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1850-1920 Modern Scots 4

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.

1850’s through to the 1930’s and 1940’s witnessed the era of the great fermtoun culture with labour intensive farming concentrated on North East Scotland. This culture gives rise to the bothy ballad in Scots before it began to fade in the face of mechanisation and social change in the 20th century.

1851 Decennial census of Scotland returns a population of 2,888,742 and provides evidence of officials going through local enumerators’ books and ‘correcting’ and anglicising Scots forms of names.

1851 HM Inspector of Schools in Scotland report cites the school at Belhelvie in North East Scotland which appears to have been typical in this period: “The master has received a university education; is happy in the adaption of his questions, but is tempted to use the Scottish dialect as being more easily comprehended by the younger children. Advised to try whether he might not, in a short time, be equally well understood in using simple English words.”

1852 HM Inspector of Schools in Scotland reported that “Not a few teachers have allowed the use of provincial and ungrammatical forms of expression, false pronunciation, and vulgarisms to become so familiar to them, that they have ceased to be conscious of it, and habitually counter-act their instructions by their own example”, meaning that Scots-speaking teachers could not help but speak in Scots. The inspector continued that the teachers were influenced by “the Scotch dialects, to which many of them have been accustomed from infancy, and which are still used by the great majority of those, with whom they have daily intercourse, and who, till lately, derided the conversational use of English in one from among themselves, calling him Anglified and pedantic.”

1853 Visit to Scotland of American novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe. While strolling down Kelvin Grove in Glasgow she said “We saw a great many children of the poor out playing...We stopped to hear them talk, and it was amusing to hear the Scotch of Sir Walter Scott and Burns shouted out with such a right good will. We were as much struck by it as an honest Yankee was in Paris by the proficiency of the children in speaking French.”

1854 Death of Henry Thomas Cockburn (1779-1854), Solicitor General and lord of session. Cockburn is generally regarded as one of the last of the high-ranking legal profession in Scotland who normally spoke Scots both in and out of the courtroom. He remembered that in Edinburgh High School in the 1780’s “Among the boys, coarseness of language and manners was the only fashion. An English boy was so rare, that his accent was openly laughed at.” Among his noted Scots-speaking predecessors, for whom there are contemporary descriptions and anecdotes of their language, were Henry Home lord Kames (1696-1782), Robert Macqueen lord Braxfield (1722-1799), Sir David Rae lord Eskgrove (1729-1804), Claude Irvine Boswell lord Balmuto (1742-1824) and George Ferguson lord Hermand (c.1743-1827).

1855 Repeal of the Stamp Act leads to growth in popular press and encourages article writing in Scots in local newspapers. Between the 1850’s and 1910’s Scots journalism through the medium of Scots enjoys a relative golden age.

1855 Introduction of state registration of births, deaths, and marriages, further encourages officials to anglicise and ‘standardise’ Scots forms of names.

1856-1862 Henry Scott Riddell and George Henderson translate parts of the New Testament and the Psalms into Scots for their patron Prince Louis Bonaparte. 

1856 Reminiscences of an Old Boy published by William J Milne. He describes visiting Formartin, Aberdeenshire in 1850 of which he said “I found myself among a people speaking a quaint-sounding and strange Scotch dialect, not exactly uncouth, rather musical, but much of it really silly in its idioms, and very redundant in its colloquialisms, where the Scotch adjective diminutive was used to almost everything, and everybody large or small, and where in the case of a stranger asking his way on the country roads, and the distance to the place he wished to arrive at, he was told it might be a mile, or any number of miles, “an a bittie,” this gait, or that gait, while the distance undefined, but said to be “a bittie”, in the informant’s reply, was generally longer than the number of miles.”

