Dauvit Horsbroch on the Scots Leid.

Dauvit Horsbroch, of the Scots Language Centre, has a video lecture (just under 20 minutes) on the Scots language (“leid” in Scots) that’s a fascinating experience for an English speaker; the more you listen the more you understand, and it’s a linguistically informed talk about language — what’s not to like?

Via MetaFilter, where Happy Dave (“I’m Scottish, speak Scottish English day-to-day, occasionally dot my sentences with Scots words and have academic connections to the Scots leid folks through my wife”) has the following informative comment, responding to someone else saying “I don’t know anything about this guy, but I knew people who spoke Scots and they didn’t sound much like that”:

Just a note on this – this fella is a Scots language (leid) specialist, so he’s speaking a pretty formalised form of Scots with deliberate substitution of words, including some that are pretty much archaic/extinct in everyday speech. There’s an attempt to document and make consistent some of the spellings etc and I believe this is the form of Scots the Scottish Parliament uses when producing documents in Scots.

However, a lot of people slide between broad Scots (and its sub-dialects like Doric) and Scottish English, sometimes in the space of sentence, all day every day. And there are not, so far as I know, any Scots speakers (even those who speak to to the exclusion of all else) who do not speak Scottish English. If you speak Scots, you also are capable of speaking Scottish English, although the reverse is not always true.

The people you knew may have have been speaking a different regional sub dialect of Scots, or a less formalised version with less archaisms, or Scottish English with a smattering of Scots words.

Comments

  1. This talk is also delivered by a native speaker in educated Scots on a technical subject (neuroscience and L1 processing) but it’s more spontaneous and perhaps a wee bit mair difficult tae unnerstaun.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vRnQ8lYcvFU

  2. David Eddyshaw says:

    There’s an inescapable artificial quality in using a language for po-faced scholarly endeavours when it’s been ousted from such roles for several centuries.

    Lots of examples; one I happened to notice was that he used “Erse” at one point to mean specifically Irish, rather than Scots Gaelic. There was also quite a lot of calquing on Southron English going on.

    Still, I can see no way round this unless you concede linguistic defeat and limit your use of the language to the informal and plebeian. (Which is just what they want.)

    I was thinking about a similar problem when reading about Breton lately; a problem for those who don’t want to see the language die is that there is no unartificial literary Breton. This is very different from Welsh (although traditional Literary Welsh is remote enough from any form of normal spoken Welsh that you’re pretty much in the realm of diglossia, which brings problems of another kind.)

    I suppose the recent thread on Finnish is apropos too: you can make peasant speech into a literary language if you try hard enough. Come to think of it, there wouldn’t be many literary languages in the first place otherwise.

  3. David Marjanović says:

    Interesting experience indeed.

  4. David Eddyshaw says:

    Interesting on the sociolinguistics. James the Sixth most certainly had a vested interest in regarding Scots and English as the same language (and ignoring Welsh … ignoring Cornish, too, come to think of it.)

    How comprehensible is all this to you hardcore English-of-England and Americans? Enough to be in separate-language territory on mutual intelligibility grounds? I suppose it’s not really an all-or-nothing matter …

  5. I listened to about half of the lecture this morning, and while it took a bit of concentration, I understood almost everything right off. The TED talk was a little harder, as Piotr suggests, but not that much: some of the core vocabulary in the opening paragraphs did defeat me. I am not at all hard-core, however, having grown up on Scott and Stevenson and even Maclaren on all fours with Tolkien and Morris and Le Guin. As such, I am not the best person to answer the question as it was meant, even if I do have occasional troubles with “mim-moued Suddrone”, especially when mumbled or half-whispered or if the speaker’s face is not visible, as seems to so often be the case on imported television.

    I noted a few bits of prosody in the first talk that seemed to be unnatural, like sentential stress on particles like “forbye” and “and aw” that suggested to me that though phonetically perfect, the language didn’t quite sit right with the speaker.

