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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

1700-1750 Modern Scots 1

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.

1700 James Wallace in his An Account of the Islands of Orkney states that “All speak English, after the Scots way, with as good an Accent as any in the kingdom, only some of the common People among themselves, speak a Language they call Norns.”

1700 Letter by Alexander Shields from Darien, Panama back to Scotland describing the Scottish settlers there “...near one third at least, are wild Highlanders, that cannot speak or understand Scotch, which are Barbarians to us and we to them.”

1701 John Brand in his Description of Orkney, Shetland, etc says generally of Shetland “English is the Common Language among them yet many of the People speak Norse or corrupt Danish.”

1703 Martin’s Brief Description of the Isles of Orkney and Shetland states of mainland Shetland “they generally speak the English language, and many among them retain the ancient Danish language.” He later adds that Dutch is also commonly spoken.

1703 Reverend James Kirkwood in describing the difficulties of using an Irish Bible among Scottish Gaelic speakers makes the same observation for Scots speakers that “in our English Bibles there are several hundred words and phrases not vulgarly used nor understood by a great many in Scotland.”

1705 A Journey to Edenborough by Englishman Joseph Taylor describes attending a church service during which “The Minister made such a prodigious noise in broad Scotch, and beat his Pulpit so violently, that he seem’d better qualified for a Drummer than a Parson.”

1706 James Watson publishes Choice Collection of Comic and Serious Scots Poems both Ancient and Modern which includes the satirical ‘The Treaty of Union’.

1706 The debates about the proposed political union with England lead to the publication of many pamphlets of which three in Scots have survived. These are A Copy of a Letter From a Country Farmer To His Laird, a Member of Parliament (in Central Scots), To His Grace Her Majesties High Commissioner and the Honourable Estates of Parliament The Heemble Peitition of the peer Shank Workers and Fingren Spinner of Aberdeen, and Places thereabout (in North East Scots), and To Hir Grace Her Majesties high Commisioner, an te Honorable Estates of Parliment: te Address far te Fishers on te Highland Coasts, an all uthers Inhapiting te Highlands, wha it ma concern (in Gaelic-influenced Scots) from the Highland region.

1707 The Treaty of Union between the kingdoms of England and Scotland. A new state called the United Kingdom of Great Britain is created on 1 May 1707. The Scottish parliament (227 members) in Edinburgh is dissolved and Scots-speaking politicians (45 MPs and 16 peers) now sit in a parliament in London (513 English and Welsh MPs and 190 peers) but are subject to ethnic and linguistic intolerance. In 1793 the Reverend Thomas Somerville of Jedburgh reported that the historian Dr William Robertson said of the Scots MPs in London from 1707 “The want of the English language and their uncouth manners were much against them. None of them were men of parts, and they never opened their lips but on Scottish business, and then said little.”

1710 Sir Robert Sibbald in his The History of the Sheriffdoms of Fife and Kinross distinguished between ‘The Language of the common People’ or ‘that Language we call Broad Scots, which is yet used by the Vulgar’ on the one hand and ‘the refined Language of the Gentry, which the more Polite People among us do use, and is made up of Saxon, French and Latin Words.” This is one of the earliest explicit statements regarding a class distinction among Scots speakers.

1710 David Dalrymple, the lord advocate, addresses a letter to the sheriff of Berwick asking him to search for Robert Balfour, son to lord Burleigh, who was on the run for murder and whose description said he “speaks thick and after the Dialect of Fyfe.”

1715-1716 Jacobite rising led by the earl of Mar in favour of the exiled James VIII. Support is drawn predominantly from the North East centred on Aberdeenshire.

1718-1719 The town council register of Stirling refers to the Scots Doctor (meaning deputy teacher for Scots) at the grammar school teaching “the Scots or English class” and that “it is necessar ane other Scots school be appointed for teaching the young...to read English.” Though the term English is used the language and grammar spoken and taught was that which prevailed locally.

1720’s Introduction to Scotland of the New Method of teaching English based directly on English models of accent and grammar.

1722 William Starrat is the earliest known poet writing in Scots in Ulster. He is a mathematics teacher at Straban.

1724 Allan Ramsay’s (1686-1758) Tea Table Miscellany sparks revival of interest among the Scottish elite in poetry and songs in Scots. He is the first to give Scots the alternative name Doric, meaning ‘rustic’ language, but in an affectionate sense.

1725-1726 Series of letters written by Englishman Edmund Burt who was employed as an engineer in the Highlands during 1724-1728. Burt made frequent comment on the Scots spoken, citing many examples of words and phrases. While in Edinburgh he described being given directions “in a Language I hardly understood...put me to a good deal of difficulty.” His letters were published in London in 1754.

1730 Francis Hutcheson (1694-1746), an Ulsterman of Scottish descent, is the first university professor in Scotland to deliver lectures in English instead of Latin, while professor of moral philosophy at Glasgow.

1730 Publication of Nathan Bailey’s Dictionarium Britannicum in which he describes the ‘languages of larger extent’ as “The Teutonick or German, which is distinguished into two notable dialects. 1. The Danish, Scandian and Gothick; to which the languages used in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Island do appertain. 2. The Saxon, from which much of the English and Scotch are derived, and also the Frizian language, and those languages on the north of the Elve; which of all the modern German dialects come the nearest to the ancient German...”

1731 The North Country-Man’s Description of Christ’s-Church, Dublin: In a Letter to A Friend describes, in Scots, two Presbyterian mariners from County Down who attend an Anglican service in Dublin.

1733 Thomas Gifford of Busta, steward and deputy justice of Shetland, wrote that many still speak Norn among themselves but the language now spoken here is English while many, especially in Lerwick, can also speak Dutch.

1735 A Short Survey of the County of Caithness by Aneas Boyne states that in five or six out of the ten parishes of the county English was the mother tongue while Gaelic was spoken in four parishes existing side by side with the “local Scots dialect.”

1738 The school master at Ayr is removed from office because he was “not known in the new method” which meant English rather than Scots grammar.

1745-1746 Jacobite rising led by Charles Edward Stewart, son of the exiled James VIII, who proclaim the union with England dissolved and George II of Hanover a usurper. The rising is defeated at the battle of Culloden Moor (1746). The risings of 1715 and 1745 inspire much poetry and song in the Scots language such as Hey, Johnnie Cope by East Lothian farmer Adam Skirving (1719-1803) and Whirry, Whigs Awa and Logie o’ Buchan attributed to schoolmaster George Halket (d.1756) of Aberdeenshire.

1746 In the wake of the Jacobite rising, Scotland, and particularly the Highland region, suffers military occupation and ethnic repression. The Act of Proscription, Dress Act, Heritable Jurisdictions (Scotland) Act and the Wales and Berwick Act strike at Scottish culture by banning “highland clothing” (tartan) throughout Scotland, disarming the Highland shires, abolishing the hereditary rights and powers of all Scottish landowners “for rendering the union more complete”, and replacing Scottish law with English law in Berwick. The office of Secretary of State for Scotland is abolished. Schools are now required to say prayers for the Hanoverian family and infringements of the above acts carry six month prison sentences in the first instance and transportation to a penal colony for a second offence.

1746 Death of Lady Grisel Baillie (1665-1746, nee Hume) who was originally from Berwickshire. A noted songwriter in Scots she was published from 1722 onwards. Her best remembered piece is And werena my heart light I wad dee.