How to speak Scots – a wee trick to try

Speaking Scots naturally outside the “hame” environment of friends and family can be challenging. People often lapse into English as they are afraid of being misunderstood or even appearing a bit odd.

There are three interrelated reasons for this.

  1. Scots is still a heavily stigmatised language, so any attempt to use the language at full strength as will be noticed i.e you will be regarded as ‘taking a stance’.
  2. Even in Scots speaking areas, using non-dialectical Scots can also be slightly provocative as people may think you are inaccurately mimicking their speech. This has happened to me!
  3. Only a minority of lowland Scots (some say about 40%) have a working knowledge of the tongue. So if you use 100% Scots grammar and vocabulary, the other person may simply not understand you.

At first sight these problems seem a bit unsurmountable. There is however a way of using Scots in everyday speech that takes advantage of the way Scots is usually mixed in with English.

We are all accustomed to changing the speech we use in formal situations like work to the more chatty way we speak to friends and family. We spontaneously dial up or down the ‘tone’ depending on the circumstances. Most Scots speakers can also easily increase and decrease their use of Scots words and grammar forms in a conversation. How can we make use of this innate ability?

  1. People keen on using Scots pepper their English with ‘markers’, wee words like aye, wee, no or nae (for not), ken (know) and so on.
  2. If the other speaker responds by using Scots themselves, more Scots words, phrases and grammar forms are gradually stirred in.
  3. If either participant gets confused or uncomfortable the Scots words and grammar forms are simply dialed back to more standard English.

This sliding between Scots and English happens all the time, usually without thinking.

If you want to use Scots more in conversation I suggest you just try to do this a bit more consciously. Gradually increase your use of Scots words, phrases and grammar in natural conversation and you may be surprised how many people will be happy to speak at least some Scots back to you.


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