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Scotland’s Languages: Changes and reasons

Here is the last in our series of posts on Scotland’s languages. This time we look more closely at why there were changes in the languages spoken in Scotland. As illustrated in the last two posts, it is inevitable for there to be changes in languages (vocabulary, pronunciation and intonation) and their use. As people are influenced by others from different parishes and even further afield, so their language reflects this. The single most important change to affect Scotland was the rise in the usage of the English language.

The rise of the English language

The English language was gaining ground by the end of the 18th century for a number of reasons:

  • Ability to converse with people from other countries
  • English was the language of trade
  • English was the language of the higher ranks and well-educated
  • English was increasingly being taught in schools and used in religious instruction

Here are some examples of what was written in parish reports on the use of English:

Alness, County of Ross and Cromarty – “The English, however, has made very considerable progress in the parish for 20 years back, owing to the benefit received from the number of schools planted in it much about that time.” (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, p. 240)

Kirkhill, County of Inverness – “The language chiefly spoken by the common people is Gaelic; although a great many of them, from their being taught to read English at school, can transact ordinary business in that tongue.” (OSA, Vol. IV, 1792, p. 121)

Assynt, County of Sutherland – “The Gaelic language is still universal in Assynt, and the only medium of religious instruction. The English language, however, is making slow but sure progress. The youth of the parish are ambitious of acquiring it, being, sensible that the want of it proves a great bar to their advancement in life.” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 112)

Aberdeen, County of Aberdeen – “The provincial dialect of the English, which is generally spoken here, is not commonly considered as being very pure. Owing, however, to a much greater intercourse with the English than formerly, a sensible change to the better has taken place in the idiom… The consideration also that this is a place of education; the seat of an university of considerable eminence; has proved an inducement to several, especially to those who have entertained thoughts of publishing in English, to make the proper idiom of the language more a matter of study than was ever done as any former period, a circumstance that has not failed to produce good effects.” (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, p. 182)

Kilmorie, County of Bute – “yet persons advanced in years understand the English language tolerably; they acquire it by intercourse with other countries, and are greatly assisted by having the organs of speech formed in their youth, it being the first language they are taught to read.” (OSA, Vol. IX, 1793, p. 170)

Calder Mid, County of Edinburgh – “Though the Scotch be the prevailing language of the country, yet, by the influence of those who have a more extended intercourse with the world, the people here are making evident approaches toward a more intimate acquaintance with the English tongue, which is the more desirable, as, since the union of England and Scotland, the language of the court of London has been received as the standard language of the united kingdoms.” (OSA, Vol. XIV, 1795, p. 365)

Dalmeny, County of Linlithgow – “The Dano-Saxon has continued to be spoken in the greater part of Scotland, and particularly what is called the Lowlands, with little deviation from the original, till near the present times, in which it has been giving place very rapidly to the modern English language. The cause of this, independent of the comparative merits or demerits of the two dialects, has been the union of the Scottish and English crowns; from which, as England is the larger and wealthier country, and is, besides, the court end of the Island, the English tongue has gained the ascendancy, and become the standard of fashion and of propriety.” (OSA, Vol. I, 1791, p. 228)

Inverchaolain, County of Argyle – “Gaelic is the language of the natives, both old and young, but all of them can read and speak English. English is gaining ground, and all are anxious to acquire it.” (NSA, Vol. VII, 1845, p. 112)

As mentioned in an earlier post (Scotland’s languages: Gaelic, Scots and English), those parishes where English was gaining ground were not necessarily anywhere near the English border. This shows that trade and travel impacted on the language spoken. As can be observed in the excerpts above, education also had a massive impact on language use.

Education

More and more schools were teaching the English language at the time of the Statistical Accounts. In Tain, County of Ross and Cromarty, “the inhabitants of the town speak the English, and also the Gaelic or Erse. Both languages are preached in the church. Few of the older people, in the country part of the parish, understand the English language; but the children are now generally sent to school, and taught to read English.” (OSA, Vol. III, 1792, p. 393)

It was felt that knowing how to read and speak English would improve people’s lives, such as those in Jura, County of Argyle. “The language universally spoken in the parish is Gaelic. Very few of the old people understand English. But from the laudable endeavours of the schoolmasters to teach their scholars the vocabulary, and use of that language, and from a general opinion gaining ground, that it will be of great service in life, it is hoped that the rising generation will make considerable progress in acquiring the English language. The inhabitants do not feel that strong desire of bettering their circumstances, that would stimulate them to exertion and enterprize. Instead of trying the effects of industry at home, they foster the notion of getting at once into a state of ease and opulence, with their relations beyond the Atlantic.” (OSA, Vol. XII, 1794, p 322) (This last sentence is a very revealing one! See our previous post on emigration.)

Painting by George Harvey called 'Catechising in a Scottish School'. Painted in 1832. Photo credit: Leicester Arts and Museums Service

Harvey, George; Catechising in a Scottish School, 1832. Leicester Arts and Museums Service; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/catechising-in-a-scottish-school-81466

In Kilmuir, County of Inverness, some very interesting reasons were given why children were being taught the English language first. “1st, The imitative powers of children, with respect to sounds and articulation, are more acute in early life than in maturer years; and were the Gaelic taught first, it would be almost impossible to adapt the tone of the voice afterwards to English pronunciation; 2dly, Although the English may take a longer period than the Gaelic to acquire it properly, yet, when it is acquired, the pupils can master the Gaelic without any assistance; and 3dly, Such as cannot speak the English, naturally are more reluctant to leave the country in quest of that employment which they cannot procure at home.” (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 281)

Some schools taught English as well as Gaelic, such as that of the parish of Gigha and Cara, County of Argyle (NSA, Vol. VII, 1845, p. 406). However, many parishes had more than one school, and it depended on which school you attended what language or languages you were taught. In Rogart, County of Sutherland, “there are three schools at present in operation in the parish,-the parochial school, a school supported by the General Assembly, and a Gaelic school, supported by the Gaelic School Society. In the parochial school, English reading, writing, arithmetic, book-keeping, mensuration, and land-surveying, are taught. In the General Assembly’s school, English reading, Gaelic reading, writing, arithmetic, and sometimes the rudiments of Latin, are taught. In the Gaelic school, the reading of the Gaelic only is taught.” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 55)

There were five schools in the parish of Fodderty, County of Ross and Cromarty, each with a good number of attendees: “1. The parochial school, which has the maximum salary attached to it, exclusive of a dwelling-house,and L.2, 2s.in lieu of a garden. The branches taught are, English reading, grammar,writing, arithmetic, book-keeping, geography, Latin, and Greek. The average attendance is 63, and the annual amount of school fees paid may be about L. 16. 2. The school at Tollie, in the Brahan district, in connection with the Inverness Education Society. The attendance is 70. Both Gaelic and English are taught, together with writing and arithmetic. 3. The Gaelic school, supported by that excellent institution, the Gaelic School Society of Edinburgh, in which, old and young are taught to read the sacred Scriptures in their own language, and which is attended during winter by about 60. 4. The school at Maryburgh, on the scheme of the General Assembly’s Education Committee. The average attendance is 120. And, lastly, a school on the teacher’s own adventure, in the heights of Auchterneed ; at which the attendance is 84.” (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 259)

