It’s almost impossible to not adore Scotland. Its rolling hills and dramatic mountains extend far into the the stormy North Sea and the vast Atlantic Ocean, and its deep, ancient legends and folklore have arguably inspired a great deal of the modern fantasy we know and love today. It’s a slice of paradise in a world that seems to have little time for the more atmospheric and quiet side of beauty, and tends to favor the packaged tourism experiences for the masses, always under a roasting heat and surrounded by the ever present scent of suncream.
But Scotland has another hidden gem that few people really know about, and that is its own ancestral language known as Scots. Ask anyone in the world about the language of Scotland, and the answers will range from “English with a striking and unique accent spoken by Tolkien dwarves”, or “Gaelic like Enya and the druids!”. While there is some degree of truth to both, the flavorful accent is hardly a language, and Gaelic, although spoken in Scotland, was mainly used in the northern region of the country known as the Highlands while Scots was a predominantly Lowland language.
Regardless of where it was spoken, its origin is a bit of a rarity as old languages go. It’s fairly common to see languages spoken since time immemorial being substituted by the tongue of their conquerors and slowly fading away, but the birth of Scots was somehow the other way around. Until the Norman conquest of Britain in the 11th Century, the form of English spoken all across the island was pretty much the same. The Normans changed the history of England in a number of ways, but as far as language is concerned, they simply introduced French into the country.
As the years passed, more and more French words and expressions seeped into the English spoken during those times, slowly evolving into the language we know today. But there was a part of the country that remained unaffected by these changes, and that was Scotland. As stated in the opening paragraph of this article, we adore Scotland and everything within it, but it seems like the Normans didn’t really agree with our views. They could easily have marched up north to Scotland after making quick work of the English south, but for some reason, they just couldn’t be bothered.
Long story short, the Scottish folk got to keep their language. It evolved independently from the now Norman influenced English, avoiding all the transformations their formerly common language had gone through since the invasion, and remaining much closer to the original form of pre-Norman English even to this day. Since it now was their own language for all intents and purposes, it was aptly named Scots.
Now, if there is something about languages, is that the bigger one always tends to eat the smaller one, and with Scots it was no different. Now a unique language that would represent the Scottish way of life, it began expanding north into the Highlands where Gaelic was spoken, all but driving it out and establishing itself as the undisputable national language.
However, there was an even bigger language on the island that would ultimately seal the fate of Scots: English. We can get into endless historical events, ranging from William Wallace in blue paint, the Jacobite rebellion, to the Scottish Independence Referendum, but in the spirit of brevity (it’s supposed to be a short history after all), the key event is that King James VI united the crowns of England and Scotland in 1603.
From this moment on, the English spoken in England was deemed the official language of the Realm, and in the usual style of kings and queens back in the day, there wasn’t much negotiation to be had on the matter. English progressively gained ground on Scots, and within a few decades, almost wiped it out completely. Surprisingly, this change wasn’t particularly enforced in any way, but happened naturally as English was increasingly associated with what was seen as the cultured and rich south, opposed to the more traditional and rural north. Such is the power of bling.