  6. Greg Pandatshang says:

    “leid” is an interesting word, the Germanic cognate of Gk. ἐλεύθερος and Lat. liber. Wiktionary claims that it survives in English dialects as leed “language” and lede “person”.

  7. ‘…is that there is no unartificial literary Breton.”

    I wonder how many literary languages are actually natural. Certainly Sanskrit isn’t. There are questions about Classical Chinese at any historical stage of its development. Classical Latin also was never anyone’s daily speech. Versailles French and imperial English are examples from our own time – languages formed and nurtured by elites, usually rising elites, to signal membership in the elite.

  8. speedwell says:

    I am an American whose father and mother’s parents had English as their second languages (Hungarian, Italian, and Yiddish). About ten years ago I worked for an Aberdeen-based Orkneyman in the oil industry whose accent (language? dialect?) was at least as heavy as that of the speaker in the Inverness talk. So I understood nearly every word of the talk. A few years ago I married a man from the countryside around Strabane, on the Northern Irish border. They speak Ulster Scots there, with an accent that is slightly more “Irish” than the accent in Donemana a few kilometers away (my husband says Donemana men speak very close to Scottish).

    We’ve lived together in Sligo for three years plus, now. Someone once said to me, “You have almost lost your American accent except when you think about being American or you’re watching American TV”. I said, “That’s very tactful of you”. And she said, “No, no, you sound like you were born in Sligo and emigrated as a child and moved back”. I still don’t think so, but I’ve heard more than one person say it. My mother-in-law used to laugh when I said something like “I’m taking the wee wain to the shop” but she doesn’t notice anymore.

  9. Greg Pandatshang says:

    Well, every language other than Lojban (or other completely a priori conlangs) is natural to some extent (or at some historical remove). And any language that exists as an abstraction (e.g. a standard form) is artificial to some extent. So, it’s always and everywhere a continuum, rather than a yes-or-no question.

  10. Greg Pandatshang says:

    I could understand (rather than agree with) a negative reaction to Horsbroch’s talk, that it sounds fake or artificial: to my GA ear, it sounds like what you’d get if you spoke normal English but with deliberately obscure pronunciations of a few common words and with a limited amount of antique country informalisms mixed in to the vocabulary. And did a Scottish accent, of course. That is, it could be mistaken for a cant of the sort that could be devised or learned fairly simply.

    But we linguistically-woke types are aware that “country informalisms” is the natural state of language, so that’s simply saying that the register in question isn’t currently familiar as a formal register. Also, not being from Lallanistan, I have no realistic way of judging what’s antique and what isn’t. And I assume there’s a rhyme and reason to the unfamiliar realisation of some familiar words, although, as with everything else about Scots leid, I have to take a true Scotsman’s word for that.

  11. January First-of-May says:

    I guess there are probably some cases (Italian could be one) where a literary language formed out of someone’s attempt to write in his own natural language (Dante in Italian’s case) but then diverged as the normal language continued to evolve.
    Hat, you could probably comment on this one – is literary Russian based on the (somewhat fossilized) natural language from the early 19th century? As in, Pushkin wrote fairly naturally, and most who came after tended to copy him.

    As far as “daily speech” goes… I’m not sure if it’s possible to write in daily speech, the register would be wrong if nothing else (even after correcting for disfluencies).
    Not that many writers (mostly 20th and 21st century modernists) didn’t try (or perhaps even succeed, in some cases); and for all I know there’s actually a language (presumably one whose speakers were illiterate before the 20th century) whose literary tradition started with just that kind of a story.

  12. Ian Myles Slater says:

    “‘leid’ is an interesting word…”

    The online edition of the Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary doesn’t have an entry for “leid,” or for “lede.” However it does offer “leed” (as “now Scottish”) with the meaning of language (also song or tune, described simply as “Scottish”). It differs on the etymology, though:

    “Middle English lede, leden, from Old English Læden, Leden Latin, language, from (assumed) Vulgar Latin Ladinus, from Latin Latinus”

    The old (1894) Clark Hall “Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary” (Fourth Edition, 1960) has almost a full column on “leod” (mostly meaning “man,” “people,” or “leader’) and its compounds, and refers the reader to the OED for an entry (or entries) on “lede.” Unfortunately, I don’t have access to that, or to more recent lexical resources for Old English.

