better or "more pure" than the Spanish spoken in Latino America, despite the fact that Latin-American Spanish speakers greatly outnumber European Spanish speakers. If people can communicate using a language, then it is good.


I get what you're saying. I just meant that if you listen to one without knowing the other exists, it'll sound like a different less "proper" version of the language. That is for lack of better wording without being overly lengthy. I do not mean to offend, it's just that the field of linguistics is very difficult to explain using common, well-known vocabulary. I'm also trying to state facts others have written/said; before Afrikaans was indeed it's unique language, the Dutch reported it as a dialect of poor Dutch, which is how it evolved into Afrikaans. The devolving and evolving in certain areas of the language may had elites shaking their heads before but now it is recognized as a different tounge. So I'm also conveying my point through a many historical lenses; Afrikaans is not a bad language but at the time it was considered a very different version of Dutch reported as such.


It doesn't need to be lengthy. Just replace 'proper' with 'standard' and you're all set.


There is Scots the Language and there is A Scottish dialect of English which is kind of a hybrid of Scots and English. I am from Glasgow I can speak perfect English however when i'm talking to my kin I revert to a Scots dialect of English. Here are some examples. A beautiful little Girl (ENGLISH) A beautiful wee lassie (Dialect of English) and a bonnie wee lass (Scots) note that bonnie wee lass is not the same as beautiful little girl and can't be compared to English in anyway Night (English) Night pronounced nigh't (Dialect) Nicht (Scots) notice that the word nicht is closer to the German word nacht than the English word Night.

<pre> “Some hae meat and canna eat, </pre>

And some wad eat that want it, But we hae meat and we can eat, And sae the Lord be thankit.” ― Robert Burns


There is a debate on whether Scots is a dialect of English or a separate language. Personally I agree with you though.


I don't understand the debate, to be honest.

English descends from the Wessex dialect of Old English with a strong Norse influence on its vocabulary. Scots derives from the Northumbrian dialect of Old English with a strong Gaelic influence.

People may as well argue that Danish and Swedish are the same language due to sharing a common ancestor from a thousand years ago.


No it doesn't. Northumbrian dialects of English don't. Standard English may but Geordie and Yorkshire and Mackem etc certainly do not. They are if anything the same language as "Scots" ie Northern English.


The Good Friday agreement? What on earth does that have to do with Scotland? That was drawn up between Britain and Ireland. You clearly don't know what you're talking about.

It was actually the European Charter for Minority Languages which gave it initial recognition, which you would have known with a modicum of research.

Glaswegian dialect is not the Scots language. They are two distinct things, often confused by people who don't know much about them.

Weegie is the dialect spoken by Glaswegians. Scots is a language spoken all across Scotland.

The dialect spoken in Glasgow is a dialect of English. Scots is a Germanic language closely related to English.

'Scots' refers only to the language. 'Scottish' refers to dialects of English. Robert Burns wrote in Scots. Billy Connolly speaks in a Scottish dialect.

The problem is, there is no commonly -accepted way of defining the difference between a language and a dialect. On the whole, it's a good idea to refer to it as a language if its speakers do, or if it's legally recognised as such.

There is no written standard for Scottish dialects but there is a written standard for the Scots language. Not that a language needs a written standard to be such. Go and look up the difference between the two and then come back.

The simple fact is that it has international recognition as a language. You can disagree and throw as many wobblies as you want, but that doesn't change a single thing.


I've been happily engaging in real discussion. I stopped after you made the first move- two thousand words of unparsed, unchecked text dumped in a single post is not discussion. It's unfettered laziness, and if you can't be bothered to make an effort then how can you expect anyone else to?


There are only Scots dialects no Scots written language standard. You could equally well call Northumbrian a language as the Northumbrian language Society does;


Billy Connely speaks in a sociolect of English as did many characters on Brookside and Eastenders.


Did Rabbie burns? he sounded nothing like the big yin


Shetlandic speakers were never aware they were speaking "Scots" until the 1980s according to a linguist who teaches Shetland dialect. There is nothing particularly unique about Scots dialects as a group to mark them as being less English than the other English ones in England other than in the minds of those who dont want to call them English.


