Doric dialect

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For the Doric dialect of ancient Greek, see Doric Greek

Doric is the name given to the dialect of Lowland Scots spoken in the north-east of Scotland.


Pronunciation and Lexis

The main phonetic differences between Doric and other Lowland Scots dialects are as follows:

  • wh is pronounced instead of — meaning "what" instead of , meaning "who" instead of or .
  • aw, au and aa are pronounced instead of , — a' or aa meaning "all".
  • An a before , , and may be or .
  • ui (often anglicised oo or dialectialised ee) is pronounced and before and e.g. abeen meaning above instead of abuin, gweed and qheet instead of guid ("good") and cuit ("ankle").
  • The cluster ane is pronounced , e.g. in ane and a(i)nce.
  • Initial and as in gnap and knowe are pronounced.

Doric contains a number of words not found in other dialects of Lowland Scots. Also, because it expanded into areas where Scottish Gaelic was formerly spoken, and the Eastern Highlands, it contains a few loanwords from that language. Loanwords from Pictish are curiously absent, except within placenames, notably those beginning with "Pit-".

Origin of the name

The term "Doric" was used to refer to all dialects of Lowland Scots as a jocular reference to the Dorian dialect of Greek. The Greek Dorians lived in Sparta, and were supposed by the ancient Greeks to have spoken laconically, and in a language that was thought harsher in tone and more phonetically conservative than the Attic spoken in Athens. Doric Greek was used for the verses spoken by the chorus in Greek tragedy. Now the term usually refers to the dialect of north-east Lowland Scots.

Use of the term Doric in this context may also arise out of a contrast with the anglicised speech of the Scottish capital, because at one point, Edinburgh was nicknamed 'Athens of the North'. The upper/middle class speech of Edinburgh would thus be 'Attic', making the rural areas' speech 'Doric'.

Doric Literature

North east Scots has an extensive body of literature, mostly poetry, ballads and songs. When Doric appears in prose, it is usually as quoted speech, although this is less and less the case. As is usually the case with marginalised languages, local loyalties prevail in the written form, showing how the variety "deviates" from standard ("British") English as opposed to a Lowland Scots "norm". This shows itself in the local media presentation of the language e.g. Grampian Television & The Aberdeen Press and Journal. These local loyalties, and relative distance from the Central Lowlands, ensure that the Doric scene has a degree of semi-autonomy.

Doric was used in a lot of so called, 'Kailyard' literature, a genre which paints a sentimental, melodramatic picture of the old rural life, and currently very unfashionable. This negative association still plagues Doric literature to a degree, as well as Scottish literature in general.

The most famous novelist to use Doric in his novels was George MacDonald from Huntly, who is commonly considered one of the fathers of the Fantasy genre, an influence on C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, and a friend of Mark Twain.

Lewis Grassic Gibbon's Scots Quair trilogy is set in the Mearns, and has been the basis of a successful play and television series. It is very popular throughout Scotland, and tells the story of Chrissie, an independent-minded woman, mainly in a form of English strongly influenced by the rhythms of local speech.

A version of Aesop's Fables has been published in Doric, as well as some sections of the Bible.

For an example of Doric literature, see the poetry of Charles Murray. Here is his short poem, Gin I was God

GIN I was God, sittin' up there abeen,
Weariet nae doot noo a' my darg was deen,
Deaved wi' the harps an' hymns oonendin' ringin',
Tired o' the flockin' angels hairse wi' singin',
To some clood-edge I'd daunder furth an', feth,
Look ower an' watch hoo things were gyaun aneth.
Syne, gin I saw hoo men I'd made mysel'
Had startit in to pooshan, sheet an' fell,
To reive an' rape, an' fairly mak' a hell
O' my braw birlin' Earth,--a hale week's wark--
I'd cast my coat again, rowe up my sark,
An' or they'd time to lench a second ark,
Tak' back my word an' sen' anither spate,
Droon oot the hale hypothec, dicht the sklate,
Own my mistak', an, aince I cleared the brod,
Start a'thing ower again, gin I was God.
IF I were God, sitting up there above,
Wearied no doubt, now all my work was done,
Deafened by the harps and hymns unending ringing,
Tired of the flocking angels hoarse with singing,
To some cloud edge I'd saunter forth and, faith,
Look over and watch how things were going beneath.
Then if I saw how men, I'd made myself
Had started out to poison, shoot and fell,
To steal and rape and fairly make a hell
Of my fine spinning Earth -- a whole week's work --
I'd drop my coat again, roll up my shirt,
And, ere they'd time to launch a second ark,
Take back my word and send another flood,
Drown out the whole shebang, wipe the slate,
Admit my mistake, and once I'd cleared the board,
Start everything over again, if I were God.

Contemporary writers in Doric include Sheena Blackhall, a poet who writes in Doric and Scottish Gaelic.

See also Hiberno-Scots.

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