On the Scots Language

The notion that there is a language called Scots, separate from the English language, instead of just a Scottish dialect of English, makes a lot of folks hopping mad. There is a regular reader who is Scottish who refuses to accept this. The reason is that if you listen to Scots carefully, it does sound like they are speaking a grotesquely distorted and bizarre form of English.
But the thing we linguists keep hammering away at is that if you can’t understand people, they are speaking a different language. People just can’t seem to accept that.
It’s true that Scots is very close to English. Some say that Scots must be more than 90% intelligible with English. This is not the case at all. I don’t have any figures, but a look around the Net showed that the consensus is that Scots is simply not intelligible to many or most speakers of even “Southern English” in the UK (the English spoken in the southern half of the UK). I would gather that even a lot of Northern English speakers can’t make heads or tails of it either. Let’s just forget about American English speakers.
So, bottom line is that Scots is just flat out unintelligible to the vast majority of English speakers.
What does unintelligible mean? According to SIL, unintelligible means you understand less than 70% of what someone is saying. SIL says partially intelligible is 70-89%, and intelligible is 90-100%.
If you ever tried to watch Trainspotting, you know what I am talking about. I think it had subtitles when released her, and it sure needed them, because I could scarcely make out a single word they were saying. Keep in mind that intelligibility differs by individual. A good friend of mine said he watched that movie and figured out the lect about 1 hour into the movie and then was able to make sense out of it, but I never got it.
He’s also a musician, so that may have something to do with it. There’s increasing evidence that musicians are better at language than others. Polyglots are often musically talented. In a lot of ways, language is all about the ear.
To make matters worse, the lect in Trainspotting was not even the real deal, hardcore Scots. It’s just basic Scottish English, not even real Scots at all. It gets pretty hard to figure out where true Scots, Scottish English with heavy Scots interference, and Scottish English proper begin and end.
There are five main dialects of Scots: Insular Scots (Orcadian/Shetlandic),  Northern Scots, Central Scots, Southern Scots and Ulster. As the commenter below notes, intelligibility is quite difficult among dialects of Scots, and it looks like we are looking at more than one language here.
Lafayette Sennacherib,  a Scotsman, writes:

In Scotland, if you go five miles in any direction you encounter a dialect that no one else understands, roughly based on English, but as if there has been little population movement in or out of each little region for 500 years, which is quite possible. There is actually no broad Scots; the poems of Burns are in the dialect of the county of Ayrshire, spoken only there and then.
These days, I as a Glaswegian (from Glasgow, though living in London) find it really hard to understand Ayrshire people when they lapse into dialect, even though it’s little more than 20 miles away. The Edinburgh dialect in Trainspotting is also completely foreign to me, again from only 30 miles away.
As for Shetland or Aberdeen…I worked with a guy from Aberdeen for a year, and only picked out about half a dozen words in that time – if he spoke to me I’d just look philosophical and utter, “Ay mate.”
Funny that although there are lots of accents in the USA, the language is so uniform when there are so many people from so many places. But maybe that’s why – they have to learn a standard dialect to communicate with each other.

Here are some audio samples of Scots from a village called Rosehearty. Here is some more Scots, a 2 minute recitation of a New Testament story. Here are some samples of Ulster Scots, which is pretty much the same language as Scots. This is Philip Robinson reading from a novel called Fergus An The Stane O Destinie. This is clearly a foreign language! This is nothing like Scottish English at all. It’s simply another language altogether.

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23 thoughts on “On the Scots Language”

  1. Dear Robert
    I would like to make two comments. First, musicians are very good at pronouncing a foreign language, but not necessarily good at learning it. I once tutored a roommate in German. She had a very good pronunciation but didn’t get far in the language and never learned to speak or read it at even a basic level.
    Second, unintelligibility does’t tell us anything about learnability. Swedish and Russian are both unintelligible to me, but I would probably learn Swedish 10 faster than Russian. An Englishman probably could learn to understand Scottish in a month while he would need far more time to understand French. Immediate intelligibility is an important criterium, but so is the time necessary to overcome unintelligibility.
    Regards. James

  2. i remember Trainspotting. it was cool but I don’t remember watching it with subtitiles. I must have been pretty young when I saw it but I had always thought they just had funny accents. I can’t imagine watching a movie back then with subtitles besides Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. then again, it may have had them.

  3. Robert, you are completely wrong. There is NO Scots language. I’ve already posted about this several times, so I’m not going to retread it all. I can barely make out a word of that story you linked to – Fergus and the Stane… either because it’s in a medieval dialect of Scots English, or because it’s made up.
    The rosehearty one is quite straightforward, apart from a few items of vocabulary. ‘Fit’ is just a phonetic rendition of ‘what’; ‘bidden’ derives from ‘abide’ – i.e bide, bided, bidden – antiquated English; ‘dreitch’ is usually written ‘dreich’ – that IS a word that is common in Scotland as a whole, but not as far as I’ve noticed in England – maybe because it describes, usually, weather which is more common in Scotland than in England – overcast and raining. There ARE a FEW words like ‘dreich’ which are common throughout Scotland but not England, but not many – I don’t know why. But apart from that there are, like England. basically local accents and vocabulary – e.g. working class Edinburgh (Trainspotting) uses words like ‘barry’ (good), ‘raj’ (guy, or the cockney ‘geezer’ , I think), which aren’t in use in the rest of Scotland. And Newcastle and surrounds, in the North of England, use words like ‘canny’ (good), which are not used in the rest of England.
    What people speak, as everywhere, depends on their exposure to ‘received’ vocabulary, and interaction with people from outside their hometown; the less travelled and educated will tend to use a higher proportion of specifically local vocabulary. The more educated may lapse into localisms, but also are just as comfortable with standard vocabulary. It will always be possible to find some, especially old-timer, in Scotland who speak in not-easily-understood ‘dialect’, but there are not that many, and they would not be easily understood by other Scots from outside their local area.
    Your problem with Trainspotting is solely with the accent; there is very little local vocabulary in it – if you tune into the sing-song rhythm and the pronunciations there is little to negotiate apart from ‘ ken’ which means ‘know’ or ‘you know’.

  4. Trainspotting isn’t Scots. It’s Scottish English. Scottish English is a separate language. The linked story about Fergus is in Ulster Scots, a dialect of Scots that is related to Central Scots.
    Scots is indeed a separate language. It has an ISO code. ISO codes are given out by the Linguistics profession whenever we determine that a given lect is deserving of being a separate language. So that’s basically the end of the argument in the field, unless they have been given out an ISO code and they don’t deserve one.
    I think it is clear here that you are confusing a language, Scots, with a dialect of English, Scottish English. It’s true that it gets pretty hard to tell one from the other.
    Did you listen to Candlemas?

  5. I’ll get on to ‘Candlemas’ in a minute. Can you give me any links re the ‘Scots’ language? I’m Scottish – I live in London now, but I lived in Scotland for 28 years; I’ve lived in Glasgow, Stirling, Edinburgh and Shetland; I went to University with people from all over Scotland, and friends went to universities all over Scotland; I lived in construction camps (for the Shetland oil extraction) for a couple of years, with working-class people from all over Scotland – I’ve never even heard a rumour of a ‘Scots’ language, except in literary discussions e.g. ‘lallans’ which I’ve discussed before, and occasional references (erroneous) to ‘broad Scots’. I think the ISO classification must relate to a historical literary Scots. A bit of background – I googled it and came up with this ( the site where you got ‘Candlemas’) , which is short and sweet. I could quibble and qualify, but it’s basically right’ EXCEPT that, as in the passage below, it skims over the question of whether or not Scots is a ‘group of dialects’ or a unified language.
    Scots language centre.

    From 1494 it came to be known as ‘scottis’ and in this, the Stewart period, it began to develop a written standard, just at the time when the East-Midland dialect of English was becoming the basis for a written standard in Tudor England. It was the vehicle for the works of the great late-medieval makars (poets) like Robert Henrysoun, William Dunbar, Gavin Douglas and David Lyndsay.
    What happened to it?
    After the Scottish Reformation (1560), the Union of the Crowns (1603) and the Union of the Parliaments (1707), southern English gradually became the language of most formal speech and writing and Scots came to be regarded as a ‘group of dialects’ rather than a ‘language’. It continued, however, to be the everyday medium of communication for the vast majority of Lowland Scots, and was used creatively in poetry, song and story. It reached its pinnacle of literary achievement in this period in the work of Robert Burns.
    Where is it now?
    At present Scots is primarily a spoken language, with a number of regional varieties, each with a distinctive character of its own, and is heard widely in most parts of the country. Scots use a mixture of Scots and English in their speech, with some using mostly Scots and others mostly English. In this sense the language exists as part of a continuum with Scottish Standard English.

    What ‘ …continued, however, to be the everyday medium of communication…’? A ‘group of dialects’ or a ‘Scots language’?
    That Candlemas story is closer to Ayrshire ‘dialects’ I have heard in living use, but I’m not sure it’s quite authentic – he seems to be going out of his way to distort all the English words, giving some pronunciations I’ve never heard – e.g (phonetically) ‘spacking’ for ‘speaking’, and ‘guy'(gae) for ‘go’ (he uses ‘guy’ correctly elsewhere as I’ll show), ‘echty’ for eighty. And there are a few words like ‘cairlin’ which I’ve never encountered outside of Robert Burns poems. So I suspect the reader is an intellectual, possibly a poet, attempting a rendition of the Bible story in Hugh Macdiarmiad’s ‘lallans’ (see an earlier post), rather than an authentic dialect. However, most of it would pass muster, except to a native speaker . I lived and worked for years with Ayrshire people, so I tuned into it a bit. I actually travelled round the USA with a guy from Ayrshire, who sometimes spoke in that dialect, and sometimes in ‘received English’. They found him easier to understand than me – I’ve always spoken received English, but with a heavy Glasgow accent.
    For my own amusement, and your elucidation, I’ve transcribed ‘Candlemas’, with translation except where it stumped me. You will see that it IS English, with colloquial pronunciations, a smattering of archaisms and some quirky vocabulary. Note that it is very different from the language of Trainspotting.
    Where I’m unsure I’ve enclosed the word or passage in inverted commas. My comments and translations are in brackets.
    When the time ordained o’ the law of Moses for their purification was by, they take him down to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, for sae (so) it stands in the law: ” Ilka ( each, common in England too) man bairn (child) ‘ at opens the wean’ (? – I don’t think that’s right. ‘wean’ – pr. wain – or ‘wee one’ means child too) shall be hauden (holden) for dedicate to the Lord, and he offered the sacrifice laid down i’ the law of the Lord – a pair of ‘cushets’ (?) or twa (two) young doos (pigeons, or maybe doves).
    Noo (now), there was ‘ wan’in’ (wandering?) in Jerusalem at that time a man of the name of Simeon, a weel (well) ‘den’ (?), strick (strict?) god-fearin’ man he was, that lived bidin’ (waiting) on the day when the consolation of Israel would ‘ cath’ (?). He was gae (pr. ‘guy’ – very, or awful as in e.g.’ awful big’) ‘ for bine’ (?) , and the hail (holy) spirit had lutin’ (let) him ken (know) that he would see deeth (death) afore (before) his een (eyes) had beholden (seen, as in ‘behold, obviously) the Lord’s anointed. Sae noo (so now), moved by the spirit, he had come until (unto) the temple, and when Jesus faither and mither (obvious) brocht (brought) him in tae dae (to do) whit (what) was necessary by law and custom, Simeon take the bairn in his oxter ( usually means armpit, in Scotland and England, but seems to mean arms here) and blessed God and said ” Maister (master), noo may thy servant, loused frae ( loosed from) thy service, gang his wa’s ( go his ways) in peace, e’en (even) as though ‘ hecht them’ (?), for my een have seen thy salvation what thou hast made red i’ the sicht (sight) o’ a’ the fowk o’ the yerd ( of all the folk of the yard), tae be a licht (light) to enlichten the haithen (heathen), and a glory till Israel lie ‘ fowk’ ( ? ‘fucked’?). His faither and mither fair looked sair ( ‘fair’ as normal, but used like ‘sure looked sore’) at what was said on it. ‘Sighin” (?), Simeon blessed the baith (both) o’ thaim (them, obviously). and to Mary, the wean’s mother, he says ” ‘ tent ( attend) my words – this bairn o’ yours is appointed to cause the doonfa’ ( pr. doonfaw, downfall) o’ mony (many) and the rise o’ mony in Israel, and tae be a sign frae (from) God foreby (also) that mony feck ( folk?) will speak again, aye (pr, I, yes), and through yer ain (own) soul a sword will gang (go) at the derrin’ (daring?) thocht (thought), ‘ so mony a hairt (heart) may ‘kithe’ ( probably related to kith as in ‘kith and kin’)’ (this passage defeats me, but I get the gist of it).”
    There was foreby a prophetess, Anna, the dochter (daughter) of Thaniel of Clan Asher. She was a gae ( gay?) and ‘yielded’ (?) ‘cairlin’ ( Burns uses this, but I can’t remember its meaning – ‘ old woman’ from the context, probably) that had married in her ‘quine’ (queen?) days, but had ‘tint’ (? but obviously means ‘lost’) her guid (good) man efter (after) seven year, and biden ( bided, stayed) a widow woman since ay ( ever since). She was now no less nor (than) echty-four year o’ age, and never ‘quat’ ( ? past tense of quit?) the temple, but was ay (always ) there worshippin’ God wi’ fastin’ and prayer. Just at this moment she came up and efter ( after) geein’ (giving) thanks tae God, spackin’ at the bairn till a’ thaim that was bidin’ ( speaking of the child to all them that were waiting) on the redemption of Jerusalem.
    When they had carried out a’ that was prescribed o’ the law o’ the Lord, Joseph and Mary gaed ( goed, went) back to Galilee till (to) their ain (own) toon (town) o’ Nazareth. The bairn ‘racksed’ (?) up, growing ay (always) the langer (longer), the stranger (stronger), and gatherin’ ay the mair ( more) wisdom, ‘ and’ (?) the ‘faither’ (? not sure if that’s what he says – feather or father?) of God bade ( abided, lived) on him.

    1. And you could do the same thing with a Norwegian text – gloss it into Danish: give the Danish spelling, supply the Danish word where there is no clear cognate, and then say there is no such thing as Norwegian. Or with Afrikaans and Dutch.
      Of course Scots and English are very similar; they both descend from Anglo Saxon (Old English), but even from that early period, they were different dialects, with what would later become Scots being much more Angle and what would become our English, Saxon. Over the centuries, they have diverged more and more. Add to that the massive influence of the Norse language on Scots, and you can begin to account for some of the vocabulary differences. Some of them. For instance, words like til (to), i (in), kenspeckle (conspicuous), kirk (church), speir (inquire), gar (compel), big (build), lig (lie), and many, many others, have direct and very close cognates in Old Norse and its heir Icelandic (as well, many of them, in ON’s other offspring like Norwegian, Danish, etc.). Or try studying Old English and Middle English. They both abound with words and grammatical features that Scots has hained and Inglis haes tyned. It’ll gar yer heid birl, I’m shair o it. Dinna lat the yeirs o INGLIS fed propaganda shame ye intil giein owre yer ain leid. The Inglis policy haes been, til quite recently, tae exterminate aa ither leids (Norn, Gaelic, Cornish, etc.) i the islands, sae at ye wad aa be Inglis in culture and tongue. Sae the bait ye at the schuil gin ye spak i yer ain leid.
      Another instructive course of study is to examine the few texts that are extant in the Yola language – an extinct descendant of Middle English. It’s clearly closely related, but most linguists will tell you it is (was) a separate language.

  6. Links? Well, Scots has an ISO code. ISO codes are pretty hard to get. I submitted some applications and they got slammed down, and not very nicely either. There’s an organization that gives them out, and in Linguistics, that ends the debate right there. Once something gets an ISO code, it’s a language according to the scientific authorities, and the debating is over. It’s kind of like when the scientists say something is a species or subspecies or not.
    Sometimes, dialects have illegitimate ISO codes, and in those cases, sometimes we try to get them taken away, but there’s no movement like that for Scots. For Scots to get its code taken away, it would have to have 90%+ intelligibility with my English, and it has no such thing. Just making a very rough guess, I would say that I picked up ~25% of that “Fergus and the Stane of Destiny” stuff. 25% means separate language, flat out. We make these language vs dialect designations now on intelligibility grounds.
    Also, Scots has apparently followed a different linguistic historical trajectory than English. I’m not sure of the details, but Scots seems to be a bit of an independent development, or at least English and Scots diverged at some point.
    Wikipedia says Scots is an independent language, but they acknowledge that there is some debate over this. My brother has been listening to and reading this Scots stuff for the last couple of days and he thinks it’s stupid to say Scots is a separate language.
    Wikipedia also discusses Scottish English. That’s apparently what you are hearing in Trainspotting. In that link you gave me, you can see that it is definitely a language and not a dialect. The regional varieties are the dialects of the Scots language.
    AFAICT, it looks like there are a good four or five separate languages inside Scots, because there are 4-5 dialects that seem to have poor intelligibility. For sure, Insular – Orkney – Shetlands looks like a separate language, and it seems like it’s not intelligible with the rest of Scots. Plus it looks a lot more Scandinavian.
    Actually, in the debates on the web, some in the know are saying that the pure real Scots is pretty much extinct, and that all that is left are varieties of Scottish English with greater or lesser degrees of Scots influence. I think I could only get about 25% of that Candlemas, and I could hardly understand the that Rosehearty stuff at all.

  7. ‘Redd’ meaning ‘clear’, of Dutch origin, as you mentioned above – I’ve never heard it, but it would make sense of the passage below. I thought at first the ‘red’ was a reference to blood from a ritual circumcision, but ‘clear’ makes more sense.
    And ” as though ‘hecht them”, I’d guess now is ” as thou hecht him “, with ‘hecht’ meaning ‘promised’, maybe a variant on hast (as in ‘hast thou any money?’), or ‘behest’, or even ‘heckle’.
    ” noo may thy servant, loused frae ( loosed from) thy service, gang his wa’s ( go his ways) in peace, e’en (even) as thou‘ hecht ‘(promised) him’ (?), for my een have seen thy salvation what thou hast made ‘redd’ (clear) i’ the sicht (sight) o’ a’ the fowk o’ the yerd ”
    This passage:
    ” a sign frae (from) God foreby (also) that mony feck ( folk?) will speak again, aye (pr, I, yes), and through yer ain (own) soul a sword will gang (go) at the derrin’ (daring?) thocht (thought), ‘ so mony a hairt (heart) may ‘kithe’ ”
    I think, means:
    ” that mony feck (folk) will speak again(that the dead will speak again), aye (yes), and through yer ain soul a sword will gang (go) at the derrin’ thocht [that] so mony a hairt may ‘kithe’ ( with kithe maybe being a verb form of ‘kith’ (kith and kin), meaning that many hearts will be united with loved ones).
    That makes sense of it all, except for ” every man bairn ‘at opens a wean’ ” – I don’t think ‘at opens a wean’ is right; it just sounds like that. And it might mean ” every man born [that is circumcised], or [ that is making the transition from childhood, from being a wean (wee one)]…”
    Or what?

  8. Got it (possibly)! ” Every man [born ] ‘at opens a wean…” with ”at’ being a form of ‘that’ when preceded by a consonant, and ‘ opens a wean’ meaning ‘opens’ as in ‘ opens the penis with the circumcision knife’ i.e. ‘opens a child’- ” shall be [deemed dedicated] to the Lord”.

  9. what about the poem recited before ritually cutting open the haggis? what language is that? (it may have been mentioned already here)

  10. Robert Burns “Ode to a Haggis” is recited before you cut into the thing. Burns wrote in the Scots language.
    Did you listen to any of those Scots tapes? I can’t even understand that at all.

