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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

Borders Scots


Like other areas of Scots-speaking Scotland, the dialect here has traditionally been known as Scots or Scotch. However, because this region covers the greater part of the Borders the dialect is also commonly called Borders Scots, or even just Borders. Southern Scots is both a main dialect and sub dialect at the same time, with no other divisions.


Sometimes Southern Scots has been called the ‘yow and mey dialect’ because of the different vowel sounds its speakers make in comparison with the other dialects of Scots. Whereas most speakers of Scots would say you, a person from this region would say yow. 

This also means that speakers of Borders say now and down rather than noo and doun. And whereas one might say pea, people from this region would say pey.  By this classic test, in which words ending in the usual sounds –oo and –ee become -ow and –ey, we discover the more obvious ways in which the speech of this region differs from the rest of Scots.  

Other features include the way in which the sounds –ai (as in baith, braidor claes) become –eea (as in beeath, breeador cleeaz), and –e in the middle of word such as bedbecoming –a in this region, sounded like bad.  In addition to these features, there are a number of Romany words, such as barry(good) or gadgie(man) which were adopted into the dialect, though since then they have been adopted into other dialects too.  The kings of the Romanies – the Faa family – lived in the Borders.
In the 19th century many of the great Border Ballads were collected and printed. For the most part, the texts were either set in standardised Scots or even Anglicised. The following example – Dick o’ the Cow – appeared in Sir Walter Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1802-3) but gives a flavour of the content and style of a Border ballad:
Now Liddesdale has layen lang in,
There is na ryding there at a’;
The horses are a’ grown sae lither fat,
They downa stir out o’ the sta’. 
Fair Johnie Armstrang to Willie did say –
‘Billie, a riding we will gae;
England and us have been lang at feid;
Ablins we’ll light on some bootie’. 
Then they are come on to Hutton Ha’;
They rade that proper place about;
But the laird he was the wiser man,
For he had left nae gear without.
 For he had left nae gear to steal,
Except sax sheep upon a lee:
Quo’ Johnie – ‘I’d rather in England die,
Ere thir sax sheep gae to Liddesdale wi’ me.


Scots and its ancestor Anglo-Saxon, have been spoken in this region since the 7th century AD, that is 1,400 years or so. The earliest Anglo-Saxon text in Scotland is to be found carved on the Ruthwell Cross in this region and dates from the 8th century AD. 

The region became part of the ancient kingdom of Northumbria which stretched from the Humber to the Forth. In the 9th century it was conquered by the Danes, but the northern part in Scotland survived and was taken over by the kings of Scots in the 10th century. In 1237 the disputed frontier with England was finally settled (except for a small area near Gretna). 

A society of Border kindreds emerged based on family names –such as the Kerrs and Scotts - and these kindreds made war and peace almost independently of the central powers. Raiding back and forward across the frontier, or against each other, they were known as the Border Reivers, but were suppressed by the central powers in the 17th century.


This dialect covers the greater part of the Scottish Borders, taking in Annandale, Eskdale, Ettrick, and Roxburgh. Included within it are Annan, Hawick (Haaick), Jedburgh (Jethart), Kelso (Kelsae), Lockerbie and Selkirk. 

The Borders dialect also shares with the North East of Scotland the distinction of a long tradition of poetry and song giving rise to the great Border Ballads in Scots. The region has been well known since the Middle Ages for its large scale sheep farming, and later for the Tweed industry. 

Since the late 19th century the Borders have also been notable for the game of rugby. The yearly Common Ridings mark the traditional boundaries and provide an opportunity for the celebration of the Borders horse culture. The famous Scots language poet and writer Hugh MacDiarmid was a Borderer from Langholm. Other Borderers who have written in Scots include Alasdair Allan MSPWalter ElliotJames HoggDavid Purves and Sir Walter Scott.