1857 In an article in the Dundee and Perth Penny Post newspaper the columnist Benjie says of his language “But noo that aw’ve taen ma tongue oot o’ a ferrin yoke, a’ mann pit ye in min’ that there’s mae nor ae kin’ o Scotch. Aw’m an Embro’ laud myself (“Take a note on that”, as Captain Cuttle says, quhan ye’re gaunt tu vrite ma beeography). A daurna say’t that Embro’ Scotch is the pure Doric, nor that it’s improved wi’ bein hashed up alang wi’ the Glasca deealeck, an’ a sprinkling o’ Fife. A freen o’ mine says o’ anither freen – ‘Gif he wud speak English, I wud unnerstaun ‘im, or gif he wud speak Scotch, I wud unnerstaun ‘im, bit he speaks Dumfries, an’ I can mak’ naethin’ o’ that. Sae, gif ony o’ the east kintra readers o’ yer ‘widely-circulated’ an’ valiwable jurnal bogle at Benjie’s column, they maunna lay a’ the wite on me, for a’ jalouse that a cross atween Embro’ an’ Glasca wi’ a seasonin’ o’ Fife Scotch is aboot as guid braid Scotch as is gaun, an’ as guid, ony way, as ony that’s kent yonder awa wi the Aberdeen direckshan.”

1866 Thomas Edmonston publishes his An Etymological Glossary of the Shetland and Orkney Dialect which is the first substantial work on the dialects of the islands.

1866 Walter Gregor publishes The Dialect of Banffshire: with a Glossary of Words Not in Jamieson’s Scottish Dictionary.

1867-1881 Women gradually win the right to vote in council elections and poor law boards in Scotland but are still excluded from voting in parliament elections.

1868 The Representation of the People (Scotland) Act extends the vote to all adult male householders and increases the number of Scottish MPs from 53 to 60.

1868 The Scottish press reports cases from the various justice of the peace and small claims courts and often quotes the Scots language of defendants and witnesses. This was also the custom in trial precognitions in sheriff courts and the central courts in Edinburgh until at least the mid 19th century. The following from the Anstruther JP court was reported in the Dundee Courier and Argus in 1868 and is typical. George Fall, farm servant was pursued by Robert Morris, merchant in Crail and Fall’s wife appeared to answer. She said “An’ what aboot that; dae ye think that noo-a-days bairns help their parents? Na, na: they dae naething o’ the kind. A’ her bairns wur born naked, and what atween cleedin’ and feedin’ them, she had been sair keepit doon a’ her days. She was wullin’ hooever, tae pey eichteen pence i’ the week till the debts was cleared aff’ The Provost said that the decision of the Court was that she should pay two shillings weekly. Defender ‘An’ I shall dae nae sic thing. I’ll no pey a fardin’ mair than eichteen pence for nae body, and if he (the pursuer) is no pleased wi’ that, he may tak’ mysel’ an’ clap me in Cupar jail.’ The Court adhering to its decision, the defender retired from the hall loudly protesting that ‘eichteenpence was what she allowed, and beyond that she wud nae gang ae bawbee.”

1868 In An Account of a Visit to Philadelphia the author, an Irishman, describes meeting several nationalities on board ship, including Scots and Swedes. Of the Scots he said “Scotch people never seem to lose their common sense or their plain homely language, no matter where they go”, and of the Swedes “Their language is akin to what we hear from our Scotch neighbours, for instance, their word for nice is bra, church = churka (compare kirk) now = noo, while tongue, hand and finger are pronounced nearly as in English.”

1871 The census returns a Scottish population of 3,360,018.

1871 Reverend Peter Hately Waddell’s (1817-1891) The Psalms: Frae Hebrew Intil Scots is published.

1871 William Alexander’s (1826-1894) Johnny Gibb of Gushetneuk with dialogue in North East Scots (Doric) is published. Alexander, from the Garioch, Aberdeenshire, became editor of the Aberdeen Free Press and wrote newspaper articles in North East Scots.

1872 The Education (Scotland) Act is passed following the Argyll Commission findings of 1866. All children are now required to attend school between the ages of 5 and 13 with school attendance committees established to enforce this. The Act confirms earlier moves towards English-medium education in Scotland and is widely taken to sanction punishment of children for speaking in Scots and Gaelic.  

