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Scottish English refers to the varieties of English spoken in Scotlandmarker. It may or may not include Scots depending on the observer.

The main, formal variety is called Scottish Standard English or Standard Scottish English. However, Scottish English does have some distinctive vocabulary, particularly pertaining to Scottish institutions such as the Church of Scotlandmarker, local government and the education and legal systems.

Scottish Standard English is at one end of a bipolar linguistic continuum, with focused broad Scots at the other.Scottish English may be influenced to varying degrees by Scots.Many Scots speakers separate Scots and Scottish English as different registers depending on social circumstances. Some speakers code switch clearly from one to the other while others style shift in a less predictable and more fluctuating manner. Generally there is a shift to Scottish English in formal situations or with individuals of a higher social status.


Scottish English is the result of language contact between Scots and the Standard English of England after the 17th century. The resulting shift to English by Scots-speakers resulted in many phonological compromises and lexical transfers, often mistaken for mergers by linguists unfamiliar with the history of Scottish English. Furthermore, the process was also influenced by interdialectal forms, hypercorrections and spelling pronunciations. (See Phonology below.)


The speech of the middle classes in Scotland tends to conform to the grammatical norms of the written standard, particularly in situations that are regarded as formal. Highland English is slightly different from the variety spoken in the Lowlands in that it is more phonologically, grammatically, and lexically influenced by a Gaelic substratum.

While pronunciation features vary among speakers (depending on region and social status), there are a number of phonological aspects characteristic of Scottish English:

  • Scottish English is a rhotic accent, meaning is pronounced in the syllable coda. As with Received Pronunciation, may be an alveolar approximant ( , although it is also common that a speaker will use an alveolar tap . Less common is use of the alveolar trill (hereafter, will be used to denote any rhotic consonant).
    • While other dialects have merged , , before , Scottish English makes a distinction between the vowels in herd, bird, and curd.
    • Many varieties contrast and before so that hoarse and horse are pronounced differently.
    • and are contrasted so that shore and sure are pronounced differently, as are pour and poor.
  • There is a distinction between and in word pairs such as witch and which.
  • The phoneme is common in names and in SSE's many Gaelic and Scots borrowings, so much so that it is often taught to incomers, particularly for "ch" in loch. Some Scottish speakers use it in words of Greek origin as well, such as technical, patriarch, etc. The pronunciation of these words in the original Greek would support this. (Wells 1982, 408).
  • is usually velarized (see dark l). In areas where Scottish Gaelic was spoken until relatively recently (such as Dumfriesmarker and Galloway), velarization may be absent.
  • Vowel length is generally regarded as non-phonemic, although a distinctive part of Scottish English is the Scots vowel length rule (Scobbie et al. 1999). Certain vowels (such as , , and are generally long but are shortened before nasals and voiced plosives. However, this does not occur across morpheme boundaries so that crude contrasts with crewed, need with kneed and side with sighed.
  • Scottish English has no , instead transferring Scots . Phonetically, this vowel may be more front, being pronounced or even . Thus pull and pool are homophones.
  • Cot and caught are not differentiated in most Central Scottish varieties, as they are in some other varieties.
  • In most varieties, there is no : distinction; therefore, bath, trap, and palm have the same vowel.
  • The happY vowel is most commonly (as in face), but may also be (as in kit) or (as in fleece).
  • /θs/ is often used in plural nouns where southern English has /ðz/ (baths, youths, etc); with and booth are pronounced with θ. (See Pronunciation of English th.)
  • In colloquial speech, the glottal stop may be an allophone of after a vowel, as in . These same speakers may "drop the g" in the suffix -ing and debuccalize to in certain contexts.
  • /ɪ/ is more open, so that it sounds closer to /ɛ/ (although the two phonemes are not merged).

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Scotticismsare idioms or expressions that are characteristic of Scots. They are more likely to occur in spoken than written language.

Scotticisms are generally divided into two types: covert Scotticisms, which generally go unnoticed as being particularly Scottish by those using them, and overt Scotticisms, usually used for stylistic effect, with those using them aware of their Scottish nature.

Lexical Scotticisms

An example of "outwith" on a sign in ScotlandScottish English has inherited a number of lexical items from Scots, which are comparatively rare in other forms of standard English.

General items are outwith, meaning "outside of"; wee, the Scots word for small (also common in New Zealand English); pinkiefor little finger and janitorfor caretaker (pinkieand janitorare standard in American English). Examples of culturally specific items are caber, haggis, teuchter, nedand landwardfor rural; It's your shotfor "It's your turn".

The use of "How?" meaning "Why?" is distinctive of Scottish, Northern Englishand Northern Irish English. "Why not?" is often rendered as "How not?".

There is a range of (often anglicised) legal and administrative vocabulary inherited from Scots e.g. deputefor deputy, provenfor proved(standard in American English), interdictfor injunctionand sheriff substitutefor acting sheriff.

Often, lexical differences between Scottish English and Southern Standard English are simply differences in the distribution of shared lexis, such as stayfor "live" (as in: where do you stay?); doubtfor "think the worst" (I doubt it will rainmeaning "I fear that it will rain" instead of the standard English meaning "I think it unlikely that it will rain").

Grammatical Scotticisms

The progressive verb forms are used rather more frequently than in other varieties of standard English, for example with some stative verbs(I'm wanting a drink). The future progressive frequently implies an assumption (You'll be coming from Glasgow).Prepositions are often used differently. The compound preposition off ofis often used (Take that off of the table).

In colloquial speech shalland oughtare wanting, mustis marginal for obligation and mayis rare. Many syntactical features of SSE are found in other forms of English, e.g. English language in Englandand North American English:

  • What age are you? for "How old are you?"
  • My hair is needing washed or My hair needs washed for "My hair needs washing" or "My hair needs to be washed".
  • Amn't I invited? for Am I not invited

Note that in Scottish English, the first person declarative I amn't invitedand interrogative Amn't I invited?are both possible. Contrast English language in England, which has Aren't I?but no contracted declarative form. (All varieties have I'm not invited.)

See also


  • Aitken, A. J. (1979) "Scottish speech: a historical view with special reference to the Standard English of Scotland" in A. J. Aitken and Tom McArthur eds. Languages of Scotland, Edinburgh: Chambers, 85-118. Updated in next.

External links

IPA help key]] and Scottish English vowels (many individual words do not correspond)
Pure vowels
Help key Scottish Examples
bid, pit
bead, peat
bed, pet
bay, hey, fate
bad, pat
balm, father, pa
bod, pot, cot
bawd, paw, caught
beau, hoe, poke
good, foot, put
booed, food
bud, putt
buy, ride, write
how, pout
boy, hoy
hue, pew, new
R-colored vowels (these do not exist in Scots)
mirror (also in f'ir)
beer, mere
berry, merry (also in h'er)
bear, mare, Mary
barrow, marry
bar, mar
moral, forage
born, for
boar, four, more
boor, moor
hurry, Murray (also in f'ur)
(ɝ) bird, herd, furry
Reduced vowels
roses, business
Rosa’s, cuppa
(ɚ) runner, mercer

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