The Orkney's and Shetland speak Shetlandic and Orcadian Scots which is influenced by the Danes and Insular Scots (Lowland Scots) They share their vocabulary with the Norn Language which is now extinct. after Norway ceded the Islands to the Scots in 1468-69 the language was replaced by Scots a language that existed when The English were speaking Shakespearean and the like


Ulster Scots having to be taken seriously to end violence is the only reason that Scots managed to gain recognition despite having no written standard other than standard English. Its campaigners are mostly against a written standard orthography and refuse to define where it ends and English begins (probably because it is English of a much older Scottish variety and the numbers look better when all Scottish English speakers say aye on the census).


If anyones confused about "Scots" its its supposed speakers:



A survey found that most (64%) Scottish people don’t consider it a language, even among people who claim to speak Scots, a majority (58%) said they didn’t consider it a language. Only 29% of Scottish people actually consider it a language. How can you call something a language when even the people who speak it don’t?


Robert Burns wrote in a mixture of English and what he called the Scottish dialect.


Just as many dialect poets did in England and elsewhere.


"kye" is plural for cow in Yorkshire too it seems. Not surprising seeing as it a Northumbrian dialect group too.


Spot on "fae a Weegie" you hit the nail on the "Heed"


The scottish Gaelic has legal protection via a language act, whereas Irish in northern ireland has been blocked by the DUP at every stage. The Good Friday agreement promised a language act and has not delivered.


I never thought I’d see Robert Burns and Billy Connolly compared with each other.


It's somewhat endearing that you consider a copy / paste of several thousand words to be 'factual analysis'.


Its somewhat endearing to see you ignore what it says and the sources.


The simple fact is that you're one of those slightly peeved Englishmen who doesn't think Scots should be a classed as a language, and so no evidence will convince you otherwise. You're also lacking in historical knowledge (or hoping I was).

Scots has had legal recognition as a language in this country since being mentioned at its creation with the 1707 Act of Union.

Disagree and get as mardy about it as you like. Doesn't change a thing.

As for people not seeing it as a language, it's entirely a matter of perspective. Mine is that history and legal status trump personal opinion.


Calling Geordie the same language as Scots makes me think you've never heard Geordie.

Northumbrians settled in SE Scotland in the 7th century CE. Not long after this, many Northumbrian lands were incorporated into what is now Scotland.

If you don't believe me, you can read this article from the Dictionary of the Scots language:


Westminster and Holyrood have both given Scots legal status as a language, so there isn't really an argument to be made.

What do you mean by 'Northumbrian dialects don't'?


You can say it's not a language as much as you want. I'll take the side of Scots speakers, two of this country's governments, the EU and the European Charter for Minority Languages, all of which recognise Scots as a language.

You feel free to seethe away while you figure out some reason to disregard them all. I can wait.

Oh, I also forgot to mention that Scots has been legally recognised as a language at least since it was mentioned in the 1707 Act of Union. Good luck with that one.


You know why that is right? The Good Friday Agreement? You seriously think Glaswegian is further from standard English than Geordie? There is no written standard for Scots dialects and no wish for one from most campaigners.They just want to see it as being a different language in a "dialect continuum" (as is Brummie, New Jersey and Cockney)


I see you've now resorted to the Gish Gallop. I usually take that as a white flag. Time to say guid nicht tae ye!


factual analysis is a white flag? I never realised they were so useful.

"In the late 15th century the best poetry in English came from Scotland. This kingdom, united under Malcolm Canmore in the late 11th century, had four tongues: Highland Gaelic, lowland English, clerkly Latin, and lordly Anglo-Norman French. Since the 7th century, English had been spoken on the east coast from the River Tweed to Edinburgh. Its speakers called the tongue of the Gaels, who since the 5th century had come into Argyll from Ireland, Scottis. A Gael was in Latin Scotus, a name then extended to Lowlanders, who called the northern English they spoke Inglis. After the 14th century, a century of war with England, the Lowlanders called their speech Scottis, and called the Gaelic of the original Scots Ersche, later Erse (Irish)." (source: A History of English Literature by Michael Alexander, 2007).


