The way Scots is written has gone through
many changes since the emergence of Scots as a national
language during the period leading up to the fifteenth
Modern Scots has no officially sanctioned
authority which prescribes the ‘right’ way to spell Scots.
Nevertheless, Modern Scots does have an extensive written
canon. That modern tradition, vibrantly expressed during
the 18th and 19th centuries, employed prestigious literary
conventions that represented no dialect in particular
and were used by writers who spoke various dialects. The
pronunciation of the written word being interpreted by
the reader according to their own dialect.
Scots Dictionaries usually record a variation
of spellings in common use. This results in writers using
a mixture of spellings reflecting historical, regional,
accidental and idiosyncratic variants.
Since the Scots Revival of the early twentieth
century various attempts have been made by Scots writers
to harmonise their orthography. The first of these was
the Scots Style Sheet of 1947. The Scots Language Society's
(SLS) Lallans Magazine founded in 1973 publishes both
poetry and prose in Scots and has through the years contributed
to, and to a certain extent led the debate on the development
of Scots orthography, by frequently publishing articles
on both orthography and grammar.
In 1977 the Association
for Scottish Literary and Linguistic Studies and The Scots Language Society
jointly sponsored the short lived Scots Language Planning Committee to
look into the possibility of a standard orthography for modern Scots.
In 1985 a number
of Scots writers met at the School of Scottish Studies in Edinburgh and
using their consensus as a basis, the Scots Language Society published
their Recommendations For Writers In Scots in Lallans 24. The SLS
also published an extensive list of recommended spellings in Lallans No's.
The Concise English-Scots Dictionary
(1993) and the Scots School Dictionary (1996),
both published by the Scottish Language Dictionaries
Ltd. (SLD Ltd.) in also included recommendations for
a (more) standardised spelling. On the whole the SLD Ltd.
(SNDA) agreed with the recommendations published by the
SLS. Their main objection was to spellings based on historic
rules of Scots orthography. The SNDA's objective is to
encourage the use of Scots more widely in the community,
subsequently the SNDA contended that historical spellings
were often unfamiliar to modern readers and they would
make the language seem more difficult
On November the 10th 1996 The SLS and
Scots Language Resource Centre (SLRC) hosted a public
meeting at the A.K. Bell library in Perth, with the aim
of setting up a standing body to look into, and develop
a 'standard' Scots orthography. Although fraught with
difficulty this endeavor was taken up and the Scots Spelling
Committee duly established.
An orthography of course needs to be
selected for use in this site. The purpose of any orthographic
system is to represent the spoken word. There is no reason
why Scots orthography should model itself on Standard
English forms - although with Scots, it is sensible to
take the influence of Standard English that has occurred
since the demise of Scots as an official national language
into consideration - especially because most people in
Scotland have Standard English as their first language
of literacy. This makes the written form easier to learn.
Therefore the conventions employed here are based on the
prestigious literary conventions of the 18th and 19th
centuries, which gives the written form historic continuity
- Finally, an increasing number of writers using Scots
are basing their orthography on models very similar to
that used here.
The orthography presented here is intended
to be read and pronounced in any Scots dialect (polyphonemic).
On the whole the spellings used can be found in the Concise
Scots Dictionary (CSD) published by SLD Ltd.
The chapter on Orthography
explains the spelling conventions used when choosing among,
or adapting the spelling variants in the Concise Scots
Dictionary. Conventions used follow the spellings
in the Scots School Dictionary (SSD) in so far
as they are consistent or cross-dialect. The SSD is also
published by SLD Ltd.
In this polyphonemic system, position,
environment and overt markers enable the same letter or
cluster of letters to perform several distinct functions.
Several letters or letter clusters may also represent
the same sound.
The spellings of inflections and some compounds may be
morphemic, representing meaning rather than an exact sound.
The assumption being that the reader knows the phonemic
alterations that accompany the formation of derivatives
and inflections. This may be a hindrance to learning Scots
pronunciation from the spellings, but Scots spelling is
geared for the convenience of native speakers, not for
The pronunciations of the spellings used
are presented according to their dialect pronunciations.
