“Language is the roadmap of a culture. It tells you where its people came from and where they are going.” - Ria Mae Brown
Scotland, with is verdant landscapes as far as the eye can see, has it’s own variant of English. In fact, Scottish English is seen as a difficult variant of the language, even for certain native speakers of the language.
Rough Guides organised a survey to find the most beautiful country in the world and it was Scotland that came first. This should be enough to convince you to go there and learn Scottish English!
I’ve been lucky enough to travel to Scotland and see the beautiful landscapes and be welcomed by warm Scottish hospitality. While it’s true that the English spoken there is different, it’s also incredibly charming.
In this article, we’re going to look at the origins of Scottish English, how it differs to other varieties of English, how it's spoken, and how you can start learning to speak it.
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Scottish English in a Linguistic Context
Scottish English is also know as Scottish Standard English. The written form is usually used in non-literary texts. It’s often confused with Scots, which is actually its own language. Scots is a Germanic language that’s related to modern English.
So how was Scottish English born?
In reality, Scottish English was born from a soft mix between English and Scots. It came about during the 17th century when the language underwent a number of linguistic changes. After the union with England in 1707, Scottish transformed while remaining autonomous. This independence helped created the languages identity, which ties in with the culture.
Whether it’s the phonology, the semantics, punctuation, or even the grammar, this type of English has contributed to how the people of Scotland express themselves. However, there are different variants of Scottish English from region to region. There are different types of Scottish English in the Highlands, the Lowlands, Glasgow, Edinburgh, etc.
The population of Scotland has increased by 30,000 in twenty years. This is a good reason to learn more about the country and its language.
The Particularities of Scottish English
As we said before, there’s no one type of Scottish English. In fact, just like in every other English-speaking country, there are various types of Scottish English in different parts of the country. However, these variants have a number of characteristics in common and once you’ve got the hang of these characteristics, you can travel to Scotland.
Scotland, in terms of culture and language, differentiates itself from England, its neighbour to the south. The accent is one of the key features of Scottish English. In fact, the accent is what most learners find difficult about it.
Typically, Scots use “laddie” (lad + ie) to mean “young boy” and “lassie” (lass + ie) to mean “young girl”. You’ll also notice that instead of saying “small”, Scots will use the word “wee”.
These are the kind of things that you probably won’t learn in English but you will learn by travelling to Scotland or learning with a private tutor. In terms of pronunciation, unlike other variants of British English, the terms “cot” and “caught” are pronounced the same in Scotland. In linguistics, this is known as the cot-caught merger and is more common in American English than in varieties of British English.
Unlike in England where the letter "r" isn't often pronounced after a vowel, speakers of Scottish English will pronounce the letter "r" wherever it's found in a word, even after a vowel. Additionally, just like the stereotype, the “r” in Scottish English is sometimes rolled. However, this isn't as common as you'd think as it's usually an alveolar tap with the tongue hitting the roof of the mouth once rather than an alveolar trill, which produces the common rolled sound.
The term “how” is another one of Scottish English’s peculiarities. The term is often used as a replacement for “why” in Scotland, Ireland, and northern England. Even the queen of England would be a bit lost with some of these changes.
The Scottish English we know today has plenty of its own terms which have made their way into other forms of English. For example, legal and administrative terms are often an Anglicised form of Scottish English or Scots.
To finish, shall we have a look at some Scottish terms?
Of course, some terms are only used in certain regions of Scotland.
- How no? = Why not?
- He’s a right sweetie-wife = He likes to chat
- Bairn = Child
- Pal = Friend, mate
- What age are you? = How old are you?
- Ach, away we go! = I don’t believe you!
- Aye = Yes
- Tattie = Potato (which is included in the famous haggis, neeps, and tatties).
As you’ll have understood, if you’re wanting to learn Scottish, you’ve got your work cut out for you. However, Scottish English is similar in some ways to other forms of English and completely different in other ways.
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Similarities to Other Variants of English
After all that, the British Isles are linguistically different to their continental neighbours. Let’s not forget, though, that English is the most spoken language in the world.
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Anyone can learn to speak Scottish English.
With the right training and nothing else. Just like riding a bike, once you’ve got it, you’ll never forget. Furthermore, a lot of the grammar and the accent can be difficult to pick up. This is why a lot of learners choose a more standardised form of English. It’s a lot easier to talk to the English speaking world if you talk using a general English accent.
That said, you can easily make yourself understood with practice. You can adapt and say “yes” instead of “aye” if it looks like they don’t understand. Of course, most English speakers will probably understand what you mean from context.
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Resources for Learning Scottish English
The best technique for learning Scottish English is to dive straight in and get started. With films, radio stations, and TV series, there are plenty of ways to learn the specifics of Scottish English.
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The simplest technique is to listen to local radio. There’s BBC Scotland and BBC Alba (though the latter is in Gaelic). There are also other radio stations in Scotland, you just need to seek them out.
Each European country has it’s own culture and music, and sometimes it can be tricky to find them. In Scotland, there are plenty of different types of media that can bring us closer to the country.
For example, the song The First Big Weekend by Arab Strap transports us to a weekend in Scotland with typical expressions. There’s also Another Bed by The Twilight Sad which uses the Scottish accent even more than our previous example.
You can get much closer to Scottish history and culture by learning to speak the language. These linguistic elements, as well as the culture and the history, have helped create Scotland’s national identity.
If you're interested in learning Scottish English, working with a native speaker is probably your best option. If you have a look on Superprof, you can find tutors all over the country who are ready to teach you English. Of course, you should make sure that they're from Scotland before you start working with them to improve your accent.
If you can't find any Scottish tutors near you, don't worry. You can also find online private tutors who can teach you English using video conferencing software like Skype. As long as you've got a computer with a webcam, microphone, and a decent internet connection, you can get private tutorials from anywhere in the world from anyone in the world. You just have to find the right person!
With so many tutors to choose from, finding the right one can sometimes be quite difficult. Fortunately for you, a lot of the tutors on Superprof offer free tutoring for the first hour. This is a great opportunity to see if you get along with the tutor, if their teaching approach works for you, and work out the details of your private tutorials such as the rates, location, and how often you'll need them. Make sure you try out a few different tutors before you finally decide on the one that's going to teach you how to speak Scottish English perfectly!