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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Scotland’s languages: Etymology

What are the languages of Scotland? There are three official languages: English, which is the main language spoken, then the minority languages Scots, which is spoken by roughly 30% of the population and Scottish Gaelic, spoken by about 1% of the population. There are also many other languages spoken by migrant communities, such as Polish, Italian, Urdu, Punjabi and Arabic, and by people living and working in Scotland, such as French, German and Spanish. Of course, this situation hasn’t always been the case. In this series of posts on Scotland’s languages, we will look at: the country’s etymology, in particular with regard to place names; what languages people spoke at the time of the Statistical Accounts of Scotland; the idea of language purity; pronunciation and intonation; and the changes in languages used, including the rise of the English language.

Scotland’s etymology

The origins of Scotland itself can be found in its place names, which provide a fascinating reflection of Scotland’s history. Most, if not all, parish reports give the origin of place names found in the area. The majority of names are derived from the Gaelic language, but there are also some of Scandinavian, Scotch and Anglo-Saxon/English origin.

The Gaelic language

Scottish Gaelic, sometimes known as Erse, is a Celtic language which was originally spoken by the Gaels. At one time, this was the language of most of Scotland. In Garvock, County of Kincardine, it was reported that “indeed, the Gaelic language, though long since banished to the Highland glens and mountains of the west of Scotland, was the court language in the reign of Malcolm III. who died 1093, and spoken in a parliament held at Ardchattan in the reign of Robert (Bruce) I., who died 1329.” (NSA, Vol. XI, 1845, p. 40). As noted by the parish of Dunbarny, County of Perth, “most of the names of places in this district, as well as in Fife, Kinross, &c. are of Celtic origin. This need not excite surprise when we remember, that the Gaelic language was spoken, even in the lowlands of Scotland, from A.D. 843 to 1097, and to a considerably later period. Even so late as the beginning of the sixteenth century, Major the historian and Munster informs us, that one-half of the Scottish people spoke Gaelic.”(NSA, Vol. X, 1845, p. 807) So, it is no wonder that most place names in Scotland are Gaelic in origin. Here are some examples:

Gigha and Cara, County of Argyle – “In the former Statistical Account, the name of this parish is said to be derived from the two Gaelic words, Eilean, island, and Dia, God, written in the Gaelic Eilean Dhia, signifying God’s Island. It is, however, more likely that the name Gigha is derived from the Gaelic word Geodhap, a “creek,” since the island abounds in creeks and bays favourable for keeping boats in ; whereas the opposite coast of Kintyre, to a great extent is much exposed to the Atlantic, and without any creeks or ports where vessels could lie in safety. Cara is supposed to signify a monastery.” (NSA, Vol. VII, 1845, p. 394)

Kilmuir and Suddy, County of Ross and Cromarty – “All the names of the heritors places of residence in this parish, are derived from the Gaelic: Thus; Allangrange, or, Allan-Chrain, “a fertile field of corn, Suddy, or Sui-us-sbin, “a good place to settle in,” Belmaduthy, or Ball-ma-duich, “a good country town,” or Ball-ma-duth, “a good black “town,” from its being situated hard by a black moor.” (OSA, Vol. XII, 1794, p. 267)

Moy and Dalarossie, County of Inverness – “The names of all the places in them are evidently of Gaelic derivation, and descriptive of their situation, or some other property. Accordingly, Moy, in Gaelic, Magh, signifies a meadow or plain, which is the nature of the place; Dalarossie, or Dalfergussie, is Fergus’s valley. The ancient name is Starsach-na-gal, i. e. the Threshold of the Gaels, or Highlanders, being the pass, by which the Highlanders entered to the Low Country, so narrow between high mountains, that a few men could defend it against numbers.” (OSA, Vol. VIII, 1793, p. 499)

Kiltarlity, County of Inverness – “The names of places are all obviously derived from the Gaelic, and are descriptive of the situation, the nature of the ground, or something remarkable near the place, by which it is distinguished. As, for example, Belladrum, in Gaelic, “Bal an drom,” “the town on the emi”nence;” Brunach, a corruption of “Breagh-achadh,” “the beautiful “field;” “Eskadale,” “the dale of the waters;” here two rivers partly surround the arable ground, and often overflow a great part of the same.” (OSA, Vol. XIII, 1794, p. 522)

