John Larrysson Column: Scottish English

Scotland is the wild, hilly northern part of the island England is on. The two ethnic groups have warred for centuries, but finally were united when a Scottish King, James VI, inherited the English throne and became known as James I of England. Traditionally the men wore a dress called a kilt. They ate stuffed sheep's stomach called haggis and drank whisky. They threw tree trunks around for sport, called caber tossing. The men are real men, the women are real women and the hills are purple with heather (a wild flower).

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Scotland has many local varieties of English. The pronunciation of Scottish English is generally understandable by people from England. However there are some differences. Unlike some parts of England, the Scots pronounce the /r/ sound after a vowel in words like hard, first and butter. Vowel length varies slightly. However the most obvious difference are local words that England's English does not have. (See below)

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The Scots use the letter yogh . It represents y-sound in yolk. This letter existed in England during the Middle English period (1066 - 1485), but has since died out. It still appears in a few names, but is usually written Z z. It will likely slowly be dropped from use in Scottish English, just as it was in England.

England's English is used as the language of religion, education and government. It is higher status and speaking it is needed to be successful in society. However the RP variety of England's upper class has almost no presence in Scotland. So business is normally not done using Scottish English. You may use the same international English used elsewhere.

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Scottish English descends from the 5th century English invaders, just like the other UK varieties. It was also influenced by the same foreign languages that transformed the other varieties. It is just another mixture of local varieties of UK English. Today, some Scottish words are used in other parts of the UK and the world. So despite some differences, Scottish English is just another group of local British English varieties.

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Scottish Words Used in English Worldwide



(I lived in Scotland and went to school for a short time when I was young. However I cannot pronounce these words in the traditional local fashion. Instead I choose to pronounce them as clearly and internationally as possible.)

English Meaning
auld lang syne days of long ago
bairn child

1. thick oatmeal cake (UK)


2. campfire bread, not necessarily made with oats (Canada)


pretty (also common in Northern England)

bramble blackberry (also common in Northern England)
cairn a pile of stone used to mark a location
canny careful









Scottish tribe

(ice-cream) cone (ice-cream) cornet (also common in the US)
croft small Scottish farm
dirk a type of Scottish dagger (double edged knife)
dour serious, unfriendly and gloomy (often an adjective, not a verb)
dram a drink of Scotch whisky
elder church leader (also common in Utah)









manager of a company or estate

fair quite
firth estuary or strait
flesher butcher
glen valley
Hogmanay New Year's Eve
ilk of the same family name / same type of person
jotter notebook
kirk church
laird lord
lassie girl
loch lake
mind remember
muckle big
murky dark
pancake a flat fried scone (also common in the US)
period full stop (punctuation) (also common in the US)
pinky/pinkie little finger (also common in the US)
pouch pocket
wean baby
wee small
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[email protected] John Larrysson

A native English speaker who has been teaching practical English in Hong Kong for more than a decade.


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