1. Forum
  2. >
  3. Topic: Scottish Gaelic
  4. >
  5. Scots vs Scottish Gaelic, the…


Scots vs Scottish Gaelic, the difference?

I was scrolling through FB when this article 1 from BBC Scotland popped up. It advertises a free online Scots course.

Wait, Scots? That's a language?

From the above article :

The Scots Language Centre defines Scots as the national name for Scottish dialects that are known collectively as the Scots language.

So, is "Scots" a shorter way to refer to Scottish Gaelic? It's not. And in fact, Scots and Scottish Gaelic come from two different language families.

From the article below:

The main difference between the languages is that Scottish Gaelic is a Celtic language with ties to Old Irish, while Scots is a Germanic language descending from Old English.
Gaelic enjoyed prestige status after developing independently as a trade language in the 12th century, until the 14th century Wars of Independence between Scotland and England.

Non-Gaelic speaking minorities in the Lowlands, most originating from England, felt abandoned by Englishmen raiding their communities during the Wars. They decided to adopt Gaelic cultural symbols and mythology, creating a Scottish identity completely alienated from England. However, they continued to speak their dialect of Middle English. The resultant language, Scots, grew in strength and caused Gaelic to retreat to the Highlands.

Article 2 Source

To learn more about languages in Scotland, check out this Wikipedia page, Languages of Scotland.

black and white speckled rabbit wearing a dark, blue and green tartan kilt

Everygreen tree emoji. Non-animated. Image description: Animated grey bunny with black eyes hops between two trees.Everygreen tree emoji. Non-animated.

December 8, 2019



Yes, Scots is a Germanic Language which evolved separately from English. Unless you go to places like Peterhead or Buckie, you'll find a mixture of Scots and English. People code switch and the proportion of Scots they use depends on who they are talking to. It's actually a continuum. That's why many speakers of Scots don't regard it as a language, but if you go to a reference library, you'll find old council records written in the Scots Leid.

It's interesting how many Scots words pop up in Gaelic and vice versa. Am preas in Gaelic, the press (cupboard) briogais/ breeks in Scots are examples. They also talk about dreich (dorcha ) weather.

I would never use the term Scots Gaelic. It's just Gaelic. What they speak in Ireland is Irish, and there is some history there, so I would never call Irish, Gaelic (pronounced gaylic). It's actually offensive to some, especially older people.


They switch between Scots and English, as in they switch between the two languages or a mixture of the two? (like Chiac)


Either or, and Chiac (Cajun) is a good example)


That's really cool! Thank you. :)


There's all kind of fun and interesting varieties of Scots, too. In Shetland, where I grew up, the local dialect has a strong Norse influence in the vocabulary.


I spoke to a Shetland man a few days ago. He had little of the Scandinavian sounding cadence in his accent you hear from other islands, interestingly. Great accent with lots of similarities to where I live near Hawick

Pleasingly, though, he is a Viking in Up Helly Aa and looks the part


I don't like the way it says"Scottish Gaelic" all over the place but I understand why they have to do it. People do call Irish "Gaelic" and the two languages are mutually comprehensible, and there is potential for confusion on a site like Duolingo.


Just today I saw an article about Ulster Scots: https://www.thejournal.ie/readme/the-irish-for-ulster-scots-4921650-Dec2019/ As always in Ireland, the language is a bit controversial, because it's associated with the plantations, when land was confiscated from "rebel" Irish and handed over to "loyalist" settlers mainly from Scotland; but historically there was quite a bit of mobility between Ireland and Scotland, so the language might have spread independently.