Strathblane, County of Stirling – “The parish of Strathblane takes its name from the river Blane, which rises in it, and runs through its whole extent. Blane is a contraction of two Gaelic words, signifying warm river. The literal interpretation of the word Strathblane, consequently is, “the valley of the warm river;” a name fitly appropriated to this parish, which from its situation, enjoys a peculiarly mild atmosphere.” (OSA, Vol. XVIII, 1796, p. 563)

Adam, A painting of Strathblane by Joseph Adam, and Robert Henry Roe, date unknown. Glasgow Museums; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/strathblane-83006

Strathblane by Joseph Adam, and Robert Henry Roe, date unknown. Glasgow Museums; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/strathblane-83006

Sometimes, it is not a hundred percent clear what the source of a place name is. There is a very interesting discussion on the etymology of Lanark, County of Lanark, which, in at least one quarter, was thought to be derived from the Welsh language! (OSA, Vol. XV, 1795, p. 6-9)

It is not just place names which are Gaelic. Vocabulary derived from Gaelic was also used by inhabitants of various parishes, such as Lanark:

“… Bink, a stone or green sod or seat before a door, is pure Gaelic. Cromie a cow with crooked horns, also a crooked stick, from Cromadh bended. Body, a clown or silly person, Bodach. Pluck, a carbuncle on the face, Plucain. Eirack, a chicken, Eira. Stock-in-horn, a pipe with a horn used by the shepherds, from Stoc a pipe. Kinning, a Rabbit, Coinain. Brock, a Badger, Broc. Brat, a cover or scuri, also a piece of cloth, Brat. To toom, empty, Taomam. To ding, overcome, Dingam. Glar, puddle or filth, Gaor. Ingle, the fire, Aingeal. Gairtai, garter, Gairtain. Groset, gooseberry, Grosaid. Guitar, a gullyhole, Guitar. Haggis, a dish, Taiggis. Inch, invariably used for an island, Innse or Innis. Clachan, a village, Clachan. Loch, a Lake, Loch. Carameile or Caparcile, the orobus tuberosus, being the root so much used in diet by the ancient Caledonians.” (OSA, Vol. XV, 1795, p. 8)

In the next post on Scotland’s languages we will look more in-depth at the languages spoken in different parishes. If you would like to find out more about the Gaelic language itself, there is a very detailed description of its grammar in the parish report for Callander, County of Perth. (OSA, Vol. XI, 1794, p. 613)

Here, it is very interesting to note that, as reported by the parish of Kildonan, County of Sutherland, many Gaelic words used in the realm of religion had their roots in the Latin spoken by the early monks,  “Almost all the words now used in the Gaelic language connected, with religious establishments, have been borrowed from there old monkish Latin used by the first Christian missionaries in the Highlands, to denote new offices terms not previously known. Thus the Gaelic of church is Eaglais, from the Latin Ecologia, the Gaelic of Bishop is Easbuig, from Episcopus; the Gaelic of abbot, is Abb, from Abbas; the Gaelic of priest is Sagart, from Sacerdos; and the Gaelic of a chapel, or the primitive resting place of a Christian missionary, was Cill, pronounced Kil, from Cella, a chapel or cellar.” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 133)

Scandinavian influence

In the north of Scotland there are several parishes whose place names are Scandinavian in origin. These include:

Duirinish, County of Inverness – “There is a striking proof of the complete subjugation of the Island of Skye to the Norwegian invaders in the fact, that very many of the proper names still used in it are traceable to a Norse origin. The inhabitants have Tormoid, Harold, Olaus, and Manus,-all Norwegian names, still common among them. But it is much more remarkable than this, that nearly every farm, every hill, every stream, has a Norwegian appellation, while, at the same time, not the remotest trace of Norse can be discovered in any part of the language of the country, except the proper names.”(NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 332)

North Uist, County of Inverness – “Uist is taken from the Scandinavian word, uist, signifying west in the English language, a name given to it by the Danes, when in possession of these countries, on account of its westerly situation.” (OSA, Vol. XIII, 1794, p. 300)

A photograph of Stromess - looking back from the ferry MV Hamnavoe towards Stromness Harbour, Mainland Orkney, Scotland.

