Scotland’s linguistic launscape - Scottish Staunart English and Scots |

Scotland’s linguistic launscape – Scottish Staunart English and Scots

Today, we are fortunate to welcome another guest article from Ashley Douglas written in Scots. Ashley is an Edinburgh-based researcher, writer, and translator working in Scots, Gaelic, Danish, and German. She specialises in Scots original research, writing, translation, style guide and glossary development as well as talks & consultancy. Her areas of special interest include Scottish history and archaeology, politics, linguistics, queer history and culture.

Ashley wrote previously about the ‘Spirit of Scots’ language, and you can read the full article here. You can also see an English version of this article here.

Ashley Douglas Scots

Follow Ashley on Twitter or by visiting her website here.



Scotland’s linguistic launscape – Scottish Staunart English and Scots

Dae ye ken yer language varieties fae yer languages? Yer dipthongs fae yer monopthongs? The difference atween code-switchin and bein twa-leidit?

Scotland’s linguistic launscape, makkit up maistly o the language variety that is Scottish Staunart English and the language that is Scots, is a guid place tae stert fur tae get yer heid aroond these concepts, which ye cannae jouk awa fae gin speirin efter localisation or owersettin services in a Scottish context.

Varieties o Global English

Gin Global English is unnerstuid as ‘the hale English language in aw its varieties, iverywhaur, and aw its yaisers…’, syne Scottish Staunart English (or ‘SSE’) is the naitional variety o pluricentric Global English spak and scrievit in Scotland.

At its maist basic, it can be thocht o as English wi a wheen uniquely Scotland-specific featurs that sinder it fae ither Warld Englishes, includin: accent (phonology), wirds (vocabulary), grammar and syntax (the wey that sentences are biggit), and idiom (seyins, specific yaise o wirds, etc). 

Anither variety o Global English is the staunart English o (sooth-east) England, which is also referred tae as ‘RP (Received Pronoonciation) English’ or ‘The Queen’s English’.

US English is anither exemple o a variety o Global English; although accents micht differ fae state tae state, it is English spak with significantly siblike US phonology forby US-specific grammar, idiom and vocabulary (e.g. fall/autumn, vacation/holiday, line/queue, pants/trousers).

As a non-English exemple o siblike language varieties, we micht tak tent o the German, Austrian, and Swiss naitional staunart varieties o the German language.

Scottish Staunart English

Sae, whit are a hantle o featurs o Scottish Staunart English, as a sindry naitional variety o Global English?


Let’s stert wi a wheen kenable phonological (accent/soond) featurs, set oot in contrast tae the staunart English o England; whaur ‘English’ is yaised fae noo on, it refers tae thon variety.

  • SSE is rhotic, meanin that ‘r’ soonds in the middle and at the end o wirds are pronoonced. In English, on the ither haun, which isnae rhotic, these are pronoonced as mair or less ae lang vowel soond. Tak tent o the twa-syllable rhotic pronoonciation o the wirds ‘girl’ or ‘world’ in a Scottish accent, fur exemple, compared wi its elongatit vowel pronoonciation in English. Forby, whaur English speikers pronoonce Scots wirds that kythe in Scottish Staunart English, sic as ‘kirk’, they apply English pronoonciation – sae ‘kirk’ will soond like it has ae lang vowel in the middle, whaur an SSE speiker will pronoonce it wi a rhotic ‘r’.
  • SSE has gey kenable vowel soonds. Fur exemple, the vowel soonds in wirds sic as ‘go’, ‘know’, and ‘slow’ are short, shairp, and monopthong; in English, these are elongatit diphtong vowel soonds. Tak tent forby o the apocryphal tale o the English textbuik yaised in primary schuils that telt pupils tae be tentie and no confuse the preposition ‘for’ and the numeral ‘four’, as they  were homonyms. Noo, this micht weel be the case in the staunart English o England, but it fair dumfoonert Scottish bairns, fur whaim, although scrievit the ae wey, the twa wirds are gey kenably distinct, wi sindry vowel soonds, and ‘four’ bein disyllabic forby. (In Scots proper, the twa wirds are even mair sindry: ‘fur’ vs ‘fower’).
  • The fricative ‘ch’ soond is anither kenable featur o SSE pronoonciation, as luggit intae in wirds sic as ‘loch’ and ‘broch’ and place nemmes sic as ‘Kinloch Rannoch’; English speikers pronoonce these as ‘k’. (Tak tent that, whaur the ‘ch’ soond in SSE is limitit tae wirds that kythe gey frequent and place nemmes, it is faur mair widespreid in the Scots language proper, kythin regular in aw sorts o pairt o speech, but essentially whaurivver English orthography has ‘-gh’; e.g. licht, thocht, delichtit.).
  • SSE (and Scots) speikers tend tae aspirate wh-wirds, sic that there is a difference in pronoonciation atween ‘which’ and ‘witch’, wi aspiration on the first ane.