    The same “Anglo-Saxon Dictionary” lists “læden” as meaning “Latin,” or “any foreign language,”) with a reference to OED on “leden” (which not-quite brings us back to Merriam-Webster on “leed”).

    This all leaves me with the question of whether we are dealing with different words, “leid,””lede”, and “leed,” with different etymologies, or one word with a disputed etymology. Or perhaps just a jumble of orthographic variants.

  13. “leid” is an interesting word, the Germanic cognate of Gk. ἐλεύθερος and Lat. liber.

    Even more strictly cognate to Russ. люди ‘people’.

  14. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Jim (et al):

    “I wonder how many literary languages are actually natural.”

    Yes, indeed; “unartificial” wasn’t a very good choice in hindsight. Literary Welsh itself is most certainly artificial, being based on poetic usage with a bit of misguided false-etymological tinkering round the edges; but it established itself nonetheless as as an agreed standard centuries ago. What I was really trying to say was that in Breton the process has hardly got started (and alas, it may well be too late.) In Scots the process got sidetracked when literary Scots was usurped by England-English, and attempts to reverse this frankly sound odd.

    @Greg P &JC:

    Yes, I think you’re on to something with the phonology too. I’ve noticed something similar in Lallans-in-the-media elsewhere; you have to fight down the sensation that the speaker is really only speaking English with tweaks. I think it’s part of the same problem, in a way; we’ve got used to hearing Scots only in somewhat downmarket and also highly regionalised forms; the pan-Scottish upmarket end of the spectrum has long since been replaced by Standard Scots English. There isn’t a “real” Standard Scots without regionalisms and informal prosodic features, the way there might have been if James VI had been more of a linguistic splitter or half the members of the Scots Parliament hadn’t got their fingers burnt in the Darien Scheme.

  15. What the first speaker is doing is not so much calquing as straight borrowing, and all subaltern languages have to borrow like mad to stay in the same place. In computers, for example, all languages are subaltern except English, and so they borrow (and code-switch, including intraword code-switching) in order to be able to talk about the beasts at all.

  16. Greg Pandatshang says:

    @David Eddyshaw, what would be a more based Scots word for Irish?

  17. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Ian Myles Slater:

    Re Læden/leod. Interesting indeed. I like the “Latin” one myself. I can’t think of an instance elsewhere of a word primarily meaning “people” acquiring the sense “language”; seems a stretch. I expect others will be able to come up with numerous examples, though …

    What’s the origin of German “Lied” as in Schubert? Presumably same as Old English leóþ, whereas the person/people word is leód (pl leóde). But I don’t see how leóþ would end up as “leid/leed” in Scots.

  18. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Greg P:

    “Erse” certainly is “Irish” etymologically; but to use it in a contemporary context to mean “Irish” (as opposed to “Scots Gaelic”) seems peculiar; it strikes me as a sort of false archaism. I certainly can’t imagine anyone using “Erse” to mean “Irish” in any other sense than the language. The name “Erse” is pretty much dispreferred for Scots Gaelic, come to that, but I think one can readily come up with hypotheses to explain that …

    I once (incidentally) on Scottish television saw a documentary about Irish-speaking trawlermen. Subtitled in Scots Gaelic.

    Just as “Erse” is “Irish”, the name “Wallace”, of course, means “Welsh”, or perhaps better, “Brythonic” (as in Strathclyde.)

