Ulster Scots has words for everything – mostly similar to English

One Twitter correspondent asked a perfectly common question re (Ulster) Scots earlier this week – does it have words for everything?

Here is the thing: most German words are cognate with (meaning for the purposes of this article that they are identifiably originally the same as) words in Dutch, as is obvious here.

The same applies, of course, to Spanish versus Portuguese; or to Irish Gaelic versus Scottish Gaelic; or, dare I say, to Russian versus Ukrainian. So, naturally, the same applies to Scots versus English.

Ein wi the muin bricht owerheid, A gae intae the toun, an wantan to find the gowd thay ar leukan bi the pairk.

A fairly pointless sentence, but the point of it is this: every single word in it is cognate with English. Of course, Scots does have words entirely distinct from English (some quite common: wee, scunner, gunk; some which have even been borrowed into English: weird, daft, divot).

What we see in the above sentence is some common changes:

loss of intervocalic <v>: ein ‘even’, ower ‘over’ (also hae ‘have’, waw ‘wave’);

raising of English <oo> to Scots <ui>: muin ‘moon’ (also guid ‘good’, buird ‘board);

retention of velar written <ch> versus silent English <gh>: bricht ‘bright’ (also aneuch ‘enough’, fecht ‘fight’)

retention of long /i:/ usually written <ei> occasionally <ee>: heid ‘head’ (also deid ‘dead’, weel ‘well’)

retention of <ae>: gae ‘go’, intae ‘into’ (also sae ‘so’, staen/stane ‘stone’)

retention of long vowel written <ou>: toun ‘town’ (also doun ‘down’, nou ‘now’)

retention of short <i>: find is pronounced to rhyme with English ‘pinned’

vocalisation of post-vocalic <l>: gowd ‘gold’ (also know/knowe ‘knoll’, baa ‘ball’)

introduction of ‘y-glide’: leuk ‘look’ nearly rhymes with British English ‘nuke’ (as does beuk ‘book’)

lengthening to <ai>: pairk ‘park’ (also airm ‘arm’, yaird ‘yard’; though note warm ‘warm’ and even laund ‘land’)

This is, of course, something of a simplification and there are exceptions. However, they give a reflection of how the sounds of Scots and English had already shifted prior to the invention of the printing press, and subsequently continued to develop.

Ultimately, most Scots words are cognate with English – this does not make them ‘not Scots’!


One thought on “Ulster Scots has words for everything – mostly similar to English

  1. Neel Marshall says:

    How can your wife be a single mother???

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