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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

What is Scots ?

Many people have heard about the Scots language but aren't sure what it is. Scots has been spoken in Scotland for several centuries and is found today throughout the Lowlands and Northern Isles. The name Scots is the national name for Scottish dialects sometimes also known as Doric, Lallans and Scotch, or by more local names such as Buchan, Dundonian, Glesca or Shetland. Taken altogether, Scottish dialects are known collectively as the Scots language. Scots is one of three native languages spoken in Scotland today, the other two being English and Scottish Gaelic.

Where is Scots spoken?

Scots is mainly a spoken language with a number of local varieties, each with its own distinctive character. Scots is spoken in Aberdeen, Dundee, Glasgow, and Edinburgh as well as in the Borders, Dumfries and Galloway, central Scotland, Fife, the Lothians, Tayside, Caithness, the North East and Orkney and Shetland.

Who speaks Scots?

Scots is spoken by old and young alike and can be heard in both cities and country areas. People can have a strong emotional attachment to the language and often feel most comfortable using it amongst their family and friends. Because the Scots language was for a long time discouraged by officialdom and schools, many people who speak Scots will speak differently when talking to strangers or in formal situations, by mixing their language with English. Scots was the language used by Robert Burns to write much of his poetry. Today Scots is still used by poets and writers but the places you are most likely to encounter it are in people's homes, in the streets, and in the everyday life of communities. At the present time there are no Scots-medium programmes, but you will hear varying degrees of Scots used in TV programmes such as Chewin the Fat or Gary Tank Commander, films such as Sweet Sixteen and Neds, or hear it spoken on radio phone-ins, interviews, or used for e-mails and text messages.

Some Scots words

Here are some Scots words. You will hear them used all over Scotland. Aboot, bairn, bonnie, brae, cooncil, doun, dreich, faither, fitba, flit, glaikit, gowk, heid, hoose, ken, kirk, laddie, lang, lassie, mither, nane, poke, rare, scunner, speir, stooshie, stramash, threap, wean. People who speak Scots use these words and many other words like them.

Other names for Scots

There are lots of names for Scots dialects. You'll probably hear them used more often than the word Scots. These names are usually connected to a place and you may have your own local name for the way you speak. These local ways of speaking are called dialects. Taken altogether these dialects are called Scots. To find out about other names for Scots - such as Doric, Broad Scotch and Lallans - please take a look at the names section on the left hand menu. You can also learn more about the dialects in the dialects section.

Scottish 'Slang'

Sometimes people call the way they speak slang or Scottish slang. This is because, in past times, schools discouraged children from speaking the language by branding it slang. Often people say slang, but actually mean Scots, though they dont know the name. If you're not sure if you speak Scots listen to the audio clips to hear people speaking the language.

Is Scots the same as speaking with a Scottish accent?

Most Scottish people speak with a Scottish accent. People from Scotland and people from England, for instance, can both speak English, but each speaks with a different accent, which tells the listener where we come from. Speaking Scots is not the same as speaking English with a Scottish accent. This is because speaking in Scots means using many words, sayings, turns of phrase, meanings and grammar, found only in Scots. To find out if you speak Scots you should take a moment to click on the map and listen to people speaking Scots.

Where does it come from?

The language originated with the tongue of the Angles who arrived in Scotland about AD 600, or 1,400 years ago. During the Middle Ages this language developed and grew apart from its sister tongue in England, until a distinct Scots language had evolved. At one time Scots was the national language of Scotland, spoken by Scottish kings, and was used to write the official records of the country. Scots was displaced as a national language after the political union with England, in 1707, but it has continued to be spoken and written in a number of regional varieties since that time. If you would like to learn more about the history of Scots please feel free to download and read the two PDF History Timelines below.