Episode 77: Rival Relatives and the Land of Scots

Following the death of Henry I, the king’s nephew Stephen seized the throne and claimed the English throne before Matilda could get to England. We examine the reasons why Stephen was considered an acceptable alternative to Matilda. As soon as Stephen became king, he experienced challenges from a couple of English nobles. One of those nobles also happened to be the King of Scotland. We examine these initial challenges and explore the origin of Scots – the first version of English spoken outside of England.


45 thoughts on “Episode 77: Rival Relatives and the Land of Scots

  1. I love this episode. Ever since I moved to Scotland 20 years ago I have been fascinated by the Scots language.

    The explanation of Auld Lang Syne was brilliant and brought a tear to my eye.

    The funny thing is though that I was in a bus listening to this podcast on my way from Dunfermline to Edinburgh. We were just about to cross the Forth Road Bridge when you mentioned the Firth of Forth. What a coincidence.

    The place names south of the Forth give the game away. They are more Anglo-Danish that Scottish. Compare Dunfermline and Kirkcaldy north of the Forth for instance with Edinburgh, Musselburgh, Roxburgh and Hawick as examples from south of the river.

    Great Podcast, keep up the fabulous work.

  2. I loved this episode. I don’t think I really ever understood the history of Scots – but you did an amazing job explaining it. When I was in Scotland, the Edinburgh accent was distinct from the Glasgow accent – which was much thicker.

    Are you going to get into Irish English? I’m curious to see how the two are different.

    • Yes, the podcast will eventually cover most modern dialects of English. I get a lot of feedback from listeners who think the podcast is essentially a linguistic history of England, but that is only because the English language has been confined to England up to this point in the story. As the English language spreads beyond the borders of England, I will explore the history of Scotland, Ireland, North America, Australia, etc.

      By the way, the Scots dialect spread to Northern Ireland where it gave rise to the Ulster Scots dialect. That is a little later in our story, but that was the dialect of many of the ‘Scots-Irish’ who settled in the Appalachian region of North America. Their dialect heavily influenced the dialects of Appalachia and parts of the Midwest and Western US. So all of these pieces are connected over time.

      • Hi Kevin,
        I have a question about the Scots-Irish accent in Appalachia. I’ve heard somewhere that Appalachia is heavily influenced by Scottish and Irish speech, but I don’t hear that in any recordings of people from Appalachia that I have heard. To me they sound totally different, particularly the drawling sounds in Appalachia compared with the short vowels and rolled r’s in Scotland. I know you’ll probably answer this question in a later podcast, but it’s something I’ve been curious about for a while now. Why do they sound so different?

        • Hi Dimitri,

          Thanks for the question. You are correct that the modern accents of Appalachia don’t really sound like the dialects of Scotland or Ireland. There are some similarities in certain pronunciations and certain grammatical features, but those similarities tend to be overshadowed by the many differences. The short answer to your question is that both sets of dialects have undergone changes over the centuries, but I will try to point out the similarities when we get to Modern English.

  3. My grandmother Bridget grew up in NW Donegal speaking Gaelic. As a teenager she went east with friends to a “hiring fair” (in Raphoe?). She was employed by Rev Lecky on his property at Feddyglass. It was the son of her employer, also a Presbyterian minister, who wrote two histories of that area. He refers to the young Gaelic speakers seeking employment where they could “lift the Scots” ie learn to speak English. I did not even know till 1999 that my Grandma spoke Gaelic. I had tried with little success to learn Irish Gaelic when I realised I could not even pronounce many place names in Scotland which I was planning to visit in 1992.

    • Hi Bob. The old website recently crashed and the database became corrupted. I had to rebuild the website from scratch on another server. I wasn’t able to import the old comments from the old database. I may be able to re-create them at some point, but I need to find the time to do it.

  4. Thank you for covering Scots. I always thought it was Anglicized or heavily English-influenced Gaelic. Now I know better. 🙂

  5. Hi Kevin,
    When we get deeper into Middle English are you intending to do a recording de-constructing a work by Chaucer in the same was as you did with Beowulf?

    • Hi Les. I am definitely going to do a new audiobook sometime later this year. I had originally planned on doing a ‘Chaucer Deconstructed’ audiobook, but lately I have been thinking about doing an ‘Authur Deconstructed’ book. The legends of King Arthur evolved and took their modern form during the Middle English period. There are several important Authur stories from different parts of England. For example, ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’ is composed in a northern dialect. I think it might be interesting to explore the evolution of Middle English in conjunction with the evolution of the Arthur story. In the end, I may end up doing an audiobook on both Chaucer and Authur. I’ll make an announcement at some point later this year.

      • Ooh, Arthur Deconstructed would be cool! My high school senior thesis was on The Once and Future King relative to Idylls of the King, and then I read Morte d’Arthur in college (in modern English) whereupon I realized who Tom of Newbold Revel was at the end of OTaFK and got hooked on Geoffrey of Monmouth and the Mabinogion…

        And then I went into Computer Science and avoided writing papers ad naseum.

  6. Great episode, my favorite part was the recitation of the Scots Aeneid. You mentioned it was from youtube, could you post a link?

    Thx so much for the whole series…

  7. I am catching up with the podcast at a perfect time. I just finished reading Kidnapped by Robert Lewis Stevenson. I had been thinking the highland characters were using old English, but now realize he was writing in Scots. Either way the podcast has helped make sense of the dialogue.

