Document 777

Scots - in English

Author(s): Billy Kay

Copyright holder(s): Billy Kay


Scotland has always been a multilingual country, from the founding of the nation when French, Flemish, Gaelic and Scots was spoken in the early towns through the present day, when the Celtic language Gaelic and the Germanic languages English and Scots remain preeminent. Of these three languages, Scots is by far the most neglected and officially repressed, yet, ironically, it is spoken in one dialect or another by the majority of the Scottish people. With very little status, it is used mostly in informal, familiar situations. Sometimes I compare it to an underground activity practiced by consenting adults in the privacy of their own homes!

Despite the long-term restrictions that have been placed on Scots, it has always been the medium of great literary and folk traditions, one that contemporary writers are diligently striving to continue. These writers are also part of a movement to normalize Scots, to take from the private to the public domain and give people a sense of what it was and what it will be again – a language of dignity and vigor that will always express the spirit of Scottish people and their ties to the land and its culture. In doing this, we are taking part in a process this is throwing down barriers and building bridges all over Europe, where previously suppressed languages and nations are reasserting themselves. They are insisting that their voices be heard in a Europe of a hundred flags and a hundred tongues – a Europe where linguistic diversity is regarded with pleasure rather than with suspicion.

The relationship between Scots and English has many parallels in a number of European counties: Friesian and Dutch in the Low Countries, Occitan and French in France, and Catalan or Galician and Spanish in Spain. All these languages came from shared roots but evolved separately because they were spoken in separate political entities. In most cases, it was only when the people who spoke them submitted to political unions with their more powerful neighbors that their mother tongues began to erode in the face of competition with the standard languages of the centralised states to which they now belonged. The nature of a people’s identity, however, is such that despite all the strikes and restrictions against these tongues, they remain the everyday language of the people. In many cases, this strong grassroots support makes people speak them with all the more determination in order to hold on to what they had. Scots is all about elevating the vernacular of the people to its rightful place in our national life. Hugh MacDiarmid (1892 - 1978), the father of the Scottish Literary Rennaissance wrote the words that give hope for the future of Scots as a living European language of the 21st Century:

"For we have faith in Scotland’s hidden powers /
The present’s theirs, but all the past and future’s ours."

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Cite this Document

APA Style:

Scots - in English. 2024. In The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved 13 July 2024, from

MLA Style:

"Scots - in English." The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow, 2024. Web. 13 July 2024.

Chicago Style

The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech, s.v., "Scots - in English," accessed 13 July 2024,

If your style guide prefers a single bibliography entry for this resource, we recommend:

The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. 2024. Glasgow: University of Glasgow.


Information about Document 777

Scots - in English


Text audience

General public
Audience size 1000+

Text details

Method of composition Wordprocessed
Title of original (if translation) Scots
Author of original (if translation) Billy Kay
Language of original (if translation) Scots
Word count 480
General description An introduction to the history of Scots

Text medium

Leaflet/brochure (prospectus)
Other Booklet accompanying map

Text publication details

Publisher MMA Maps
Publication year 1993
Place of publication Glasgow
ISBN/ISSN 0952262940

Text setting


Text type



Author details

Author id 35
Forenames Billy
Surname Kay
Gender Male
Decade of birth 1950
Educational attainment University
Age left school 17
Upbringing/religious beliefs Protestantism
Occupation Writer / broadcaster
Place of birth Galston
Region of birth S Ayr
Birthplace CSD dialect area Ayr
Country of birth Scotland
Place of residence Newport-on-Tay
Region of residence Fife
Residence CSD dialect area Fif
Country of residence Scotland
Father's occupation Factory charge hand
Father's place of birth Galston
Father's region of birth S Ayr
Father's birthplace CSD dialect area Ayr
Father's country of birth Scotland
Mother's place of birth Breich
Mother's region of birth W Lothian
Mother's birthplace CSD dialect area wLoth
Mother's country of birth Scotland


Language Speak Read Write Understand Circumstances
English Yes Yes Yes Yes Work / home
French Yes Yes Yes Yes Home
Gaelic; Scottish Gaelic Yes No No No A little, rarely
German Yes Yes Yes Yes Occasional
Portuguese Yes Yes No Yes Home
Scots Yes Yes Yes Yes Work / home