Lowland Scots/Introduction



The name "Scots" signifies that the language is from Scotland, which was from the Latin word scotti. "Lowland" is just used to distinguish the language from Scottish Gaelic, which is completely unrelated, and many people refer to the Germanic Scots language as simply "Scots". Scots is a Germanic language closely related to English and spoken by about 1.5 million people in Scotland. Scots is descended from the language of the Angles who settled in northern Britain, in an area now known as Northumbria and southern Scotland, in the 5th century AD. The language was originally known as 'Inglis' and has since been influenced by Gaelic, Norse, Latin, Dutch, Norman French, Standard French and English.

By the 14th century Scots was the main language of Scotland and was used in literature, education, government and in legal documents. This was the period when Scots literature began to take off and notable literary works include Barbour's Brus, Whyntoun's Kronykil and Blin Harry's Wallace.

After the union of the Scottish and English parliaments in 1707, English became the language of government and of polite society in Scotland, though the vast majority of people continued to speak Scots. English also began to replace Scots as the main written language in Scotland.

During the 19th and early 20th century efforts were made to eradicate Scots, mainly by punishing children for speaking it at school. In the 1980s and 1990s attitudes began to change and there is limited use of Scots in education, the media and in literature. In 1983 a Scots translation of the New Testament was published and in 1985 SNDA's Concise Scots Dictionary was published.

Here is an example of a sample sentence in the two languages, and Dutch, another close relative;

  • English: I eat an apple.
  • Scots: A eat a aiple.
  • Dutch: Ik eet een appel.

Archaic English words show its Germanic roots, which are reflected in Scots:

  • English: hound, fowl, house, milk
  • Scots: hoond, foul, hoose1, milk

It might not be as easy to learn for an English speaker as, say, Esperanto, but is probably the easiest natural language to learn for English speakers due to the fact that it is so similar to English. In fact, Scots and English share approximately 80% to 90% of the same lexicon.

1: Also "haudin".

Can Scots people and English people understand each other?


In the majority of instances Scottish people and English people can understand each other with few problems since most Scots can just change to standard English. Many Scots only speak Lowland Scots at home with family and friends. Standard English is used for business and communicating with tourists.

"Missing" letters


Many writers now strictly avoid apostrophes where they supposedly represent "missing" English letters. Such letters were never actually missing in Scots. For example, in the 14th century, John Barbour spelt the Scots cognate of 'taken' as tane. Since there has been no k in the word for over 700 years, representing its omission with an apostrophe seems pointless. The current spelling is usually taen.


  • Like most languages, Scots has its own distinct regional dialects. Most Scots can tell which part of the country someone is from simply by their dialect.
  • There is another language used in Scotland. As well as English and Lowland Scots there is also Scottish Gaelic. This is a Celtic language similar to Irish. It's mainly spoken in the North West Highlands and Islands. Luckily most Gaelic speakers also know standard English so there are few communication problems.
  • You are probably more likely to hear more Scots spoken in the country rather than big cities. Urban Scots generally tend to speak a more diluted version which is more like standard English.
  • Scots is recognised by the UK government as a minority language which is distinct from English.
  • "River City" is a Scots soap opera set in a fictional Glasgow suburb. Many of the actors on the show speak a form of Urban Scots. The TV program is produced by Scottish Television.

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