  8. Intrigued Kevin but somewhat confused by the placing of the first community of English speakers in Scotland appearing in the 11th c. All standard texts I’ve read until now, generally in introductions to standard dictionaries or other sources tracing Scots, place this much earlier. To take Mairi Robinson’s Introduction to the Concise Scots Dictionary: “The first speakers of the Old English ancestor arrived in what is now southeastern Scotland early in the seventh century, as a northern offshoot of the Anglian peoples then comprising the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Bernicia or northern Northumbria. The areas which these first Old English speakers occupied, as defined by place-names containing early Old English place-name elements, consisted of a wide swathe of what is now south-eastern and southern Scotland, with less extensive settlements along the Solway, and , perhaps, rather later, in Kyle and mid-Ayrshire.” Also the founding of medieval Royal Burghs and the arrival of Flemish merchants which promoted Scotland’s continental trade in Scandinavia and the Low Countries were thought to have considerable influence on Scots vocabulary.

    • Hi Hamish.

      Thanks for the comments. Maybe I am misunderstanding your question, but in earlier episodes I mentioned the existence of English speakers in modern-day Scotland during the Anglo-Saxon period. In Episodes 47 and 49, I mentioned the origin of the Scots dialect from the Anglo-Saxons who settled in the northernmost regions of Northumbria. The reason I re-visited the Scots dialect at this point is because the English border had shifted southward in the 11th century. The English speakers didn’t really move, but the border did. So now they found themselves in southern Scotland rather than in northern England. That new political boundary encouraged the development of a unique dialect of English in southern Scotland.

      I think some texts discuss the presence of English-speakers in modern-day Scotland during the Anglo-Saxon period, but in most cases they are really referring to a region that was technically part of England at the time. There may have been a few isolated pockets of English speakers in Scotland outside of Northumbria, but as far as I know, they would have been very small in number until after the 11th century when the border moved south.

      I hope that makes sense. If not, please feel free to follow-up.

  9. Hi Kevin – ah, got it, thanks for your reply and clarification – I once visited the 8th c. Anglo Saxon Ruthwell Cross in present southwest Scotland with its runic ‘Dream of the Rood’ – an incredible monument and testament to the Anglo Saxon church and its language. At this time of course ‘Scotland’ was still yet to unify between Pict and Scot to become a unified state, or the nearest thing to it.

  10. Hi Kevin, thanks for an awesome podcast, as usual. I’m wondering if Gaelic and Scots had differing influences on the eventual English accents of Highland and Lowland Scots? I’m sure they must have, from my observation of 2nd generation English speakers developing from different previous languages. I’d expect the accents to be massively different. How did we end up with a recognisable Scottish accent? Or is it just the Edinburgh accent we think of as Scots?

    • Hi Stephanie. This is a really great question which I may try to explore in a future episode as I get closer to Modern English. I think the answer to your first question is yes, Gaelic and Scots had differing influences. The history of the modern Scottish accent is very complicated because it was influenced by both the standard English spoken in England and the Scots dialect spoken in the southeast of Scotland. At one time, Scots was mainly limited to the southeastern corner of Scotland, but it spread out a bit over time. So Scotland has both a Modern English dialect and an older Scots dialect in the southeast. To a certain extent, they are still somewhat distinct, but there has also been some blending of the two dialects in certain areas.

    • Stephanie, I think the short answer is that there isn’t a “recognisable Scottish accent” (any more than a single recognisable English accent). The accents in different parts of Scotland vary considerably, especially between the Gaelic and Scots areas.

  11. Hi Kevin,

    You mentioned the word “besat” without elaboration. I wonder if it may cognate with “besieged”, since a “siege” is also a “seat”?

  12. Regarding the border between Northumberland in England and Scotland: Hadrian’s Wall – which was the border between Roman Britain and the land of the Picts (ie Scotland) – ran along the River Tyne which is the southern border of Northumberland. So in Roman times Northumberland was part of Scotland so David might have felt some justification in trying to annex it.

    • Thanks. That makes sense. The history of the borderlands between England and Scotland is fascinating, and it would probably make a good podcast series on its own.

  13. A few years ago we had a family holiday staying in Haltwhistle just south of Hadrian’s Wall. We took a trip to Berwick and decided to return via Scotland as the distance was about the same. I knew of the area’s Anglian routes but was amazed at how English the villages and countryside looked. It had far more in common with Dorset or Devon than with Northumberland or Cumbria to my eyes.

  14. Hi Kevin, and thanks for being such excellent company while I repaint all nine internal doors in my house (grin!)

    Episode 77: 21m00s “The firth of Forth” is the estuary.

    Is Firth cognate with Fjord?

    I know that fjords are glacial valleys submerged below sea level, but the words are close and the Scandinavians are, as always, nearby …

  15. Fascinating episode, as always. One little aside, in relation to what you say about the Bruces being Anglo Norman. There’s still an area in north London called Bruce Grove, which was where the Bruce family had one of its seats

  16. When I went to university in Glasgow (never having lived in Scotland), I knew some bilingual Gaelic speakers. I pronounced the word (Scottish) Gaelic as “Gay-lic”. I was told very firmly, and repeatedly, by these women that it’s pronounced “Gallic”. (That applies to Scottish Gaelic – I don’t know about Irish.) At the time, English people tended to speak of “Gay-lic”, but now, increasingly, in England people are speaking of “Gallic”.

    Regarding “bairn” and gang” – these words have the same meaning in North East English dialects as Kevin gives in Scots – “child” and “going”. In the Geordie (Newcastle-upon-Tyne) accent, there is the phrase “gangin’ yam” (I don’t know if that’s the correct spelling, or even if there is a “correct” spelling), meaning “going home”. That sounds to me as if it comes straight from OE / ON influences, although others may be able to elaborate on that.

    • I have received the same feedback about the pronunciation of “Gaelic” from listeners in Scotland. My understanding is that Scottish Gaelic is pronounced /gallic/ and Irish Gaelic is pronounced /gay-lic/. Again, that is based on comments from listeners.

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