Regional Varieties of British English: Scottish Standard English

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2010

16 Pages, Grade: 2,0



1. Introduction

2. Definition Scottish Standard English vs. Scots

3. The History of Scottish Standard English

4. Differences between English Standard English and SSE
4.1 Phonology
4.1.1 Vowel System
4.1.2 Rhoticity
4.1.3 Vowel length
4.2 Consonants
4.3 Grammar
4.3.1 Differences in Tenses
4.3.2 Negation
4.4 Lexis
4.4.1 Loan Words

5. Scottish English today

6. Conclusion

7. Works Cited

1. Introduction

It's a braw bricht muin-licht nicht the nicht.

(literally: It's a beautiful bright moonlight night tonight.)

The Scottish enjoy hearing the English attempt to pronounce this sentence from Scots. It is hard for English people to pronounce this Scottish sentence since it contains the /x/-phoneme that English Standard English does not have. Therefore, Scots, in the eyes of English Standard English speakers, is quite a foreign language. But what happens when the two languages - English Standard English and Scots - merge and make up a new language, namely Scottish Standard English1 ? When and why did the influence of English on Scots start? How much of the language heritage from Scots was imported into SSE? Which special features in phonetics, grammar, and lexis can be found? What other languages influenced SSE and which so-called loanwords can still be found? This term paper will try to give answers to these questions.

Section two will give a definition of SSE in contrast to Scots and section three will give an overview of the historical background and development of SSE. The differences of SSE and English Standard English in phonetics, grammar and lexis will be described in sections 4.1, 4.2, 4.3 and 4.4 respectively. Finally, section five will discuss present day SSE.

2. Definition Scottish Standard English vs. Scots

In order to describe the term Scottish Standard English, one has to define the difference between SSE and Scots.

Aitken describes “SSE as a bipolar linguistic continuum, with broad Scots at one end and SSE at the other” (qtd. in Stuart-Smith 47). SSE is the result of language contact between the dialect Scots and the Standard English of England after the 17th century. The resulting shift to English usage by Scots-speakers resulted in many phonological compromises but also lexical transfers and special features in grammar, often mistaken for mergers by linguists unfamiliar with the history of SSE (cf. Macafee 60). However, there are also differences between SSE and Scots. As

Stuart-Smith states, “Scots is generally, but not always, spoken by the working classes, while Scottish Standard English is typical of educated middle class speakers” (Stuart-Smith 47). Therefore, Scots is increasingly becoming limited to certain domains, for example, amongst family and friends, while more formal occasions tend to invoke SSE (cf. Stuart-Smith 47). Nevertheless, about 80 per cent of Scotland's 6 million inhabitants still have access to Scots (cf. Stockwell 82). The line between Scots and SSE is, therefore, not clearly defined, but fuzzy and overlapping (cf. Stuart-Smith 47).

Finally, it can be said that SSE is the product of contact between dialects and the subsequent evolution of the language over many centuries. The next chapter it will illustrate why this contact happened and how and when the English influence on Scots began.

3.The History of Scottish Standard English

The beginning of English contact in Scotland goes back to the Angles who had occupied many parts Britain in the north of the Thames and had founded several kingdoms since the fifth century. The English influence increased during the 11th century when Malcolm III became Scottish king with the help of the English and a large number of the English fled from the Normans to the North. Later, those English moved to the South and East into the towns, the so-called burghs (e.g. Edinburgh), which can therefore be seen as starting points for the spreading of English (cf. Hansen, Carls, and Lucko 65). Due to this development the native language, Gaelic, was replaced and pushed back to the Highlands and the Hebrides. At first, the English spoken in Scotland was called Inglis but by the end of the 15th century the name Scottis (S cots) became more common (cf. Hansen, Carls, and Lucko 65). Murison states that “the golden age of Scots is considered to be the century between 1460 and 1560. It was a full national language […] (qtd. in Kirkpatrick 49). This was the final period of the alliance with France against England. During this alliance Scots gained a lot of French loan words that English did not have (cf. 3.2).

Until the Union of the Crowns in 1603, when King James VI of Scotland became James I of England, Scots flourished as a literary and spoken language. Since England was the larger and richer part of both kingdoms, James I moved his court to London. This event was, according to McClure, the “sudden and total eclipse of Scots as a literary language” because the poets of the court subsequently moved south and "began adapting the language and style of their verse to the tastes of the English market" (McClure 36). According to Hansen, Carls and Lucko the import of the Standard English that developed in England was supported by different measurements. On the one hand, by the increasing influence of Standard English from English literature (e.g. by Chaucer, Gowers, and Lydgates later by Shakespeare and Marlow) and the spreading of the Standard English Bible in 1579 - there was even a law that said that every household had to have a copy - and on the other hand by the increasing Anglicization of the Scottish letterpress by English pressmen in Edinburgh (cf. Hansen, Carls, and Lucko 66). Therefore, the use of English Standard English became a kind of prestige for the official areas so that the Scottish upper-class let their children be taught by teachers from England (cf. Hansen, Carls, and Lucko 66). The result of this development was that the English Standard English displaced Scots from the 18th century on and not only in the area of literature, but also in the oral tradition as well. Nevertheless, as Aitken argues, “all is not lost. In the words of one scholar, despite the Anglicization of Scottish speech over recent centuries, there is still a vast amount of Scots material current in everyday spoken usage” (Aitken, Languages of Scotland 116). Currently, this Scots material is what distinguishes Scottish Standard English from English Standard English. The special features of SSE derived from the “Scots heritage” that separate SSE from English Standard English will be described in the next chapter.

4. Differences between English Standard English and SSE

4.1 Phonology

4.1.1 Vowel System

In regards to the vowels, one has to notice that vowel systems are certainly not uniform over the English-speaking world. Therefore it is very hard to speak of one “general English vowel system”. It is in this area that some of the most important differences between SSE and English Standard English and its so-called Received Pronunciation (RP) are found. In contrast to other accents in England, there is a considerable systematic variation in Scotland (cf. Abercrombie 72).


1 abbreviated as SSE in the following

Excerpt out of 16 pages


Regional Varieties of British English: Scottish Standard English
University of Tubingen  (Englisches Seminar)
Englisch Grammar: Phonetics
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Varieties, British English, Scottish Standard English, Scottish, Scottish Phonetics, Phonetics, Scotland
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Daniel Buchmaier (Author), 2010, Regional Varieties of British English: Scottish Standard English, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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