A specialized subject to be sure, but if you’re interested in sources for Scots pronunciation in the eighteenth century you’ll definitely want to read Charles Jones’s “Sources for Scots pronunciation in the Eighteenth Century“—and even if the reconstruction of historical pronunciation isn’t your thing, you might be interested in the copious quotes from schoolbooks of the period:

Leonora was a little girl of quick parts and vivacity. At only six years old, she could both work and handle her scissars [sic] with much dexterity, and her mamma’s pincushions and huswifes were all of her making. She could read, with ease and readiness, any book that was put into her hand; She could also write very prettily, and she never put large letters in the middle of a word, nor scrawled all awry, from corner to corner of her paper. Neither were her strokes so sprawling, that five or six words would fill a whole sheet from the top to the bottom; as I have known to be the case with some other little girls of the same age.

And here’s a recommendation to cure nonstandard pronunciation at the earliest possible age:

It ought to be, indispensably, the care of every Teacher of English, not to suffer children to pronounce according to the dialect of that place of the country where they were born or reside, if it happens to be vicious. For, if they are suffered to proceed in it, and be habituated to an uncouth pronunciation in their youth, it will most likely remain with them all their days. And those gentlemen who are so captivated with the prejudice of inveterate custom, as not to teach to read by the powers of the sounds, ought in duty, at least, to make their scholars masters of the various formation of the vowels and diphthongs, and of the natural sounds, or simple contacts of the consonants both single and double, whereby they may form the various configurations of the parts of the mouth, and properly apply the several organs of speech in order to speak with ease and propriety. And as children do not commence scholars so soon as their capacities admit, or often on account of their speaking but badly, if they were taught the mute sounds or simple contacts of the consonants, it would immediately enable them to pronounce with a peculiar distinctness. I had a child lately under my care, of about nine years of age, whose speech from the beginning was unintelligible to all, but those who were acquainted with her manner of expression. After I had taught her the sounds of the consonants, and the proper motions that were formed by these contacts both in her own, and by looking at my mouth, I brought her by a few lessons to pronounce any word whatsoever. And by a short practice, she spoke with perfect elocution. This method effectually cuts stammering or hesitation in speech, either in young or old; especially if a grown person be taught to speak for some time with great deliberation. [Buchanan, Linguae Britannicae (1757), p. xii nt.]

Via aldiboronti at Wordorigins.


  1. It seems to me not a co-incidence that the down with prescriptivism! movement arose with the academic pre-eminence of English-speaking North America, three hundred and fifteen million people with the dialectal diversity of Rheinland-Pfalz or Connaught (okay, maybe I ’m being unfair to Newfoundland). Learning to speak Standard English had real value if you grew in Germanic Scotland and considered leaving.

  2. Hat, who put the [sic] after scissars? The first page of a google search convinces even the lay idiot – myself – that it is archaic but not incorrect.

  3. “[sic]” is used in any case in which the reader might suspect that a transcription error has occurred in a document — “scissars” could look a lot like a typo if you didn’t already know it was an archaic word.

  4. The [sic] is from the linked article — I wouldn’t have added it myself, but I can understand why someone did.

  5. I think that North American English is more diverse than the above description suggests, if only for the existence of African American Vernacular English. I’m no fan of prescriptivism myself, but I have no problem with standardization. Indeed, my quarrel with prescriptivism is precisely that when African American children are taught Standard English from a prescriptivist point of view, they are taught that it is “good English,” whereas their native vernacular is “ignorant” and “lazy.” This, understandably, makes many of them resistant to acquiring Standard English.

  6. A hae ma doots about accepting history from a chump who believes that “the clans” were defeated at Culloden.

  7. I’ve no real coherent idea of the details of African American vernacular English, so excuse my transposition of this dialogue to somewhere I’m sure I know this aspect of the non-standard variety exists:
    Teacher: Thomas, are you ready to say your piece on what you want to be when you grow up?
    Thomas: I bain’t yet, Miss.
    Teacher: Thomas, the Standard English for that is “I’m not yet”; please make sure you use Standard English in the classroom.
    <Thomas raises hand>
    Teacher: Yes, Thomas?
    Thomas: Miss, what’s “standard” mean?
    Teacher: “Standard” means “agreed on”; if you speak “standard English” you can communicate clearly with the wider world, because most of the world doesn’t say nor understand “bain’t” and other non-standard things.
    Thomas: But Miss, I’m going to drive a tractor for Mr. Farrow down t’road when I grow up. I’m not going anywhere people won’t understand me. [Or, in our hypothetical AAVE-speaking environment, “I’m going to play in the NBA/be a professional rapper” and so on.]
    Teacher: I don’t care what your plans for the future are now, you speak Standard English in my classroom. [Now, that’s a spectacularly bad technique to change someone’s behaviour; you can be sure that Thomas will use standard speech outside the classroom at best grudgingly and more likely not at all, and his competence in it within the classroom will likewise suffer.]
    I would put forward the alternative suggestion that the resistance to acquiring Standard English is part of the same disengagement from wider US culture that leads to the strikingly non-Western approach of inventing given names for children from whole cloth; this is a weak argument from me, however, because I don’t know if, say, the acquisition of Standard English is any better in Appalachia, where there’s as distinctive a dialect but the social (almost ethnic) group is different.

  8. How DO you pronounce Culloden?

  9. Cull-ODD-en (rhymes with “hot-roddin'”). I’m sure the spelling pronunciation -ODE-en is widespread, especially in America, but it will get you looked at askance by any Scots who happen to be in the vicinity.

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