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Is Scottish a Fake Language?

This is from an anonymous enquirer on an online question and answer site Quora. The moment I saw it I knew which quotes I wanted to  seek out from the library. I’ve answered based on the assumption they mean Scots and not Gaelic, really John F Campbell covers that a wee bit too anyway.

I’ll answer with some quotes, but before I do, the lowland language of Scotland is Scots. I’m very lucky in owning a copy of Jamieson’s Scottish Dictionary (1867) in which the editor, Dr Longmuir, says;

“Those Englishmen, who have taken but a superficial view of the Scottish language, will learn from this work, that it is neither a collection of barbarous sounds nor a corruption of their own tongue; but that, on the contrary, it has a common origin with the English; and that, while Englishmen have changed the sound, altered the spelling, and dropped many of the words of their forefathers, Scotchmen have preserved to a great extent the primitive language of their Teutonic ancestors, in its native integrity, copiousness and force.” – p.viii.

Mr Jamieson, a convert to the idea of Scots being its own distinct language himself, begins with;

“It is an opinion, which has been pretty generally received, and perhaps almost taken for granted, that the language spoken in the Lowlands of Scotland is merely a corrupt dialect of the English, or at least of the Anglo-Saxon. Those who have adopted this idea, have assigned, some one era, some another, for the introduction of this language from the South; each preferring that which seemed to have the most plausible claim, without entertaining a single doubt as to the solidity of the hypothesis which rendered it necessary to fix such an era. Having long adhered to this hypothesis, without any particular investigation, it is probable that I might never have thought of calling it in question, had I not heard it positively asserted, by a learned foreigner, that we had not received our language from the English; that there were many words in the mouths of the [commons] in Scotland, which had never passed through the channel of the Anglo-Saxon, or been spoken in England, although still used in the languages of the North of Europe; that the Scottish was not to be viewed as a daughter of the Anglo-Saxon, but, as in common with the latter, derived from the ancient Gothic; and that, while we had to regret the want of authentic records, an accurate and extensive investigation of the language of our country might throw considerable light on her ancient history, particularly as to the origin of her first inhabitants.” – p.xix.

It’s made pretty clear here from someone with more of an outside perspective of the thing;

“.., Dr Jamieson had held the common opinion, that the Scottish is not a language, and nothing more than a corrupt dialect of the English, or at least of the Anglo-Saxon. It was the learned Danish Professor (Grim Thorbrelin) that first undeceived him, though full conviction came tardily, and proved, to his satisfaction, that there are many words in our national tongue which had never passed through the channel of the Anglo-Saxon, nor been spoken in England. .., Thorbrelin requested the Doctor to note down for him all the singular words used in that part of the country, no matter how vulgar he might himself consider them, and to give the received meaning of each. Jamieson laughed at the request, saying, ‘What would you do, sir, with our vulgar words? they are merely corruptions of English.’ Thorbrelin, …, replied with considerable warmth, ‘If that fantast, Johnson, had said so, I would have forgiven him, because of his ignorance or prejudice; but I cannot make the same excuse for you, when you speak in this contemptuous manner of the language of your country, which is, in fact, more ancient than the English. I have now spent four months in Angus and Sutherland, and I have met with between three and four hundred words purely Gothic, that were never used in Anglo-Saxon. You will admit that I am pretty well acquainted with Gothic. I am a Goth; a native of Iceland; the inhabitants of which are an unmixed race, who speak the same language which their ancestors brought from Norway a thousand years ago. All or most of these words which I have noted down, are familiar to me in my native island. If you do not find out the sense of some of the terms which strike you as singular, send them to me, and I am pretty certain I shall be able to explain them to you.’ ” – extract from ‘Memoir of Dr Jamieson’, p. xv, ‘Jamieson’s Scottish Dictionary (1867)’

John F Campbell in volume 1 of his ‘Popular Tales of the West Highlands’ (1890) says of the movement of peoples and language;

