Home > B. The Living Artifact > Slippery Tongues: Scotland & the Steady Shift of Speech

Slippery Tongues: Scotland & the Steady Shift of Speech


Since posting on Scottish Gaelic yesterday, RT has run into some interesting facts about that country’s languages. The divide is not, as RT had imagined, a neat one between English and Gaelic. Instead, Scotland has at least two English varieties, one of which, Scots, may count as a separate language. Scottish Gaelic, moreover, is a descendant of Old Irish (though this view has been recently contested).

What we appear to be looking at is a language continuum involving not one but two language groups: English and Goidelic Gaelic.

To help sort out the phenomenon of languages that blend into one another, RT here gives a definition of language (via Wikipedia): Language is the human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, and a language is any specific example of such a system.

RT would like to emphasize the word “complex.” Here is where the subtlety and possibility for slight variations arises.  Every language has a standard form, but variants–tied to location and social position–are common. Groups form within groups, and cultures are rarely monoliths.

What is especially interesting in the case of Scotland is the small number of speakers involved–today, the country’s population stands at 5.3 million, of which 53,000 speak Scottish Gaelic and more than a million speak Scots, at least as a second language. Just about everyone understands Scottish English, which shades off into standard English.

What a diversity of language among a relatively small number of speakers! Subsequent posts will search for reasons behind this linguistic richness.



Poster: UNESCO International Mother Language Day. WikiCmns. Public Domain.


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