Category Archives: Scots

Is English a Scandinavian Language?

Philip Andrews writes:

It is surprising how little attention is paid to the influence of the Danelaw on the English language. no one in Old English academia seems to want to touch it. It’s a Norwegian article that has claimed English is a Scandinavian language.

Anglo-Saxon and the Early post-Norman Conquest English church put the dampers on the Scandinavian influence. Even the story of the Norman Conquest’ reads quite differently in the Norse Saga version to how it comes through the AS Chronicle.

AS lost most of its grammar to the Norse of the Danelaw. That’s why English has not the inflection system of Continental Germanic but rather that of Norse. I’m happy to think of English as Norse in grammar and Syntax but mostly Latin-French in vocabulary. About 60+% of English derives from Latin-French.

Personally I question the old story of the Normans being ‘Northmen’. Another AS/Norman manipulation. It was 1,000 years ago but the Normands were in what is now France earlier. Records 1,000 years ago as now were subject to political manipulation.

Why did William go to the Pope for a Blessing for a Crusade? Because he was intent on driving the pagan Vikings out of England and Christianizing the place under Norman tutelage. Hence the Harrying of the North. Yorkshire is still far more ‘Norse’ than any other part of England. Listening to people north of Watford speak English and you’re listening to Norse accents speaking English. With Norse words in dialects. If William hadn’t come with mounted archers (from the East) he could never have defeated the Vikings.

Much of English history abroad (empire etc.) equates to versions of Viking raiding. Old Norse habits die hard.

I don’t really agree with this, but it is an interesting idea anyway.

I did some research on this question recently. England was settled by the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes.

There is a Low German language called Anglish which is spoken in an areas of the far north of Germany called Schlesweig-Holstein. Anglish is apparently the remains of the Low German language spoken by the Angles. This is a peninsula that connects Germany with Denmark. The southern half of the peninsula is Germany, and the north half is Denmark. Anglish is not readily intelligible with any other Low German language, even those nearby.

The Saxons were found a bit to the south, but I believe that they also came from this peninsula.

And it is interesting that in this part of Germany, especially around Fleisburg on the border, the dialect of Low German that they speak is more or less intelligible not with Danish but with a Danish dialect called South Jutnish that is so divergent that in my opinion, it is a separate language from Danish. Danish speakers have poor intelligibility of South Jutnish. From the Net:

Sønderjysk is often seen as very difficult for other speakers of Danish even other Jysk or Jutnish dialects to understand. Instead of the normal Danish stød, it has tonal accents like Swedish. Many of the phonemes are also different, including velar fricatives much like in German. It also has the definite article before the noun, as opposed to the standard Danish postclitic article. South Jutlandic is surely a separate language.

So in this part of Germany, there are Low German lects that are actually intelligible with Danish lects. So here is where “German” and “Danish” are nearly transitional. However, Standard German and Standard Danish are not intelligible with each other at all. Nevertheless, German speakers can pick up Danish and other Scandinavian languages pretty easily.

And South Jutnish itself is interesting in that Jutnish was one of the languages spoken by one of the tribes that invaded England, the Jutes. So one of “Anglo-Saxon” tribes that invaded England actually spoke something like “Danish.” South Jutnish itself is said to be quite a bit like English, especially the older forms of English. There are stories about speakers of the pure Scots language spoken in Scotland going to the South Jutnish area and being able to converse with South Jutnish speakers.Scots can be thought of as English  from 500 years ago because Scots split from English about 500 years ago. So in this case we have West Germanic and North Germanic speakers who are able to actually converse.

There is also a suggestion based on the fact that North Germanic South Jutnish is intelligible with whatever odd West Germanic Low German lect is spoken near Fleisburg that South Jutnish itself may be nearly German-Danish transitional.

