Wir Ain Leed


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Written Scots

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 century.

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. 39-43.

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 learner.


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: <ui>.

Pronunciation examples are given in one or more of the following languages: Scottish Standard English, German or French.
Scottish Standard English is Standard English spoken with a Scottish accent.


Consonants usually have the same phonetic values (pronunciation) in Scots, as in Standard English.

IPA Sounds like: IPA Sounds like:
/b/ bat /s/ sip
/d/ dog /ʃ/ ship
/ʤ/ jam /t/ tip
/f/ fat /ʧ/ chin
/g/ good /θ/ thin
/h/ hat /ð/ the
/j/ yet /v/ van
/k/ kit /w/ witch
/l/ lot /ʍ/ which
/m/ mat /x/* loch
/n/ not /z/ zip
/ŋ/ sing /ʒ/ vision
/p/ pet    

/r/ 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>. Pronounced /ç/ (Ger. Ich) initially or following a front vowel, and /x/ (Ger. Bach) following a back vowel. Here, /x/ is used for simplicity.

Glottal Stops

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 are affected.

The following vowels are usually short:
IPA Sounds like:
/ə/* Eng. above, Ger. Nase
/ɪ/ Eng. pity, Ger. Sitte
/ʌ/ Eng. but
/ɛ/ Eng. pen, Ger. mästen
/a/ Eng. flat, Ger. Mann
/æ/ Southern Eng. fat
The following vowels are usually long:
In stressed syllables before /v/, /ð/, /z/, /ʒ/ and /r/.
Before another vowel and
Before a morpheme** boundary.
/e/ Eng. aim, Ger. sehr, Fr. été
/i/ Eng. feet, Ger. Sie
/o/ Eng. toad, Ger. Boot
/u/ Eng. food, Ger. kulant
/ø/ Fr. peu, Ger. schön
/y/ Ger. über, Fr. mur
The following vowels are usually long in most dialects:
/ɑ/ Eng. awful (also /ɔ/)
/ɔ/ Eng. cot, Ger. Post

*In unstressed positions.
**A morpheme is the smallest meaningful part into which a word can be divided, i.e. inflexions, prefixes and suffixes etc.


/aɪ/ Eng. bite and Eng. buy, Ger. weit
/əi/ Eng. bite and Eng. buy, Ger. weit
/ʌu/ Eng. cow, Ger. Haus
/oi/ Eng. boy, Ger. Heu
/ju/ Eng. you, Ger. Jugend

/aɪ/ usually occurs in long environments.
/əi/ usually occurs in short environments.

Word Stress

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.

adverteese massacre
apryle   April mischief
consequence Polis   Police
discord novelle
illustratit soiree

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 Alphabet

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 pronunciations were/are:

A aw [a, ɑ:]     N enn [ɛn]
B bay [be:]   O oa [o:]
C say [se:]   P pay [pe:]
D day [de:]   Q quee [kwi:]
E ay [e:]   R err [ɛr]
F eff [ɛf]   S ess [ɛs]
G gay [ge:, ʤe:]   T tay [te:]
H aitch, itch [eʧ, ɪʧ]   U ou [(w)u:]


[əi, i:]   V vowe [vʌu]
J jye [ʤəi]   W dooble-ou,
K kye,
  X ex [ɛks, eks]
L ell [ɛl]   Y wye [wəi]
M em [ɛm]   Z (i)zed [(ɪ)'dzɛd, ɪ'dzɪd, ɪ'dzɪt]

Silent Letters

Some letters in Scots words are not pronounced.

The <t> after medial <ch> /x/, in medial <st> and before final <en>.

cuisten cast (ppt.) lichtnin lightning
fochten fought listen listen
frichten frighten tichten tighten
kirsten christen saften soften

The <t> in <ct> and <pt>.
These are often written <ck> and <p> although the <t> is often pronounced in derived forms.

act act attempt attempt
contact contact corrupt corrupt
fact fact tempt tempt

Note the following exceptions:

'cep except crap crept
empie empty disjaskit dejected
perfit perfect    

In many words a <d> after <n> and <l> may be silent.

auld old sinder separate
cauld cold laund land (a tenement)
haund hand roond round
hunder hundred mynd remember

Connected Speech

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 sound.
Reduction - here vowels are reduced to /ɪ/ or /ə/.

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 sections.

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 is followed.

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.

North Northern Scots North Northern Scots Mid Northern Scots South Northern Scots South East Central Scots West Central Scots West Central Scots West Central Scots South West Central Scots Southern Scots Gaidhealtachd North East Central Scots Ulster Scots Ulster Scots Ulster Scots Insular Scots

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, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
    Although the Belfast dialect cannot be considered Scots it does include a number of features of Ulster Scots origin.
  • 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 line Gaelic 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, the pronunciation/x/ where Standard English cognates have /f/ or /Ø/, 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.

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