It wasn’t always in school where children learnt languages! In Balquhidder, County of Perth, “towards the end of Spring, most of the boys go to the low country, where they are employed in herding till the ensuing winter; and, besides gaining a small fee, they have the advantage of acquiring the English language.” (OSA, Vol. VI, 1793, p. 95)

The Gaelic School Society

As can be gleaned from above, the Gaelic School Society established many schools teaching Gaelic throughout Scotland. The society was set up in Edinburgh to primarily teach people to read the Scriptures in Gaelic. It, therefore, played a very important role in encouraging the use of the Gaelic language. (For more information see the 19th century section in the Wikipedia entry for Gaelic medium education in Scotland.) In Assynt, County of Sutherland, “it is likely, nevertheless, that Assynt is one of the very last districts in which the Gaelic language shall cease to be the language of the people. It is remarkable that the Gaelic School Society will probably prove the means, at a remote period, of the expulsions of the Gaelic language from the Highlands. The teachers employed by that useful society, to whom we owe much, taught the young to read the Scriptures in their native tongue. This implanted a desire to acquire knowledge on other subjects, which induced them to have recourse to the English language as the medium of communication.” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 112)

Title page of the book Scripture extracts : for the use of the schools supported by the Gaelic School Society in the Highlands and Islands in Scotland. Published in Edinburgh for the Society in 1824.

Scripture extracts : for the use of the schools supported by the Gaelic School Society in the Highlands and Islands in Scotland. Published in Edinburgh for the Society in 1824. Digitized by The National Library of Scotland and accessed via the Internet Archive.

In some parishes, it was thanks to this Society that people could read at all. In the parish of Lochs, Ross and Cromarty, “there are only 12 persons in all the parish who can write; but half the inhabitants from twelve to twenty-four years of age can read the Gaelic language, which is the only language spoken generally. A few of the males can speak broken English. It was by the instrumentality of the Gaelic School Society that so many of them were enabled to read Gaelic. The Gaelic School Society has four schools at present in the parish of Lochs, which are the only schools in it.” (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 168)

Incidentally, it was claimed in the parish report of Killin, County of Perth, that “in the manse of Killin the present version of the Gaelic Scriptures was begun. The Gaelic Testament was executed by Mr James Stewart, from whom his son, the well-known Dr Stewart of Luss, obtained that knowledge of and taste for Gaelic literature which enabled him so faithfully to finish the Gaelic translation of the Bible. Killin may then fairly lay claim to the honour of this great work.” (NSA, Vol. X, 1845, p. 1087)

However, not everyone in the county of Ross and Cromarty thought the Society so praiseworthy! In the parish report for Kiltearn, the Reverend Thomas Munro wrote the following: “The Gaelic School Society, by establishing schools throughout the country, have done much to eradicate the language. This may appear paradoxical; but it is actually the case. Those children that had learned to read Gaelic found no difficulty in mastering the English; and they had a strong inducement to do so, because they found in that language more information suited to their capacity and taste, than could be found in their own. English being the language universally spoken by the higher classes, the mass of the people attach a notion of superior refinement to the possession of it, which makes them strain every nerve to acquire it; and it is no uncommon thing for those who have lived for a short time in the south, to affect on their return, a total forgetfulness of the language which they had so long been in the habit of using.” (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 323)

You can read a fascinating article Gaelic School Society. Appeal to British Christians, Resident Abroad found in the Colonial Times, Tuesday, February 22, 1842, which is appealing to those living in Australia with Scottish connections to help the Society by giving donations or by subscribing to the Society.

The Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge

At the time of the Statistical Accounts of Scotland, there was also in existence the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge. This society established schools teaching the reading and writing of English and/or Gaelic, along with other common branches of instruction, such as arithmetic and knowledge of the Scriptures, such as the school established by the Society at Aberfoyle, County of Perth. (NSA, Vol. X, 1845, p. 1158) In the Starthyre district of the parish of Balquhidder, County of Perth, “there is a school supported by the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge, in which are taught English, writing, arithmetic, and Gaelic.”(NSA, Vol. X, 1845, p. 348) In the parish of Urquhart and Glen, County of Inverness, “in the schools supported by the Society, great attention is paid to the teaching of the Gaelic language; and in the other schools, it is taught to those who wish to acquire it. (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 50)

As reported in the Appendix for Edinburgh, County of Edinburgh, “an hundred and sixty thousand children have been educated by this society, and there are ten thousand in their schools this year 1792.” (OSA, Vol. VI, 1793, p. 590) The quality of their schools was very important to the society, and they were not afraid to close schools down. For some reason, “the ambulatory school, once established in this parish [Small Isles, County of Inverness], by the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge, was removed in Summer 1792.” (OSA, Vol. XVII, 1796, p. 290) Also, in the parish of Rathven, County of Banff, “the school in Buckie has been withdrawn by the Society, on the ground, that the school house has been allowed to fall into decay.” (NSA, Vol. XIII, 1845, p. 266)

In several parishes, such as that of Kincardine, County of Perth, applications were made to the society to establish much-needed schools. “Application having accordingly been made by the proprietor, the Society was pleased to enter very warmly into the situation of these poor people, and with the greatest alacrity agreed to the appointment of an experienced teacher, who was settled at Martinmas 1793. This teacher, who is well acquainted both with the Gaelic and the English languages, officiates through the week as schoolmaster, and on Sundays convenes the people in the schoolhouse, where be instructs them in the principles of religion, and says prayers to them in their native tongue.” (OSA, Vol. XXI, 1799, p. 181)

These applications show how important the society was to parishes throughout Scotland. Indeed, in Callander, County of Perth, you can find the following commendation: “Much praise is due to the excellent Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge; but for it, thousands in the Highland’s would have been deprived of the means of instructions. The people are alive to the benefit of education. All in this parish have the means of instruction, and all from six years and upwards can read. A very visible change in the conduct, morals, &c. of the people has taken place, since the facilities of education were increased.” (NSA, Vol. X, 1845, p. 358). The Society even paid to inoculate the poor in the parish! (OSA, Vol. XI, 1794, p. 625)

Religion

The establishment of schools by both the Gaelic School Society and the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge illustrates the direct link which existed between education and religion at that time. Languages, whether the native-tongue or not, were being taught in order to enable people to read and learn from the Scriptures and the Shorter Catechism.

Of course, the most important consideration to parish ministers was what languages parishioners actually understood and used the most. Their needs and abilities had to be catered for. Here are some examples of having to find someone who could preach in Gaelic.

