Phonological history of Scots

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This is a presentation of the phonological history of the Scots language.

Scots has its origins in Old English (OE) via early Northern Middle English;[1] though loanwords from Old Norse[2] and Romance sources are common, especially from ecclesiastical and legal Latin, Anglo-Norman and Middle French borrowings.[3] Trade and immigration led to some borrowings from Middle Low German and Middle Dutch.[4] Some vocabulary has been borrowed from Scotland's other language, Gaelic.[5]

Consonants[edit]

Instance of /b/ between /m/ and /l/ were lost or did not develop:[6][7]

OE æmergeModern Scots emmers and English embers
OE þýmel → Modern Scots thimmle and English thimble
OE timber → Modern Scots timmer and English timber

Certain clusters were reduced:

A word-final /kt/ reduced to /k/[8] except in some inflected forms (e.g. Modern Scots act, expect, strict).
/pt/ reduced to /p/ in final position (e.g. Modern Scots attempt, corrupt).[9] Note that the English words like empty that come from OE words that did not have a /pt/ cluster also don’t have clusters in Scots (in this case, OE æmetig became Scots empy).
/nd/ often reduced to /n/ (e.g. OE fréond, 'friend', became Modern Scots freend).[10][11]
Final /ld/ often reduced to /l/ (e.g. Modern Scots auld 'old').[12]
OE /kn/ and /ɡn/ clusters appeared word-initially, though this feature is now highly recessive (e.g. knaw, 'know'; gnegum, 'tricky nature').[13][14]

While OE /sk/ became /ʃ/ in Modern English, Scots has retained the original pronunciation (e.g. OE scylfe, 'shelf', became skelf).[15] Old English /s/ became /ʃ/ when adjacent to a front vowel (e.g. shinners from OE sinder, 'cinder').

OE /f/ was often dropped in certain contexts:[16]

OE delfan → Modern Scots del and English delve
OE déoful → Modern Scots dou and English dove
OE gefan → Modern Scots gie and English give)

In contexts where OE /k/ and /ɡ/ palatalized to /tʃ/ and /dʒ/, respectively, in Modern English (that is, after a front vowel), Scots has retained the original velar pronunciation:[17]

OE birce → Scots birk and English birch
OE bréc → Scots breeks and English britches
OE þæc → Scots thack and English thatch
OE giccan → Scots yeuk and English itch
OE hrycg → Scots rig and English ridge

Word final OE /θ/ (written ð or þ) was deleted in a few words (e.g. OE múð, 'mouth', became mou in Scots).[18][19]

OE /x/ was lost in English, but remained so in Scots:[20]

OE beorht → Modern Scots bricht and English bright
OE hlóh → Modern Scots lauch and English laugh
OE þóht → Modern Scots thocht and English thought

However, some words such as tho (though) and throu ('through') have dropped the /x/.

Old English /hw/ became /xw/ for a number of speakers, though /hw/ is widespread (e.g. OE hwæt, 'what', became whit).[21]

Metathesis occurred in some words (e.g. OE græs, 'grass', became girse).[22]

OE /ɡ/ became vocalised after /o/ resulting in the diphthong /ʌu/ in Modern Scots (e.g. boga, 'bow', became bowe).[23][24]

Similarly, in the Early Scots period, /l/ was vocalized after:

/u/ (e.g. pullian, 'pull', became Modern Scots pou).[25]
/o/ (e.g. bolster, 'bolster', became Modern Scots bowster),[26] becoming /ou/ and then changing to /ʌu/ in Modern Scots.[27]
/a/ (e.g. healdan, 'hold', became Modern Scots haud);[28] becoming /ɑː/ and then changing to /ɑ/ or /ɔ/, depending on dialect.

Vowels[edit]

The following table shows the modern realisation of the various Scots vowels along with their pronunciation in Early Scots, the Early Middle English vowels they can largely be derived from, and the main Old English sources of these vowels. See also Middle English phonology for a more in-depth overview of the Old English sources of the Early Middle English vowels below. External sources are: For the principal Old English, Norse and Romance sources of the Early Scots vowels see Aitken, A.J, (Ed. Macafee C.) (2002) pp. 89–95; for an overview of the historical developments see Vowel systems of Scots: a rough historical outline in A History of Scots to 1700, p. lvii.