Looking back from the ferry MV Hamnavoe towards Stromness Harbour, Mainland Orkney, Scotland. Photograph taken by <p&p>photo, 2011. [via Flickr – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/]

Stromness, County of Orkney – “These islands having been so long and repeatedly in the possession of the Danes and Norwegians, many of the names of places and persons are derived from the Danish or Scandinavian language. Stromness and Sandwick are names to be found in Sweden, Denmark, and Iceland. The first of these may derive its name from Strom, or Straum, and Ness; this last meaning an extended point of land, and Strom the strong side off that point. The parish of Sandwick, as well as the parish of the same name in the Shetland isles, of a similar situation, may derive its name from Sand and Wick, as there is a sandy bay on the west side of this parish, Wick signifying a bay or inlet of the sea.” (OSA, Vol. XVI, 1795, p. 410)

Bower, County of Caithness – “The name of Bower, as of most places in this country, seems to be derived from the Danish language, and is said to denote a valley, (or what in Scotch is called a carse).” (OSA, Vol. VII, 1793, p. 521)

In the County of Shetland, “the ancient language was a dialect of the Norse, being similar to what is now spoken in the Faroe Islands; but, for more than a century, it has been disused, and is now quite forgotten.” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 154) However, it’s influence could still be felt. “The language is English, with the Norse accent, and many of its idioms and words. The old names of places are Scandinavian.” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 156)

Again, as for Gaelic, words which were Scandinavian in origin could be found in people’s everyday vocabulary. As mentioned in a previous blog post, in Cross and Burness, County of Orkney, “a good many words are peculiar to the north isles, and some of them are evidently of Scandinavian origin. A few are given in alphabetical order…” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 95)

Some place names also have particular stories attached to them. In the parish of Jura, County of Argyle, it was reported that “according to a tradition still believed in the Hebrides, Corryvreachkan, or the Caldron of Breachkan, received its name from a Scandinavian Prince, who, during a visit to Scotland, became enamoured of a Princess of the Isles, and sought her for his bride. Her wily father, dreading the consequences of the connection, but fearful to offend the King of Lochlin, gave his consent to their marriage, on condition that Breachkan should prove his skill and prowess by anchoring his bark for three days and three nights in the whirlpool. Too fond or too proud to shrink from the danger, he proceeded to Lochlin to make preparations for the enterprise. Having consulted the sages of his native land, he was directed to provide himself with three cables, one of hemp, one of wool, and one of woman’s hair. The first two were easily procured; and the beauty of his person, his renown as a warrior, and the courtesy of his manners had so endeared him to the damsels of his country, that they cut off their own hair to make the third, on which his safety was ultimately to depend; for the purity of female innocence gave it power to resist even the force of the waves. Thus provided, the Prince set sail from Lochlin and anchored in the gulf…” Visit the Statistical Accounts of Scotland to find out what happened next! (NSA, Vol. VII, 1845, p. 536)

English and Scotch names

In the parish of Peterhead, County of Aberdeen, there are several place names of English, as well as Gaelic, origin. “Thus, Alehouse-hill, (a house which the family of Raven’s Craig used to frequent as a tavern), Myreside, Hayfield, Newseat, Mount-pleasant, Scotch-mill are English; likewise, Stay the Voyage, (a place where the family of Marischal used to halt in their way from Inverugie to Peterhead), another Stay the Voyage, from a tenant of the former place having carried the name of his first place of residence to a house in the opposite side of the parish; Cross-fold, from a place of worship having been in that field before the Reformation. Invernettie, Auchtiegall, Glendevny, and Balmuir, I am informed are Gaelic; and Blackhouse, which was supposed to be English, I am informed, is likewise Gaelic; Blackhouse being derived from Blockhouse, which signifies a place of defence in front of a castle.” (OSA, Vol. XVI, 1795, p. 592)

This is also the case for the parish of Newtyle, County of Forfar, where “names of places are chiefly derived from the English; but there are also instances of derivation from the Gaelic.” (OSA, Vol. III, 1792, p. 401)

