General Guide to Scots Language

3. Dilution and distortion

With the Union of 1707, there was a move towards homogeneity in language throught the Union but, instead of simply trying to persuade Scots-speaking Scots to learn English as a formal language in addition to their own, there was a sustained effort to obliterate Scots (in a more subtle fashion than was done with Gaelic, which was actually formally outlawed).

For writers, the largest potential market for their work was in the English-speaking south and so, bowing to commercial pressures, most began to write in English. Consequently, there was little opportunity for future developments in standard spelling and grammar as happened in English, and Scots writers like Walter Scott played an enormous part in the process of obliteration.

Where Scots and English words had a common root, the spelling of the Scots word would be altered to make it more intelligible to an English speaker. In time this became a convention which was understood as indicating that it was merely the English word being mispronounced.

Example.

There is actually no "oo" spelling in Scots. That sound is invariably spelt "ou". And "ou" is invariably pronounced like the English "oo", or to be more correct, closer to a German " ü ". So "hous" (from Norse "hus"), pronounced approximately like English "hoos", began to be written as "hoose", the addition of the extraneous "e" at the end indicating that this was simply a Scots pronunciation of the English word "house" (from German "haus"). Nobody in their right mind would try telling a Dane that their word is simply a mispronunciation or misspelling of the English word.

One of the worst consequences of this process of "Anglification" was the damnable curse of the appalling abuse of the apostrophe.

For example, a double "L" is rare in Scots and never found at the end of a word. Where the Scots and English share a root and the English ends in, for example, "all", the Scots will end in a double "a", unknown in English. The Scots "aa" is not pronounced like "awe", a common mistake made by English speakers, but is a broad vowel sound unknown in English, closer to "aah", very like the "a" sound in the German "ja".

English "call" is "caa" in Scots, and so the Scots for "called" is "caad". But it became the practise to spell the Scots as "ca'ed", the quite absurd apostrophe introduced to indicate that this was just the way those odd Scots pronounced the English word "called", with pronunciation being changed to make it closer to English, "cawed" rather than something like "caahed" which is the Scots.

All this can create severe difficulties for someone who wants to sing Scots songs in Scots and I hope, through putting together this wee guide, to help to remove the worst of those difficulties.

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