Long vowels
Vowel # Spelling Realisation Early Scots Early Middle English Main Source(s) Examples
1 i.e,y.e,ey short /əi/
long /aɪ/
/iː/ OE í, ý mine ('mine')
2 ee,e.e /i/ /eː/ OE é, éo deed ('deed'), sene ('seen')
3 ea,ei,e.e /i, e/ /ɛː/ OE ǽ, éa deid ('dead'), lene ('lean')
4 a.e,ae /e/ /aː/ OE á bane ('bone')
5 oa,o.e /o/ /oː/ /ɔː/ OE o (open) cole ('coal')
6 ou /u/ /uː/ OE ú doun ('down')
7 ui,eu /ø/ /øː/ (/yː/) /oː/ OE ó guid ('good'), beuk ('book')
Diphthongs
Vowel # Spelling Realisation Early Scots Early Middle English Main Source(s) Examples
8 ai,ay /eː/ /ai/ /ai/, /ɛi/ OE a, æ (open); OF ai, ei pain ('pain')
9 oi,oy /oe/ /oi/ OF oi /ɔi/ noise ('noise')
10 oi,oy /əi/ /ui/ OF oi /oi/ point ('point')
11 ee /iː/ /ei/ OE eg̣ ee ('eye')
12 au,aw /ɑː, ɔː/ /au/ OE ag, aw law ('law')
13 ow,owe /ʌu/ /ou/ /ɔu/, /ou/ OE og, ow lown ('calm')
14a ew /ju/ /iu/ /eu/, /iu/ OE iw, ew spew ('spew')
14b ew /ju, jʌu/ /ɛu, ɛou/ /ɛu/ OE ǽw, éaw dew ('dew')
Short vowels
Vowel # Spelling Realisation Early Scots Early Middle English Main Source(s) Examples
15 i /ɪ/ /ɪ/ OE i, y pin ('pin')
16 e /ɛ/ /ɛ/ OE a, æ + alveolar men ('men')
17 a /ɑ, a/ /a/ OE a, æ (closed); OE o + labial man ('man')
18 o /ɔ/ /o/ OE o (closed) fon ('folly')
19 u /ʌ/ /u/ OE u gun

Vowel 1[edit]

Old English and Old Norse í and ý, Old English i+ld and y+nd, as well as Old French í became /iː/ in Early Scots then /ei/ in Middle Scots and subsequently conditioned by the Scottish Vowel Length Rule to /əi/ when short and /aɪ/ or /ɑɪ/ when long in Modern Scots, for example: wyce (wise), wyte (blame), bide (remain), kye (cows), hive and fire from wís, wíte, bídan, cý, hýf and fýr. Similarly with Norse grice (pig), sile (strain), tyke (curr), lythe (shelter) and tyne (lose), and Romance advice, fine, cry, sybae (onion) but where Romance words entered Scots after this sound shift the original /i/ (Vowel 2) remained in Scots, for example bapteese (baptise), ceety (city), ceevil (civil), eetem (item), leeberal (liberal), leecence (license), meenister (minister), obleege (oblige), peety (pity), poleetical (political), poseetion, releegion (religion) and speerit (spirit).

Similarly with Old French ai and ei, for example Modern Scots chyce (choice), eynment (ointment), eyster (oyster), evyte (avoid), jyne (join), ile (oil), pynt (point), syle (soil), spyle (spoil) and vyce (voice)

Vowel 2[edit]

Old English é became /eː/ in Early Scots then /iː/ in Middle Scots and /i/ in Modern Scots, for example: bee, breest breast, cheese, creep, deed, freend (friend), hear, heich (high), knee, seek (sick), sheep, sleep, teeth and wheen a few from béo, bréost, cése, créap, déd, fréond, héran, héah, cnéo, séoc, scép, slép, téþ and hwéne. Also grieve (overseer) from grœfa.

Vowel 3[edit]

Old English ea and éa became /ɛː/ in Early Scots, merging with vowel 2 (/i/) or vowel 4 (/e/) in Middle Scots depending on dialect or lexeme, except for a few Northern Scots dialects where it became /ɛi/,[29] for example Modern Scots: beard, breid (bread), deid (dead), deif (deaf), heid (head), meat (food), steid (stead) and tread from beard, bréad, déad, déaf, héafod, mete, stede and tredan. Similarly with Romance words like beast, cheat, conceit, creitur (creature), deceit, ease, please, ream (cream), reison and seison.

Vowel 4[edit]

Old English á became /a/ in Early Scots then /eː/ in Middle Scots and /e/ in Modern Scots, for example: aik (oak), ait (oat), braid (broad), gae (go), hale (whole), hame (home), lade (load), mair (more), raip (rope), saip (soap), sair (sore) and nae (no) from ác, áte, brád, gá, hál, hám, lád, mára, ráp, sáp and ná.