A few take-home points: the “Anglo-Saxons” actually something a lot more like Low German than Standard German. Low German and Standard German are separate languages and German speakers cannot understand Low German. And the “Anglo-Saxons” also spoke something like “Danish” in the form of Jutnish. Also all of these Low German lects that made up “Anglo-Saxon” came from the far north of Germany where “German” and “Danish” start to nearly blend into each other or better yet where West Germanic and North Germanic are almost transitional.

In addition to the evidence coming from the Danelaw area of England where actual Danish speakers settled, it appears that the Scandinavian or North Germanic influence in English is more with Danish than with any other Scandinavian language.

However, 2/3 of the Anglo-Saxon components were actually from West Germanic Low German lects which are not readily intelligible with any Danish, not even with South Jutnish.

It is often said that the closest language to English is West Frisian, spoken in the northwest of the Netherlands. This is a Germanic language that is close to Dutch. In fact, some say that West Frisian itself is straight up from Old Saxon, which is the language that the Saxons of the Anglo-Saxons spoke. A man who is able to speak Old English went to the West Frisia area of the Netherlands and spoke to an old farmer there who spoke good West Frisian. They were actually able to hold a conversation in English from 1,000 years ago and West Frisian of today. West Frisian of course is a West Germanic language.

However, if you look into the mater a bit more, the language that is closest to English is the endangered North Frisian, with 66% cognates with English in the most frequently used words, a bit more than West Frisian. Nevertheless, 66% cognates in the most frequently used words doesn’t do any good for intelligiblity. I listened to a 10 minute broadcast of an old woman speaking North Frisian and I could not understand one word.

North Frisian, which actually may be up to five separate languages, is also spoken in that same peninsula of far northern Germany that Anglish, Saxon and Jutnish were spoken in. However, it is spoken on the east coast of the peninsula whereas Anglish and Saxon were spoken more to the west. So once again with North Frisian and English we see one more connection with this far northern part of Germany that borders on Denmark. Yet North Frisian is a West Germanic language, not a North Germanic Scandinavian language.

A language called Ingeavonic was spoken long ago in this region, and some put “Anglo-Frisian” in a West Germanic node under Ingeavonic. For a long time there was something called the North Sea Fisherman’s lect that originated in this same part of Germany but over on the west coast by Fleisburg rather than on the east coast by the North Frisian language. It was said that fishermen from all over the North Sea from the nations of Germany, the Netherlands, England, Scotland, Norway and Sweden spoke this lingua franca or trade language. This North Sea Fisherman’s language is said to have looked a lot like Ingaevonic.

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Is English a German or Scandinavian Language?

S. D. writes: I’m German American. Half my family is Prussian German and the other half is from Munich in the South. I can answer this, sort of.

English is actually from Denmark.

These folks were never from Germany, they were from Saxony and Angles They were Scandinavians.

Normans brought a great deal of Latin words into the English language but they themselves were Norwegians.

Brits have no German in them. They are Scandinavian and Celtic. Their language reflects this.

Wait a minute. English is a West Germanic language. It is in the same branch of Germanic as German. The most closely related language to English is Frisian, which is spoken as probably up to seven separate languages in Northwestern Netherlands and Northwestern and Far Northern Germany.

Scandinavian is North Germanic. All of these languages are straight up from Old Norse.

English is up from Old German, or more properly the Anglo-Frisian branch. Frisian is straight up from Old Saxon, which gives you a clue to what the Anglo-Saxons were speaking.

A man who knows how to speak Old English recently went to Frisia with a TV crew. He stopped and talked to an old farmer who was a Frisian speaker. He could actually communicate with this guy with him speaking Old English and the farmer speaking Frisian (“Modern Saxon”). If you look at Old English, it looks like German. If you hear a tape of someone reading Beowulf, it sounds like someone speaking German. Not only that, but you cannot understand a word.

The British are mostly a Celtic or even a pre-Celtic people. On top of that is layered some German (the Anglo-Saxons), some French (the Normans) and some Danish on the east and north, formerly the Daneland.

