Scottish Language 101

Scottish Language 101

While Scottish do speak English, some people might find that not everyone sounds the same in Scotland. Plus, there is also Scottish Gaelic, a language that slowly starts to gain more speakers again after it had been not spoken by many people. In this article, we will briefly introduce the main dialects of Scotland, a few examples of Scottish “specialties” in vocabulary, and also have a short look at Scottish Gaelic.

The four main region of Scottish dialects

In the bigger picture, there are four different main regions when it comes to dialects, however, they are then also split into a variety of sub-dialects. The four main regions are:
- Northern
- Central
- Southern
- Insular (i.e. the Scottish language from the various islands of Scotland)

Scots can often easily identify where in Scotland someone comes from. One example: If a woman uses the word “hen” to address other women, then it is quite likely that she is from the area around Glasgow. And no, they don't call men “roosters”. What a shame!

Scottish vocabulary

As any version of English, Scottish English has some words that are only found in Scotland – just like there are words that have a special meaning in the USA, or words that have one meaning in the USA and another meaning in England (e.g. chips!).

Some words you might come across when you are in Scotland are:

Scottish English“normal” English
Athol BroseSweat Oatmeal dessert
Auld ReekieEdinburgh (nickname)
BenMountain (e.g. Ben Nevis)
BlaeberryBilberry (NOT blueberry)
ClaymoreTraditional Scottish longsword
DramSmall drink of whiskey
FirthEstuary (e.g. Firth of Forth)
HogmanayNew Year's Eve
Slàinte! (Gaelic)Cheers!
StookieUseless person
WeeSmall (e.g. wee lad – small boy)

And then there are whole sentences that you might hear in Scotland, but might only rarely see written down. They might be a little confusing, but to the Scottish it all makes sense. Here are some examples:

Scottish English“normal” English
Ach, away ye go!I don't believe you!
I'm swithering whether to accept.I am uncertain about whether I should accept.
What a dreich day!What a miserable day (weather-wise)!
He's a right sweetie-wife.He's quite good at gossiping.
It's a sair fecht.It's a struggle.
Her face is tripping her.She looks fed up.
Just play the daft laddie.Feign ignorance.
You're standing there like a stookie.You look as if you can't stir yourself (this is a reference to stucco sculptures).
Awa an bile yer heid!Get lost!

Scottish Gaelic

You need to be very keen and motivated if you would like to become anywhere close to fluent in Scottish Gaelic. It is not an easy language to learn, especially not if you try to only learn it from book. It is a language whose learning process would greatly benefit from learning it in a class or with a personal teacher.

In 2011, the Scottish census revealed that 1.1% of all Scottish can speak Gaelic, however, the numbers are rising, and if you happen to travel to an area where Scottish Gaelic is not that uncommon, they will be very happy if you can say one or the other thing in Gaelic. You will also notice that there are Gaelic programs on TV and on the radio.

One thing to notice is that the Scottish Gaelic alphabet only has 18 letters:
A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, L, M, N, O, P, R, S, T, and U.

Here are some phrases to get you started – but beware, the pronunciation is really not what you might think in many cases, and the pronunciation is the part of the language that makes it so hard to learn.

EnglishScottish Gaelic
What's your name? (formal version)Dè an t-ainm a th'oirbh?
My name is...Is mise...
Where are you from? (formal version)Co às a sibh?
I am from...Tha mi à ...
Good morningMadainn mhath
Good afternoon (also good evening)Feasgar math
Good nightOidhche mhath
I don't understand.Chan eil mi 'tuigsinn.
How do you say …. in Scottish Gaelic?Dè Ghàidhlig a th'air ... ?
SorryTha mi duilich!
Thank you!Tapadh leibh

See also: