General Guide to Scots Language

2. Linguistic confusion

The most common and most disastrous error in approaching speaking Scots is to presume that Scots is a dialect of English.

This confusion is not confined to non-Scots; due to what they've been mistakenly taught in school many Scots labour under the illusion that what they speak is English.

Once upon a time a renowned Scottish band had a day off in the middle of tour which they spent staying with friends in Belgium, and their road manager offered to cook a traditional Scottish meal for their hosts.

So he headed out to buy ingredients and came to a greengrocery. In he strode and enquired of the shopkeeper if he spoke English. After a struggle, the shopkeeper managed to decipher what was being asked of him and replied that, yes, he did speak a little English.

"Braw!", says the lad, "Sees twae i thir neeps."

In English, that would be "Splendid! Please give me two of these turnips."

See the problem? The poor lad had been taught that what he spoke was English, albeit a dialect, and so presumed that he would be comprehensible to anyone who spoke English. In fact, he was not speaking English at all - he was speaking perfectly grammatically correct Scots. There was not a single word of English in his request and a greengrocer in Birmingham or Brixton would have found him as incomprehensible as the greengrocer in Brussels.

Scots is not a dialect of English any more than Dutch is a dialect of German or Danish a dialect of Swedish. Scots and English are sister languages which both developed from what academics like to call Middle English.

Chaucer refers to them as different languages and in his time educated English and Scots people would have been as likely to speak to each other in French as to attempt to understand each other's own languages.

Where English was greatly influenced by the Latin languages, Scots remained closer to the other Northern European languages but also, naturally, drew much influence from the Gaelic language. The old language of the Northern Isles, known as "Norn", would be equally understandable, with a little familiarisation, by both Norwegian and Scots speakers but would be pretty much unintelligible to an English or French speaker.

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