In Dundee, County of Forfar, on the other hand, “the names of places in the parish are partly in this language [broad Scots], and partly Gaelic. Of the former kind are Blackness, Coldside, Clepingtown and Claypots, Balgay, Dudhope, Drumgeith, Duntroon, Baldovie, and various others are examples of the latter.” (OSA, Vol. VIII, 1793, p. 193)

An intermixture

The examples of Peterhead and Dundee given above illustrate that throughout Scotland there was a real mix of people and languages which shaped Scotland’s parishes. Here are some other examples:

In Reay, County of Caithness, “the names of places are mostly of Gaelic derivation. Some ending in ster, as Shebster, Brubster, &c. are supposed to be of Danish origin. Reay, the name of the parish, is thought to be a corruption from Urray, the name of a Pictish hero who inhabited the castle, to this day called Knock Urray.” (OSA, Vol. VII, 1793, p. 579)

“The present parishioners of Wick are an intermixture of the Celtic, Pictish, Norwegian, and, latterly, again of the Celtic races. This is evident, both from the names and from the physical character, of the people” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 144)

Considering how people moved about and influenced others in their ways and language, it is not surprising that some place names are derived from more than one language. For example, in Gigha and Cara, County of Argyle, “The point which extends farthest into the sea is called Ardminish point, on the north side of the bay of that name, from the Gaelic words Ard, a height, meadhon, middle, and ness, (Danish) a point going out into the sea.” (NSA, Vol. VII, 1845, p. 396)

In the parish of Kilmuir, County of Inverness, it was noted that “in this and in most other parishes of the Hebrides the names of hamlets, hills, bays, promontories, &c. are evidently, for the most part, of Scandinavian origin. In some cases, however, Gaelic roots with Scandinavian terminations, and vice versa, are to be met with. It is a remarkable fact, that the names given to certain localities by the natives of a foreign land, have been retained for so many ages and generations, as is the case here and elsewhere. When the prevalence of Scandinavian names is taken into consideration, and the great disproportion which they bear to those of Celtic origin, it will appear evident, that the number, power, and influence of the aboriginal population was but small in comparison with that of the Norwegian invaders.” (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 241)

Photograph of the Provost Ross' House on Shiprow, Aberdeen.

Provost Ross’ House, Shiprow, Aberdeen. By AberdeenBill [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons.

A further point to make here is that the increasing usage of the English language was having an influence on original place names. In the parish report for Aberdeen, County of Aberdeen, a very interesting observation was made about place names being ‘Englishfied’. “By far the greatest number of names of places are from the old Scotch dialect, which has been now for many ages the language of the country. Not any more remarkable instances of such derivation in this parish can be given, than the names of the streets of the town, the principal of which are the Castlegate, the Braidgate, the Overkirkgate, the Netherkirkgate, the Gallowgate. Add to these, the Gaistraw, the Shipraw, the Rottenraw, the Dubbyraw, the Checkeraw, the Narrow-wynd, the Back-wynd, the Correction-wynd. These, with Putachie’s-side, and the Green, are almost all the old names of streets and lanes in the town. We cannot give a better example than in this very thing of the advances noticed in a former article, which we are daily making towards English. We almost never hear now of the Braidgate and the Castlegate. They are become universally the Broadstreet and the Castlestreet. The Gallowgate, for what good reason we know not, has not yet shared in this reformation, for nobody ventures upon Gallowstreet.” (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, p. 183) In the parish of Callander, County of Perth, “any Gaelic words, that occur, are spelled according to the English orthography, to render them legible by English readers.”(OSA, Vol. XI, 1794, p. 612) (We will look at the rise of the English language in a future blog post.)

