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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

1800-1850 Modern Scots 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.

1800 The Acts of Union between the United Kingdom (England, Scotland and Wales) and Ireland. The Irish parliament in Dublin is dissolved and a new state called the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland is created on 1 January 1801.

1801 The census returns a total Scottish population of 1,608,420.

1807 Publication of The Soldier’s Return by the Paisley weaver poet and song writer Robert Tannahill (1774-1810). The collection of poems was followed by several songs such as Braes of Balquhidder, Gloomy Winter’s Noo Awa and Jessie, The Flow’r o Dunblane before his untimely death by suicide.

1808 First Burns Supper held (at Alloway in Ayrshire). This establishes the modern tradition of reciting poems in Scots at annual Burns Night gatherings.

1808 John Jamieson’s (1759-1838) An Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language is the first Scots language dictionary to be published. Jamieson was a church minister and academic who edited editions of John Barbour and Blind Harry. In the dictionary Jamieson explains that he began by collecting words in Angus which he “found to be classical terms in the languages of Iceland, Sweden, and Denmark” and remarked on the “coincidence in manners” between Scotland’s traditional culture and Scandinavia. Jamieson then stated in his introduction “I do not hesitate to call that the Scottish Language, which has generally been considered in no other light than as merely on a level with the different provincial dialects of the English. Without entering at present into the origin of the former, I am bold to affirm, that it has as just a claim to the designation of a peculiar language as most of the other languages of Europe. From the view here given of it to the public, in the form of an ETYMOLOGICAL DICTIONARY, it will appear that it is not more nearly allied to the English, than the Belgic is to the German, the Danish to the Swedish, or the Portuguese to the Spanish.”

1809 Arthur Edmonston publishes A View of the Ancient and Present State of the Zetland Islands in which he says “The old Norse has long been wearing out, and the change appears to have begun in the southern extremity and to have been gradually extended to the northern parts of the county. The island of Unst was its last abode, and not more than thirty years ago several individuals could speak it fluently.”

1816 Death of James Orr (1777-1816) the weaver bard of Ballycarry in Ulster.

1817 Letter from T Wightman in Edinburgh describes Dr Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847), native of Anstruther, who was then a Church of Scotland minister at Barony parish, Glasgow. Wightman said “A stranger who had never heard of his fame, did happen to hear him commencing the service, with a broad Scotch dialect, which may be termed vulgar, and nothing remarkable in his manner of delivery, would not be disposed to form the most flattering opinion of him.”

1817 Publication at Glasgow of Poems in English, Scotch, and Gaelic on Various Subjects by John Walker (d.1822) farmer at Camstradden, Luss includes poems on social and political themes such as the conflict with Napoleon.

1819 Publication of Sketch of A Tour in the Highlands of Scotland made in 1818 through the counties of Argyll, Inverness and Perth in which the author describes the Gaelic and Scots linguistic frontier. Speaking generally the author said “In all, or in almost all parts of the highlands, except in those where the old population has been rooted out, and its place supplied by one or two families from the lowlands, the ancient Gaelic still remains the language of ordinary conversation; although the lowland Scotch, or the English acquired at school, is almost universally spoken, with the Gaelic accent, and a peculiar pronunciation, for the purpose of communicating with the people of the south. This is the case even in those districts adjoining the lowlands, in which the communication with those speaking a different language is most frequent...But the Gaelic continued the language of common conversation for ages on one side of a village, while nothing but lowland Scotch was spoken on the other; for, although the highland part of the people necessarily employed the lowland Scotch in communications with their neighbours in front, the Gaelic was still used in conversation with their neighbours behind.”

1820 Attempted uprising by Radicals in Scotland who wish to restore the Scottish parliament and reform the franchise. Some 88 Scots are tried for treason, many transported, and Wilson, Baird and Hardie drawn, hung, beheaded and quartered at Glasgow and Stirling. John Goldie’s anti-Radical song in Scots Radical Bodies Gae Hame is included in his Poems and Songs published in 1822.

1821 A complaint is made in the Scots Magazine that “The haill kintra is gat begunkit wi an Ynglifiet jargon” or ‘the whole country is deceived/tricked through anglicised speech.”

1824 Letters in Scots to The Morning Post of London by ‘Geordie Masun’ a Scot then in the city, of which the editor said “We cannot refrain inserting it for the amusement of our Readers.” Introducing another the editor commented “...and this ‘Scots Carle’s’ productions afford novelty, certainly, from the Scots phraseology he adopts, of the interest we leave our readers to judge. If this second epistle of the Scottish gentleman can cause their smiles and amuse his northern relatives and friends, as he wishes, we will be amply satisfied.”

1824 Death of George Gordon Byron (1788-1824) 6th baron Byron, whose mother was Scottish. Byron spent the years 1790-1798 at Aberdeen Grammar School, Fetteresso and Banff. In 1816 Byron remarked to Pryse Gordon “you see I have not forgot all my Scotch” when remembering the language of his childhood.

1827 Publication of NH Carter’s The Journal of a Tour through several European countries including Scotland in which he said that three miles north of Berwick “the difference in...language and manners of the people, became perceptible...By the time we had reached the village of Ayton, the people began to talk broad Scotch.”

1828 Publication at Konigsberg of Pocket Dictionary of the Scottish Idiom, in which the signification of the words is given in English and German by Robert Motherby.

1830 Death of Sarah Leech (1809-1830) of Ballylennan, Donegal who is the earliest known female writer in Scots in Ulster. Her volume Poems on Various Subjects was published in 1828.

1832 Death of Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), whose novels often used Scots for dialogue, but established a modern tradition of excluding Scots from narrative.

1832 The Scottish Reform Act increases the electorate in Scotland from 5,000 men to 65,000 men (13% of adult males) and the number of Scottish MPs from 45 to 53.

1835 Death of James Hogg, ‘the Ettrick Shepherd’ (1770-1835), well known writer of song, poetry and prose in Scots.

1839 In a letter by P Graham in London to George Graham in Scotland he advises him in his engineering career with Robert Napier “As you may hereafter require to come to England, it will be of great advantage to you if you learn to shake off your broad Scotch dialect.”

1840 Death of the poet John Breckinridge (1790-1840), native of Parkhead, Glasgow, and author of The Humours o’ Gleska Fair.

1841 The census returns a Scottish population of 2,620,184. The census returns provide evidence for place-names, personal names, and occupations, in their Scots language forms, derived from both the public and enumerators of the day.

1841-1931 During this period some 749,000 Scots move to England and Wales while a further two million emigrate. The Irish and Highland famines of the 1840’s and 1850’s contribute to inward movement with the Irish-born population in Scotland increasing from 126,321 in 1841 to 207,367 by 1851 most of whom are concentrated in the Central Belt.

1843 The Great Disruption. The Church of Scotland splits over patronage and interference by the state in church matters, leading 474 ministers (out of 1200) to walk out and set up a Free Church.

1845 Appointment of first HM Inspector of Schools in Scotland marks beginning of official attempt to encourage spoken English among the Scottish population generally, but a growing number of teachers interpret this policy as discouraging the Scots language and banning it from education. During the next couple of decades there is a struggle between teachers of the old school and those who wish to anglicise.

1845 Publication of New Statistical Account of Scotland provides further descriptions of, and attitudes towards, the Scots language in many parishes in Scotland as perceived by parish ministers writing in the 1830’s and 1840’s. A prominent theme is the ‘corruption’ of traditional dialect as a result of population movement and industrialisation.