Cromarty, County of Ross and Cromarty – “There are two clergymen in the parish; the parish minister, and the minister of the Gaelic Chapel. There was no Gaelic preached in this place, until the erection of the chapel; and the principal reason of introducing it was, for the accommodation of Mr. Ross’s numerous labourers, and others who came from the neighbouring parishes to the manufacture of hemp.” (OSA, Vol. XII, 1794, p. 256)

Crathie, County of Aberdeen – “There is missionary minister, paid by the Royal Bounty, stationed in Braemar; but as he has not the Gaelic language, and as there are some persons who do not understand any English, the parish minister is obliged to exchange pulpits with him very frequently. The General Assembly of the church of Scotland have now pledged themselves, that how soon the present missionary is otherwise provided for, they shall appoint one for the future to that mission, but persons having the Gaelic language.” (OSA, Vol. XIV, 1795, p. 344)

Photograph of Arderseir Parish Church near Inverness, Scotland. Taken by Dave Connor in 2015.

Ardersier Parish Church, near Inverness. Photograph taken by Dave Connor, 2015. Via Flickr under Creative Commons License 2.0. (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

Ardersier, County of Inverness – “It is a curious circumstance that, from the year 1757 to 1781, during the ministrations of two incumbents, no Gaelic was preached in the parish. On the ordination of the Rev. P. Campbell, in the latter year, it was requested by the peoples, and agreed to by him, that be should exhort them in the Gaelic language.” (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 472)

However, as previously mentioned, English was becoming more widespread. Therefore, the availability of religious instruction in English was also increasing. In Dunoon and Kilmun, County of Argyle, “the language of the parish is changing much, from the coming in of low-country tenants, from the constant intercourse our people have with their neighbours, but above all, from our schools, particularly, those established by the Society for propagating Christian Knowledge. Hence the English or Scottish language is universally spoke by almost all ages, and sexes. But the Gaelic is still the natural tongue with them, their fireside language, and the language of their devotions. They now begin, however, to attend public worship in English as well as Erse, which 30 years ago they did not do.” (OSA, Vol. II, 1792, p. 389)

As reported in the parish of Aberfoyle, County of Perth, “in ancient times, the Gaelic language alone was spoken in this parish; and, even in the memory of man, it extended many miles farther down the country than it now does. The limits of this ancient tongue, however, are daily narrowed here as every where else, by the increasing intercourse with the low country. At present, every body understands English, though the Gaelic is chiefly in use. The service in church is performed in English in the forenoon, and in Gaelic in the afternoon.” (OSA, Vol. X, 1794, p. 129)

There are some very interesting observations made in the parish report for Torosay, County of Argyle, on languages, education and religious instruction. “So far, therefore, as they [the natives] are concerned, the language [Gaelic] has neither gained nor lost ground, for the last forty years. How long it may remain in this stationary condition is uncertain, especially as there are several families from the lowlands of late settled in the parish. These, having no inducement to study the Gaelic, as they find themselves generally understood in English, may, through time, habituate the natives to speak this language, even among themselves. At school, children are taught to read in both languages. Though the teaching of them thus to read Gaelic would seem to tend to its permanency, the contrary effect, in all probability, will ensue. By being able to compare both versions of the Scriptures, they daily add to their vocabulary of English words, so that the Gaelic in this manner forms to them a key for the acquisition of the English. So long as the native Highlanders understand Gaelic better than English, religious instruction must be communicated to them in that language, even if this circumstance should have the effect of postponing the day when English shall be the universal language of the empire. For, however desirable that event may be, it would be making too great a sacrifice to attempt to expedite it by suffering, in the meantime, even one soul to perish for lack of that knowledge which maketh wise unto salvation.” (NSA, Vol. VII, 1845, p. 289)

Resistance to change

Even though all these changes were taking place in schools and churches throughout Scotland, it must be noted that there was some resistance to the increasing use of English. Gaelic was still the preferred language in some quarters. In Urray, County of Ross and Cromarty,”Gaelic is the vernacular language of the whole parish, except in gentlemen’s families. Several of the inhabitants read the English Bible, and can transact business in that language; but they, as well as the bulk of the people, prefer religious instruction in Gaelic; and therefore are at pains to read the Gaelic New Testament, and Psalm Book, etc.” (OSA, Vol. VII, 1793, p. 259)

Both the Gaelic and Scotch languages were seen as noble and expressive languages. In Callander, County of Perth, “the language spoken by persons of rank and of liberal education, is English; but the language of the lower classes is Gaelic. It would be almost unnecessary to say anything of this language to those who understand it. They know its energy and power; the ease with which it is compounded; the boldness of its figures; its majesty, in addressing the Deity; and its tenderness in expressing the finest feelings of the human heart. But its genius and constitution, the structure of its nouns and verbs, and the affinity it has to some other languages, are not so much attended to. These point at a very remote area, and would seem to deduce the origin of this language from a very high antiquity.” (OSA, Vol. XI, 1794, p. 611) In Dalziel, County of Lanark, “the language generally spoken is a mixture of Scotch and English. The use of the Scotch has decreased within the last forty years, in consequence, I apprehend, of the improvement in teaching at the schools. But when persons are under excitement, the language used is Scotch. Then, the writer has observed, here and in other parts of Scotland, that the lower orders of society and many in the middling ranks, too, discover an acquaintance with that expressive dialect, which could not be inferred from their ordinary conversation.” (NSA, Vol. VI, 1845, p. 454) The native tongue is an integral part of the heritage and history of the people in the locality; its influence cannot be easily diminished, as the two examples above illustrate.

Conclusion

Looking at the Statistical Accounts of Scotland, one can identify several influences on the use of language, and English in particular, most notably travel, trade and education. What is really interesting is how these factors were interrelated. A knowledge of English allowed people to converse with people from the low countries and beyond. This then enabled greater trade, which allowed people to gain influence. The English language became the language of opportunities, so was increasingly being taught in schools. In turn, changes in education affected what was being used in everyday life and had a direct bearing on the language of people’s devotions, i.e. what was read and spoken in religious contexts.

______________________________________

It has been really fascinating to look at language use as a whole in the Statistical Accounts of Scotland, from place names through to the factors impacting on the languages spoken in Scotland. The country’s geography, history and culture have all played their part in shaping its linguistic landscape, making it what it is today. It is hoped that these series of posts will encourage you to further explore Scotland’s languages in the Statistical Accounts. If you find something particularly interesting let us know!

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Scotland’s languages: Pronunciation and purity

In the last post we looked at predominantly Gaelic, Scots and English speaking parishes. But, it is important to note that the other minority languages have impacted on whatever the majority language was, including its pronunciation and intonation. The linguistic landscape of Scotland’s parishes was far from black and white.  For some of those writing the parish reports, the jumble of languages used was an unwelcome development, as they saw it as an erosion of the “superior” pure form of language.

Pronunciation

It has been fascinating to find out how people pronounced words. Several parish reports give us a idea of the kinds of sounds produced, in the various Scots dialects in particular. Again, it is other languages which greatly influenced pronunciation.