Before /n/, now /e/ in Modern central, southern and Ulster varieties and /i/ in northern varieties, for example: ane (one), ance (once), bane (bone), gane (gone), nane (none) and stane (stone) from án, ánes, bán, gán, nán and stán. Similarly with Norse, for example frae (from), kail (cole) and spae (foretell) from frá, kál and spá. The vowel /e/ occurs in other words of Norse origin, for example graith (harness), hain (spare) and lair (mud) from greiða, hagna and leir.

Before /r/ + consonant, depending on dialect, now /e/ or /ɛ/ in Modern Scots, for example: airm (arm), airae (arrow), bairn (child), dairn (darn), hairm (harm), hairst (harvest), wairm (warm) and shairp (sharp) from earm, arwe, derne, hearm, hærfest, wearm and scearp. Similarly with aiple (apple), aix (axe), efter (after), peth (path), and wraith (wrath) from æpel, æx, æfter, pæþ and wræþþu. Similarly with Romance caird (card), cairy (carry), gairden (garden), regaird (regard), mairy (marry), mairtyr (martyr) and pairt (part).

Vowel 5[edit]

In open position o became /o̞ː/ in Early Scots then eventually /o/ in Modern Scots, for example: coal, foal, hole and thole endure.

Vowel 6[edit]

Old English ú became /uː/ in Early Scots then /u/ in Middle Scots, remaining so but Stem final it became /ʌu/ in Southern Scots, for example Modern Scots: brou (brow), broun (brown), cou (cow), dou (dove), doun (down), hoose (house), hou (how), mou (mouth), moose (mouse), nou (now), soor (sour) and thoum (thumb) from brú, brún, cú, dúfe, dún, hús, hú, múð, mús, nú, súr and ðúma. Similarly with Norse boun (ready), couer (cower), droop and stroup (spout), and Romance allou (allow), bouat (lantern), coont (count), dout (doubt), pouder (powder) and roond (round).

Vowel 6a

Older Scots /u̞l/ became vocalised to /u/ by the Middle Scots period,[30] for example Modern Scots: fou (full), pou (pull) and oo (wool) from full, pullian and wull. Similarly Romance coum (culm) and poupit (pulpit).

Vowel 7[edit]

Old English ō, became /øː/ in Early Scots becoming /ø/ in Modern peripheral dialects. In Fife and parts of Perthshire Middle Scots /øː/ merged with vowel 4 (/e/). In Modern central varieties it has merged with vowel 15 (/ɪ/) in short environments conditioned by the Scottish Vowel Length Rule, for example: bluid (blood), duin (done), muin (moon) and spuin (spoon) from dōn, blōd, mōna, and spōn. Similarly with Romance words like bruit (brute), fruit, schuil (school), tuin (tune), uiss (use n.).

In central varieties Middle Scots /øː/ merged with vowel 4 (/eː/) in long environments conditioned by the Scottish Vowel Length Rule, for example Modern Scots: buird (board), fuird (ford), fluir (floor) and muir (moor) from bōrd, fōrd, flōr and mór along with dae (do), shae (shoe) and tae (to) from dō, scō and tō. Similarly with Norse words like Fuirsday (Thursday), luif (palm) and ruise (praise), and Romance words like puir (poor), shuir (sure), uise (use v.).

In northern varieties Middle Scots /øː/ merged with vowel 2 (/i/), in Mid Northern varieties after /ɡ/ and /k/ it became /wi/, for example Modern Scots: guid (good), cuil (cool), from gōd, cōl and Dutch cuit (ankle), and Romance schuil (school). Note: But not Modern Scots fit (foot), wid (wood), wad (would), oo (wool), coud (could) and shoud/su(l)d (should).

A following /k/ or /x/ resulted in Modern Scots /ju/, /u/, /jʌ/ and/or /ʌ/ depending on dialect, for example: beuch (bough), beuk (book), ceuk (cook), eneuch (enough), heuch (cliff), heuk (hook), leuch (laughed), leuk (look), pleuch (plough), sheuch (ditch), teuch (tough) and teuk (took) from bōh, bōk, cōk, genóh, hōh, hōk, hlōh, tōk, plōh, sōh, tōh and tōk.

Vowel 8[edit]

Old English a or æ in open position became /ai/ in Early Scots then /ɛ/ in Middle Scots and subsequently /e̞ː/, /e/ or /eə/ in Modern Scots, though /ɛː/ may also occur, especially in Ulster, for example: faither (father), gaither (gather), haimer (hammer), day, brain, fair, nail and tail from fæðer, gaderian, hamer, dæg, brægen, fæger, nægel and tægel. Similarly with Norse cake, gate (street), sale and scaith (damage).