1873 Death of Janet Hamilton (1795-1873, nee Thomson) of Langloan, Coatbridge who was an author, poet and supporter of the Scots language and who is important for giving a rare insight from a woman’s point of view on rural and working class Scotland.

1873 Sir James Murray’s (1837-1915) The Dialect of the Southern Counties of Scotland is published. Having mapped out the dialects of Scots for the first time, and a chronology, Murray founded the modern study of Scots.

1875 Alexander Knox in describing County Down in Ulster said “The Scottish idiom is most observable in the baronies of Ards and Castlereagh, and their confines, although extending as far as Hillsborough and Dromore. Until recently it was spoken as broadly as in Ayr and Wigtownshire, but it is gradually dying out, although innumerable words imported from Scotland are in daily use in the northern part of the county.”

1877 In his first volume of the Register of the Privy Council of Scotland 1545-1569, editor John Hill Burton spoke about language shift. He said “This arises from the fact, so well known to students of etymology, that while the shape of letters and their use in spelling words shift so as entirely to change their force, the pronunciation of the people remains unchanged, or but slightly affected by the lapse of long ages. Scotsmen travelling in the Teutonic states of Northern Europe find a curious testimony to this phenomenon in the fact, that when a word belonging to the foreign tongue has a cognate word, of the same family, and retaining the same meaning, in Scotland, the traveller will get on better with the natives by using it as he used or heard it used in Scotland, than by attempting to realise it from a German, Dutch, or Danish dictionary.” Further on he speaks about the symbol yogh (z) and said “The names were originally Menyies and Mackenyie. Among the gentry they are now called Menzies and Mackenzie, from the long use of the ‘z’ to express the ‘y’ in writing these names...but the peasantry, among whom families of either name live, still give them the sound of the ‘y’, as Menyies or Mackenyie.”

1877 The report for the district of Dumbarton, Stirling and Clackmannan to HM Inspector of Schools comments that the children of “the humbler ranks...They are seldom permitted to hear a good model, they read comparatively little, and the language they read is not the phraseology of their daily life. They read one language, they hear and speak another.”

1878 Creation of the Scottish Education Department which is based in London.  

1880 An article in the Shetland Times complains about school teachers trying to suppress the Shetland dialect and comments “Da skülmaisters hae nae bishness ta interfere wi’ wir guid midder tongue. We pay dem fur learnin’ bairns English, no fur unlearnin’ wir Shetlan speech.”

1881 Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) publishes his story Thrawn Janet. This and his later story The Tale of Tod Lapraik are the only two he wrote in Scots.

1884 The voting franchise for parliamentary elections is further extended increasing the number of male voters to 560,000 (60% of the adult male population in Scotland).

1884 Publication of Lays and Legends of the North by poet David Grant (1823-1886) originally from Banchory, Kincardine who was a teacher in Elgin, England and Edinburgh noted for his North East Scots poetry.

1885 The office of Secretary of State for Scotland – abolished in 1746 – is created once again amid growing pressure for Scottish devolution.

1886 The Scotch Code establishes English as a subject in Scottish schools. Education policy is now officially to displace Scots and Gaelic with English.

1890's Appearance of nostalgic and sentimental style of writing known as Kailyaird which uses Scots for dialogue. Typical of this genre is the novelist James Matthew Barrie (1860-1937), native of Kirriemuir and author of Peter Pan. Barrie wrote Auld Licht Idylls (1888), A Window in Thrums (1890), The Little Minister (1891) and Margaret Ogilvy (1896) in which he used the Scots he was raised speaking.

1890's A number of sources allude to the emergence of a dialect peculiar to the city of Glasgow drawn from a combination of traditional dialects and Highland and Irish influences. In the 20th century the name ‘The Patter’ was coined to describe Glasgow speech.

1897 Report to HM Inspector of Schools in Scotland for the district comprising Glasgow, Stirling, Dumbarton, Bute and Argyll noted “The language of the playground is very different from the reasonably correct pronunciation secured inside the school. All the home language is sheer vernacular in the case of the poor classes, and the slight school reform is easily, perhaps willingly forgotten. Hence the parents, who must have been at school thirty years ago, appear as far as speech and pronunciation go, to have secured no abiding advantage from their school training in such matters.”

