Academic journal article Scottish Language

The Emergence of Scottish Standard English and the Role of Second Earl Fife

Academic journal article Scottish Language

The Emergence of Scottish Standard English and the Role of Second Earl Fife

Article excerpt


It is recognised that the present day prestige language in Scotland is Scottish Standard English (see for instance, Corbett et al. 2003: 1-2; Smith 2000: 162). Aitken (1979: 95) and Millar (2012: 72) agree that this variety has its roots in the language of the elite in the linguistically normative atmosphere of eighteenth century Scotland when the Scots language became stigmatised. At that point all the circumstances seemed to be in place for the complete adoption of Standard English as the prestige language but apparently contrary to this environment, remnants of the Scots language were retained. Aitken (1979: 96) attributes this maintenance of traces of Scots to the loss of 'self consciousness' and 'linguistic insecurity' in the educated classes in the late eighteenth century, and the presumption that a sufficiently high standard of English had been attained to meet the requirements of the prevailing 'polite' society. This conclusion is partially explained by the lack of contact with 'native' Standard English speakers to demonstrate the target language (Aitken 1979: 100). Millar (2012: 75) proposes that there was also a deliberate retention of Scots, especially lexis, encouraged by the emerging Scots literary movement, which 'combined with the relatively unconscious 'interference' of Scots lexis and structures' to produce Scottish Standard English. To explore these explanations for the genesis of Scottish Standard English, the correspondence of a member of the eighteenth century Scottish elite has been examined to determine why Scots language was retained in an individual's otherwise Standard English.

To contextualise this examination, there now follows first, an outline of the history of the contemporary positions of the English and Scots languages in eighteenth century lowland Scotland and, secondly, a very brief biography of James Duff, Second Earl Fife, whose correspondence forms the basis of this study. The absolute definition of the Scottish standard language is not addressed here (for a discussion of attempts to describe 'standard language' see Milroy (2000: 11-28)) but, for the purposes of this paper, it is regarded as the prestige language which is suitable and appropriate for the written word and for all but the least formal registers. Although codification is usually associated with a standard language, it is acknowledged here that Scottish Standard English defies codification as the Scots language content can be variable. The following description of Scottish Standard English by Smith (2000: 162) is useful:

   This prestigious variety is frequently defined as Standard English
   with a Scottish accent. It has a grammar and vocabulary almost
   (although not quite) the same as that used by high-prestige
   speakers of Standard English in England [...]. It thus lies between
   English and Scots on the same linguistic continuum as Scots, many
   middle class speakers in less formal situations use Scots items as
   opposed to those more characteristic of Scottish Standard English.
   However, the fact that it can be modified also in the direction of
   Southern English is also significant; evidently, middleclass people
   feel the centripetal pull of two linguistic centres of gravity. In
   such circumstances it is unsurprising that Scottish Standard
   English is a somewhat fluid phenomenon, hard to categorise



The Scots language is viewed as having been 'fairly autonomous of southern English' (Aitken 1979: 87) until it began to converge with English in the sixteenth century (Meurman-Solin 1997: 7-11). Studies by Devitt (1989) and Meurman-Solin (1993) tracked the loss of several Scots features across a number of genres in the written medium and little evidence of these features was found in any investigated genre after the mid-seventeenth century. Education was available only in English orthography which would have led to an inability to express Scots authoritatively in writing (Williamson 1982: 59-70). …

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