There is a rowth o vocabulary specific tae the English spak and scrievit in Scotland. Muckle o this unique wird-kist (it is nae muckle surprise tae learn) derives fae the Scots and Gaelic leids unique tae Scotland. These can fur ordinar be sortit intae ‘covert’ and ‘overt’ Scotticisms.

In the case o the first group, SSE speikers are maistly unawaurs that they are yaisin Scotland-specific vocabulary; the preposition ‘outwith’ is a kenable example o this ‘covert Scotticism’ phenomenon, alang wi vocabulary sic as timeous, dram, ceilidh, swither, thole, burn (in the sense o ‘a stream’), sporran, messages (as in ‘groceries’) and yaisin the verb to mindtae mean to remember/recall’ or the verb ‘to greet’ tae mean ‘to weep/cry’.

Overt Scotticisms, on the ither haun, are a mair conscious choice by the SSE speiker. This group is like as no tae include wirds sic as bonnie, stushie, fantoosh, bairn, bourach, haiver, scunnered, blether, sleekit, braw, flit, coorie, weel-kent, peelie-wallie, shooglie, or high heid yin.


Grammatical or syntactical featurs that kenmerk SSE, aw influenced by Scots, include things sic as:

  • negatit verbal endins in ‘-ae’, sic as on wouldnae, dinnae, willnae, shouldnae (wouldn’t, don’t, won’t, shouldn’t). (Tak tent forby o SSE and Scots ‘gonnae’; a contraction o Scots ‘gaun tae’ (going to)).
  • a gey flexible approach tae preterites (simple/ae-verb past) and past participles, (complex/compoond/twa-verb past), which are are yaised mair or less interchyngably. This is cried ‘reduced verb paradigm’. Fur exemple, ‘I seen that on social media’ and ‘I’ve ran’ are perfectly braw Scottish Staunart English (cf. English ‘I saw that on social media’ and ‘I’ve run’).
  • a kenable aversion tae ‘must’ and ‘ought’ as modal verbs in SSE in favour o ‘have to/need to’ (this is the case in Scots forby, whaur ‘must’ is joukit in favour o ‘maun’ or, like SSE, ‘hae tae’ or ‘need tae/needin tae’).
  • negative pairticle ‘no’ (cf. English ‘not’). Fur exemple ’He’s surely no arguing that…’ or ‘I’m no sure whether I’ll be there.’ This is a gey frequent featur o spoken SSE, though aft rendert ‘not’ in scrievit SSE; i.e. it is a covert Scotticism. (In Scots, by contrast, the negative pairticles ‘no’ (and ‘nae’) are weel-estaiblished featurs o baith the scrievit and spak leid).
  • deletion o ‘f’ in reflexive pronoons: fur exemple, yersel/hersel (yourself/herself).
  • weak past tense forms o specific verbs: fur exemple, telt/selt (told/sold).
  • that-relativisation: fur exemple, the people that were there (cf. English: the people who were there).


Scottish Staunart English has monie distinct idioms and seyins, monie o which come fae Scots. These straiddle high and low register and include exemples sic as ‘it’s a sair fecht’, ‘yer jaiket’s on a shooglie peg’, ‘facts are chiels that winna ding’, ’gies peace’, ‘dinnae fash yersel’ and ‘’keep the heid (whaurby the hindmaist exemple wis, in fack, pairt o the Scots Government’s public health messagin aroond Covid restrictions).

Tak tent that, whan a speiker o SSE, but no Scots, yaises siclike seyins, they are yaisin Scots in the ae wey as they micht yaise a wird or phrase fae onie ither fremmit leid in their itherwise English speech; thon is tae sey, in muckle the ae wey as an English speiker micht yaise the French phrase ‘c’est la vie’ or the German wird ‘Schadenfreude’ as a len-wird or seyin.


Unlike Scottish Staunart English, Scots is no a variety o Global English, but a Germanic leid in its ain richt, wi its ain unique grammar, syntax, vocabulary and idiom. It is gey closely relatit tae ither West Germanic languages, sic as English, German and Dutch, forby tae the North Germanic languages o Danish, Swedish and Norwegian. Fur a mair detailed airticle on some o the featurs o Scots by the ae author, click here.

Scots and English

Whan we see Scots and English side by side, it’s nae ower fykie tae tell the twa apairt – or, tae quote the English version o this airticle “it’s not hard to tell the two apart” – as twa distinct leids.

A braw exemple o side-by-side Scots and English is the Naitional Leebrar o Scotland’s Wee Windaes wabsite. It leams a skyrie licht on a hantle o Scots literature ootthrough Scotland’s bygane through twa-leid featurs, whaur readers hae ingang tae baith Scots and English versions o ilka airticle.

Scottish Staunart English – Steppin Stane or Spectrum?