  11. I read this post with interest, and especially the replies from Lafayette Sennacherib (who as a Glaswegian should be taken as an authority), and as an Englishman coming from Bristol (quite a way down from Scotland in fact) I must say that I found it astonishing that you say you can only understand 25% of the Candlemas recitation. I could understand well over 95% and only had difficulty with a handful of dialect words which aren’t used south of the border. Despite its ISO code I have difficulty in accepting Scots as a separate language. I’ve looked at the Scots language website on several occasions and have found next to nothing there that I don’t understand. I suspect that Americans haven’t been exposed to the varieties of dialects in Scotland, and the UK as a whole, as we Brits have through British made documentaries, drama series and news items on British TV. Unfortunately, the old Bristol dialect in my home town is dying out a bit and being replaced by standard English with a slightly rhotic accent. However, I doubt whether you would understand 25% of the Bristol dialect that I used to hear in my youth. There was a well known singer called Adge Cutler, from the Somerset village of Nailsea just outside of Bristol, who specialised in writing comic songs in the local dialect. He’s well worth researching.

  12. Thanks Geoff. I googled Adge Cutler. The Wurzels! I knew I knew the name from somewhere. Drink up thy zyder!

  13. I know it’s a bit late to comment on this post, but I just found it.
    I am from America, Western North Carolina to be exact. I don’t speak with a Southern accent, though. My family is from Ohio, so I have a flat, boring, typical American accent.
    I’ve never left the country, and I’ve never studied English dialects and related languages. That said, I had no trouble at all understanding Trainspotting. I also had very little trouble understanding the New Testament reading. Given two weeks or so for my ears to adjust, it sounds as though I could understand the New Testament reading just as well as I understand fellow Americans.
    I don’t see Scottish English as a separate language at all. To me, it’s hard to even pick out a difference between Scottish English and the scores of other English accents spoken in the UK. They all sound the same, and I have zero trouble understanding.
    I don’t believe I could understand a true Cockney accent too well immediately, and a very thick, Scots-influenced accent would throw me for a loop, sure. After a couple of weeks, however, I would be good to go. I can’t see how someone from Scotland could have more trouble than I do.
    Scots proper, if such a thing exists, seems a different story. If I understand Scottish English 95% well, I’d give Scots 60%. It *might* be a different language, but really, given a little bit of time – a month, perhaps – I firmly believe I could understand it just as well as Scottish English.
    If I were to leave today and travel to France, Germany, Sweden, South Africa, China, Russia, or anywhere else, it would take far more than a month to grow accustomed to the language. Each nation speaks a totally different language than English. Therefore, I have a hard time considering Scots as truly separate from English. In my opinion, it is just somewhat removed. Farther removed than Scottish English, sure, but not even as far removed as Dutch and Frisian, which linguists seem to think I should be able to understand, probably even more so than Scots.

  14. My two cents (five years after the initial posting):
    English is a very unusual language. Because Great Britain is an island, its language developed in relative isolation from the other Germanic languages, something that was exacerbated by the massive influx of Norman words in the Middle English period. As a result, even though it theoretically has a lot of close relatives (Frisian, Dutch, German, etc.), it’s a relative isolate in terms of intelligibility. With the exception of a few very minor languages like Scots, Gullah, Tok Pisin, etc., there simply aren’t any languages that are as close to English as Spanish is to Italian, or High German is to Low.
    For this reason, English speakers tend to assume that divisions between languages are stark, but this isn’t usually the case. For vast swaths of the world, there exists a kaleidoscope of closely related languages and dialects, with most people being fluent in several of them, and sometimes using them interchangeably.
    When I lived in Africa, for example, the tribal language in my area was called Kipare, and many words were the same as the national language, Swahili. This sometimes extended to entire sentences — for example, “I want eggs” is “Naomba mayai” in both languages. Despite this, other utterances were very different, e.g. “Ushinji mbora” versus “Usiku mwema” for “Good night”, or “Washinjiandhe” versus “habari za asubuhi” for “Good morning”. And to make things even fuzzier, it’s perfectly acceptable to mix the two into a single sentence, as when the shopkeeper asked me, “Unataka mlala?”, combining Swahili “Unataka” (“Do you want”) and Kipare “mlala” (“a wife”). And everyone is totally fine with this. There are two languages, sometimes they’re the same, sometimes they’re different, and sometimes people speak both. That’s how languages work. It’s even how English and Swahili work for the expats, who would talk about going to the safi duka to buy a sufuria.
    In the case of Scots, we have a dialect continuum, which isn’t really something we’re culturally equipped to deal with. People at one end of the continuum (say, California) can listen to people from the other end of the continuum (Scots) and understand maybe half of what they’re saying. Meanwhile, people from closer to the middle of the continuum can understand both. And that’s OK. We attach far too much importance to names and titles and SIL codes, when what we’re actually describing is a complex reality that is the norm in linguistics, and that doesn’t really care what we call it.

