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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

Late Middle Scots 1550-1700 Part 3

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.

1650 The tract A Brief Relation written by an English author regarding the marquis of Montrose declared that “I received also from Rouen, from my correspondent there, a copie of a letter to Montrose, written in a dialect so fully Scottish, that must argue the secretary no Englishman.”  That same year in London was published the tract An English Translation of the Scottish Declaration Against James Graham Alias Marquess of Montrosse.

1650 The English soldier who authored A Perfect Diurnal describes the “fearful execrations” commonly uttered by Scots speakers in Scotland and paraphrases several of these, such as “The dee’le fa’ my sa’ll”, “The dee’l breake my cragge”, and sayings such as “Throw away the berne, and save the baggage, God may send mere bernes but nere mare baggage”.

1652-1660 The kingdom of Scotland is under foreign military occupation by the forces of the Commonwealth of England. The regime replaces Latin with English in all official documentation and much of the Scottish state archives are removed to England. Many documents are lost in 1661 when one of the ships returning them to Scotland is sunk in a storm.

1653 During a meeting of the Swedish Riksråd or royal council a stenographer recorded that Colonel Hugh Hamilton, Irish-born of Scottish parents, had a discussion with Robert Buchan and Hammeton tahlte Hånom till på Schottsche or “Hamilton talked to him in Scottish.”

1654 Glasgow town council orders “ane visitatioune to be maid of the haill Scotis scooles, be the dein of gild, deikine conveiner” and others of the council. They find a number of people who had not been granted permission to keep schools and were now “requeisting warrand to continow in the keeping of thair scooles and vthers to tak vpe Scottis...”. Those granted permission were not to take more “payment fra towne bairnes bot ten schilling quarterlie and double fra straingers.”

1655 English soldier J Baynes, part of the occupation forces in Scotland, wrote from Leith to his cousin A Baynes “I received yours, and thank you for signing to the bond. Those difficult and uncouth terms and clauses theirin are usual here in Scotland, and since this people here are governed much by their own laws, the Council make use of their terms in many particulars.”

1658 The town council of Edinburgh “Graunts libertie and licence to Master James Chalmeris to keip a common vulgar school within the precint of the walls of this brugh for teaching of scholleris to read and wrytt Scotts and onlie to read Latine befoir they goe to the Grammar Schooll And outwith the ports in the Touns side of the Cannogaithead West port or Potterrow to keip a Scotts Schooll and Latine school promiscuouslie during the Counsells pleasure.”

1660 The town council of Edinburgh appoints Mr Patrick Kellie a “vulgar school master” to teach “reading Scots, writing and reading of writing.”

1660s onwards. The English word Scotch, which is an abbreviation of Scottish, becomes increasingly common in Scotland from this period and by the 18th century is as common as the native word Scots.

1660 Glaswegian mathematician James Corss “resolves to tak wp ane schoole heir for teaching of theis artes and sciences in the vulgar native tongue” by permission of the town council of Glasgow.

1661 The will of Robert Porteous (Porcyus) in Krosno, Poland refers to instructions for his relatives “written in the Scottish language” while that of William Robertson at Gdansk (Danzig) in 1670 was translated from “Scottish into the German language” by Robert Mello a broker and interpreter.

1661 Edinburgh town council forbids Mr Patrick Nimmo from “teaching Scots and Latin” in Niddry’s Wynd until he is properly admitted by them.

1664 The University of Glasgow enacted that “all the schoolars speake Latine” and that punishments were to be meted “upone all who speak Scotts.”

1665-1676 Sir John Lauder of Fountainhall commented in his journals that when he was in France if he was angry he would abuse people in Scots which greatly annoyed the French. Lauder provides anecdotal references to language use in Scotland in this period and commented that “We have marked the German language to have many words common wt our oune” and gives some examples.

1666-1689 Period of religious persecution against radical Presbyterians opposed to Episcopal church government imposed by the state under Charles II. The radicals are known as Conventiclers.

1667 The latest entries to be written in Scots in the Calendar of Fearn Abbey, near Tain, Rosshire, are written at this date. This chronicle, first begun in Latin in the 15th century, was largely continued in Scots by the Ross family of Morangie between the 1560’s and 1667.