In Wick, County of Caithness, “the language spoken over all the parish is, with exception of that of some Gaelic incomers, a dialect of the lowland Scottish. It is distinguished, however, by several peculiarities. Wherever the classical Scottish has wh, the dialect of the parish of Wick has f; as fat for what, fan for whan; and wherever the Scottish has u, this dialect has ee ; as seen for sune, meen for mune, feel for fule. Ch at the beginning of words is softened into s, or sh; as, surch for church; shapel for chapel. Th at the beginning of words is often omitted. She, her, and hers are almost invariably used for it and its. This seems a Gaelic idiom; and the tendency to pronounce s and ch, as sh, seems a relic of Gaelic pronunciation.” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 144)

Jedburgh, County of Roxburgh – “The common people in the neighbourhood of Jedburgh pronounce many words, particularly such as end in a guttural sound, with a remarkable broad, and even harsh accent. They still make use of the old Scotch dialect. Many of the names of places, however, are evidently derived from the Erse, and expressive of their local situation in that language. For instance, –Dunian, John’s Hill; –Minto, Kids Hill; –Hawick, Village on a River; –Ancrum, anciently called Alnicromb a Creek in the River; etc. etc.” (OSA, Vol. I, 1791, p. 15)

A painting of Jedburgh Abbey by an unknown artist. Glasgow Museums: http://www.artuk.org/artworks/jedburgh-abbey-86391

Unknown artist; Jedburgh Abbey, 19th Century. Glasgow Museums.

Wilton, County of Roxburgh – “The language generally spoken by the lower orders, throughout this district, contains many provincialisms, but these are becoming gradually obsolete. Two diphthongal sounds, however, seem still to maintain their ground, namely, those resembling the Greek eǐ, and the ow, as in the English words, cow, sow, how, now,–e.g. the common people generally pronounce, tree, treǐ; tea, teǐ; knee, kneǐ; me, meǐ; and, instead of the diphthongal sound of oo in the pronoun you, the pronunciation is almost invariably yow, as in now.” (NSA, Vol. III, 1845, p. 78)

Dalgety, County of Fife – “The language commonly spoken in the parish is the Old Scotch dialect, and there seem to be no peculiar words or phrases which are not in general use throughout most parts of the kingdom. The words are pronounced with a broad accent; and I have often heard in this part of the country a sound given to the diphthong oi, which is not, I believe, so usual in other places: it is frequently pronounced as if it consisted of the letters ou, as for boul boil, pount for point, vauce for voice, etc.” (OSA, Vol. XV, 1795, p. 265)

Caputh, County of Perth – “The Stormont dialect, of course, prevails, in which the chief peculiarity that strikes a stranger is the pronunciation of the Scotch oo as ee, poor being pronounced peer, moon meen, aboon abeen, &c.” (NSA, Vol. X, 1845, p. 677)

Dunlop, County of Ayrshire – “The language which they speak is a mixture of Scotch and English, and has no other singularity, but the slow drawling manner in which it is spoken, and that they uniformly pronounce fow, fai-w, and mow, mai-w.” (OSA, Vol. IX, 1793, p. 541)

Alves, County of Elgin – “The language generally spoken is the Scotch. A stranger is struck with the peculiar vowel sounds, given in a great many words, as wheit for wheat, feel for fool, pure for poor, and wery for very, &c.” (NSA, Vol. XIII, 1845, p. 107)

Montrose, County of Forfar, “One great peculiarity which strikes a stranger from the south, in the language of the common people in this county, and in the neighbouring counties on the north, is the use of f for wh, as fan, far, &c. for when, where, &c. Except by the better classes, the lowland Scotch is universally spoken with a strong provincial accent.” (NSA, Vol. XI, 1845, p. 279)

The Buchan dialect is mentioned in several parish reports from the County of Aberdeen. It is also known as the Doric dialect, and is a sub-dialect of Northern Scots, found in a small area between Banff and Ellon. In Peterhead, County of Aberdeen, “the language spoken in this parish is the broad Buchan dialect of the English, with many Scotticisms, and stands much in need of reformation, which it is to be hoped will soon happen, from the frequent resort of polite people to the town in summer.” (OSA, Vol. XVI, 1795, p. 592) People in the parish of Aberdour, County of Aberdeen, also spoke “the broad Buchan, or real Aberdeenshire, and this dialect is much the same as it was forty years ago.” (NSA, Vol. XII, 1845, p. 266) For more information on the Buchan dialect take a look at the parish report for Longside, County of Aberdeen. (OSA, Vol. XV, 1795, p. 294)

Intonation is also described in some of the parish reports. In Dunfermline, County of Fife, “the language is a mixture of Scotch and English. The voice is raised, and the emphasis frequently laid on the last word of the sentence.”(OSA, Vol. XIII, 1794, p. 479) A similar observation was also made in the report for Lesmahago, County of Lanark. “The language spoken is the broad Scotch dialect, with this peculiarity, very observable to strangers, that the voice is raised, and the sound lengthened upon the last syllable of the sentence.” (OSA, Vol. VII, 1793, p. 433)

Purity

Some writers of the parish reports had a very clear perception of language purity and, conversely, corruption. Inhabitants in many parishes were considered to be speaking a language that was not in its pure and correct form.

  • Lochgoil-Head and Kilmorich, County of Argyle – “The Gaelic that is spoken in this place, owing to the frequent communication with the Low Country, is corrupted with a mixture of English words and phrases, and is not so pure, nor so correct, as that which is spoken in the more remote parts of the Highlands.” (OSA, Vol. III, 1792, p. 190)
  • Logierait, County of Perth – “The language spoken here, is a corrupted dialect of the Gaelic. The Saxon dialect of the lowlands is, however, pretty generally understood here.” (OSA, Vol. V, 1793, p. 82)
  • Comrie, County of Perth – “All the young people can speak English; but, in order to acquire it, they must go to service in the Low Country. The Gaelic is not spoken in its purity, neither here nor in any of the bordering parishes.” (OSA, Vol. XI, 1794, p. 186)
A postcard of a view on the Earn, Comrie, Scotland. Taken between ca. 1890 and ca. 1900.

View on the Earn, Comrie, Scotland. Taken between ca. 1890 and ca. 1900. By The Library of Congress [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons.

  • Fortingal, County of Perth – “The Gaelic is the language of the natives. It is, however, losing ground, and losing its purity, very much of late. Forty years ago, in some parts of the parish, especially in the district of Rannoch, it was spoken in as great purity as in any district of the Highlands. That race of genuine natives having disappeared, many of their phrases and idioms have become almost unintelligible to the rising generation. It is, however, gratifying to the antiquary and to the lover of Celtic literature, that so much has been done to rescue the language and insure its permanency and stability; still all that is practicable has not yet been achieved. Hundreds of vocables might be collected which have escaped the notice of the several learned compilers of our Gaelic dictionaries.” (NSA, Vol. X, 1845, p. 553)
  • Halkirk, County of Caithness – “[Erse] is much corrupted, but yet spoken with great fluency and emphasis, and not without harmony of sound. [English] has also many words, which are neither English nor Scotch, yet, according to its idiom, it is spoken with great propriety, and the sentiments are expressed by it, either in narration or description, as intelligibly and significantly, as in any county in Great Britain, nay, I dare say, more so than in most of them. These languages are spoken in various degrees.” (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, p. 62)
  • Eddlestone, County of Peebles – “The language generally spoken is a corrupt Scotch, with a barbarous admixture of English. A few only of the oldest of the people speak the Scottish dialect in its purity. These, however, are rapidly disappearing, and in a few years more in all probability there will not be one person alive who could have held converse with his grandfather without the aid of a dictionary.” (NSA, Vol. III, 1845, p. 149)
  • Evie and Rendall, County of Orkney – “In the language of the people, there is an intermixture of Norse words with Scotch and English; but, on the whole, they speak more correctly than the peasantry do in other parts of Scotland. The accent is peculiar though far from being unpleasant.” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 202)

In the parish report for Kilmalie, County of Inverness, it was noted that “it is remarkable, yet not the less true, that the illiterate Highlander, who is a stranger to every other language but the Gaelic, speaks it more fluently, more elegantly, and more purely, than the scholar.” (OSA, Vol. VIII, 1793, p. 430)

In some cases, inhabitants were strongly criticised for speaking impure languages, especially those of Kilmadock, County of Perth!

