View site in Scots

Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

Pre-Literary Scots 1100-1350

Timelines of the Scots Language

By Dr Dauvit Horsbroch

The following list is intended as a quick reference guide to developments in the Scots language, including reference to cultural and political developments.

c.1100 The language, now known as Inglis to its speakers, is increasingly influenced by French and Latin. Latin documents begin to provide vernacular words as glosses of Latin terms or cite personal and place-names. Charters show that Anglo-Saxon, Gaelic, Norman and Scandinavian personal names can be found within single families, indicating the linguistic influences at work.

1100-1107 During these years Turgot of Durham (c.1050-1115), who became bishop of St Andrews in 1107, wrote his Life of Queen Margaret, wife of Malcolm III canmore. In this work he described the king assisting Margaret in church reform councils and said of Malcolm “And since he knew the tongue of the Angles perfectly, as well as his own, he was in this council a most careful interpreter for both sides.”

1124-1249 The reigns of David I, Malcolm IV, William I and Alexander II represent the height of Norman and French influence on the Scottish royal family who frequently intermarry with Normans from England and France.

1174 The English chronicler William of Newburgh in his Historia Rerum Anglicarum stated regni enim Scottici oppida et burgi ab Anglis habitari noscuntur or ‘the towns and burghs of the Scottish realm are known to be inhabited by English’ but since charters show inhabitants from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, including Gaelic, Newburgh may have misunderstood that it was rather the Inglis tongue that was dominant in the burghs.

c.1180 A school of monks with origins in Yorkshire establish the orthography and spelling conventions for writing in Scotland which Scots is later based upon. In this period the Scottish chancery ceases to address people according to ethnic background and simply calls them the king’s subjects.

1225 The Statuta Ecclesiae Scoticanae passed by a general council of the Scottish church, and partly preserved in the register of the bishopric of Aberdeen, states that layman may recite the formula of baptism in Romano et etiam Anglico idiomate – in both Latin and Inglis.

c.1227 The English Chronicle of Barnwell claims Moderniores enim Scottorum reges magis se Francos fratentur, sic ut genere ita morbis, lingua cultu Scotisque ad extremam servitutem redactis solos Francos in familiaritatem et obsequium adhibet or ‘the more recent kings of Scots profess themselves to be rather Frenchmen, both in race and manners, language and culture; and after reducing the Scots to utter servitude, they admit only Frenchmen to their friendship and service.’ Contemporary evidence shows a number of ethnic and linguistic influences at the Scottish court but the vernacular languages certainly had little status in comparison to French and Latin.

1237 Treaty of Newcastle between Alexander II and Henry III establishes the modern Anglo-Scottish political border. The linguistic frontier continues to lie further south on the line of the river Humber with those to the north calling their language Inglis and those to the south calling theirs Englysch.

c.1240 The English writer Bartholomew Anglicus in his De Proprietatibus Rerum stated Mores autem primeve gentis ex eis admixtione cum anglicis in maxima parte his temporibus in melius mutaverunt. Silvestres tamen Scoti et Hybernici in habitu et in lingua et in victu et in aliis morbis paterna sequi vestigial gloriam arbitrantur or ‘But in the present time many (Scots) have changed the manners of the original people in considerable measure and for the better as a result of intermixture with the English. However the Wild Scots and the Irish take pride in following in the footsteps of their fathers in dress, language, sustenance and other habits’.  Bartholomew refers here to the growing cultural distinction between speakers of Inglis and Gaels which he attributes to English influence. He was apparently unaware of the existence of englisc/Inglis in Scotland for many centuries prior to this time.

1260-1294 Charters of this period attest to Thomas of Earlston (Erceldoune) in Berwickshire, a somewhat shadowy figure better know to history as Thomas the Rhymour. He is the first Scot known by name associated with composing verse in Inglis and is traditionally thought to be the author of the romance of Sir Tristrem which first survives in a version compiled in England  c.1340.

1299 The Diplomatarium Norvegicum contains the earliest surviving text in Norwegian from Shetland, which is a letter from the lawmen of the islands.

c.1300 A fragment of verse concerning the death of Alexander III (1286) – Quhen Alysandyr oure kyng was dede - is believed to be the earliest surviving text in Scots, preserved in quotations by later chroniclers. Fragments of mocking and political verse are attributed to the Scots by contemporary English chroniclers who paraphrase them in the following decades.

1306-1329 The reign of King Robert I the Bruce who addresses a letter to the Irish claiming the peoples of Ireland and Scotland ‘share the same national ancestry’ and also a ‘common language’ and ‘common custom’. He refers to nostra nacio ‘our nation’.  In 1317 a letter issued in the name of Domnall Ó Néill king of Tyrone to Pope John XXII stated that ‘the kings of Scotia minor (Scotland) all trace their blood to our Scotia major (Ireland) and retain to some degree our language and customs’. In the Middle Ages the Latin terms Scotice and Scottis ambiguously translate as Irish language/Irish people or Gaelic/Gaels in both Ireland and Scotland but in the latter, and in England, the term ‘Scottish’ now begins to take on a more complex range of meanings that include Inglis speech and emerging Lowland culture within the kingdom of Scotland.  

1320s Earl Malise of Strathearn also succeeds to the earldoms of Caithness and Orkney and the lordship of Shetland after the death of Earl Magnus of Orkney. This establishes a Scottish ruling dynasty in Orkney and Shetland. Malise’s grandson Henry Sinclair is invested with the jarldom by King Haakon VI of Norway in 1379.

1329 The earliest surviving document in Norwegian from Orkney is a deed of sale dated at Kirkwall in which Catherine countess in Orkney and Caithness bought property on South Ronaldsay from Herr Erling Vidkunsson.

c.1350 In 1312 Abbot Thomas of Scone granted a 30 year lease of lands to Edmund Hay of Leys and his son William. Probably during the 1340’s some 50 vernacular glosses were added to explain certain Latin phrases. This is the earliest surviving original example of a substantial number of Scots words contained in a single document.