All dialects of Scots are easily understood by other Scots
speakers. There is no such thing as a right or wrong dialect
- all are equally valid. A standard written language is
only necessary to avoid confusion and misunderstanding
because with the written word, the signals and indicators
that are relied upon in verbal face to face communication
are missing . If all dialects of Scots were regularly
heard on radio and television we would be as acquainted
with them as we now are with Scouse, Brummy and Cockney.
Unfortunately for us most programming decisions are made
in London, by anglocentric English speakers.
IPA phonetic symbols
are used. The transcriptions are broad, capturing only
enough aspects of a pronunciation to show how words differ
from one another or where the pronunciation differs significantly
between dialects. For narrower transcriptions consult
the literature mentioned on the relevant pages.
The IPA phonetic symbols are presented
thus: Phonemes /x/
and words [rø:z]
(ruise). /:/ indicates
that the preceding vowel is long. /'/
indicates that the following syllable is stressed. /ʔ/represents
a glottal stop.
Graphemes (letter strings) are often represented thus:
Pronunciation examples are given in one
or more of the following languages: Scottish Standard
English, German or French.
Standard English is Standard English spoken with a
Consonants usually have the same phonetic
values (pronunciation) in Scots, as in Standard English.
rat, is usually trilled (rolled) in Scots.
The <x> in the prefix ex is usually
/gz/ between unstressed
and stressed vowels. Otherwise /ks/.
*Most dialects of Scots have a German like Ich/Ach
rule governing the pronunciation of <ch>.
(Ger. Ich) initially or following a front vowel,
and /x/ (Ger. Bach)
following a back vowel. Here, /x/
is used for simplicity.
Many speakers substitute a glottal stop /ʔ/
for /t/ and sometimes
/k/ and /p/,
between two vowels.
The Scots Vowel-Length Rule
The SVLR is most developed in the central
Scots dialects, in peripheral dialects not all vowels
|The following vowels
are usually short:
||Eng. above, Ger.
||Eng. pity, Ger.
||Eng. pen, Ger.
||Eng. flat, Ger.
||Southern Eng. fat
|The following vowels
are usually long:
|In stressed syllables
|Before another vowel
|Before a morpheme**
||Eng. aim, Ger.
sehr, Fr. été
||Eng. feet, Ger.
||Eng. toad, Ger.
||Eng. food, Ger.
||Fr. peu, Ger.
|The following vowels
are usually long in most dialects:
||Eng. awful (also
||Eng. cot, Ger.
**A morpheme is the smallest meaningful
part into which a word can be divided, i.e. inflexions,
prefixes and suffixes etc.
||Eng. bite and Eng. buy, Ger. weit
||Eng. bite and Eng. buy, Ger. weit
||Eng. cow, Ger. Haus
||Eng. boy, Ger. Heu
||Eng. you, Ger. Jugend
usually occurs in long environments.
/əi/ usually occurs in short environments.
In Scots the root syllable
of native words is usually stressed, This root syllable is usually the first
syllable of a word so there is often a tendency to stress the first syllable
of foreign words, although many romance words retain their original stress.
Many words have stressed (emphatic) and unstressed forms,
especially pronouns, adverbs and some verbs. These are
not usually indicated in writing. Some common spelling
variations reflect the use of stressed an unstressed forms.
These are indicated where they most commonly occur.
The Scots alphabet now consists of the
same letters as the Standard English alphabet, but in
older and middle Scots the additional letters <þ>
(thorn) equivalent to the modern <th>
/ð/ (eth) as
in the and <ʒ>
(yogh) representing a sound similar to the <gn>
/ɲ/ in the
French Bretagne and <y> /j/
as in the modern word year. These are of course
now obsolete. (Still occurs as <z > in many
words and is pronounced /j/
as in capercailzie and /ŋj/
or /ŋ/ as in
senzie and Menzies.)