I have heard stories about the Normans being Vikings or Norwegians, but I am not sure about that. They were living in France when they invaded. One of my distant ancestors is Eleanor of Acquitaine, Queen of England. She was from the West Central Coast of France.

The Normans brought a lot of French words into English. Actually they spoke Norman, which is a completely separate language from French and is still alive to this day, though it is endangered. But it is related to French. Norman split off from Old French in ~800-1000 CE.

The Scottish and especially the Irish have a lot of Scandinavian blood in them due to a lot of Viking raids in those places. That is why there is all the red and blond hair and green and blue eyes there (red hair and green eyes in Ireland and blond hair and blue eyes in Scotland).

It is true that a lot of Latin borrowings came into English during the Norman period and even afterwards, as Latin was the language of science, technology and government. Some Danish words did go into English from the Daneland. Scots and a lot of the incomprehensible English dialects from northeastern English such as Geordie have heavy Danish influence.

However, there is a little something to your theory. The three tribes in that area that all invaded England were called the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes. The Angles and Saxons lived from northeastern Netherlands through Northwestern and Far Northern Germany, but the Jutes actually did inhabit Far Southwest Denmark. They speak a language down there called South Jutish, and I am told that Danes cannot understand it at all. However, I have heard that a Jutish speaker and a Scots speaker from Scotland can actually somewhat communicate along the lines of the Old English speaker and the Frisian farmer!

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How Is Low German Best Classsified?

So, concerning Low German, is it a sub-classification of North Sea Germanic or Low Saxon-Low Franconian? Glottolog and Wikipedia say the former, Ethnologue says the latter.

I would say that it is Low Saxon – Low Franconian. Low Saxon in Germany anyway for all intents and purposes is Low German. This somewhat includes Dutch Low Saxon, but not so much anymore, as it seems to have merged a lot with Low Franconian. Low Franconian is just Dutch. Middle Franconian is more like Ripaurian and Moselle Franconian Middle German to the south and southeast of the Netherlands in the part of Germany near the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Northeastern France near the Lorraine.

I do not even kn ow what North Sea Germanic even is – is that Ingaevonic? That’s almost English – but Low German is nearly English itself – the Angles, Saxons and especially the Jutes spoke something like English, and South Jutnish, probably a separate language from Danish spoken in southeastern Denmark, is supposedly nearly intelligible with Scots!

At one time there was a “North Sea Fisherman’s Language” which was something like Ingaevonic, and they could all understand each other. Either their own speech was close enough to each other or they all adopted this sort of jargon based on their speech and that of the other North Sea fishermen, but at any rate, when they spoke this Sailor’s or Fisherman’s language, they could understand each other and sailors and fishermen could communicate with each other in all of the ports of the North Sea regardless of where they came from.

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600-650 Years of Linguistic Separation

Sounds something like this.

That is from The Canterbury Tales. They were written around 1390, which is about 620 years ago. I do not know about you guys, but my intelligiblity score of Middle English was 5%. I think there might be around 100 words in that sample, not sure. Middle English is quite simply not the same language as Modern English. It’s a different language altogether.

So if languages are split for 600-650 years, they may only have 5% intelligibility. That is if they do not continue to have connections with each other. If they continue to have linguistic connections with each other via speaking together and living in the same vicinity as the other tongue, the score can be a lot higher.

For instance, Scots separated from English ~500 years ago but I can get a lot more of Scots than I can of Chaucer. My intelligibility of Modern Scots is ~40%. But you see, Scots and English continued to be in regular contact. If Scots had taken off to Sweden or someplace like that, the score might be a lot lower. Scots’ continued interaction with English slows the rate of differentiation between tongues.

So after 500-650 years linguistic separation, you should have separate languages, and intelligibility may only be 5-40% (average 22%).

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Scots Texts

Here are some texts in the Scots language. I am getting really tired of people who keep insisting that this is just a dialect of English. And I bet if you heard it spoken you would understand even less than you do when it is written. Written down, you can make sense of some of it by figuring out the words. Good looking doing that when it’s spoken.