  • Kirkmichael, County of Perth – “The prevailing language in the parish is the Gaelic. A dialect of the ancient Scotch, also, is understood, and currently spoken. These two, by a barbarous intermixture, mutually corrupt each other.” (OSA, Vol. XV, 1795, p. 516)
  • Kilmadock, County of Perth – “The language of the common people in this parish, like many of the parishes in the neighbourhood, is a mixture of Scotch and English. This jargon is very unpleasant to the ear, and a great impediment to fluent conversation. No language is more expressive than the Scotch, when spoken in perfection; and, though the ancient be short and unmusical, yet it is by no means disagreeable to hear two plain country men conversing in the true Scotch tongue; but, in this parish, you seldom meet with such instances... In the quarter towards Callander, the generality of the inhabitants speak Gaelic; and this is perhaps still more corrupt than even the Scotch, in the other quarters of the parish. It is impossible to conceive any thing so truly offensive to the ear, as the conversation of these people. The true Gaelic is a noble language, worthy of the fire of Ossian, and wonderfully adapted to the genius of a warlike nation; but the contemptible language of the people about Callander, and to the east, is quite incapable of communicating a noble idea… It ought, therefore, to be earnestly recommended to the people of this parish, and, indeed, to other parishes in that quarter, to study a more perfect style; either to practice the true Gaelic, the true Scotch, or the true English tongue. But all kinds of civilization in society go hand in hand; and when arts and sciences begin to flourish here, the language will gradually polish and refine.” (OSA, Vol. XX, 1798, p. 53)

Language trends

A couple of parishes reported a particularly interesting development, that of younger Gaelic speakers interspersing their language with English or Scots words. In North Uist, County of Inverness. “The language spoken is the Gaelic, which the people speak with uncommon fluency and elegance. One fifth of the whole population above the age of twelve years understand and speak English. Such of them as are in the habit of going to the south of Scotland for trading or for working, are fond of interlarding some English or Scotch phrases with their own beautiful and expressive language. This bad taste is confined to so limited a number, that it has but slightly affected the general character of their native tongue. There are only five individuals in the parish who do not understand the Gaelic, and some of these have made considerable progress in its attainment.” (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 172) In Gairloch, County of Ross and Cromarty, “some young men, indeed, who have received a smattering of education, consider they are doing great service to the Gaelic, by interspersing their conversation with English words, and giving them a Gaelic termination and accent. These corrupters of both languages, with more pride than good taste, now and then, introduce words of bad English or of bad Scotch, which they have learned from the Newhaven or Buckie fishermen, whom they meet with on the coast of Caithness during the fishing season. The Gaelic, however, is still spoken in as great purity by the inhabitants in general, as it was forty years ago.” (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 95)

In some cases, however, the impure form of language at least made it easier for certain groups of people to understand. In Rogart, County of Sutherland, “a considerable proportion of the inhabitants, however, can converse in the English language; and, in a few years it is likely that none may be found who cannot do so. Their English, being acquired from books, and occasional conversation with educated persons, is marked by no peculiarity, except a degree of mountain accent and Celtic idiom; so that it is more easily intelligible to an Englishman than the dialect spoken by the Lowland Scotch.” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 51)

Conclusion

Languages are very fluid, with changes occurring over time in vocabulary, pronunciation and intonation. In some parish reports there are some strong comments bemoaning the lack of language purity, but the pure form of a language is an ideal, not a reality. This is certainly the case in Scotland where the Gaelic, Scots, English and Scandinavian languages influenced each other.

Changes were even felt between the first and second Statistical Accounts of Scotland, most notably the increased comprehension and use of English. In the final post on Scotland’s languages we look look more closely at the reasons for linguistic change.

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Digital Scotland 2018 – Liveblog

Today I am at the Digital Scotland 2018 Conference in Glasgow – if you are along do give me a wave (you’ll find me easily from the glare of my mirrored protractor brooch!). i’ll be liveblogging today, with the usual caveats that I welcome any additions, corrections, etc.

