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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

Culture related to the Scots language

What is Scots culture? The word culture is understood to include everything that distinguishes one group of people from another. A culture may be associated with an ethnic group, or with a whole country, but culture can also be something groups from different ethnic and national backgrounds share in common, perhaps based on age or even a common political or religious, or musical outlook. In this section of the website we look at those things that have traditionally been part and parcel of being a Scots speaker. Such things include the written literature, personal and place names, the music and song, and the customs of the country. These things may be drawn from the past, or may be in the process of creation here and now. As a rule this culture – which was named Lowland to distinguish it from Highland Gaelic culture to the west or the culture of England to the south – was founded on elements from both Germanic and Celtic societies, but it remains unique. It is the world seen through our own eyes.

Just as Gaelic is clearly associated with the Highlands and Isles, so Scots is associated with the Lowlands. However, in recent times the word Lowland has come to be misunderstood in some quarters where it is thought to mean ‘southern’ or ‘south parts’. The original meaning behind Lowland was simply those regions which were not Highland in a geographical sense, and this included all non-Highland parishes running the length of eastern Scotland, from Berwick to Caithness. Scotland is not divided culturally or politically on a north-south basis as England is, but rather on an east-west division. This meant, for example, that parishes in North East Scotland or Caithness, such as, say, Kintore, Turriff and Fraserburgh or Wick and Canisby, were Lowland in the same sense as Galashiels in Selkirk or Kilmarnock in Ayrshire. In addition to the geographical factor, however, a distinct cultural and linguistic association emerged from the 14th century onwards. Because Scots was largely spoken in the non-Highland regions, any Scots-speaking parish could be described as Lowland. Indeed, it became the usual practice of the Church of Scotland to designate a parish as either a ‘Lawland paroch’ (Scots-speaking) or a ‘Heiland paroch’ (Gaelic-speaking) regardless of whether it lay in the north or south. In this way anything related to Scots-speaking culture was regarded as ‘Lawland’.