Embro to the Ploy (Robert Garioch 1909 – 1981)

The tartan tred wad gar ye lauch;
nae problem is owre teuch.
Your surname needna end in –och;
they’ll cleik ye up the cleuch.
A puckle dollar bill will aye
preive Hiram Teufelsdröckh
a septary of Clan McKay
it’s maybe richt eneuch,

Verflüch!

In Embro to the ploy.

The Auld High Schule, whaur mony a skelp
of triple-tonguit tawse
has gien a heist-up and a help
towards Doctorates of Laws,
nou hears, for Ramsay’s cantie rhyme,
loud pawmies of applause
frae folk that pey a pund a time
to sit on wudden raws,

gey hard

in Embro to the ploy.

The haly kirk’s Assembly-haa
nou fairly coups the creel
wi Lindsay’s Three Estatis, braw
devices of the Deil.
About our heids the satire stots
like hailstanes till we reel;
the bawrs are in auld-farrant Scots,
it’s maybe jist as weill,

imphm,

in Embro to the ploy.

From Hannlin Rede [yearly report] 2012–2013 (the Männystèr o Fairms an Kintra Fordèrin, 2012)

We hae cum guid speed wi fettlin tae brucellosis, an A’m mintin at bein haleheidit tae wun tae tha stannin o bein redd o brucellosis aathegither. Forbye, A’m leukkin tae see an ettlin in core at fettlin tae tha TB o Kye, takkin in complutherin anent a screengin ontak, tha wye we’ll can pit owre an inlaik in ootlay sillert wi resydentèrs. Mair betoken, but, we’ll be leukkin forbye tae uphaud an ingang airtit wi tha hannlins furtae redd ootcum disayses. An we’r fur stairtin in tae leukk bodes agane fur oor baste kenmairk gate, ‘at owre tha nixt wheen o yeirs wull be tha ootcum o sillerin tae aboot £60m frae resydentèrs furtae uphaud tha hale hannlin adae wi beef an tha mïlk-hoose.

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A Scots Lexicon

Here is a brief lexicon of some common words in the Scots language. The notion that Scots is a separate language from English frequently evokes howls of rage for all sorts of ignorant quarters. Whereas we calm linguists rarely get worked up about such things.

Look at that list below. Does that look like the English language? If someone came into your house and started talking to you using a lot of words like those, would you be able to understand them? How could you?

Obviously Scots and English are two separate languages. They split apart about 1500 for some reason. Anyone know why they might have split apart around that time? I do not.

