A history of Scottish languages – part 6

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Scotland 1200by Paul Kavanagh

Read part 5

1200 AD : By now Cumbric was on the verge of extinction, clinging on only in a few remote locations in the Southern Uplands or amongst isolated groups of speakers surrounded by a largely Gaelic or Scots speaking population.  It would be extinct within a generation or two.  The last speakers of Cumbric probably lived somewhere in the region of the upper districts of the Tweed Valley and in the Lammermuir Hills where there appear to be some clusters of late-looking Cumbric names.  The language was most probably extinct by the end of the 13th century.  In its final stages Cumbric must have become rather different from contemporary Welsh, as unlike the Welsh Cumbric speakers had been in intense contact with Gaelic speakers and speakers of Northumbrian English for many centuries.

by Paul Kavanagh

Read part 5

1200 AD : By now Cumbric was on the verge of extinction, clinging on only in a few remote locations in the Southern Uplands or amongst isolated groups of speakers surrounded by a largely Gaelic or Scots speaking population.  It would be extinct within a generation or two.  The last speakers of Cumbric probably lived somewhere in the region of the upper districts of the Tweed Valley and in the Lammermuir Hills where there appear to be some clusters of late-looking Cumbric names.  The language was most probably extinct by the end of the 13th century.  In its final stages Cumbric must have become rather different from contemporary Welsh, as unlike the Welsh Cumbric speakers had been in intense contact with Gaelic speakers and speakers of Northumbrian English for many centuries.

Scotland 1200Gaelic had begun to reabsorb the regions it had lost to Norse as the Norsemen of the Western Isles gradually became Gaelicised in language and culture.  The last bastion of Norse in the Western Isles was the Isle of Lewis, but it is uncertain when the language finally died out there.  It may have clung on as late as 1500. Norse fared somewhat better on the mainland, but was still in retreat before Gaelic and would shortly be confined to Caithness and the north coast of Sutherland.  The Norse speakers of these areas were probably already bilingual in Gaelic, although it seems that on the mainland Norse maintained itself best in Caithness, which was still firmly within the cultural orbit of Scandinavia.  In the Northern Isles Norse still survived as the sole spoken language, but the local dialect was beginning to develop along its own lines.  The written form of the Norse language began to crystalise in this period and it was a period of great literary productivity for Norse.  The Orkneyingasaga, a historical account of the Norse earls of Orkney, was composed around this time, most probably by an Icelandic writer.

Gaelic had by now consolidated its position as the dominant spoken language in Scotland and was spoken almost everywhere in the country.  North of the Clyde and Forth it was the only language except in the remaining Norse territories.  South of the Clyde and Forth Gaelic was predominant everywhere in the West and Central Scotland and pentrated the south east as far as Peebleshire.  Galloway was stongly Gaelic in language, although some pockets of Cumbric may still have survived in some of the more remote higher districts.  Scottish Gaelic was by now undergoing the linguistic and phonetic changes which would differentiate it from its Irish relative.  These changes were quite substantial, and many of them were shared with the Irish dialects of Ulster. But although the spoken language was developing and altering, the written language was becoming standardised and codified and no longer reflected the changes that were proceeding apace in the colloquial.  A gap was beginning to arise between spoken Gaelic and the classical literary language.  Eventually this gap would grow to such an extent that the written form of Gaelic was no longer comprehensible to speakers of spoken Gaelic without special study.

Although Gaelic was now widespread across the entire kingdom, and Gaelic speakers could be found even in districts where most people spoke another language, the seeds of the later downfall of Gaelic had already been sown.  The Old English of Scotland had by now begun to evolve into Scots and it was starting to be regarded as a different language from the English south of the border.  It was already spoken by many in the Scottish royal court which was located in Edinburgh in an economically prosperous and well-favoured region which had long been settled by Old English speakers.  The language received a great boost as the Scottish crown embarked upon the creation of Royal Burghs. Immigrants from England, the Low Countries, Germany and France were attracted to the burghs by the new economic opportunities they presented.  The common language used by the inhabitants of the new burghs to communicate with the locals was the Kingis Scottis.  A knowledge of the language began to spread amongst the Gaelic speaking population of the Lowlands.

Norman French was current amongst the upper strata of society during this period and it was widely used as a written language.  However it is likely that in Scotland Norman French was the native language of only first generation or second generation Norman French migrants.  Most of the people who regarded themselves as Normans were simply of Norman descent and spoke Gaelic or Scots natively, but they acquired French in childhood as part of their education.  Although it was of restricted currency as a spoken language, Norman French, and later Parisian French, were to prove highly influential.  When the Normans invaded England, the literary tradition of Old English was brought to an abrupt halt.  When English and Scots once again begin to put in an appearance as written languages, they would do so in a spelling system based largely upon that of French.  Where Old English had written hus for ‘house’, in the Frenchified spelling of the Middle Ages the word was written house, using the ou of French to represent the vowel pronounced “oo” in modern English.  In later English the vowel written ou changed in pronunciation, hence modern English house, but in the variety of Middle English that became Scots this vowel remained unchanged, hence the older Scots spelling hous, pronounced hoose.  This change illustrates the political and cultural separation of Scots from English.  Whereas in Old English times linguistic changes and novelties that arose in southern varieties of English passed freely into the varieties that would evolve into Scots and vice versa, now linguistic changes stopped at the border. Over time these changes would accumulate, and create a sharp language border along the Scottish-English political frontier.

 

Next 1400 – The spread of the Kingis Scottis