  19. In Middle English lẹ̄de (~ leod(e), leed) meant (1) ‘person, man’, (2) ‘people, nation’, (3) ‘landed property’. It was often used as the first member of compounds, as in leod-spel ‘national language’. Secondly, we have lẹ̄den as the reflex of OE lēoden, lȳden ‘vernacular language’. It may have been partly confused and conflated with ME lę̄den Latin (though the vowel was not quite the same), but basically Scots lede, leed, leid ‘language, formula’ belongs etymologically with all those words for ‘people’ (and with the homonymous early Scots word for ‘man; people’ < OE lēod, pl. lēode).

  20. German Lied is cognate to OE lēoþ ‘song, poem’. It can’t be related to lēod, whose final consonant goes back to pre-Germanic * (rather than *t affected by Grimm’s and Verner’s Laws). Hence also the different consonants of Lied and Leute. The ancestor of Lied is reconstructable as PGmc. *leuþa- (n.) ‘song, prayer’, with uncertain affinities outside Germanic.

  21. one can readily come up with hypotheses to explain that …

    For the same reason the Polish word doba ’24 hours’ is avoided in the gen.pl., where the expected case-form is dób, awkwardly homophonous with dup, the plural od dupa (the body part that the Scots call erse). Unfortunately, doba as a unit of time must often be combined with numerals higher than ‘4’, which require the genitive of the unit. So if Polish speakers really have to say pięć dób ‘5 full days’ etc., they make sure that the final /b/ sounds voiced (though word-final obstruent devoicing is otherwise completely regular in Polish).

  22. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Piotr:

    Ah! People -> Popular -> Vulgar -> Vernacular Language -> Language. Yes, that makes it plausible. Thanks. (I was forgetting too that to our mediaeval Western European forebears the most noteworthy thing about a language (in the absence of all that modern nationalist mythology) would probably have been not so much who spoke it as whether it was proper Latin or not, which makes the transference all the more believable.)

  23. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Piotr:

    “the Polish word doba”

    That’s very interesting (not to say vulgar.) I’m trying to think of other examples of otherwise completely regular sound changes being resisted more or less uniquely in single words for the avoidance of scandal: one known to me is in my favourite language of all, Kusaal, which has a rule deleting /g/ word-internally after /a:/ which is almost without exception in the whole language: nevertheless the Bible version always renders “saviour” as faangid (the n just symbolises contrastive nasalisation of the preceding vowel, which doesn’t disrupt the operation of the rule.) The expected form faand exists, but has the unhelpful meaning “robber, brigand.”

  24. David Eddyshaw says:

    Not so much scandalous as mystifying at the time: I was perplexed as a child to be soberly informed by an English contemporary that ice cream was made out of blood plasma from Wales. Even at the age of ten or so, I felt this reflected poorly on the management of the health service in the Principality, but did not feel competent to question the strange ways of adults.

    It was only years later that the penny dropped that he had been talking about whales. (Sadly, I believe he was mistaken.)

  25. I’m trying to think of other examples of otherwise completely regular sound changes being resisted more or less uniquely in single words for the avoidance of scandal.

    There are some famous examples from Nunatsiavut Inuktitut. Massive mergers have taken place there, making e.g. ‘earth, soil’ homophonous with ‘testicle’, and ‘blubber’ with ‘vagina’. Some speakers avoid embarrassing homophony in the first pair by restoring the older pronunciation of ‘earth’ (with a “hypercorrect” cluster otherwise lost from the Nunatsiavut dialect). In the second pair, the result of the merger refers to ‘blubber’ only while a euphemism borrowed from nursery talk is used for ‘vagina’.

  26. As for ‘people’ –> ‘vernacular language’, cf. Deutsch

  27. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Piotr:

    Of course. Should definitely have given the matter more thought …

    I’d always supposed that “Deutsch” as the name of the language was based on the name of the people (the People par excellence.) So the People are named after the Language! Like the Hausa. [Note: swiftly edited to reflect the fact that I have now actually read the link …]
    It’s a bit like discovering that the Chinese calling China the Middle Kingdom isn’t actually due to ethnocentrism (it isn’t …)

    On a slightly different tack (“Deutsch” making me think of טייטש in Yiddish) It’s easy to think of language names based on ethnonyms which then get used to mean “comprehensible speech” (as opposed to the gibberish produced by Barbarians, who are at least better endowed linguistically than those altogether speechless Niemcy.)