a'thing      everything
ablo         lowest
adee         wrong
ae           one
ahint        behind
aiblins      perhaps
airselins    backwards
aisedom      leisure
anent        about, concerning
aneth        beneath
athort       across
atweesh      between
awfu         bursting
awgates      always
ay           always
ayont        beyond
bairnag      little
bairn        child
bann         curse
beard        bread
below        lower
ben          in
bide         live
birling      spinning
bittock      little bit
bosie        hug
bouat        lantern
boun         ready
bowk         retch
brae         slope
braw         fine, handsome
brawlies     splendidly
breeks       britches
brulzie      broil
buiner       upper
buinmaist    topmost
bummer       foggy
burnie       small
burn         stream
byken        wasps' nest
cast         drop
caumie       calm
caur         calves
chap         knock
Cheordag     Geordie
chield       fellow
claik        gossip
cludgie      toilet
clum         climbed
cowp         overturn
cuit         ankle
darg         work
daunter      saunter
dicht        wipe
dous         pigeons
dowp, dock   butt
dree         endure
dreich       dreary
dunch        push
een          eyes
endweys      straight ahead
evyte        avoid
Fa?          Who?
fair         very
Fan?         When?
fauchelt     tired
fauch        fallow
Faur?        Where?
feartie      coward
fell         kill
feth         faith
Filk?        Which?
fillie       long time
Fit?         What?
fly          cup of tea
fon          folly
forenicht    evening
forenuin     morning
forfochten   tired
fowkgates    culture
fuishen      fetched
futrat       weasel
Fy?          Why?
gaberlunzie  a beggar
gaed         went
gamie        gamekeeper
gate         street
gealt        cold
geylies      pretty well
girse        grass
gloamin      early morning
gnegum       tricky nature
grieve       overseer
gulsochs     sweets, cream cakes, donuts, caramels
haingles     influenza
hauflins     partly
hause        neck
heuch        cliff
hidlins      secretly
hooseockie   small house
hypothec     shebang
ilkagate     everywhere
ilkawey      everywhere
ingangin     reception
kent         knew
knapdarloch  dung knots in wool on a sheep's bottom
kye          cows
lavvy        toilet
ligaun       dusk, day
louns        boys
lown         calm
luif         palm
luitten      let
maistlins    almost
maunna       mustn't
maw          seagull
mayat        meat, food
Menzies      Mackenzie
muith        sultry
nether       lower
ngan         onion
onygate      anyhow
oo           wool
pad          path
piece        food
playock      toy
pooshun      poison
qoho         for whom
queans       girls
rax          stretch
raxt         reached
ream         cream
reive        steal
rhodie       rhododendron
ruise        praise
sark         shirt
scaith       damage
sheuch       ditch
skelpit      smacked
skelp        smack
sour rock    sorrel
spae         foretell
spate        flood
speir        inquire
speirt       asked
stank        a drain
steek        shut
stoursucker  vacuum cleaner
stroup       spout
sybae        onion
the hairst   autumn
the nou      at the moment
thir         these
thrang       busy
tint         lost
twaloors     midday
twalt        twelfth 
weeoors      twilight
wey          at times
whit wey     how
wifeockie    little woman
wyte         blame
yett         gate

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Is Scottish a Separate Language from English?

thelyniezian writes:

I have certainly heard it argued that the Anglic language spoken in Scotland constitutes a separate Scots language, not simply another set of dialects. However, many people use standard English now anyway if they’re not in casual conversation with other Scots. At least when they go on TV if nothing else. Much the same as with a lot of old English regional dialects, though they’re not different enough to be classified as distinct languages.

The reason they are similar is probably because a lot of the Lowland areas were once part of various Anglo-Saxon kingdoms such as Bernicia and later Northumbria, and would have spoken a form of Old English.

Actually, Scots is indeed a separate language. It has an ISO code from SIL, and they are the ones that give out ISO codes. Anything that has an ISO code means that linguistic science feels that it is a separate language. Scots actually split off from Middle English in ~1500, so it has been separated for 500 years. The amount of divergence in Scots (English has only 42% intelligibility of Scots) is around what you might expect after 500 years of separation.

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The Scottish Don’t Speak English Anyway

The Scottish Independence Vote is coming soon. They may as well form a separate country as they already speak a foreign language.

Ronnie writes:

I could believe that Neanderthal came from Glasgow.

Sorry, should have explained the Neanderthal from Glasgow connection. Primarily the language still spoken, in modern times. Also some behavioural traits, such as the instinctive continued use of crude sharp weapons under circumstances where territory is threatened by someone not of the tribe inadvertently wandering into the wrong area, or when protecting food.

All I know is Glaswegian is a foreign language and once you get up in the islands, I doubt if even the Lowland Scots can understand their compatriots anymore.

Heading into a coffee shop, I heard these two guys talking a language that sounded really familiar to me, but I could not place it. The rhythm almost seemed like English, but I couldn’t understand a single word they said. In line at Starbucks, I innocently asked them what language they were speaking, and they looked offended and answered English. I was going to ask them if they were speaking Scots, but they acted like they didn’t want to talk about it anymore. I am now convinced that they were speaking Scots.