In my part of Scotland, Scots is spoken with a dialect called Doric and that has variations as well, depending upon how close you live to the borders with the Highlands or Tayside. We have gone full circle here (and the story is similar to that of Gaelic but without quite such a complicated history). My great and grand parents, and many people in my parents' generation, spoke Doric at home, but were severely discouraged from using it at school. This resulted in a dilution and reluctance. A typical attitude of 50s/60s parents was that you had to speak "properly" as a child so that you wouldn't be held back in life. (One of my great aunts was a Doric speaker who was also left handed - she had a terrible time at school.) However, in the past 20 years or so, there has been a huge revival in the use of Doric - many just call it Scots - and it is encouraged in schools and festivals. We are very grateful to the people in areas like rural and coastal Buchan, where it was kept alive and thriving in all its richness of stories, song and poetry - all of these now studied at university, which would have astonished my great aunt. There are lots of different accents in Scots English, some more distinctive than others. Examples are the Norn of Shetland and Lallans Scots used by Robert Burns. However, our heritage is in Gaelic too, as we are surrounded by placenames with Gaelic roots. Villages, farms, hills, lochs and mountains can be traced back to what the Aberdeenshire Gaels knew about them or thought they looked like. Once you start learning Gaelic you find that, even Anglicised or Doricised, you are surrounded by Valley of the Tree of Gold, Township of the Stranger, Grey Round Top, Field of the Goat and the Cat, Hillock of the Fairies and Big Heap of Poo. Gaelic and Doric Scots rock along nicely together and my grandchildren learn a bit of both at school, but there is still a need for us to rescue the place names and that is why I am doing this course - so I don't have to keep asking other people what the map says.


Foos yer doos min? :) I was in Aberdeenshire 3 months ago.


Nae bad thanks. Fit aboot yersel?

Or if you want a really smarty pants answer, Aye Peckin (because a doo is also a pigeon). Even in the early stages of this great course, I'm starting to see words which we claim as Doric, but which could have Gaelic influence or root. I was grateful for the link to press and dreich (recently voted the most liked Scots word). The most I ever heard Gaelic (tiny amount) or Doric (a wee shakky mair) spoken naturally was between greats and grands, privately among themselves, so both signify comfort, warmth and love. Spelling's a lot easier in Doric, though.


Very interesting! Thank you! Have a lingot.


That.. kinda blew my mind. I grew up around Scottish Gaelic and called it "Scots Gaelic" interchangeably. Thank you!


@Marie_Wolf, I wouldn't say that nobody uses "Scots Gaelic" for short. Though, I have no idea the prevalence. Simply "Scots", however, is not short for "Scottish Gaelic". ^_^


Ah, gotcha. Still, really interesting. I'll definitely have to read through those links! :D


I was brought up in Scotland, and know Scots (Lallans). However, as children we got into trouble if we used anything other than English in school so we learned how to change rapidly from Scots in the playground to proper English in the classroom. It feels so strange now that Scots is accepted - and I can use all my words, not just the English ones. :-)


For anybody that's interested, see if you can follow this lecture in the Scots Leid. A lot of it is mutually intelligible.



If you are Scots, it's easy to understand - particularly liked 'in reality England annexed Scotland, with terms' description of the Union. :D


Exactly. It's good to see an example where the Scots Leid is taken seriously. They are trying to reintroduce it to schools but a lot of parents don't take it seriously. They are starting to bring out children's story books though: https://www.bookdepository.com/Doric-Gruffalos-Bairn-Julia-Donaldson/9781785300691


The trouble is, kids go to school speaking Scots and then are taught to read and write in English. I really struggle to read most Scots, having to slow down and sound out the words in my head.

I did notice that I didn't have this problem reading short stories by James Robertson (whom I have never actually heard speak Scots) but when I asked him how he did it either he didn't know or I didn't understand the answer.



An interesting session of the Scottish parliament where you can hear different dialects of Scots and Gaelic spoken. I particularly like the speaker of Doric who doesn’t use any notes.


Here is a wee link to a lovely poem by the great Liz Lochhead "Kidspoem/Bairnsang" showing how we got the Scots Leid knocked out of us at school from an early age.



So so true.

I remember one afternoon when I was living in England I was reading the "Scots Independent" newspaper and there was an article in Scots I was interested in. I ploughed through it, vocalising every word in my head so I could understand it, and then I came to a word I didn't know.

My mother was staying with me at the time, sitting at the other side of the room doing a crossword. I looked up and said "Mum, what does [word] mean?" Without missing a beat and with no context she immediately supplied the equivalent English word.

I said, "thanks Mum," and went on reading - the word she had given me made perfect sense in the context of the article which was about some political development. Then I did a double-take and looked up again.

"You're my mother. Why didn't I know that word?" She looked a bit sheepish.

Learn Scottish Gaelic in just 5 minutes a day. For free.