Introduction by Conference ChairAlisdair Gunn, Director, Framewire, & BIMA Scotland Council Member.
Good morning and thanks for coming today to the inaugeral Digital Scotland conference. I’m Alistair Gunn and I’m honoured to be your chair today. Today’s conference brings together suppliers, local and national government, and technologists together. At the beginning of 2017 the Scottish Government published the Digital Scotland strategy, and each of us play a role in delivering that strategy which aims for inclusive economic growth, and to make Scotland one of the world’s leading digital nations. We really encourage tweeting and sharing of today’s conference, using #digitalscotland. The event is also being livestreamed by ProductForge. Due to overwhelming interest today I can also announce that the Digital Scotland event will run again next year.
Keynote: ‘Harnessing technology for the benefit of society’
Chris Yiu, Senior Policy Fellow for Technology, The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change.
I wanted to kick off with a birds eye view of technology and policy themes as we see them at the Institute. So, first I want to start with some numbers. Martha Lane Foxes doteveryone charity surveyed people across the UK: 50% said “the internet has made life a lot better for people like me. But only 12% (one in ten) said “the internet has had a very positive impact on society”. So, something has gone very wrong. What I’d like to talk about today is what those issues might be, and what we might do as policy makers.
Some of the questions here are issues like surveillance – whether we are being monitored, if there will be another data breach. But that can be countered with rights. Manipulation – are my apps, are the tools I use manipulating me. Or will we use technology for wellbeing, for making lives better. Polarisation – fake news, polarised political views. But technology also has the potential to build and enable community. Stagnation vs Prosperity; Automation or Meaningful work and life; Indifference or Fairness; Excess – e.g. bitcoin’s environmental impact vs sustainability; and vulnerability vs security. None of these questions are easily answered but we face them every day, and we have to think about how policy makers and politics address those questions.
Right now politics is no longer left or right. And you can also think about the world against Politics mapped against Tech. We can visualised this as a grid from False Nostalgia; Incremental progress; Exponential progress; and Tech nationalism (moving clockwise from bottom left). We mainly focus on that nostalgia for a pre-tech world adn incremental progress. We should be focusing on the other side of this graph – China a leading on that Tech nationalism area. But the real world concerns is about affordable good quality healthcare, education, social change, and those are unchanging concerns in many ways, we need those to shape our use of technology.
We also have increasing AI possibilities. As a hobby I make a list of exciting AI examples (see deepindex.org). At first these were fun silly things, but now it is supply chain management, risk management, predictive analysis in insurance, diagnostic medicine tools that outperform human specialists. Some see this as a threat to jobs. I think this is about freeing up human time for more important interactions. This stuff is real, the opportunity is there. And actually where you see this technology now is everyday in AirBnB, in Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Google, Instagram, Netflix, Spotify, Twitter, Uber… And these companies do powerful things with AI which raise all sorts of policy channels. Rules, laws and regulations are frequently pre internet, whilst these companies have new business models, new ways of working. No matter what you think of these companies they are delivering services to huge numbers of people, many of whom are satisfied with that experience. Amazon for instance is one of the most loved companies on the planet, transforming the highstreet – with shops closing… But also the customer experience is light years ahead, and it would be good to see more shops doing that which is where service design comes in.
On service design… I try to book an appointment at my family doctor. Maybe once I’d have written a letter, then I could go in in person, or call… As we get further along, maybe I can book online without that telephone queue wait. Sounds good, and it sounds achievable… But those apps and the technology that pervades our lives has changed the rules…. And if you haven’t seen it you should read Jeff Bezos’ letter to shareholders where he says “customers are perfectly discontent”… As user experience becomes better, perfect user experience is also racing away… So nevermind that online booking of appointment – maybe I want to videocall my doctor right now. And this is hugely important. My experience as a consumer looks one way, my experience as a citizen lags behind. Maybe there was always a lag but the wider that gap in experience is, the less appealing and sustainable participation in society. That’s a threat to transactional stuff – moves to private schools or healthcase – but more importantly ceasing to try to make your voice heard…
But I think there are things we can do:
1. A structured dialogue between the change makers and the policy makers
2. A better approach to regulation that is built around the reality of the internet – that means root and branch reform that is built on internet as the norm. That’s harder to do today – it’s a reserved issue. But it’s also a global issue.
3. An ambitious policy platform that gives people hope about the future – be bold enough to see the potential to make a radical difference to the stuff that matters. That needs focus – we can’t do everything – and really requires work across sectors with government and local authorities working with private and third sectors.
I’m going to leave that here and will be around to engage in the conversation throughout the day. Thank you.
Digital Transformation Panel
Join us for a conversation on how digital is transforming Scotland, and what more needs to be done to fulfil the potential of our communities and the nation.Featuring:
– Alistair Gunn (AG), Chair of session
– Colin Cook (CC), Director, Digital, The Scottish Government; 
– Martyn Wallace (MW), Chief Digital Officer, ‎The Digital Office Scottish Local Government; 
– Polly Purvis (PP), Chief Executive, ScotlandIS; 
– Cat Leaver (CL), Project Director, Brand Scotland.
CC: Chris was absolutely right in an aspirational way – we really want to be ambitious and transformational. And no-one in Government thinks that transformational change is possible on our own, government has to work together with other sectors with common programmes and pieces of work. Equally important as that is that government doesn’t think that the public sector can be working alone here, and see the value of working with private sector. We work in different ways with the private sector, and CivTech is a part of that, but there is more to do that. We have more than achieved our targets on broadband rollout, we have key programmes on identity management, and we have more to do and are looking forward to what can come out of the discussions today.
MW: Echoing what Colin said, we are facing all kinds of challenges in the public sector. I came from the private sector and thought I knew the public sector, but its so much more complex – the things we do every day saving lives, facing challenges, we have technical and HR skills to address as well as cultural shifts that need to be there. I was at an event on Friday asking if we were tinkering or whether we are transforming. I think in many ways we are still tinkering but we need to be transforming… We have more pilots than RyanAir – we need to be more agile, iterate… We shouldn’t have these big media-covered collapses if we do that. And we need public understanding that we can’t do what we used to as we just don’t have the finances to do it. Sometimes you don’t need a doctor – you need a GP, or an information source, and that saves money in the system. We have to have a balanced approach – investing but also changing the conversation at the top. There is great collaboration across Scottish and local government. We need common data standards and interoperability to get this right – otherwise we are handing over public money to service integrators that we can ill afford.
PP: We represent everyone – from Microsoft, CGI, SkyScanner, to small companies and everything in between. We work closely with government both to help them but also to hold their feet to the fire. We need to really focus on the opportunities that technology provide. There are such bright futures possible here, but we have to get more people involved and engaged. That is a really serious challenge. Lifelong learning has to be for all of us all the time to make this work.
AG: This is part of why agile, service design, and actually you could almost drop the private and public sector labels… It’s all one sector in some ways.
CL:
KNOWLEDGE EXCHANGE MASTERCLASSES AND INTERACTIVE WORKSHOPS: SESSION 1

11:00 – 11:30
THE ECONOMY: Supporting growth in the digital sector
Panellists: Polly Purvis, Chief Executive, ScotlandIS; Colin Cook, Director, Digital, The Scottish Government;Melinda Matthews Clarkson, Chief Executive, CodeClan; Maggie Morrison, Vice President, Public Sector, CGI.
Chaired by: Alisdair Gunn, Director, Framewire & BIMA Scotland Council Member.

SESSION 2

11:35 – 12:05

PUBLIC SERVICES: Designing services around users
Panellists: Cat Macaulay, Head of User Research and Services Design, The Scottish Government; Leah Lockhart, Engagement Consultant; Clare Hillis, Head of Public Sector, Vodafone and Paul Duffy, Co – Director for IT and Telecommunications, Belfast Health and Social Care Trust.

SESSION 3

12:10 – 12:40

HEALTH: Technology enabled health and social care in Scotland
SpeakersMichelle Brogan, Home and Mobile Health Monitoring lead, NHS24; Hazel Archer, Video Conference and Attend Anywhere Lead, NHS24; Liza McLean, Head of eHealth Strategy and Policy, Scottish Government.

12:40 – 13:35
Networking Lunch
13:35 – 13:45
CivTech® update:
Alexander Holt, Head of CivTech, The Scottish Government.
13:45 – 14:00
 State of the Tech Nation:
 Gerard Grech, Chief Executive, Tech Nation.
14:00 – 14:15
 Innovation to drive growth for all
Professor Charlie Jeffrey, Vice Principal, Edinburgh University.
14:15 – 14:25
Questions and discussion
14:25 – 14:40
Refreshments and networking
KNOWLEDGE EXCHANGE MASTERCLASSES AND INTERACTIVE WORKSHOPS

The second in a series of six masterclasses/interactive workshops delivered in three streams, covering public service design and delivery, skills and infrastructure, and growing Scotland’s digital and wider economies.

SESSION 4

14:40 – 15:10
INFRASTRUCTURE:  Scottish Wide Area Network (SWAN), Masterclass by Capita
Speaker: Mike MacDonald, Head of Digital & Innovation, Capita, Toni Gribben, Scotland Manager, Cisco

SESSION 5

15:15 – 15:45
SKILLS: A digitally skilled nation
Panellists: Donald McLaughlin, Technology Sector Business Leader and Chair of Scotland’s Digital Technologies Skills Group; Kirsten Urquhart, Digital & Smart-Tech Director, Young Scot; Joshua Ryan-Saha, Skills Manager, The Data Lab.
Chaired by: Melinda Matthews Clarkson, Chief Executive, CodeClan.