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Robert Burns, “Tam O Shanter”

This poem was written in and is being read in a language called Scots, which is not a dialect of English as many people think. Scots split off from English in ~1500, or 500 years ago. This is approximately what two languages sound like when they have been split apart for 500 years. I listened to this, although I can make out some words and even phrases here and there, honestly, I do not have the faintest idea what he is talking about, and I am missing most of this language. I can hear ~25% of it, if that.  However, a good friend of mine from England listened to it and she said she could make out ~70%. So there you go. See if you can make heads or tails of this stuff.

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Mutual Intelligibility of Scots and Scottish English with Other English Varieties

Lesley writes:

Do you mean Scots as in Robert Burns or just a Scottish accent with slang e.g Trainspotting? I’m not sure Scots (Robert Burns) is a different language as such, just a far older dialect, like the English Shakespeare wrote in or they wrote in the 17th century etc, certain ways of speech have changed over the centuries and certain words have fallen out of common use. Even writers like Jane Austen write a fair bit different than people would today, but she can still be understood after a short time with a little patience. Actual Old English is another language though:

(Sorry to repeat myself)

I’d say Robert Burns and Shakespeare are about equally hard to understand to modern readers or listeners, but it’s far easier to make out some of what their saying than it is with Old English – which is a completely different language. I think understanding Shakespeare or Robert Burns could be taught in a few short lessons, where as to learn Old English would be more like trying to learn German or something, though we’d notice a few similarities to English.

I think if you are talking about Americans inability to understand Scots (Robert Burns) without any proper lessons then fair enough, but if your just taking about a Scottish accent i.e like the one in Trainspotting, then it’s probably more a case of they just don’t want to attempt to understand.

The 42% figure is for the real Scots language, not for Scottish English, the dialect used in Trainspotting.

Middle English (Canterbury Tales) and Modern English are two separate languages.

Shakespeare is much easier to understand than Scots. When I play a video of a person speaking Scots to an American English speaker, they look puzzled for a bit, then they start shaking their heads and laughing, then pretty soon, they just start waving their hands and laughing and leave the room, saying, “I don’t want to listen to this anymore.” When I go to ask them, they usually say they could barely understand a single word of it. However, some American English speakers say they can understand it better than that.

Two men were speaking Scots while I was walking into a coffee shop recently. The rhythm of it sounded very familiar, and I kept thinking maybe they were speaking English, but obviously they were not speaking English at all. Instead they were clearly speaking some weird foreign language. I thought it might have been Dutch or Danish. They got in back of me in line and I asked them what language they were speaking and they looked offended and said, “English.” I shook my head and said, “Huh?” They didn’t want to pursue it any further, but it was soon obvious that they were speaking Scots.

A former commenter on this blog speaks Scottish English but he tells me that he can’t really understand a word of Scots except for the variety spoken right around where he grew up. He said Scots speakers from 20-30 miles away can’t understand each other. He said he had a Scots speaking with co-worker who spoke a Scots variety different from the one he grew up once for 9 months, and in that whole time, he understood maybe 10 words. He just nodded his head and said, “Sure thing, mate,” whenever the man said anything.

Americans who watch Trainspotting typically say that it is horribly hard to understand and often say they wish it had subtitles. I believe later versions did have subtitles. It is certainly not true that Americans do not want to understand Scottish English. We simply cannot make heads or tails of what in God’s name they are talking about no matter how hard we listen to them.

But Americans understand Scottish English better than Scots.

Americans have a horrible time with Scouse, Yorkshire, Geordie, Cockney, Somerset and other atrocities, whereas the British have an easier time with them. I have an English friend from Somerset who lived in the US for six years. She tells me that people were always saying that they could not understand her. I sometimes have a hard time understanding her myself!

Lesley comes from London. Speakers of British English can definitely understand the more difficult British English lects better than we Americans can. I also hear that they can understand Scottish English and even Irish English better than we can. So the British cannot translate their experiences to ours.

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