  15. Listening to all the Scots videos on YouTube, I can understand Scots better than I can understand a thick Scottish English accent!

  16. From what I remember they were speaking proper English in the film Trainspotting with some English and Scottish ‘slang’ words thrown in. This is the same as you get with a lot of American films too – English speaking, but the accent varies depending where abouts the story in the film is set and some American or regional ‘slang’ or colloquialisms are often included which, unless the viewer is from that place or is familiar with the way people talk in the particular place, they either just need to guess or work out what it means for themselves or look it up.
    The *book* Trainspotting was very difficult to understand probably for anyone outside Edinburgh or there abouts but it was English but written the way the characters would pronounce it to give an indication of the accent spoken – and with lots of local ‘slang’ and colloquialisms thrown in too – much much more so than in the film. I thought Ewan McGregor and Johnny Lee Miller’s character’s sounded very well spoken when compared to the way their characters spoke in the book.
    I noticed the book ‘Dracula’ by Bram Stoker does similar – tries to give the reader an idea of the regional accent of the character by spelling the words the way they would be said in real life by someone with that accent.
    I wouldn’t call the way some people in Edinburgh speak English as depicted in the book Trainspotting ‘Scots’ – although it possibly has some influence from ‘old Scots’ (‘old English’ is very hard to understand too), i’d call it a regional dialect, like ‘cockney’, ‘geordie’, ‘yorkshire’ (e.g like in the book ‘Lady Chatterley’s lover’ etc), all of these would be pretty hard to understand as well if you’ve been completely unfamiliar with them before.
    The word ‘ken’ as used in Edinburgh and many other parts of Scotland (though not all parts of Scotland) means ‘know’, and the word ‘Kennen’ in German also means ‘know’, and the word ‘bairn’ used in (probably) the same parts of Scotland as ‘ken’, means ‘child’, and in Sweden apparently the word ‘barn’ means ‘child’. So some of the ‘slang’ words do appear to be leftovers from an older language I suppose. Is there a connection?
    Apparently in the 16th century and before there was no standard way of spelling English so people would just spell the words as they thought they sounded, could this account for such varying types of English (or other languages) in different regions on top of different ‘dialects’? 😉

  17. Re: “Here is some more Scots, a 2 minute recitation of a New Testament story”
    There were a lot of words in there I didn’t understand (colloquialisms), but most was English with an accent. I got the general gist and I dare say this man could make himself understood to an English or some other English speaking person not from the area if he had to.
    A lot of the English dialects are difficult for those not from that area to understand and use lots of colloquialisms too, e.g geordie, yorkshire (Lady Chatterley’s lover), liverpudlian (often work in call centers none the less), cockney, west country (somerset etc). There just different accents with colloquialisms – it’s still English… 😉

    1. Personally, I think Geordie and Scouse are simply not English because I can’t understand them. If you can’t understand the person, they are speaking a foreign language. Somerset is a pretty hardcore accent. I do not know much about Yorkshire.
      Ethnologue considers Scots to be a different language than English.