The Scots letters originally had Scots
pronunciations, the education system has unfortunately
all but eradicated the Scots pronunciations. The Scots
||[(ɪ)'dzɛd, ɪ'dzɪd, ɪ'dzɪt]
Some letters in Scots
words are not pronounced.
after medial <ch> /x/,
in medial <st> and before final <en>.
in <ct> and <pt>.
These are often written <ck> and <p>
although the <t> is often pronounced in derived forms.
Note the following
In many words a <d>
after <n> and <l> may be silent.
||land (a tenement)
Words are of course written as separate
units but in everyday speech there is a difference in
the pronunciation of words in isolation and in connected
speech. The changes are usually regular an predictable.
This usually involves:
Deletion - or the loss of sounds similar to the silent
letters explained above.
Assimilation- where a sound changes to become like a neighbouring
Reduction - here vowels are reduced to /ɪ/
This occurs in Scots much the same as
it does in Standard English.
Syntax and Morphology
The grammatical structure of Scots sentences can usually
be extrapolated from the examples given in each section.
Where necessary further explanation is included. The changes
in word form due to tense etc. are explained in the appropriate
Little effort is made to explain the differences
between Scots and Standard English. These should be apparent
from the examples given.
Punctuation and Use
of Capital letters
Standard English usage
Other aspects of spelling,
especially irregular changes due to inflexions and tense changes, are
dealt with in the appropriate sections.
The Pronunciation of Scots Dialects
Click on the map for a description
of the dialect.
The main dialect divisions
of Scots are:
- Southern Scots (S) along
the Scots side of the border.
- Central Scots (CS), subdivided into:
- Ulster Scots (U) in
the north of Ireland.
- Northern Scots (NS), subdivided into:
- Insular Scots (IS) in the Orkney
and Shetland islands.
- Urban Scots refers to the dialects of Scots
spoken in and around towns and cities especially Aberdeen,
Although the Belfast
dialect cannot be considered Scots it does include a
number of features of Ulster
- Gàidhealtachd, the Gaelic for the Highlands
and Islands to the west - were of course until recently
on the whole Gaelic speaking. In areas along the highland
influenced Scots can be heard.
The southern extent
of Scots can be identified on the basis of features
which differentiate Scots from neighbouring English
dialects, such as the pronunciation of come,
where Standard English cognates have /f/
the Scots pronunciation of <wh> as /ʍ/
as against English /w/
and where /r/
becomes the Northumbrian burr. Beat Glauser
has also shown that most of the vocabulary of what
are now considered Scots words have all but disappeared
on the English side, while they are still in every
day use on the Scottish side. For practical purposes
the linguistic and political borders are almost identical.
Dialects of course gradually pass
into each other so that a mixture of dialects occurs
where one dialect merges into another. A whole series
of maps would be necessary to represent the distribution
of sounds accurately.
Only the main dialect differences
between the areas mentioned are illustrated. The descriptions
make no claim to be exhaustive. Many works have been
written about and in local dialects. The local public
library is a good source of such writings.
Aitken, A. J. (1981) "The Scottish
Vowel Length Rule" in Michael Benskin and M. L. Samuels
eds. So Meny People, Longages and Tonges, Edinburgh.
Glauser, Beat (1974) The Scottish-English Linguistic Border. Lexical Aspects, Bern: Francke.
Jones, Charles ed. (1997) The Edinburgh History of
the Scots Language, Edinburgh University Press.
Murray, James (1870-72, 1873) The Dialect of the Southern
Counties of Scotland, London: Philological Society
Grant, William and James Main Dixon (1921) Manual
of Modern Scots, Cambridge University Press.
Purves, David (1997, revised 2002) A Scots Grammar.
Scots Grammar and Usage Edinburgh: The Saltire Society.
Wilson, James (1926) The Dialects of Central Scotland,
London: Oxford University Press.
Mather, James Y. and H. H. Speitel (1986) The Linguistic
Atlas of Scotland volume 3 , London: Croom Helm.