“Celts were undoubtedly the primitive inhabitants of Gaul, Belgium, and the British Islands, possibly also of Spain and Portugal; but no word of the language spoken by these ancient authors, except the name, “and perhaps the name Cimmerii may have included many Celtic tribes not of the Cymric branch.” These Gauls appeared everywhere in Europe; and, in particular, they who had probably been driven out by the Scythians invaded Scythia, intermixed with the people, and formed the people known in history as Celto-Scythians; who the Scyths were (according to the author) appears to be uncertain. All that remains of their language is a list of words, picked out of the works of ancient authors; and knowing what modern authors make of words which they pick up by ear, such a list is but a narrow foundation on which to build. Still on that list it has been decided that Scyths spoke a language which has affinity with Sanscrit, and in that list, as it seems to me, there are several words which resemble Gaelic more closely than the Sanscrit words given with them. And so, according to this theory, the Basques were found in Europe by the first Gael, and these were driven westwards by Kimri, and these again by Scythians, and these by Teutons, and all these still occupy their respective positions. The Basques and Lapps pushed aside; the Gael in Scotland and Ireland, driven far to the westwards; the Kimri driven westwards into Wales and Brittany; the Scyths lost or absorbed; and the Teutons occupying their old possessions, as Germans, Saxons, English, Scandinavians, and all their kindred tribes; and of all these the Basques and their relatives alone speak a language which cannot be traced to a common unknown origin, from which Sanscrit also came. “ – pp.cvii-cviii.

Now, I’m no fan of Dr. Samuel Johnson, who’s personality really comes across in his ‘Tour to the Hebrides’ with James Boswell as quoted by J. F. Campbell here;

“A glance at “Johnson’s Tour in the Hebrides,” will show the feeling of the day. He heard Gaelic songs in plenty, but would not believe in Gaelic poems. He appreciated the kindness and hospitality with which he was treated; he praised the politeness of all ranks, and yet maintained that their language was “the rude speech of a barbarous people, who had few thoughts to express, and were content, as they conceived grossly, to be grossly understood. 

He could see no beauty in the mountains which men now flock to see. He saw no fish in fording northern rivers, and explains how the winter torrents sweep them away; the stags were “perhaps not bigger than our fallow-deer;” the waves were not larger than those on the coast of Sussex; and yet, though the Doctor would not believe in Gaelic poems, he did believe that peat grew as it was cut, and that the vegetable part of it probably caused a glowing redness in the earth of which it is mainly composed; and he came away willing to believe in the second sight, though not quite convinced.  

… Celt and Saxon are no longer deadly foes. There still exists, as I am informed, an anti-Celtic society, whose president, on state occasions, wears three pairs of trousers; but it is no longer penal to dispense with these garments; and there are Southerns who discard them altogether, when they go north to pursue the little stags on the ugly hills, and catch fish in the torrents.” – 

I have a couple of editions of Boswell’s ‘Journal’ of the same Tour and I feel the man had to have been a saint to have put up with Johnson as long as he had to.

From ‘Reminiscences of Scottish Life and Character‘ (1861), the chapter devoted to ‘On Humour Proceeding from Scottish Language, Including Scottish Proverbs,’ we have the following quotes on the language:-

WE come next to reminiscences chiefly connected with peculiarities which turned upon our Scottish LANGUAGE, whether contained in words or in expressions. Now this is a very important change, and affects in a greater degree than many persons would imagine, the general modes and aspects of society. I suppose at one time the two countries of England and Scotland were considered as almost speaking different languages, and I suppose also, that from the period of the union of the crowns, the language has been assimilating. We see the process of assimilation going on, and ere long amongst persons of education and birth very little difference will be perceptible. With regard to that class a great change has taken place in my time. I recollect old Scottish ladies and gentlemen who regularly spoke Scotch. It was not, mark me, speaking English with an accent. No; it was downright Scotch. Every tone and every syllable was Scotch. – pp.60-61.

This chapter goes on to quote from the Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh, Lord Brougham:-

   “The pure and classical language of Scotland must on no account be regarded as a provincial dialect, any more than French was so regarded in the reign of Henry V., or Italian in that of the first Napoleon, or Greek under the Roman Empire. Nor is it to be in any manner of way considered as a corruption of the Saxon; on the contrary, it contains much of the old and genuine Saxon, with an intermixture from the Northern nations, as Danes and Norse, and some, though a small portion, from the Celtic. But in whatever way composed, or from whatever sources arising, it is a national language, used by the whole people in their early years, by many learned and gifted persons throughout life, and in which are written the laws of the Scotch, their judicial proceedings, their ancient history, above all, their poetry. 

   “There can be no doubt that the English language would greatly gain by being enriched with a number both of words and of phrases, or turns of expression, now peculiar to the Scotch. It was by such a process that the Greek became the first of tongues, as well written as spoken… 

   “Would it not afford means of enriching and improving the English language, if full and accurate glossaries of improved Scotch words and phrases – those successfully used by the best writers, both in prose and verse – were given, with distinct explanation and reference to authorities? This has been done in France and other countries, where some dictionaries accompany the English, in some cases with Scotch synonymes, in others with varieties of expression.” Installation Address, p. 63. – pp.64-65.

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