1900 The publication of Hamewith by Charles Murray (1864-1941) of Alford whose poetry in North East Scots became very popular in the early 20th century.

1901 The census returns a Scottish population of 4,472,103.

1901 William Wye Smith’s New Testament in Braid Scots published, having been translated from English.

1901 Publication at Dumfries of Galloway Gossip, or the Southern Albanach 80 years ago by R De Bruce Trotter which is written in Scots The author gives ‘Some Directions For Pronouncing Scotch’ and continues “It is difficult to explain the pronunciation of Scotch to an Englishman. First, because the vowels most used in Scotch do not exist in English, and no English person can utter them; second, because no English vowel has any definite sound, and so cannot be used as a Key Letter; third, because the strain on a word is always on the consonant following the vowel, while in English it is always on the vowel itself – as in saying ‘A lame horse’, an Englishman says ‘A lāy-mōss’, while a Scotchman says ‘A læmm-horss’; and fourth, an Englishman drawls out one or two vowels in a sentence and slurs over the rest, and speaks in a nasal tone; while a Scotchman speaks his sentences evenly and distinctly, and not nasally.”

1907 Mr Munro, inspector of the Western Division, reported to HM Inspector of Schools “it is very difficult to get a typical Scottish child, especially in a country district, to speak English, of which he hears very little out of school...but to enable him to get over his shyness and give him a start, I should not object to his using at first his vernacular Doric.”

1907 Publication of the Memorandum on the Teaching English in Primary Schools which stated “Yet Lowland Scots being historically a national language, possessing a literature to which the children will be introduced some day, is not to be treated like a provincial dialect. The teacher should not discourage its use by the children in those familiar talks through which he seeks to give them confidence, nor hesitate to use it himself when English fails as a means of communication” yet elsewhere insists that children “make all oral communications in good English, well pronounced and thrown (if need be) into complete grammatical form.”

1910 Sermons in Braid Scots published by Reverend David Gibb Mitchell (1863-1921), followed by his The Kirk i’ the Clachan in 1917. Mitchell was minister at the Free Church of Cramond, Midlothian and stated in his first book “I gaithered my flock aboot me an’ spak to them i’ the tongue o’ their faithers. It was the gude auld Doric; it was their ain couthie words. It was sib to their fancy, an’ gaed far ben into their herts. Nane were huff’t at hearin their ain tongue preached i’ their ain kirk.” In his second book he also stated “I’ve a bonnie Kirk in my Clachan here, and on Sabbath my folk gaither round me for the breid o’ life. I whiles win at them throwe the auld Scots tongue. The hamely words gang far in, and I see tears fa’ an’ faces smile. Mony a han’ grips mine at the skailin, an’ buirdly men thank me wi’ trem’lin voice.”

1913 Publication of Readings in Modern Scots by Alexander Mackie. In the introduction Mackie states that the book was inspired by WA Craigie’s statement that a place needed to be found in education for Scots so that the coming generations could “retain a real and living knowledge of their own language.”

1914-1918 First World War in which 74,000 Scots are officially reported to have died abroad, but with recent estimates as high as 147,000 Scots dead as a result of the conflict.

1915 Sir James K Wilson’s Lowland Scotch as Spoken in the Lower Strathearn District of Perthshire is published. This was followed in 1926 by his The Dialects of Central Scotland. In his Central Scotland book Wilson said “Within recent memory the use of Broad Scotch has been rapidly diminishing, mainly because of the spread of education and the extension of facilities for communication. One of the chief duties of teachers in the schools is to train the children to speak and write standard English correctly, and in the pursuit of this object too many of them discourage the use of Scotch pronunciation and idiom and give their pupils and their pupils’ parents the idea that broad Scotch is something vulgar, to be despised and avoided.”

1918 The voting franchise for parliamentary elections is extended to all males over 21 and many women over 30.