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Scots vs Scottish Gaelic

I find it interesting that 30% of population of Scotland claim they speak Scots, but only 1% Scottish Gaelic.

Makes me wonder if I am studying the wrong language ? Robert Burns can not be wrong ? Bet it is easier to learn Scots too since is is related to Old English ?

December 28, 2019



A lot of Scots vary the amount of Scots they speak, depending on who they are speaking to. I can vary from basically speaking English with a few "Ayes" and "dreichs" and "glaikits" to English with a lot of Scots. I wouldn't use a Scots word if I didn't think the person I was speaking to would understand it. I'd expect "oxter" (armpit) to be generally understood, but "queats" (ankles) to be less well understood. I'd expect "breeks" (trousers) to be widely understood but "spaver" (trouser fly) less well understood. If a person says they speak Scots, there's no way of telling just what percentage of their speech is Scots.


I always get puzzled about which of those two languages are the main native language of Scotland. Scots is mainly spoken in most of Scotland such as the lowlands (where Edinburgh and Glasgow are) and is a Germanic language similar to English, while Scottish Gaelic is a Gaelic language like Welsh and close to Irish. Scottish Gaelic speakers are mainly concentrated in the Scottish Highlands, Shetland, and Orkney.

This blog post by Duolingo staff does not mention Scots, but mentions that Scottish Gaelic was widely spoken all around Scotland from north to south until the Highland Clearances.

Gaelic was once the principal language of the Kingdom of Scotland, stretching from the Northern Highlands to the Southern Borders. However, following the upheaval of the Jacobite Rebellions in the 17th and 18th centuries, the language was heavily persecuted. The infamous Highland Clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries resulted in large swathes of the Gaels being sent overseas, often under great duress; these emigrants took their language to Canada, where they founded Gaelic-speaking communities who still maintain their language and culture today. Back in the British Isles, however, the Education Scotland Act of 1872 effectively banned Gaelic in Scotland's schools. Some of those caught speaking the language faced physical punishment.

Despite everything, Gaelic hung on in Scotland, where it is now spoken by just under 60,000 people. And the seeds of Gaelic’s revival have been sown: in 2005, the Scottish Parliament passed an act aiming to secure Gaelic’s status as an official language of Scotland, and since then the number of speakers under 20 has begun to rise. Around 5,600 children are currently being educated through the medium of Gaelic. Surveys show the majority of Scots view the language favourably, and a growing number of people are learning Gaelic worldwide.

Gaelic now has its own television channel, radio stations, and a short film festival. New dedicated schools are being built. Parents are learning Gaelic with their children and, although challenges remain, the Gaelic community works hard to ensure that there is a tomorrow.

Source: https://making.duolingo.com/scottish-gaelic-scotland-in-full-colour


What's most commonly spoken almost everywhere in the country (I've been to most of the main areas - born and always lived in the Glasgow area and travel a lot for work - the only place I haven't been is the islands) is "Scottish English". It's basically identical to English but there are a lot of words that come directly from Scots and a handful that come from Gaelic. An average English speaker wouldn't have too much trouble understanding how the vast majority of people in Scotland speak in everyday situations.


Most Scots outside the North East of Scotland would find the Doric difficult to understand. That is mostly Scots with a few English words. The grammar is different. For example “ ae coo, twa coos, three kye”. There is more that one plural for coo (cow)


I hadn't realised I knew or used to speak any Doric but kye for a plural of cow was not unusual to hear when I lived in South West Scotland. Neither was kine - which I now presume is Doric aswell?


What about nowt? Are you familiar with that word? That's the Doric word for cattle.


No, not in that sense anyway. I grew up in Yorkshire. It has a whole other meaning there. :)


My exposure to Scots has been quite limited but that limited exposure suggests to me that it is really, really similar to modern English. The difference between English and Scots is one of those situations that tests the difference between a language and a dialect (in before navy comment). Maybe if English were not so different from other related languages, greater clarity would offer a better standard.

I am not saying that studying Scots would be a waste of time. But it might not offer much in the way of a challenge either.


Plus Scots has no standardisation at all. Absolutely 0. So what you'd be studying is debateable anyway as to whether it's even accurate.


There isn't "zero" standardisation. There is standardisation, the problem is that for most people who can speak some Scots haven't been taught it (which I would wager is actually more than 30% of people in Scotland, having lived here since I was born, because lots of Scots words are called slang and discouraged - so many of us have no idea that we're using Scots all the time). But the reason why you see so many variations of words is that most of us grew up only hearing Scots, but never seeing it written down. And so, we spell lots of things how it sounds. You'll see variations between spellings of the same word between groups of friends because one person in the group wrote it that way and then you all just wrote it that way. It's a problem of the fact that Scots has been regarded as a "slang" and not a "real" way of speaking, not that there isn't standardisation.


Exactly. There is a standardised form of Scots, including spelling which looks and sounds very different to the normal spoken form. However most people wouldn't know the standard form of "going" - Is it gaun, ging, gae or gang? All these forms are used in different parts of the country. Very few people speak braid scots aka Lallans. Most speak varying mixtures of Scottish English and Scots. Glaswegian is basically an accent of Scottish English.

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