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Language Identity of Scots in the UK Essay

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Updated: Jul 27th, 2022

The cultural identity of Scotland within the UK has been distinct and recognizable for centuries. However, there appears to be not enough explanation on the role of language in forming that identity. One of the minority languages in this part of the UK is Scots, which is relative to English. With multiple historical, linguistic, and social factors, it is discussed whether Scots can be viewed as a separate language or a dialect of English. Regardless of its status, Scots has an essential part in Scotland’s political and cultural history and remains an argument for its sovereignty. This paper will examine the history of Scots as a language and its impact on politics, media, and society to prove the validity of linguistic distinction in Great Britain.

Scotland obtains a well-established history of administrative use of Scots before joining the United Kingdom. Since the language is West Germanic and originates from Anglo-Saxon, it is closely related to English; the similarities in the early stages of these languages are the results of intense ethnical contacts. However, according to Sebba (2019), Scots was applied in literature, administrative functions, and legal writing and began developing distinctive norms of grammar since the end of the fourteenth century (p. 341). Until the seventeenth century, there was a period of Scots’ most legal validity and widest circulation among citizens.

From the eighteenth to the twentieth century, Scots was gradually suppressed by English as the society was striving for unification. In the twenty-first century, the discussions about the status of Scots have risen, and researches are held to measure public knowledge of the language. As it can be seen from the historical overview, while Scots’ positions are unstable and the language had its natural downfalls in the past, the period of power and distinction had its consequences on today’s regional identity of Scotland.

The presence of a distinct language remains a strong point in the Scottish strive for independence. Since Scots has noticeably different lexical and grammatical structures, it is believed to be capable of total separation from English. While describing the events of the early 2010s, Sebba (2012) presents a conclusion of that period, when the Scexit movement was gaining popularity, that «Scots may yet become a valuable symbol that can be mobilized in the task of building an independent nation state» (p. 346).

Although the language is not actively present, it has strong adherents among writers, politicians, workers of the educational field, and other citizens, who mostly feel positive about Scots. This attitude presumably proceeds from the previous era when Scots was used as an official language of the Scottish parliament. Storry and Childs (2013) mention that in the sixteenth century, Scots formed «a highly developed cultural and political tradition entirely separate from England» (p. 213). The memory of an independent law system has public approval and, thus, is likely to become a strong argument for recovering Scots as an official language. Seemingly, the political history raises Scots in citizens’ perception and promotes its legal positions.

A significant feature of Scots’ image is its view as a dialect or even an artificial deformed version of English. Despite the evidence that the two languages have formed simultaneously, Scots is sometimes thought to be invented by eighteenth and nineteenth-century romantic writers (Storry and Childs, 2013, p. 213). This belief results in occurring references to Scottish in media and cinematography. The textbook by Storry and Childs (2013) mentions Mr. Scott from «Star Trek» and Rab C. Nesbitt as examples of Scots speakers on television.

There are also multiple instances of borrowings from Scots in Disney Pixar’s «Brave» and Fox’s «The Simpsons» (by particular characters). These are instances of a constructed language, which is intentionally made easier for English-speaking audiences from different regions. Nevertheless, the dedications to the original Scots lexicon are distinguished and mark that the world has an appreciation for this language regardless of its status.

It is essential to recognize the relevance of Scots in society. Notwithstanding the spread of English and the tendency to unification, there still are many people in Scotland who use Scots on a daily basis. The results of the 2011 census, reviewed by both Storry and Childs (2013) and Sebba (2019), showed that 30% of Scotland’s population (or about 1,5 million people) could speak and understand Scots (Sebba, 2019, p. 347). Most speakers use Scots as a «home» language, suitable for informal communication only; some are more comfortable using Scots than English. Public attitude proves that there is an application and a demand for this language in everyday life. Evidently, Scots is preferred by citizens as it matches their national or personal identity.

To summarise, as a part of regional identity, Scots is valid in multiple sectors of society, including politics, culture, and daily life. Due to its rich history and large spread in the past, the language has a prospect of revival as a symbol of Scottish sovereignty. Recently the language has been reported as moderately popular in the UK and has received recognition from filmmakers worldwide. These points allow concluding that Scots remains a solid distinguishing feature for its native speakers within Great Britain.


Sebba, M. . Lang Policy 18 (3), 339–362 (2019). Web.

Storry, Michael & Peter Childs (2013) British Cultural Identities (4 ed.) New York: Routledge.

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IvyPanda. 2022. "Language Identity of Scots in the UK." July 27, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/language-identity-of-scots-in-the-uk/.


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