Scottish English

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Scottish English is taken by some to include Lowland Scots and by others to exclude it. Here Lowland Scots is excluded and only what is known as Scottish Standard English considered. There is a separate article on Scottish Highland English. SSE is the form of the English language used in Scotland. It is normally used in formal, non-fictional written texts in Scotland. Phonetics are in IPA.



The standard spelling, grammar, and punctuation tend to follow the style of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). However, there are some unique characteristics, many of which originate in the country's two autochthonous languages, the Scottish Gaelic language and Lowland Scots. The speech of the middle classes in Scotland often conforms to the grammatical norms of the written standard, particularly in situations that are regarded as formal. Highland English is slightly different from the variety spoken in the lowlands in that it is more phonologically, grammatically, and lexically influenced by a Gaelic substratum.


General items are outwith, meaning outside of; pinkie for little finger; doubt meaning to think or suspect; and wee, the Scots word for small. Correct is often preferred to right meaning morally right or just, as opposed to just factually accurate.

Culturally specific items like caber, haggis, and landward for rural.

There is a wide range of (often anglicised) legal and administrative vocabulary inherited from Scots. depute for deputy. proven for proved, and sheriff substitute for acting sheriff.


Pronunciation features vary among speakers, and there are regional differences:

  • The differentiation between "w" in witch and "wh" in which, and respectively.
  • The realisation for "ch" in loch, technical, etc. (Wells 1982, 408)
  • L is usually dark though in areas where Gaelic was recently spoken - including Dumfries and Galloway a clear l may be found.
  • The following may occur in colloquial speech, usually among the young, especially males. They are not usually regarded as part of SSE, their origin being in Scots:
    • The use of glottal stops for between vowels or word final after a vowel, for example butter and cat .
    • The realisation of the nasal velar in "-ing" as a nasal alveolar "in'" for example talking .
  • Vowel length is usually non-phonemic and operates in varying degrees across varieties and gives Scots their distinctive "clipped" pronunciation. That is generally the same as in the Scots language.
Some speakers, however, distinguish some pairs by vowel length, for example leek vs. leak , vane vs. vain , creek vs. creak , etc.
  • SSE usually distinguishes between before in herd-bird-curd, in Received Pronunciation these have merged into .
  • SSE contrasts and , before as in hoarse and horse.
  • Many varieties contrast and , as in shore, core and door, floor, poor, moor.
  • fool and full have or or in SSE where RP differentiates.
  • Many varieties have the cot-caught merger, so that cot and caught are both pronounced with (Wells 1982, p400).
  • cat and cart have where RP differentiates.
  • SSE usually distinguishes between and , in flour and flower.


Syntactical differences are few though in colloquial speech shall and ought are wanting, must is marginal for obligation and may is rare. Many syntactical features of SSE are found in Standard American English:

  • Can I come too? for "May I come too?"
  • Have you got any? for "Do you have any?"
  • I've got one of those already. for "I have one of those already."
  • It's your shot for "It's your turn."

Other examples are distinctively Scottish:

  • My hair needs washed. for "My hair needs to be washed."
  • She's a bonnie lass. for "She's a pretty girl."

Other influences from Scots may occur depending on the speaker.


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