  28. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says:

    So if Polish speakers really have to say pięć dób ‘5 full days’ etc., they make sure that the final /b/ sounds voiced (though word-final obstruent devoicing is otherwise completely regular in Polish).

    Frankly I can hardly remember being tempted to use doba in the plural, much less in cases other than the nominative/accusative plural. I’d say ‘5 dni’ and it’s rarely going to be ambiguous. Dób/dobom/dobami/dobach all sound rather exotic. Dób with a voiced (regardless-of-the-context) final consonant is kosmos 😮

    Could be an industry-specific thing, though (hotels?).

  29. David Eddyshaw says:

    Not altogether convinced by this, mind. What about Walter von der Vogelweide and his tiusche man who were already wol gezogen back in the thirteenth century? To say nothing of the angelic women?

  30. Hat, you could probably comment on this one – is literary Russian based on the (somewhat fossilized) natural language from the early 19th century? As in, Pushkin wrote fairly naturally, and most who came after tended to copy him.

    My understanding is that there wasn’t really any “natural language from the early 19th century” — none usable by writers (who were all aristocrats at the time), because the only “natural language” in Russia was that spoken by the peasants, and of course that was unsuitable for literature for any number of reasons. The first attempt at creating a literary language was in 1748 by Lomonosov, who established a hierarchy of genres and lexical levels, with Church Slavic at the top and the vulgate at the bottom; there was never any agreement on how to unify them until Pushkin magically combined a higher level of spoken Russian with moderate borrowings from Church Slavic and calques from the French that everybody spoke to be posh and made it all sound natural — the operate word being “sound.” There wasn’t anything natural about it, any more than there is about Mozart’s similarly natural-sounding music. It takes hard work and genius to sound natural!

  31. ” What I was really trying to say was that in Breton the process has hardly got started (and alas, it may well be too late.)”

    David, that’s an important point, that literary languages live along a spectrum of full development on down to halting and preliminary attempts.

  32. So the People are named after the Language!

    Like Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw, literally “speakers of Kwak’wala”, formerly known in the literature as Kwakiutl. (a̱ is /ǝ/.)

  33. David Marjanović says:

    In Scots the process got sidetracked when literary Scots was usurped by England-English, and attempts to reverse this frankly sound odd.

    That’s the situation Low German is in.

    intraword code-switching

    I see what you did there.

    other examples of otherwise completely regular sound changes being resisted more or less uniquely in single words for the avoidance of scandal

    Some children around the age of 6 restore the [ç] in sechs for this reason. They quickly grow out of it, though.

  34. What European vernacular languages that did succeed in creating a successful literary standard did so starting with the translation of the Bible? Which did not?

  35. David Marjanović says:

    German did by half…

  36. Could be an industry-specific thing, though (hotels?)

    Definitely. One wouldn’t say so informally, but when doba acquires a formal/technical meaning, it’s hard to avoid the genitive plural. N dób hotelowych (where N ≥ 5) is both possible (if you google it, you’ll get plenty of hits) and especially awkward because of the bawdy double entendre (the d-word is also a vulgar slang term for a female sexual partner).

  37. Literary Gothic is practically synonymous with Wulfila’s Bible.

  38. Well, to us, but that’s because the great Gothic “thick magazines” have all moldered away over the centuries.

  39. David Eddyshaw says:

    “What European vernacular languages that did succeed in creating a successful literary standard did so starting with the translation of the Bible?”

    Bishop Morgan’s Welsh translation of the whole Bible is usually given a pretty pivotal role in the story of modern literary Welsh; however, he didn’t invent the language out of whole cloth. There was a standard poetic language, more or less, and Morgan wasn’t even the first Bible translator into Welsh. I think the consensus is not that the 1588 Bible created modern literary Welsh, but it helped greatly in maintaining its status as a “proper” language and no mere patois or linguistic curiosity.

    Morgan’s Bible is actually rather different grammatically from the later standard, notably in that the normal word order is what in the Welsh grammatical tradition is helpfully called the Abnormal Order. (Which is also normal in Breton and was normal in Cornish too.)

  40. David Eddyshaw says:

    In fact, I’m having some difficulty thinking of any. None of the predominantly-Catholic or Orthodox countries; none of the countries that had a solid literary tradition prior to the Reformation. I’d say the poets had more to do with it than the Bible. Wales; Ireland; Finland (again) …

    …donner un sens plus pur aux mots de la tribu…

  41. intraword

    The canonical spelling is intra-word, but it’s a perfectly cromulent native word. English is happy to put foreign affixes on English roots (rewrite) or vice versa (nonconcatenative).

  42. marie-lucie says:

    What European vernacular languages that did succeed in creating a successful literary standard did so starting with the translation of the Bible? Which did not?

    For a long time the (Catholic) Church strongly discouraged Bible translations (by burning translators at the stake, even), and only those studying for the priesthood were allowed to read the Old Testament, under strict supervision so as to discourage individual interpretation. Protestantism arose partly from the desire of ordinary people to study the Scriptures and make up their own minds about their meaning, without relying on priests’ teachings alone, and it was only later that Rome authorized translations into the vernacular, by which time the Catholic countries had developed their own literary standards unaffected by the Bible.

  43. What European vernacular languages that did succeed in creating a successful literary standard did so starting with the translation of the Bible?

    Wales; Ireland; Finland (again) …

    The Finnish literary tradition surely started with the Bible (or Christian literature more generally), but calling the resulting written language either “standard” or “successful” would have been a stretch for centuries afterwards still. The first newspaper was published only in 1776; the first newspaper to be published for a period spanning more than one year, from 1820 on…

    The more western Sami varieties present similar stories. Many 17th and 18th century efforts at creating a pan-Swedish or pan-Nordic written standard were attempted by the local clergy, but only written standards with a more narrow dialectal basis have managed to “take” (starting with Northern Sami from the late 1800s on). Not a huge surprize, seeing how the Samic dialect continuum has the same time depth and not far from the same diversity as Romance.

  44. David Eddyshaw says:

    @j:

    Yes, you’re right, of course. I was thinking of the Kalevala (naturally), but I should have remembered Mikael Agricola …
    (So Finnish actually is an example for Y. Up to a point, anyway.)

    Would it be nearer the mark to say that Lönnrot did for Finnish what Morgan did for Welsh, i.e. raised the profile of the (existing) written language at a critical juncture? Or have I been taken in by a romantic myth?

  45. Matthew Roth says:

    I’m jumping in late, because marie–lucie’s comment is patently false. There were thirteen German Bibles printed before Luther’s. There were also complete translations into Anglo–Saxon, Middle English, French, Italian, & Spanish. Partial translations exist for languages such as Czech. One may have a point about interpretation, but the translation of the Bible is no easy task. Only two men in history have done it alone: St. Jerome and Monsignor Ronald Knox. Also, the fact is that the average medieval Christian needed the New Testament plus parts of the Pentatuch, the Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Daniel, parts of the books of Kings (including Samuel), parts of Chronicles, and various other snippets of the Old Testament as dictated by the liturgical cycle. The whole is beautiful and necessary. But it’s fraught with complication. The textus receptus of the Septuagint by Erasmus is a good example, and he and others had different standards of language which competed with those handed on from the Latin fathers of the church.

  46. 1) There was no complete translation into Old English, only certain books (the Hexateuch, the Gospels, parts of others).

    2) William Frederick Henry Beck produced a full translation by himself, although his OT was edited after his death.

  47. Matthew Roth says:

    Ah, thanks. (I wondered if I had jumped the gun on Anglo–Saxon…)

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