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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