Vowel 8a

Older Scots stem final /ai/ became /ɛi/ in Middle Scots merging with vowel 1 (/əi/) in Modern Scots.

Vowel 9[edit]

Older Scots /o̞i/ became /oe/ in Modern Scots.

Vowel 10[edit]

Early Scots /ui/ merged with vowel 1 (/əi/) in Modern Scots.

Vowel 11[edit]

Early Scots /ei/ in stem final positions, became /eː/ then /iː/ in Middle Scots merging with vowel 2 (/i/) in Modern Scots.

Vowel 12[edit]

Old English ag-, aw- and áw became /au/ in Early Scots then /ɑː/ in Middle Scots and subsequently, depending on dialect, /ɑ/ or /ɔ/ in Modern Scots, for example: draw, gnaw, and law from dragan, gnagan, haga and lagu, and Norse maw (seagull) and claw from maga and clawa. blaw (blow), craw (crow), maw (mowe), sawe (sow), saul (soul) and snaw (snow) from bláwan, cráwe, máwan, sáwan, sáwol and snáwan. Similarly with Old English ág and Norse lágr which became awn (to own) and law (low).

Before /x/ and /n/ + consonant, Middle Scots /a/ also became /ɑ/ or /ɔ/ in Modern Scots, for example: caunle (candle), draucht (draught), haund (hand), lauch (laugh), saund (sand) and slauchter (slaughter) from candel, draht, hand, hæhhan, sand and slæ. Similarly with Norse baund (band), Dutch fraucht (freight), and Romance chancy, glanders, graund, and stank (a drain).

Vowel 12a

Older Scots /al/ became vocalised to /ɑː/ by the Middle Scots period[31] and subsequently, depending on dialect, /ɑ/ or /ɔ/ in Modern Scots, for example: aw (all), caw (call), fauch (fallow), faw (fall), gaw (gall), haud (hold), haw (hall), maut (malt), sauch (sallow), saut (salt), smaw (small), staw (stall) and waw (wall) from eal, ceallian, fealh, fallan, gealla, healdan, hall, mealt, salh, sealt, smæl, steall and wall. Similarly with Norse hause (neck) and Romance aum (alum), baw (ball) and scaud (scald).

Vowel 13[edit]

Old English ów became /o̞u/ in Older Scots then /ʌu/ in Modern Scots, for example: flowe (flow), glowe (glow), growe (grow) and stowe (stow) from flówan, glówan, grówan and stówigan.

Vowel 13a

Early Scots /ol/ became vocalised to /o̞u/ by the Middle Scots period[32] and subsequently diphthongised to /ʌu/ in Modern Scots.[33] In some dialects this is vocalising to /o/ especially before /k/, for example Modern Scots: bowster (bolster), bowt (bolt), cowt (colt), gowd (gold), howe (hollow), knowe (knoll), powe (poll) and towe (toll) from bolster, bolt, colt, gold, holh, cnol, polle and toll. Similarly with Romance rowe (roll) and sowder (solder), also Dutch gowf (golf).

Vowel 14[edit]

Older Scots /iːu/ (a) and Older Scots /ɛːu/ (b(i)) became /iu/ in Middle Scots then /iu/ or /(j)u/ in Modern Scots.

Vowel 14b(ii) Older Scots /ɛo̞u/ became /iuu/ in Middle Scots then /(j)ʌu/ in Modern Scots.

Vowel 15[edit]

Old English i and y became /ɪ/ in Early Scots, remaining so, but approach /ʌ/ in some Modern dialects especially after /w/ and /hw/, for example Modern Scots: hill, filthy, will, win, wind, whip, whisper and whisky.

Vowel 16[edit]

Before alveolars Old English æ became /ɛ/ in Early Scots, remaining so, for example Modern Scots: bress (brass), clesp (clasp), ess (ash), fest (fast), gled (glad), gless (glass), gress (grass) and hesp (hasp) from bræs, claspe, æsce, fæst, glæd, glæs, gæs and hæpse.

Vowel 17[edit]

Old English a or æ in close position became /a/ in Older Scots, remaining so, although /ɑ/ or /ɒ/ occasionally occur, for example Modern Scots: back, bath, blad (leaf/blade), cat, clap, hack, mak (make), ram, rax (stretch), tak (take), wall (well for water), wash, watter (water) and waps (wasp) from bæc, bæþ, blæd, catt, clappian, haccian, macian, ram, raxan, tacan, wælla, wæscan, wæter, and wæps. Similarly with Norse bag, flag (flagstone) and snag and Dutch pad (path).