1668 A letter from the elector of Brandenburg & duke of Prussia to the Reverend Schlemüller at Königsberg states sie beide das publicum und privatum religionis exercitium in Schottländischer Sprache einstellen sollen or preaching in the Scots language being permitted in his territories.

1671 Report of the Catholic mission to the Southern Isles of Scotland by Father MacDonnell to Oliver Plunkett which said In praedictis insulis omnes rustici ac plebe solum callent hibernicum Idioma, nobiliores vero ultra hibernicam, corruptum anglicanum or “In the above-mentioned islands all the peasants and lower classes speak only the Irish language, while the upper classes speak a corrupt English as well as Irish.”

1672 The register of Inverness and Dingwall Presbytery refers to ministers preaching in both the ‘Irish’ and Scots tongues in certain parishes.

1673 Sir George Mackenzie of Rosehaugh (1636-1697) states that the “Scottish idiom of the British tongue” is better suited to business and legal affairs in Scotland than English is, while English is a language “invented by courtiers.”

c.1675 Mathew Mackaile, formerly of Aberdeen, visited Orkney and afterwards wrote his A Short Relation of the Most Considerable Things in Orkney in which he claimed only a few still speak “Noords or rude Danish while all speak the Scots language, as the rest of the commons do.”

1679 Visit to Scotland of Thomas Kirke from Yorkshire, his description being published that year as A Modern Account of Scotland by an English Gentleman. In this work he refers in passing to the practice of erecting gravestones with inscriptions in English, Latin and Greek “...and all this in such miserable Scotch orthography, that ‘tis hard to distinguish one language from another.” Further in his account he states “The Lowland language may be well enough understood by an English man, but the Highlanders have a peculiar lingue to themselves, which they call Erst, unknown to most Lowland men, except only those places that border on them, where they can speak both.”

c.1680 James Kay minister of Dunrossness, Shetland, states that most in the south of the parish come from Scotland and their language “is mostly the same with the Scottish” but also some speak “the Gothick or Norwegian tongue” as well as Dutch. In the north of his parish people generally speak “Gothick or Norwegian” but can also “speak the Scottish tongue.”

1680 Notary and minister William Guthrie is appointed by the magistrates of Stockholm, Sweden, as interpreter for both the English and Scots languages.

1689 The Reverend Thomas Morer from London, then attached to a Scottish regiment, visited Scotland and later published A Short Account of Scotland (1702). After describing the ‘High-landers’ whom he said spoke Irish, he then described the language of the ‘Low-landers’ as follows: “Their language is generally English, but have many words derived from the French, and some peculiar to themselves. They are great criticks in pronunciation, and often upbraid us for not giving every word its due sound, as when we call enough ‘enow’ or ‘enuff’, without making it a guttural, but neglecting the gh as if not written. Wherein, however, they are as faulty themselves, as I shew’d ‘em by divers examples in their daily discourse; particularly their neglect of vowels is very remarkable, which being few, ought to be pronounced with greater care. As when o happens to terminate the word, specially monosyllables, they change it into a, as wha for who, twa for two, etc, and if in the middle, they say steans for stones, mare for more, etc, all which they no otherwise excused than by custom and usage of speech, which is our apology for the like misrepresentations in words objected to us. They have an unhappy tone, which the gentry and nobles cannot overcome, tho’ educated in our schools, or never so conversant with us; so that we may discover a Scotchman as soon as we hear him speak; Yet, to say truth, our Northern and remote English have the same imperfection.”

1690’s Based on the evidence of hearth and poll tax returns, and discounting those for Gaelic areas, the number of Scots speakers in Scotland may be estimated at around 750,000 or about 70% of the Scottish population.

1692 The Scotch Presbyterian Eloquence, a satire on Church of Scotland ministers (written by an Episcopal supporter) cites examples of the Scots language used in preaching. A reply to this - An Answer - defended Scots for preaching as the language better understood by the common people than the English text.

1692 Babell or The Assembly, a Poem...written originally in the Irish Tongue and Translated into Scottish is published by Dr Archibald Pitcairne as a satire on the Presbyterian ministers and is full of vocabulary in Scots.

1694 While travelling through Louvain (now part of Belgium), James earl of Perth stayed a night at a community of English Augustine nuns and commented “I heard one speaking broad Scotch in the next room. I went to see who it was, and it proved a Dundee man, a soldier.”