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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

The Other Z - why you mispronounce this Scottish letter

How an old letter and a printing press changed our pronunciation of a Scottish name. A story about Scots - neither English nor Gaelic!

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~ Corrections & Additions ~
- The traditional Scottish pronunciation of "Gaelic" is G[ɑ]lic rather than G[eɪ]lic. Thanks to John Hamelink and others!

~ The Short of It ~

This time it's the tale not of a language, but of a leid. As I prepared to shelve Early Modern English and jump to the next topic, the one that eked out a victory in my first patron vote, I couldn't quite shut my creative notebook on this subplot.

A Middle English letter got its second wind in Scotland, and was particularly useful for representing a "y" sound. When the printing press made its way to the Scottish Lallans, the Anglic being spoken there was already distinct from London English. This had become the home turf of Scots, an emerging language with its own literature that it was eager to print. But Scots printers made some spelling compromises, inadvertently paving the way for later speakers to misread a letter. Thanks to this glitch, the original pronunciations of certain Scottish names sound strange to us, while the misreadings have become perfectly standard!

~ Credits ~

Narration, art and animation by Josh from NativLang.

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