Also before /n/ and /ŋ/, for example Modern Scots: can, lang (long), man, pan, sang (song), sank, strang (strong), than (then) and wran (wren) from cann, lang, mæn, panne, sang, sanc strang, þanne and wrænna. Similarly with Norse bann (curse), stang (sting), thrang (busy) and wrang (wrong).

Similarly with Old English o before /m/, /p/, /b/ and /f/, for example Modern Scots: craft (croft), crap (crop), drap (drop), laft (loft), pat (pot), saft (soft) and tap (top) from croft, cropp, dropa, loft, pott, softe and top.

Similarly with a w before e, for example Modern Scots: wab (web), wast (west), wadge (wedge), twal (twelve) and dwall (dwell) from web, west, wecg, twelf and dwellan.

Vowel 18[edit]

Old English o in close position became /o̞/ in Older Scots then /o/ in Modern Scots but in some dialects became /ɔ/, for example: box, lock and rock.

Vowel 19[edit]

Old English u became /u̞/ in Early Scots then /ʌ/ in Modern Scots, for example but and cut, but in some words it merged with vowel 15 (/ɪ/), for example Modern Scots: din (dun), hinnie (honey), simmer (summer), son and nit (nut) from dunn, hunig, sumor, sunne and hnut. Similarly in some Romance words, for example Modern Scots: kimmer (commère), kiver (cover), ingan (onion), stibble (stubble) and tribble (trouble).

Word endings[edit]

Various Old English word endings became any of /ɪ/, /i/, /a/, /ɑ/, /e/, or /ə/ depending on dialect, for example Modern Scots: borrae (borrow), follae (follow), marrae (marrow), meidae (meadow), pillae (pillow), sheddae (shadow), swallae (swallow), weedae (widow) and yallae (yellow) from borgian, folgian, mearh, maedwe, pyle, sceadu, swelgan/swealwe, widwe and geolo. Similarly with Norse windae (window).

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  • Aitken, A.J, (Ed. Macafee C.) (2002) The Older Scots Vowels: A History of the Stressed Vowels of Older Scots from the Beginnings to the Eighteenth Century, The Scottish Text Society, Edinburgh.
  • William Grant and David D. Murison (eds) The Scottish National Dictionary (SND) (1929–1976), The Scottish national Dictionary Association, vols. I–X, Edinburgh.
  • A History of Scots to 1700 in the Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue (DOST) Vol. 12. Oxford University Press 2002.
  1. ^ A History of Scots to 1700, DOST Vol. 12 pp. lix-lx
  2. ^ A History of Scots to 1700, pp. lxii
  3. ^ A History of Scots to 1700, pp. lxiii-lxv
  4. ^ A History of Scots to 1700, pp. lxiii
  5. ^ A History of Scots to 1700, pp. lxi
  6. ^ Scottish National Dictionary, Introduction Vol I p. xxii
  7. ^ A History of Scots to 1700, p. ci
  8. ^ Scottish National Dictionary, Introduction p. xxii
  9. ^ Scottish National Dictionary, Introduction p. xxii
  10. ^ Scottish National Dictionary, Introduction p. xxii
  11. ^ A History of Scots to 1700, p. ci
  12. ^ Scottish National Dictionary, Introduction p. xxii
  13. ^ Scottish National Dictionary, Introduction p. xxii
  14. ^ A History of Scots to 1700, p. ci
  15. ^ Scottish National Dictionary, Introduction p. xxii
  16. ^ Scottish National Dictionary, Introduction p. xxiii
  17. ^ Scottish National Dictionary, Introduction p. xxii
  18. ^ Scottish National Dictionary, Introduction p. xxiii
  19. ^ A History of Scots to 1700, p. ci
  20. ^ Scottish National Dictionary, Introduction p. xxiii
  21. ^ Scottish National Dictionary, Introduction p. xxiii
  22. ^ A History of Scots to 1700, p. ci
  23. ^ Scottish National Dictionary, Introduction p. xxii
  24. ^ A History of Scots to 1700, p. xc
  25. ^ A History of Scots to 1700, p. xc
  26. ^ A History of Scots to 1700, p. xc
  27. ^ Scottish National Dictionary, Introduction p. xxiv
  28. ^ A History of Scots to 1700, p. xc
  29. ^ A History of Scots to 1700, pp. xcviii
  30. ^ A History of Scots to 1700, p. xc
  31. ^ A History of Scots to 1700, p. xc
  32. ^ A History of Scots to 1700, p. xc
  33. ^ Scottish National Dictionary, Introduction p. xxiv