16:00 – 16:30

Close of Conference

*Agenda subject to change

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Scotland’s languages: Gaelic, Scots and English

This is the second post on Scotland’s languages. This time we look more closely at the languages spoken throughout the parishes. As can be gleaned in the last blog post, at one point the majority of Scots spoke Gaelic/Erse. During the time of the Statistical Accounts of Scotland Gaelic was still the language of the majority, but there were also areas of Scotch or Scots speakers, with English beginning to make strong inroads.

Predominantly Gaelic-speaking parishes

There were many parishes where most inhabitants spoke Gaelic, including:

  • Barvas, County of Ross and Cromarty (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 147);
  • Moy and Dalarossie, County of Inverness (OSA, Vol. VIII, 1793, p. 499);
  • Applecross, County of Ross and Cromarty (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 102)
  • Gairloch, County of Ross and Cromarty – “The Gaelic is the prevailing language in this, as well as in several other corners on the West coast” (OSA, Vol. III, 1792, p. 93);
  • Inverary, County of Argyle – “The language generally spoken is the Gaelic. Among the agricultural labourers, it is almost exclusively used; and as many of them, for various reasons, remove from the country into the burgh, they naturally continue to speak their mother tongue, and to teach it to their children.” (NSA, Vol. VII, 1845, p. 27).
Brown, William Beattie; Coire-na-Faireamh, in Applecross Deer Forest, Ross-shire; 1883-84. Royal Scottish Academy of Art & Architecture; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/coire-na-faireamh-in-applecross-deer-forest-ross-shire-186783

Brown, William Beattie; Coire-na-Faireamh, in Applecross Deer Forest, Ross-shire; 1883-84. Royal Scottish Academy of Art & Architecture; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/coire-na-faireamh-in-applecross-deer-forest-ross-shire-186783

However, this situation was beginning to change. If you look at the parish reports for Gigha and Cara, County of Argyle, you can see the differences in language use even between the Old and New Statistical Accounts of Scotland.

“The language of the common people is Gaelic, but not reckoned the purest, on account of their vicinity, to Ireland, and intercourse with the low country, by which many corruptions have been introduced into their phraseology. They understand English, and several speak it well enough to transact business; but very few of them can understand a connected discourse in that language.” (OSA, Vol. VIII, 1793, p. 65)

“English, however, is much better understood by young and old than it was forty years ago, but there are not above ten persons in the parish who do not understand and speak Gaelic.” (NSA, Vol. VII, 1845, p. 401)

By the time of the New Statistical Accounts, in practically all of the parishes English was increasingly understood and spoken. It is always interesting when figures, even approximations, are provided. In Southend, County of Argyle, “the language generally spoken by two thirds of the people is Gaelic; but, from the establishment of schools and the intercourse with Campbelton, and the Lowland districts of Scotland, the English language is beginning to be universally understood. Families who understand Gaelic best, 210; English best, 145.” (NSA, Vol. VII, 1845, p. 431)

We will be looking at the rise of the English language in the next post.

Predominantly Scotch/Scots-speaking parishes

Scots is a Germanic language variety spoken in Lowland Scotland and some areas of Ulster, Northern Ireland. It is itself “a dialect of the Dano-Saxon, which was brought from the other side of the German Ocean, by the Danish invaders of the ninth and eleventh centuries”. (OSA, Vol. IX, 1793, p. 226) Here are some examples of parishes which were predominantly Scots-speaking. Again, we can see that in many cases other languages have also left their mark.

  • New Spynie, County of Elgin (OSA, Vol. X, 1794, p. 637)
  • Cromarty, County of Ross and Cromarty – “The language of all born and bred in this parish, approaches to the broad Scotch, differing, however, from the dialects spoken in Aberdeen and Murrayshire; this being one of the three parishes in the counties of Ross and Cromarty, in which, till of late years, the Gaelic language, which is the universal language in the adjacent parishes, was scarce ever spoken. There has been a considerable change, of late years, in this respect, among the inhabitants here; the Gaelic having become rather more prevalent than usual.” (OSA, Vol. XII, 1794, p. 254) This was attributed to Gaelic-speaking people coming to work in the parish.
  • Kirkmichael, County of Ayrshire – “The language is a mixture of Scotch and English, without any particular accent. In this district, as in every other, there are certain provincial words and phrases peculiar to itself.” (OSA, Vol. VI, 1793, p. 111)
  • Drainie, County of Elgin – “The only language here is Scotch; but the pronunciation is gradually approaching nearer to the English. Gaelic is not spoken nearer than 20 miles; and very few
    of the names of places here seem derived from it.” (OSA, Vol. IV, 1792, p. 87)
  • Boharm, County of Banff – “The Scotch is the only language spoken in the parish; but, with a few exceptions, the names of the places belong to the Erse tongue.” (OSA, Vol. XVII, 1796, p. 362)
  • Tannadice, County of Forfar – “The broad Scotch is the only language spoken here. Some of the names of places are Gaelic, and others of Gothic origin; although the former seems to abound most.” (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, p. 380)
  • Kinfauns, County of Perth – “The language of this parish and corner is Saxon, intermixed with Scottish words and expressions; attended, however, by little or no provincial accent or dialect. Though this part of the country is not at a great distance from the Highlands, yet neither Gaelic words nor accent are known amongst the natives below Perth. Very few names of places are Erse; but great number are Scotch or Saxon.” (OSA, Vol. XIV, 1795, p. 223)
  • Canisbay, County of Caithness – “The Scotch, with an intermixture of some Norwegian vocables, is the only language spoken in the parish… There is scarcely a place in the whole parish, whose name is not of Norwegian derivation.” (OSA, Vol. VIII, 1793, p. 162)
  • New Machar, County of Aberdeen – “The common people speak the Scotch language, and in what is commonly called, and well known by the name of, the Aberdonian Dialect.” (OSA, Vol. VI, 1793, p. 470)
Alexander Naysmyth; Robert Burns; 1821-22. National Portrait Gallery, London; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/robert-burns-157341

Nasmyth, Alexander; Robert Burns; 1821-22. National Portrait Gallery, London; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/robert-burns-157341

In some parish reports, particular Scots pronunciation was remarked upon. In Gamrie, County of Banff, “the language spoken in this parish is the Scottish, with an accent peculiar to the north country. There is no Erse.” (OSA, Vol. I, 1791, p. 477) In Dron, County of Perth, “the language spoken here is Scotch, with a provincial accent or tone; the pronunciation rather slow and drawling, and apt to strike the ear of a stranger as disagreeable.” (OSA, Vol. IX, 1793, p. 478) Scots spoken in the county of Fife also had its own pronunciation. In Carnock, County of Fife, “the language now generally spoken in this district, is the broad Scotch dialect, with the Fifeshire accent, which gives some words so peculiar a turn, as to render the speaker almost unintelligible to the natives of a different county.” (OSA, Vol. XI, 1794, p. 496) In St Andrews and St Leonards, County of Fife, “the language of this parish is the common dialect of the Scotch Lowlands. The Fifans are said, by strangers, to use a drawling pronunciation, but they have very few provincial words.”(OSA, Vol. XIII, 1794, p. 215) Specific examples of pronunciation will be given in the next post on Scotland’s languages.