      1. Well it looks to me like ‘Old English’ is
        definitely a different language from ‘English’ or even the type of English that Shakespeare wrote in:
        ‘Scots’ (the type Robert Burns wrote in) sounds far more like todays ‘English’ than that and much more just like a ‘dialect’ in the same way as Newcastle, Yorkshire etc have ‘dialects’ – I assume they all modify themselves a bit if working with the public etc as a receptionist or in a call centre etc. I always get women on the phone (e.g with the bank, electricity company etc) from Liverpool and usually have difficulty understanding them even though they are not using slang and are talking English because of their accent. There are lots of different accents, i’d have thought some London accents like cockney would be just as hard to understand as most Scottish accents if someone was unfamiliar with them and stray from standard ‘English’ about as much – but more people are familiar with a cockney accent than a Scottish accent, partly because it has been depicted more in books, popular culture etc, and that is the reason it is more widely understood.
        Some American (e.g New York) accents have a lot of slang too, but most still understand them because they have been more commonly shown in films etc – it’s not hard to work out the slang and not like learning a different language, nor is it with understanding the book Trainspotting, the glossary at the back was enough really, though for those that have never met anyone from Edinburgh a recorded example of the accent would probably have been more helpful.
        The Yorkshire accent and dialect is shown in the soap ‘Coronation Street’, shown across Britain and in the book (there’s probably an audio book on You Tube), ‘Lady Chatterlys lover’ (the character Mellors) there’s probably loads more in literature though.
        This should be just as difficult to understand as any of the Scottish accents/dialects to someone unfamiliar with it (but still familiar with English) but less people complain about it because it is more widely known… 😉

        1. The intelligibility of Scots with American English has been tasted at 42%. In general, that right there ought to be enough to split to dialects into languages. For instance, Spanish and Portuguese have intelligibility of 54%. So Scots and American English are further apart than Spanish and Portuguese.
          There are extremely hardcore New York accents, quite rare now, that simply cannot be understood by for instance people from California. Speakers are from Brooklyn or the Bronx and are often ethnic Whites like Italians or Irish.
          For instance, a young Italian American man from Brooklyn came out here to California to a college, and for the first three months, he simply was not understood. And he was unable to modify his speech to make it more understandable. And his speech did not get easier to understand with time. At times, he simply could not be understood and people would hand him pen and paper and say, “Write it down.” After 3 months, he learned to speak California dialect and was now understood.

        2. Re: “The intelligibility of Scots with American English has been tasted at 42%. In general, that right there ought to be enough to split to dialects into languages. For instance, Spanish and Portuguese have intelligibility of 54%”
          Do you mean ‘Scots’ as in Robert Burns or just a Scottish accent with slang e.g ‘Trainspotting’? I’m not sure ‘Scots’ (Robert Burns) is a different language as such, just a far older dialect, like the English Shakespeare wrote in or they wrote in the 17th century etc, certain ways of speech have changed over the centuries and certain words have fallen out of common use. Even writers like Jane Austen write a fair bit different than people would today, but she can still be understood after a short time with a little patience. Actual ‘Old English’ is another language though:
          (Sorry to repeat myself)
          I’d say Robert Burns and Shakespeare are about equally hard to understand to modern readers or listeners, but it’s far easier to make out some of what their saying than it is with ‘old English’ – which is a completely different language. I think understanding Shakespeare or Robert Burns could be taught in a few short lessons, where as to learn ‘old English’ would be more like trying to learn German or something, though we’d notice a few similarities to English.
          Spanish and Portuguese do look awful similar actually, I don’t know enough about either language to comment, but it doesn’t surprise me that a lot of them can under stand each other more or less.
          I think if you are talking about Americans inability to understand ‘Scots’ (Robert Burns) without any proper lessons then fair enough, but if your just taking about a Scottish accent i.e like the one in Trainspotting, then it’s probably more a case of they just don’t want to attempt to understand.
          Re: “For instance, a young Italian American man from Brooklyn came out here to California to a college, and for the first three months, he simply was not understood. And he was unable to modify his speech to make it more understandable. And his speech did not get easier to understand with time. At times, he simply could not be understood and people would hand him pen and paper and say, “Write it down.” After 3 months, he learned to speak California dialect and was now understood”
          I don’t know if i’ve encountered a proper brooklyn accent before, but i’m pretty sure i’d have begun to understand that guy within a day or two talking to him, probably less.
          I usually find I can travel to any city, town or village in any English speaking country and understand everyone perfectly we’ll, with only the odd exception i.e if someone has a speech impediment or is too drunk. You learn new slang words or turns of phrase all the time even in your own part of the world, you just find out what they mean – and then you understand them…

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