Academic journal article Scottish Cultural Review of Language and Literature

Loanwords in Scots: Some Reflections from Lexicography

Academic journal article Scottish Cultural Review of Language and Literature

Loanwords in Scots: Some Reflections from Lexicography

Article excerpt

Lexicographers on the historical Scots dictionaries make increasing use of electronic resources to access additional quotations from a variety of domains, discourse types and registers. These provide ante- and post-datings for dictionary entries and in particular ready access to less formal registers of Scots, including spoken language. The revision of etymologies can therefore draw on a much enlarged body of non-literary and spoken quotations, with the register distribution of a word in current usage sometimes indicating its past status. Searches on the online Dictionary of the Scots Language (A Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue and the Scottish National Dictionary), along with other large corpora, are providing a fuller picture of a word's historical context, dating, distribution, style and semantic field and thus a better indication of its source.

Keywords: Scots dictionaries, lexicography, corpora, etymology, register.

Although the origins of Scots vocabulary have been well explored by a number of scholars including Aitken (incorporated in Macafee (2002)), Dareau (2001), Macafee (1997, 2002), Macafee and Anderson (1997), McClure (1986) and Murison (1971), the recent availability of modem technological aids make this a good time to reexamine the sources of evidence upon which lexicographical observations are made.

One pressing consideration from Scottish Language Dictionaries' point of view is re-editing of the Concise Scots Dictionary. The new edition (CSD2) will have an etymological note, however brief, for each entry. As a concise dictionary, it will not permit of lengthy discussions and comprehensive comparisons of cognate forms. Users want a quick answer to the question "Where does this word come from?" and re-editing provides an opportunity to add clarity wherever possible. The many interlacing aspects of etymology are described in Durkan (2009). The mechanisms of borrowing described in Chapter Six of his book often suggest the most direct and probable route by which a loan word enters the Scots lexicon. In his summing up at the end of the chapter, he states "A good etymology which involves borrowing will have a working hypothesis as to how and why (as well as when and where) borrowing occurred, and also as to how and why the borrowed word, sense, etc. has subsequently spread within the borrowing language".

The etymology of shan serves to illustrate such a working hypothesis in action. Although its origins are obscure, shan seems to have entered Scots from the language of Travellers, and it is first recorded in 1714 in the sense of "bad" or "pitiful" in the poetry of Allan Ramsay. In 1800, it is used of counterfeit money, but in the early- to mid-twentieth century its use is restricted to the Borders, an area with a high Traveller population. It reappears in the late twentieth century in the work of some well-known Travellers such as Betsy White, Stanley Robertson and Duncan Williamson, confirming its survival in this speech community, but it also reappears, particularly among teenage girls who use it in the sense of "unfair", in Edinburgh, where a number of Travellers spend the winter and where their children attend school. This demonstrates how local contact between speech communities allows words to be transmitted, and how the borrowing speakers apply it in specific contexts, allowing the meaning to drift.

There is no doubt that the revision of etymologies has been given fresh stimulus through the vast increase in available searchable electronic resources, covering all registers of discourse. Previous studies of loanwords, in addition to tracing their origins on phonological grounds, have aimed to identify semantic fields which reflect the nature of human interaction behind language contact or to discern the appropriateness of loans to particular styles of discourse. The present paper provides a glimpse of ongoing work, using improved access to information regarding the domain, discourse type and style of the source materials from which examples are excerpted, to re-assess the existing etymological record and, in some cases, where necessary, to construct or revise etymologies. …

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