Scots (the language, not the people) (not to be confused with Gaelic, nor with Ulster-Scots, nor with Scottish English)

The Scots language has been in the news!

Until a few years ago I didn’t even know what Scots isDo you? If you’ve read my post of August 15, you do. Otherwise there’s a good chance that you don’t know, or that you confuse it with Gaelic, or with Scottish English.

The eminent James Harbeck has a lovely post about Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, and Scots. “Huh?” you ask. “What does Scots have to do with Bugs and Elmer? Bugs and Elmer speak English, not Scots!”

Well, follow the link to find out. Be sure to watch the embedded video to remind you of your childhood, and be sure to read the examples of Scots, which will show you why it is unclear to many whether Scots is a dialect of English or a separate language closely related to English. Or just check out the poster above.

This, however, is not what I meant when I wrote that Scots has been in the news recently, since the poster is obviously not from the past few months if you examine it closely. The recent foofaraw has to do with Wikipedia: it was discovered last month that about half of all pages in the Scots version of Wikipedia were written by someone who doesn’t speak or write Scots! We’re talking a huge number of pages — at least 20,000, and perhaps as much as 30,000! The situation is actually more complicated than that, so go read the nuanced account of what happened; it’s interesting, and not black-or-white.

On a related matter, you can read about Ulster-Scots, a related language that is spoken, of course, in Northern Ireland.

To make things still more confusing, you need to keep in mind that Scots is a West Germanic language (like English), but Scots Gaelic (sometimes called just Gaelic) and Irish Gaelic (always properly called just Irish) are Celtic languages. And yes, all of these are Indo-European, but from different branches.

Now it’s time for your to sit quietly, absorb all this, and have a glass of wine (if you’re over 21).

But wait! To end on a calm note, you may want to check out the Scots Language Learner: An Introduction to Contemporary Spoken Scotsby L. Colin Wilson. This readable textbook is full of clear explanations, tons of examples, and even exercises. It’s available in paperback; check it out.

Categories: Linguistics