The only reason English was called "Scottis" was that it became the state language of the court in Scotland after Gaelic was disguarded which is why its precisely at this time that it began to be referred to in the same said English as "Ersche". A name that it had never been called prior to the changing of the name "Inglysche" to "Scottis" for the English language in Scotland. It should if anything be called Scots English today, just as Gaelic should be called Gaelic Scots as both are Scots languages. The problem is that Gaelic was deliberately marginalised as the language of barbarians by the early "Scots writers" or rather English writers who happened to be Scottish.


Voltaire: "Un bon mot ne prouve rien."

If you're not far enough in the tree for that: 'a witty quote proves nothing'.


A factual observation is better than a witty quote and according to Michael Alexander in 2007, the best English writers in the late fifteenth century came from Scotland. Thats nothing to be ashamed of.


I'd have to have read it to ignore what it says. I'm terminally allergic to lack of effort in debate, and that huge copy / paste which you couldn't even be bothered to parse for paragraph breaks turned me right off this discussion. If you can't be bothered with that minimal effort, what makes you think I'd spend even more time digging through a wall of text? Good night. :)


so you dont want to engage with a real discussion. Fair enough and not surprising seeing as there is no substance to the Scots language reality as clarified above. I actually asked the author of the wikipedia article and he said I could share it.


Hello there, could you possibly publish your essay entitled "SCOTS LANGUAGE: Inconvenient Truths" as an online essay somewhere. Its really quite good and deserves to be read outside of wikipedia as well. I think the debate on Scots as a language is very one sided and your essay would be excellent as a source of factual citations. Please could you publish it online and leave a link here as it could then be a source for further debate just as the sources that are often cited by those arguing the opposite case are often shared (at least in this case it could be a source containing the findings of many other sources!). Cheers.

Thank you for your kind comments. Copies of the essay have been circulated to a variety of recipients. I do not claim any copyright - so please feel free to reproduce it anywhere as you, or anyone else, wish. Cassandra.Cassandrathesceptic (talk) 17:53, 17 March 2017 (UTC)


The relation between Scots and English is nearer to Low German and German.


I'm sorry, but that Scots article was hysterical. How did you react when you first came across Scots? Geez...

The Scottish Gaelic one scares me, but it does seem easier than Irish. Having learned 8 words on Memrise, many of them are very similar to Irish ones. I'd be interested to hear what a native speaker has to say. Have a lingot!


When I first saw the Scots article a few months ago, I thought it was a parody of Scottish accents. Turns out it's actually like that.


i couldn't help but think of Groundskeeper Willie while reading that


Haha, thanks for the lingot! I actually heard about Scots on the forum when others were debating the closest relative of English (which many give Frisian that credit). I read an article on Wikipedia and was amazed at its similarity. I laughed because of my amazement and I was also reading it out loud, which I may have been doing wrong but I understood it enough to know what I was saying. :)


I think you mean Frisian not Faroese. The Frisian languages Engish and Scots make up the Anglo-Frisian branch of the Western Germanic languages. Faroese is a conservative member of the North Germanic languages. It is closely related to Icelandic and Norn.


No offense to anyone living in Scotland (my great grandparents come from there and from Wales), but I seriously thought this was a joke for a second. Where can I learn it???

It does look alot like a Scottish version of English.


Memrise has some Scots courses. You can check that out for a start. Other than that, I don't know where you can officially learn it. Omniglot is also a good place to look, as there are language profiles on the site with resources. (Can't link it right now because I'm on my phone)


Hahaha why the downvotes people??? :-/ Seriously I don't understand why some comments get the down votes and others don't... Is there some rule for giving them I'm not aware of?


Some people are offended by the idea that Scots is "lesser" or "a joke" compared to English. I have upvoted that comment. Clearly it doesn't make a difference. I don't like it when a select handful of people control the votes, but that's how life works.


What's hilarious is that I'm learning Irish, want to learn the languages of my other ancestors too - many of whom where NOT english, so I'm not saying English is better or anything like that by a long stretch of the imagination. In fact none of my close ancestors were English at all and I don't think any language is a joke - but I did think that wiki page was a joke because I'd never heard of Scots and it literally read to me like the way they talk on Bournestown (I think that was itsname). I'm just a dumb blonde Aussie who wouldn't know if my head was screwed on backwards - never mean to offend anyone. :)

I guess I think it's negative energy wasted when I'd rather just laugh. :-/


I'd love to see a Scots Duolingo course and would gladly help create one but don't have the time to be the main person behind one. If anyone else was doing it I'd gladly help though.