Surnames

While researching languages and place names I came across instances of surnames specific to a particular area. As well as those of Scandinavian origin mentioned above (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 332), the following were found:

Kildonan, County of Sutherland – “The clan Gun have at all times been considered throughout the North Highlands as descended from the Norwegian Kings of Man; and Lochlin, the Gaelic name for ancient Scandinavia, or, perhaps, in a more limited acceptation, for Denmark, is still named by the few natives of the Highlands who now recollect the traditions of their fathers,-as the Parent country of the Guns, the Macleods and the Gillantlers.” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 140)

Tundergarth, County of Dumfries – “Johnstone is the most prevalent surname in this parish; and the old castle of Tondergarth was once the principal seat of the Johnstones. The language of this parish has always been a purely Saxon dialect of the old Lowland Scottish. Tondergarth is a compound Saxon word, signifying the Castle of the Garden, or rather, perhaps, the Castle of the Sanctuary.” (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, p. 445)

Cromarty, County of Ross and Cromarty – “It is worthy of notice, that there is a peculiar surname, Mustard, among the people here, not common elsewhere.” (OSA, Vol. XII, 1794, p. 254)

Conclusion

The etymology of Scotland’s place names gives us a fascinating picture of both the history and landscape of the county, with origins found in the Gaelic, Scandinavian, Scotch and English languages. A large number of ancient place names are derived from Gaelic (the country’s majority language at that time) and describe its geographical or geological situation or some other property of that place. What is particularly interesting is the mix of etymology we get within the same parish, showing how people moved around and influenced others through their language.

In our next post, we take a closer look at the languages spoken throughout Scotland’s parishes.

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Integrating Linked Data into the Carmicheal Watson Project

During the Linked Data Focus project we have been integrating Linked Data into a range of EDINA services. In this post software engineer Neil Mayo summarises how we have brought Linked Data to the 19th Century through our work on the Carmichael Watson project. But first a bit of background to this work…

Alexander Carmichael was a pioneering folklorist documenting the people, traditions, stories and culture of Gaelic-speaking Scotland. His most famous work focuses on the Hebrides, the famously beautiful but remote archipelago of islands off the west coast of Scotland. These are diverse environments and small communities whose equally diverse traditions and songs are captured in Carmichael’s Carmina Gedelica.

The Carmichael Watson Project website is an attempt to catalogue, digitise, transcribe and translate Alexander Carmichael’s notoriously eccentric hand written notes. The site creates new opportunities for scholars to understand his published work in the wider context of his lifelong research notes. However the role of place is so central to the notes and traditions recorded by Carmichael that being able to add further location information presented an excellent opportunity to further contextualise his work.  Linking the records of the cultures of people living in the Hebrides to a specific and modern sense of place – through maps and images – allows those investigating the texts to get a real sense of the relationship between songs, traditions and stories and the places that inspired or cultivated them.

Image of a Carmicheal Watson catalogue record showing linked data around places mentioned in the text (click through to access the record).

Image of a Carmicheal Watson catalogue record showing linked data around places mentioned in the text (click through to access the record).

So, how did we do that? Well on every catalogue page describing a catalogue entry, we incorporated linked data links for the place names, based on their longitude and latitude. There are links (where possible) to:

– Geo data and localised photos on Geograph
– Flickr photos within 2000m
– Location on Geonames map
– Map of nearby places on Geonames

An example can be seen at “A Toast” from Carmichaels 1883 notes:
http://www.carmichaelwatson.lib.ed.ac.uk/cwatson/en/catalogueentry/2652

and a rather over the top one (listing all the places in a single notebook) in item Coll-97/CW89 from 1887:
http://www.carmichaelwatson.lib.ed.ac.uk/cwatson/en/catalogueentry/3764

Additionally, on the A-Z listing of places, we have embedded linked data in the HTML, using ontologies from:

– Ordnance Survey: http://data.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/ontology/spatialrelations
– GeoRSS: http://www.georss.org/georss
– W3C Basic Geo: http://www.w3.org/2003/01/geo/wgs84_pos#
– SKOS: http://www.w3.org/2004/02/skos/core
– FOAF: http://xmlns.com/foaf/0.1

You can see the linked data in this page, for each level of each place (separated by a pipe |):
http://www.carmichaelwatson.lib.ed.ac.uk/cwatson/en/azindex/places

We would love to hear your thoughts on this use of Linked Data – please just leave us a comment below. And if you have any questions or comments on the Carmichael Watson Project itself then please do contact the team at: carmichael.watson@ed.ac.uk.