In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

19 PART 1: LANGUAGE AND TRANSMISSION CHAPTER ONE The Languages of Scotland Sara Pons-Sanz and Aonghas MacCoinnich Introduction There were several languages in use in Scotland in the period this Companion covers. Of these the Scots tongue, closely related to but distinct from its southern neighbour, was the most widespread and influential spoken and written language throughout Scotland for most of the period. Scots had replaced Scottish Gaelic as the vernacular language in much of the south and east or the Lowlands of Scotland by 1400. By the fifteenth century Scots was the language of burgh, court and parliament ; yet, during the course of the seventeenth century, it slowly gave ground to English. Gaelic, however, was widely spoken, perhaps by half the population of Scotland by the beginning of the period, c. 1400, and possibly spoken as a first language by up to a third of all Scots by 1700. It remained as the predominant vernacular in the Hebrides and the Highlands as far south as Dumbartonshire, Stirlingshire and Perthshire and as far east as Aberdeenshire. South of ‘the Highland line’, Gaelic was also spoken in Galloway and Carrick probably until the end of the seventeenth century. Latin had been the language commonly used in church, for formal and legal documents, conveyancing, in parliament and in business prior to 1400. Latin, however, was retreating before Scots, an assertive and confident newcomer during the fifteenth century.1 The Reformation of 1560 and the move from the Latin Mass to vernacular worship diminished the status of Latin to an extent. Nevertheless, Latin remained as one of the predominant languages of education in schools and universities, was widely known and used throughout the period and it retained its importance in legal usage. It was often the medium through which Scots scholars demonstrated their learning and it remained a means of intellectual discourse before and after the Reformation.2 20 The dominance of Scots, Gaelic and Latin had supplanted the wider linguistic plurality of earlier centuries. Pictish and Cumbric (‘P-Celtic’ languages related to Old Welsh) had become extinct as spoken languages well before 1400 as, probably, had Norse, formerly used in the far north and the Hebrides. Norse or Norn lingered longer, however, in Orkney and Shetland, which did not become part of the Scottish kingdom until 1469, although there too it was under great pressure from Scots during the course of the sixteenth century. These languages, though, left a rich crop of place names and other linguistic features inherited by their successor languages to a greater or lesser degree.3 Some use of aristocratic French prevalent in earlier centuries, as represented for instance in the Anglo-French The Romance of Fergus (c. 1200), had also dwindled by this period.4 Certainly, George Dunbar, the Earl of March, claimed in 1400 in a letter to Henry IV of England that, although he knew French, he was much more comfortable with ‘Englishe’.5 Ability to read French may have remained among noble and mercantile communities, reinforced perhaps by royal marriages and alliances up to 1560. Southern English, however, became increasingly important after the Reformation, with a significant amount of southern English print materials in circulation alongside native products during the latter half of the sixteenth century.6 The Union of the Crowns of 1603 reinforced this drift towards southern English at the expense of Scots (see below). The different approaches taken to Gaelic and Scots in this chapter mirror the position they found themselves in and the concerns they faced during the period. Gaelic was still widely spoken in Scotland, but increasingly marginalised socially and politically and with an archaic, obsolescent literary culture divorced from the vernacular. One of the many challenges that faced Gaelic in this period was the struggle to achieve orthographic stability against a background of official indifference, if not hostility. Scots on the other hand, the language of government and commerce in the kingdom at the start of the period, had a rich and well-established literary tradition. It faced a very different set of challenges. Scots, perhaps, both benefitted from and had its distinctiveness eroded due to its similarity to the English language. While the closeness of the languages allowed, for example, English books to be circulated in Scotland where they could be understood, this had, in the longer term, a deleterious effect on the status of Scots, accelerated by the departure of the court in 1603 and James VI’s British agenda. Much of the discussion on...


Additional Information

Related ISBN
MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.