It’s misleading to call Scots a dialect of English. The two languages we today call Scots and English both have the same ancestor, namely Old English; but Old English is a long way from today’s Standard English. Modern Scots and modern English developed in parallel over centuries. Figure 1 at http://www.dsl.ac.uk/about-scots/history-of-scots illustrates the evolution and divergence of the languages. Scots comes from a dialect of Old English called Northumbrian, while Standard English comes from a dialect called Mercian. Scots has also been influenced by other languages including Norse, French, and Gaelic (source: http://www.scotsdictionaries.org.uk/Scots/History/CulturalContacts.html).

Other languages have developed in similar ways. Perhaps Frechdachsbinich doesn't count Norwegian, Slovak, or Scottish Gaelic as languages, either. There are of course dialects within Scots (see http://www.scotslanguage.com/Scots_Dialects_uid117/The_Main_Dialects_of_Scots) but the bottom line is that Scots is certainly not a dialect of what anyone today thinks of as English.


Irish and scottish gaelic are not mutually intelligible.Besides,I would not consider Scots as a language but as a dialect.


I appreciate the information and the links, I always love to learn new things. I do have to say, Scots is a dialect and as a dialect, is not a badly spoken English. To me, it's the Scottish take on English.

I'm guessing that when Scotland gains independence they may try a Scottish Gaelic revival to reclaim heritage. It worked for Wales and they aren't even independent. It'd be cool to see a revival.


Scots is actually a language derived from a dialect of Old English called Old Northumbrian. English comes from another dialect called Mercian. They diverged over the centuries, but there’s a fair degree of mutual intelligibility in the modern versions. Figure 1 at http://www.dsl.ac.uk/about-scots/history-of-scots shows the development and divergence. I’d love to see a revival of both of Scots and Gaelic!


Thank you for the information!


not a chance they are currently opening Gaelic schools around Glasgow changing the names of the western isles and putting up signs in both English and Gaelic I come from Scotland not Alba, its almost a dead language and if you are ever forced to listen to it as i occasionally am you'd say it was a goofy language that makes anyone who speaks it sound daft. Please Gaelic speakers don't be offend that is just my ignorant interpretation of the Language


Thank you for the information.


Is there a way to combining English and Scottish into one language, called British? Scottish Gaelic should be renamed to Scottish. If not, Can duolingo release Scottish Gaelic onto Duolingo.


Duo is working on Scottish Gaelic now. It plans to launch in Beta July 2020. You might be able to check out their progress in the Contribute Language section of this website...or whatever it’s called. I forgot the name, but it’s there with the other languages they’re working on. Update: It’s called “The Incubator.” But it’s still reachable. Meanwhile, look up the other comments on this subject and see what others are saying about it. The list is on the sidebar of this discussion. It’s on your right hand side above. ^


I’m a Brit, I would like to know how to find this page (Scottish Gaelic)


Usually I would say 1. Go to your language flag button, the one that you use to select the language you normally want to practice, and press that. From there, 2. Go to add a new course, scroll all the way down past all the languages to the very bottom of the page. Push the the button that says Contribute To A Course. 3. Now you’re at the Incubator. Scottish Gaelic is being worked on at Incubator Phase One at the top of the page. Scottish Gaelic is the fifth one over. Push the arrow button to find it. But I’ll say this instead...maybe this shortcut might be the easier way to get to the Incubator: https://incubator.duolingo.com/ I hope this helps.


Scottish Gaelic has joined Welsh and Irish on Duolingo It has started on St Andrews day ie 30 november 2019. Earlier than planned and with a large and keen team of contributors its already passed 85,000 learners in one week.


Scots is my preference. I like that it is a Germanic language like my first language because there aren’t many, and that it is somewhat mutually intelligible with English. I can understand 70-80% of what I read in written Scots, and maybe 40-50% of spoken Scots.

It is important to have awareness of both although it is more important to have awareness of Scots since everyone has heard of Gaelic while very few have heard of Scots.


I really want to learn how to speak Scots!!

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