The Scots Language: An Introduction and Resources

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Before I get into my story, I want to establish that I’m talking about the Scots language not Scottish Gaelic.

Scottish Gaelic is a Celtic language very distantly related to English. Scots is a Germanic language very closely related to English in ways that I’ll describe further in the article.

Origins of My Journey with the Scots Language

My interest in the Scots language began recently when I was curious about learning what the closest language to English was.

I recently began learning Spanish, after having studied Portuguese for more than two years.

One great thing about having learned Portuguese before Spanish was that vocabulary acquisition is happening incredibly quick compared to when I began learning Portuguese and had no knowledge of a romance language.

I was curious to know if there were any languages that had a similar relationship to English that Spanish and Portuguese have.

There are many languages which have a language that’s to some degree or another comprehensible to native speakers. There are many examples of this, some of them are Russian and Ukrainian, Norwegian and Swedish, and of course Spanish and Portuguese along with other mixes of Romance languages.

YouTube offered me some interesting suggestions when searching for closely related languages to English. Frisian was one that seemed to pop up a lot, but after watching a Langfocus analysis of the language on YouTube I wasn’t sold on the idea.

Langfocus video on the Frisian language

Frisian didn’t seem any more distinct from English than other languages that I looked into. The others were languages I had heard of as possibly being the closest related language to English, the three main ones being Dutch, Danish, and Afrikaans.

English is unique in some sense because it’s been influenced by many different languages over time, mostly by French, Old Norse, and Latin. As a result, it doesn’t seem to be strongly linked to any one language in particular.

Discovering the Scots Language

There didn’t seem to be any obvious candidate for the closest language to English until I came across the Scots language. It was the first time that I had come across it despite being a language nerd for most of my adult life.

Some don’t even consider Scots to be a language seperate from English.

The Scots language broke off from English in the 15th century as English moved out of Middle English into early Modern English. One of the big differences between the two languages is that English experienced the Great Vowel shift while Scots didn’t. Scots ended up retaining a lot of characteristics from Middle English.

As I began learning more about Scots, I noticed it’s similarities with English in basic words that are the same in spelling like he, on, as, etc. Also, in words that are clear cognates with still recognizable differences like house – hoose in Scots or was – wis in the Scots language.

Moreover, Scots has a lot of vocabulary distinct from English. Words like sprauchle – to move with difficulty give Scots a unique personality. 

The above vocabulary examples thought out from the first lecture in Dr. Michael Dempster’s Scots course on YouTube.

This contrast of differences and similarities with English is something that attracts me to the Scots language. It’s as if I’m weaving in and out of my own culture as I’m reading Scots.

Sometimes I come across sentences in Scots that are so similar to English that I sometimes question what language I’m reading.

Other times it seems like a rather ditinct language. For example, “An A’v aye wantit tae tell fowk efter A’v fun oot jist whit A fun oot.” This example comes from Dr. Michael Dempster’s MindYerLanguage about page.

A TEDx Talk by Dr. Michael Dempster built my interest in Scots even further.

He discussed in detail about how we associate our earliest memories with our native language and about how our culture and native language are interconnected.

Dr. Michael Dempster’s TEDx Talk on Socts

Methods to Learn Scots

One difficult aspect of learning the Scots language or the Scots Leid – as it’s said in Scots – is the challenge of finding resources and tools for learning the language.

Typically, my strategy for learning a language would start by using a couple of applications on a daily basis, LingQ and Duolingo.

LingQ because it’s my go-to language learning resource that I use for every proficiency level of a language and Duolingo to start a language because of its ability to help me learn fundamental vocabulary.

The amount of time I use Duolingo until I no longer feel that I’m benefiting from it has ranged from a few days with Spanish to a few months with Mandarin Chinese.

When it comes to Scots, LingQ would be the ideal language learning tool for a language so closely related to English.

LingQ – The Best Language Learning App?

Using LingQ to learn Spanish has been a dream come true because I can learn vocabulary quickly by reading text and listening to audio while learning a large chunk of words through Portuguese cognates.

Unfortunately, I don’t have this option with the Scots language.

After researching some potential resources, I did find that I have some options to choose from.

For starters, Memrise offers courses as it does for a large number of lesser spoken languages. This is a resource that I’ve already dabbled with to learn Scots.

Snapshot from the Scots in Pictures 1: Animals course

Memrise seems like a good starting point but the amount of content available is limited, especially from a long-term perspective.

To begin learning more about Scots and build my interest in the language, I’ve started watching a course on YouTube by Dr. Michael Dempster.

Michael is the guy that gave the TEDx talk on Scots that I included earlier in the article. His YouTube channel is MindYerLanguage? and you can find the course here.

You can also check out Michael’s website at http://mindyerlanguage.scot/ where you can find more information and resources to learn Scots.

Goals for Learning Scots

Learning Scots will start as a casual endeavor for me, I don’t have any daily study goals established or any long-term expectations for studying the language.

Ultimately, I’d like to be able to communicate and read literature in the language.

It’s likely that my pursuit of the Scots language will go something like this: I’ll finish the Memrise courses and Dr. Michael Dempster’s YouTube course mention previously. My plan also includes talking an italki class with the sole Scots tutor I’ve found on italki.

Beyond that I will probably start exploring authentic content in Scots, books and what video content I can find.

Is Scots a Language or a Dialect of English?

As someone that is a native speaker of North American English, Scots seems quite foreign to me.

There was a poll done by the Scottish government asking people whether or not they believed Scots was a language.

64% of Scottish people either slightly or strongly agreed that Scots wasn’t a language but rather that it is a way of speaking.

I came across this poll in this video on Scots by Langfocus.

It seemed quite shocking to me to see that 64% of Scotts don’t believe Scots is a language.

The Scots language likely sounds more foreign to someone outside of Scotland, where Scots and Scottish English have likely influenced each other.

Someone from Australia, Canada, or the United States would likely find slang and some vocabulary in Scottish English foreign. This surely influences how much a Scott compared to a Canadian for instance might consider Scots a language or a dialect.

This is question of whether or not Scots is a language is something I hope to gain clarity on as I learn more about the language.

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