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Fraser's Scottish Annual
On the Scottish Dialect and its Influence on English

By David R. Keys, Toronto University

ALTHOUGH it sounds suspiciously like a bull, and from internal evidence might appear to be of Hibernian origin, the statement is nevertheless true that the names Scot and Scottish were originally applied to the inhabitants of the country now called Ireland. In the Anglo-Saxon records we read of how these Scots came from the Isle of the Saints to what we now call the Lowlands, and thence to the North of England, as missionaries to the heathen Angles, whom they first converted to the faith of Christ, and among whom in the seventh century the first great English poet, Caedmon, began to sing of the Creation. We may thus trace the initial impulse—in the literary history of England— to poetry as described by the venerable Bede to the influence of these early Scots from Ireland. But the time came when the names Scot and Scottish had changed their significance with the place of abode of those who bore them; and by the reign of Alexander the Second (A.D. 1222) a commission had traced the border line between Scotland and England very nearly as it still exists. In the Scotland to the north of this border line the population is almost as remarkable an amalgam as that lying to the south of it, but made up in the main of two races, the Celtic Highlanders and the Saxon Lowlanders, speaking languages as distinct as our own English and French, and differing widely in sentiment, manners and customs.

To the English philologist the more interesting of these divisions is that which represents most nearly the primitive speech of his own early ancestors, the Lowland Scotch, or, as it is sometimes called, the "Braid Scots." The most curious fact in reference to this is that to the present day the dialects of the ancient Northumbrian district, between the Humber and the Frith of Forth, agree together in essentials as contrasted with the speech of central and southern England. The oldest monument of our northern dialect is the inscription on the Ruthwell Cross in Dumfriesshire, so that the linguistic student is as much indebted to Scotland as the student of poetry.

The early connection between Northumbria and Scotland comes to light in Shakespeare's Macbeth. To the historian this play represents the culmination of the struggle between the native Celtic line and the house of Duncan, which in the person of Malcolm was so closely connected by marriage and by sympathy with Saxon England. It was fitting that the Celtic chieftain, Macbeth, should behold the long line of kings through which the blood of Alfred the Great was to run till in the Stuarts it became the Royal House of a United Britain. The Saxon proclivities of the house of Duncan led to the extension of the Lowland or Northumbrian population across the Frith of Forth, and the consequent gradual retrogression of the Gaels to the Highland districts. In this way it came about that a Scottish line of kings of Celtic origin became finally identified with the spread of a Scotch dialect, which represented the old Anglian speech of Northumbria. Under similar circumstances the French royal house of Plantagenet, reigning in England, becomes identified with the spread of the English conquests in Wales, Scotland, and France itself.

But while the Norman and Angevin kings of England with the nobles that had come over from France were, by the long struggle of the Hundred Years' War, gradually brought to look upon England as the country to which all patriotism was due, there grew up in North Britain, which during that struggle was on the side of France, a strong feeling of sympathy for the French. The Reformation under Mary lessened this feeling. As wife and widow of King Francis I. she was representative of the foreign party, and under the influence of her uncle, Guise, she did her best to put down the Protestants, and so made the French unpopular, at least in the Lowlands, where the Reformation made the most progress. In the Highlands the old sympathy for things French would be fostered by the aid given to the exiled Stuarts, slight as that aid was. These historical facts have left an impress on the Scottish dialect which contains many French words and expressions, sometimes greatly disguised and quite foreign to the standard English. "Bonnie" was formerly thought to be of this group, but recent scholarship leaves the question doubtful. Concerning "fashion's," a very different attribute, there can be no doubt; it is evidently the French fcc1zeuz, with which it so nearly agrees both in sound and meaning. A curious example is furnished by the word ashet which similarly recalls in sound and sense the French assiette. Here by an odd act of poetic justice we have, however, a kind of semasiological see-saw going on between French and English. The meaning of the Scotch "ashet" is expressed in English by the word "platter," that is, a large dish on which we put the joint or fowl which constitutes the main course of the meal. Now, the French meaning of assiette is our plate, the smaller dish on which the individual gets his "slice off the joint." On the other hand, the French word for dish in the larger sense is 'plat, which is even used to designate the whole "course." There are few better illustrations of the interest that lies in the study of semasiology or the science of meanings, a study which is still in its infancy.

With all its French words, however, and there are many more, the "Braid Scots," in its bone and sinew, is good old English and Teutonic to the backbone. The Scot who learns German, and who finds his German sounds so much easier than does his "Southern" cousin, recognizes familiar friends in such words as loch and hasten (cough) and rachen, to smoke (compare "Auld" Reekie,). The numerous Scotch divinity students whom one meets in the summer sessions at the universities in the Fatherland, show a remarkable capacity for assimilating both the German speech and the German philosophy. And here we come to another great though indirect benefit that English literature owes to the Scotch} the influence of German thought and German philosophy derived through such Scotch writers as Scott, Carlyle and Caird. Scott caught the spirit of the new romantic movement from Burger and diffused it throughout the length and breadth of the English- speaking world by his own delightful tales. Carlyle worshipped at the shrine of Göthe, and, touched with the fire of that great spirit, became a beacon light to the men of his time. Caird, sitting at the feet of Hegel, has learned the lesson that there is a philosophy in history, and has passed it on so that now we find a Crozier instructing statesmen how they may apply the knowledge of the past to the improvement and the guidance of mankind in the future. This great power of understanding the mighty world movements of the past, we owe, therefore, to the Scotch.

In closing with a personal reference the writer would pay a debt to him who inspired this article. When the most stupendous task in philooyy ever laid upon the back of one man was calling for a volunteer it was a Lowland Scot who came forward to assume the burden. Dr. James A. H. Murray, the editor of the great Oxford Dictionary, had shown himself fully qualified by his previous work on the dialect of southern Scotland for the enormous labour of editing a book for which over three million quotations had to be read. and which involved a knowledge of both standard English and its dialects during a thousand years. That this great work, suggested forty years ago by the Archbishop of Dublin, is now fast approaching a glorious consummation we owe mainly to the learning, the good judgment and the boundless capacity for work of a Scotchman.

A DOCTOR was once sent for by a miser who had dislocated his jaw while yawning. "What's your charge," said the miser, after he was cured. "One pound," said the doctor. "A pound for a job that did not take you a minute to perform! I'll not pay it! " wrathfully exclaimed the miser. "All right," said the doctor, complacently, sitting down at the side of the fire and starting to converse on the topics of the day. By and by, however, he commenced yawning; so also did the miser, and so hard did he go at it that in a short time his jaw was again out of its place. By signs he appealed to the doctor to put it in; but the doctor, who knew his patient well, went over to the writing-desk for pen, paper and ink, and, placing them in front of the miser, said, "My charge is £5 now, William, but before I put your jaw in you must promise in black and white to pay me without a grumble." And William did it."

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