Languages of Scotland

Languages of Scotland

Scotland is a land of diverse linguistic and cultural heritage. Various languages spoken there over the years fall into two general categories: Germanic languages and Celtic languages. The classification of the Pictish language was once controversial but it is now generally accepted to be another Celtic language. Today, the primary languages spoken are Scottish English, (Lowland) Scots and Scottish Gaelic.

Celtic languages

The Celtic languages of Scotland can be further subdivided into three more groups. These are the Goidelic languages, otherwise known as Q-Celtic, the Brythonic languages, otherwise known as P-Celtic, and the Pictish language, which seems to have been distinct from both. All three groups are known collectively as the Insular Celtic languages.

Goidelic languages

The Goidelic language spoken in Scotland is Scottish Gaelic. This language arrived via Ireland due to the growing influence of the kingdom of Dalriada from the 6th century onwards. It is still spoken in parts of the Scottish Highlands and the Hebrides, and in Scottish cities by some communities. It was formerly spoken over a far wider area than today, even in the recent past, as evidenced by placenames. Galwegian Gaelic is the extinct dialect of Scottish Gaelic formerly spoken in southwest Scotland. It was spoken by the independent kings of Galloway in their time, and by the people of Galloway and Carrick until the early modern period. It was once spoken in Annandale and Strathnith, as well.

Scottish Gaelic, along with modern Manx and Irish, are descended from Middle Irish, a derivative of Old Irish, which is descended in turn from Primitive Irish, the oldest known form of the Goidelic languages. This form of the language is known only from fragments, mostly personal names, inscribed on stone in the Ogham alphabet in Ireland and western Britain up to about the 6th century.

Goidelic languages were once the most prominent by far among the Scottish population, but now are restricted to the West. The Beurla-reagaird is a Gaelic-based cant of the Scottish travelling community related to the Shelta of Ireland. [Neat, Timothy (2002) "The Summer Walkers". Edinburgh. Birlinn. pp.225-29.]

Brythonic languages

None of the Brythonic languages of Scotland survive to the modern day, though they have been reconstructed to a degree.

British may have been spoken in southern Scotland in Roman times and earlier. [Jackson, K. (1953) "Language and History in Early Britain".]

The Cumbric language was spoken in the Hen Ogledd which included the Kingdom of Strathclyde, as well as in Cumbria, in northern England. It probably became extinct in the 11th century.

Pictish language

The Pictish language is generally understood to be an Insular Celtic language, distinct from both the Goidelic and Brythonic languages. At its height, it may have been spoken from Shetland down to Fife, but was pushed back as Scots, Brythons, and Anglo-Saxons invaded Northern Britain, each with their own languages. Pritennic may have been a precursor of Pictish. [Jackson K; The Pictish Language in F T Wainright "The Problem of the Picts" (1955).]

Germanic languages

Two West Germanic languages in the Anglic group are spoken in Scotland today; Scots, and Scottish English, a dialect of the English language. The Norn language, a North Germanic language, is now extinct.

The Northumbrian dialect of the Old English language was spoken in the Angle Kingdom of Northumbria from the Humber estuary to the Firth of Forth. The Viking invasions of the 9th century forced the dialect to split in two and in the north it began to evolve into Scots.

cots language

Early Scots, also called "Inglis" was the emerging literary language of the Middle English speaking parts of Scotland in the period before 1450.
Middle Scots then became the language of the Anglic-speaking Scottish Lowlands in the period 1450 to 1700. This in turn developed into Scots, also called "Lowland Scots", or "Lallans". Scots is a pluricentric language. Though there have been attempts at standardising it, the language is made up of many different dialects, so much so that no one may be said to be "true" Scots more so than any other. The language's diversity is often seen as a mark of local pride among Scots. There are a variety of dialects of Scots including the Doric of the north east, Orcadian and Shetlandic, (two dialects of the Northern Isles influenced by Norn), Glaswegian and South Scots spoken in the Borders. A Jewish hybrid of the early 20th century is Scots-Yiddish.

cottish English

Scottish English is the standardised form of the English language used in Scotland. It has been heavily influenced by Scots, as well as Scottish Gaelic. In the Highlands, Highland English is the preferable form of this dialect. Highland English has been more heavily influenced by Gaelic than all but Hebridean English, spoken in the Western Isles.

Norn language

Norn is an extinct North Germanic, West Scandinavian, language that was spoken on Shetland and Orkney, off the north coast of mainland Scotland, and in Caithness. Norn evolved from the Old Norse that was widely spoken in the Hebrides, Orkney, Shetland and the west coast of the mainland during the Viking occupation from the 8th to the 13th centuries. After the Northern Isles were ceded to Scotland by Norway in the 15th century, its use was discouraged by the Scottish government and the Church of Scotland (the national church), and it was gradually replaced by Lowland Scots over time. Norn died out in the 19th century.

Overview and statistics

Diagrammatic representation of the development of the historic Indo-European languages of Scotland:

According to the 2001 census Scottish Gaelic has 58,652 speakers (roughly 1% of the population of Scotland). In total 92,400 people aged three and over in Scotland had some Gaelic language ability in 2001. [ "News Release - Scotland's Census 2001 - Gaelic Report"] from General Registrar for Scotland website, 10 October 2005. Retrieved 27 December 2007] According to a 1996 estimate of the General Register Office for Scotland approximately 1.5 million individuals, 30% of the Scottish population, speak Scots.


*The Romani language has also been spoken in Scotland, but became more or less extinct in the country during the 20th century. It has lent Scotland's other languages a number of loanwords, and has also had an effect on the Gaelic of the travelling community. Since the beginning of the 21st century increasing numbers of Roma migrants has seen the Romani language return to Scotland. The Govanhill area in Glasgow has become home to many Roma people and the Romani language can be heard being spoken in the area.
*Scotland's deaf community uses British Sign Language. There are a few signs used in Scotland which are unique to that country.
*During the 20th and 21st centuries immigrants from a wide variety of countries have created a complex mosaic of spoken languages amongst the resident population.

ee also

*Ulster Scots
*Scotched English
*Ausbausprache - Abstandsprache - Dachsprache


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