The makkit-up sentences ablow illustrate hoo SSE can be seen as a steppin stane atween English and Scots.

I thought I saw him at the loch (England Staunart English)

[English vowel soonds; English simple past ‘saw’; English pronoonciation ‘lock’]

I thought I seen him at the loch (Scottish Staunart English)

[Scottish vowel soonds; reduced verb paradigm ‘seen’; Scottish pronoonciation ‘loch’]

Ah thocht Ah seen him at the loch (Scots)

[Scots pronoons; Scots verb ‘thocht’; Scots vowel soonds; Scots reduced verb paradigm ‘seen’; Scots pronoonciation ‘loch’]

Bylin the Linguistic Puddock

Let us tak a closer glisk at this steppin stane or spectrum norrie.

I know the girl who went to Linlithgow two years ago 

I know the girl that went to Linlithgow two years ago

I know the girl that went tae Linlithgow two years ago

I know the girl that went tae Linlithgow two year ago

I ken the girl that went tae Linlithgow two year ago

I ken the lassie that went tae Linlithgow two year ago

Ah ken the lassie that went tae Linlithgow two year ago

Ah ken the lassie that went tae Linlithgow twa year ago

Ah ken the lassie that gaed tae Linlithgow twa year ago

Ah ken the lassie that gaed tae Lithgae twa year ago

Ah ken the lassie that gaed tae Lithgae twa year syne


The first sentence – pronoonced wi Scottish vowel soonds (e.g. on ‘know’ and ‘ago’) and the r-soond on ‘girl’ – is nae doot Scottish Staunart English; as is the saicont ane, shawin that-relativisation. The hindermaist twa-three sentences are equally dootless and richt oot Scots.

The sentences in atween, hooivver, shaw hoo the sibness o Scots and English means that speikers o baith can Scotticise or Anglicise a sentence in a mainner awmaist sleekitly subtle, flittin slicht up and doon a skytie slidin scale – bylin the linguistic puddock, sae tae speik.

It is gey important, hooivver, tae mak skyrie clear that the existence o sic a spectrum doesnae detract in onie wey fae the freestaunin Germanic language status o Scots at ae extreme end, and the Scots-inflectit English variety status o SSE at the ither; in the ae wey that blue is blue, and yellae is yellae, awbeit ye can hae a hale spectrum o colour in atween.

Heidline Pynts Tae Tak Awa

Gin it’s whiles fykie tae pinpynt the verra moment that SSE becomes Scots, or Scots becomes SSE, the follaen pynts are no in onie doot:

  • There is a gey high degree o mutual unnerstaunin atween Scottish Staunart English and ither varieties o Global English – includin the staunart English o England. This is nae muckle surprise, fur they are aw variants o the ae language – English.
  • Scots and English, as closely relatit West Germanic languages, share a degree o mutual unnerstaunin forby, in muckle the ae wey as dae the North Germanic languages o Danish, Norwegian and Swedish. Hooivver, the mutual unnerstaunin atween Scots and English (twa languages) is o coorse faur less nor the degree o mutual unnerstaunin that exists atween SSE and English (twa varieties o ae single language).
  • A bodie whae can speik baith Scots and Scottish Staunart English (i.e. a variant o English) is twa-leidit, or bilingual, in the twa languages o Scots and English.
  • The sociolinguistic norrie o “code switchin” is yaisefu fur tae consider mair subjective speirins sic as anent whan and whit fur speikers o SSE and Scots flit atween the twa. Hooivver, it is less yaisefu fur tae descrieve whit the speiker is daein. This is acause siclike flittin is, at its maist fundamental, a situation o bilingualism, or twa-leiditness – o flittin atween twa languages (and no atween sindry registers or varieties o the ae language).


Fur clients wi their een on a Scottish audience, it’s important tae tak tent o whither they are efter Scottish Staunart English (i.e. localisation o Global English) or fou owersettin intae the Scots language proper (or, indeed, intae Gaelic).

Whit wi the rowth and kenable distinctiveness o SSE illustratit abuin, it is clearly ayont doot crucial that onie English text is localised fur a Scottish context – baith fur tae maximise the rowth and rax tae be won fae Scotland’s unique linguistic launscape, forby tae jouk onie wirds that hae particular trauchlesome or comedic connotations in Scotland.

Scottish social media is fur regular left bucklet by exemples o whaur this hasnae taen place, fae John Lewis’ ‘Fud the Dragon’ (in Scotland: Vulva the Dragon) and ‘Mr Jobby’ the handyman (in Scotland: Mr Poo) – tae the non-dairy company wantin fowk tae neck a brand o tattie-based drink criedDug Milk(in Scotland: dog milk).

Sae, gin yer wantin tae jouk sic a riddy, mak siccar and yaise yer new kennin o Scots and SSE fur tae get yer English localised to Scotland – and/or yer material owerset intae the Scots language.