Predominantly English-speaking parishes

What is particularly interesting to note about the predominantly English-speaking parishes is that, for the most part, they do not actually border England! (Read the next post to look at possible reasons why.) Again, there are influences from other languages, such as Gaelic and Scots, and Norse in the Shetland Isles.

  • Cushnie, County of Aberdeen – “English is the only language now known in the parish, the Gaelic having ceased to be understood.” (OSA, Vol. IV, 1792, p. 177)
  • Ardersier, County of Inverness – “The language generally spoken in the village, which contains three-fourths of the population of the parish, is English. In the interior, Gaelic prevails. But, from recent changes in the lessees of farms, and from the new occupants possessing little of the Celtic character, it may be fairly stated, that the Gaelic has lost, and is losing ground.” (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 472)
  • Newbattle, County of Edinburgh (NSA, Vol. I, 1845, p. 70)
  • Broughton, County of Peebles – “The language spoken here is English, with the Scotch accent.” (OSA, Vol. VII, 1793, p. 158)
  • Kirkconnell, County of Dumfries – “only the English language is now spoken here, as in the rest of Nithsdale, with considerable purity, excepting chiefly a few old Scotch, or rather obsolete Saxon words, that now and then occur; and in a plain, easy, manly style of pronunciation, without any of those grating peculiarities of provincial accent, that mark the dialect of some of the adjoining counties. With the small exception, of one from England, and another from Ireland, the inhabitants are all natives of Scotland.” (OSA, Vol. X, 1794, p. 447)
  • Portpatrick, County of Wigton – “English is spoken in this parish, with less of provincial accent and less mixture of Scotch than in the more central and populous districts of Scotland.” (NSA, Vol. IV, 1845, p. 145)
  • Section on the county of Shetland from volume 15 in account 2 – “The language is English, with the Norse accent, and many of its idioms and words.” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 156)

Here, we should mention that there seems to be some confusion between the English language and the Scots dialect. In some quarters, Scots is seen as a dialect of English, or even “English or Saxon, with a peculiar provincial accent” (OSA, Vol. VIII, 1793, p. 193), instead of it being a language in its own right. This makes it a little difficult to identify those parishes speaking English and those speaking Scots. Examples include:

  • Bellie, County of Elgin – “The Gaelic tongue, however, has long disappeared in this part of the country; the language, in general, being that dialect of English common to the North of Scotland; though, among all persons who pretend to anything like education, the English language is daily gaining ground.” (OSA, Vol. XIV, 1795, p. 264)
  • Luss, County of Dumbarton -“The language now universally spoken by the natives of the parish is the English language, or rather the provincial Scotch dialect.” (NSA, Vol. VIII, 1845, p. 162)
  • Speymouth, County of Elgin – “The language here spoken is the English, if the broad Scotch that is spoken throughout the greatest part of Murray, Banff, and Aberdeenshires, be thought entitled to that name. Erse is not the common language within 20 miles of us.” (OSA, Vol. XIV, 1795, p. 406)
  • Keith, County of Banff – “In this parish, and in all the neighbourhood, the language spoken is the Scotch dialect of the English language.” (OSA, Vol. V, 1793, p. 423)

Language differences within parishes

As well as language differences between parishes, there are differences within parishes. In the parish of Luss, County of Dumbarton, “south from Luss, English, and north from it the Gaelic, is the prevailing language.” (OSA, Vol. XVII, 1796, p. 266) Here are some other inter-parish variations:

  • Keith, County of Banff – “All the old names of places are evidently derived from the Gaelic, which language is generally spoken in a detached corner of the parish, by a colony from various districts of the Highlands; who being indigent, and supported by begging, or their own alertness, are allured there by the abundance of moss, and the vicinity of a very populous and plentiful country.” (OSA, Vol. V, 1793, p. 423)
  • Little Dunkeld, County of Perth – “In that part of the parish which is below lnvar, the people speak the Scottish dialect of the English, and are not distinguished by any perceptible shade of character from the inhabitants of the low country parishes around them. The rest of the inhabitants (more than three fourths) are Highlanders, who speak a dialect, not perhaps the purest, of the Gaelic. They have all a strong attachment to their native tongue; many speak English with tolerable case, and the youth, by means of the charity schools, can write it with rather more propriety, and copiousness than those of the low country part of this parish, who are very all situated with respect to schools.” (OSA, Vol. VI, 1793, p. 369)
  • Dowally, County of Perth – “It is curious fact, that the hills of King’s Seat and Craigy Barns, which form the lower boundary of Dowally, have been for centuries the separating barrier of these languages. In the first house below them, the English is, and has been spoken; and the Gaelic in the first house, (not above a mile distant), above them.” (OSA, Vol. XX, 1798, p. 490)
  • Edenkillie, County of Elgin – “In the lower part of the parish, the Scotch dialect of the English language is only spoken; but, in the upper part, the Gaelic is still much in use. About 50 years ago, the minister preached the one half of the day in English, and the other half in Gaelic.” (OSA, Vol. VIII, 1793, p. 566)
  • Strathdon, County of Aberdeen – “The language spoken is English, or rather broad Scotch, excepting in Curgarff. The people there, especially in the upper part of that district, speak also a kind of Gaelic; but that language among them is much on the decline.” (OSA, Vol. XIII, 1794, p. 183)
  • Monzie, County of Perth – “This parish being situated on the borders of the Highlands, and having much intercourse and connection with the natives, we need not be surprised to find that the Gaelic is spoken in the back part of it, and the old Scotch dialect in the fore part, pronounced with the Gaelic tone and accent. There are, however very few persons in the whole parish, who do not either speak or understand Gaelic.” (OSA, Vol. XV, 1795, p. 251)
  • Dunkeld, County of Perth – “The English language is spoken in Dunkeld. In Dowally, with the exception of 110 persons, English is spoken with fluency, but they prefer Gaelic. Gaelic is still preached, and it is taught, along with English, at school.” (NSA, Vol. X, 1845, p. 989)
  • Crieff, County of Perth – “The people speak the English language in the best Scotch dialect: although the Gaelic be commonly spoken at the distance of three miles north, of four west from Criess, yet no adult natives of the lowland part of the parish can either speak or understand it. They have not even contracted the peculiar tone of that language, by their intercourse with the numerous Highland families now residing in the town. Many indeed of these understand no other language but the Gaelic, and their children born in Crieff speak that alone for a few years as their mother-tongue.” (OSA, Vol. IX, 1793, p. 601)

Conclusion

It has been very interesting to discover the language similarities and differences between parishes and even within parishes. It is clear that, even though parishes were predominantly Gaelic, Scots or English speaking, other languages were influencing what was being spoken. In the next post, we will look at the concept of language purity and, conversely, corruption, as well as specific examples of pronunciation found in the Statistical Accounts of Scotland.

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