Why not
Why not, a photo by Pete Reed on Flickr.
In English, the words “he is not” can be contracted to either “he isn’t” or “he’s not”, but not to *”he’sn’t”. (The same applies of course to “I am not”, “you are not”, “she is not”, and so on, but for simplicity’s sake I’ll concentrate on “he is not” here.)

Any speaker of English thus needs to choose one of the two possible contractions every time this construction comes up, if they want to contract it at all.

An Irish ex-colleague of mine once commented that he’d observed that Scottish people had a tendency to prefer the latter (“he’s not”), and having paid attention to the constructions since then I tend to agree with him. (It’s hard to be certain without a corpus of spoken Scottish English.)

I’ve also been mulling over why this might be the case, and I’ve come up with two possible reasons, both involving the Scots language:

(1) In Scots, the construction “isn’t he” isn’t possible. You can only say “is he no” (“is he not”), never *”isna he”. This might spill over into non-questions.

(2) In Scots, the two possible constructions are “he isna” and “he’s no”. The phonetic distance between Scots “he isna” and Scottish English “he isn’t” is somewhat greater than the distance between Scots “he’s no” and English “he’s not”, so in a situation where Scots is frowned upon, the latter construction might survive better.

I’m also wondering whether some speakers of Scottish English dislike all the negatives ending in “-n’t” because they sound rather mumbled compared to their Scots counterparts that end in “-na”, but I haven’t found any evidence for this hypothesis so far.

bookmark_borderA Man’s A Man For Aw That

When Rabbie Burns wrote his poetry, the radio hadn’t been invented yet, so it’s unlikely most folk had ever heard English spoken by an Englishman. Presumably everybody used Scots pronunciations for English words, blissfully unaware that they were pronounced differently south of the border.

Of course, many words are spelt in a way that makes the difference obvious, but I reckon the Bard’s poems would have been read by himself with many more Scots features than most people do today.

If he had written his poems today, I believe he would have used many more Scots spellings to prevent the readers from substituting English pronunciations.

To illustrate this, I’ve tried to respell one of his most famous songs, A Man’s A Man For A’ That, and I’ve also added the West Central Scots pronuncation in IPA:

  1. Is there for honest Poverty
    Is thare for honest povertie
    ?z ðer f?r ?hon?st ?pov?rt?
    That hings his head, an’ a’ that;
    That hings his heid, and aw that;
    ðat h??z h?z hid ?n ? ðat
    The coward slave — we pass him by,
    The couart sclave — we pass him by,
    ð? ?ku?rt sklev wi pas h?m bae
    We dare be poor for a’ that!
    We daur be puir for aw that!
    wi d?r bi per f?r ? ðat
    For a’ that, an’ a’ that.
    For aw that, and aw that.
    f?r ? ðat ?n ? ðat
    Our toils obscure an’ a’ that,
    Our tyles obscure and aw that,
    ur t?ilz ?b?skjur ?n ? ðat
    The rank is but the guinea’s stamp,
    The rank is but the guinie’s stamp,
    ð? ra?k ?z b?t ð? ??in?z stamp
    The Man’s the gowd for a’ that.
    The man’s the gowd for aw that.
    ð? manz ð? ??ud f?r ? ðat
  2. What though on hamely fare we dine,
    Whit tho on hamelie fare we dine,
    ??t ðo on ?hemli fer wi d?in
    Wear hoddin grey, an’ a’ that;
    Weir hoddin gray, and aw that;
    wir hod?n ?re ?n ? ðat
    Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine;
    Gie fuils thair silks, and knaves thair wine;
    gi f?lz ðer s?lks an nevz ðer w?in
    A Man’s a Man for a’ that:
    A man’s a man for aw that:
    ? manz ? man f?r ? ðat
    For a’ that, and a’ that,
    For aw that, and aw that,
    f?r ? ðat ?n ? ðat
    Their tinsel show, an’ a’ that;
    Thair tinsel shaw, and aw that;
    ðer ?t?ns?l ?? an ? ðat
    The honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor,
    The honest man, tho e’er sae puir,
    ð? ?hon?st man ðo er se per
    Is king o’ men for a’ that.
    Is king o men for aw that.
    ?z k?? o m?n f?r ? ðat
  3. Ye see yon birkie, ca’d a lord,
    Ye see yon birkie, cawed a lord,*
    ji si jon ?b?rk? k?d ? l?rd
    Wha struts, an’ stares, an’ a’ that;
    Wha struts, and stares, and aw that;
    ?? str?ts ?n sterz ?n ? ðat
    Tho’ hundreds worship at his word,
    Tho hunders wurships at his word,*
    ðo ?h?n?rz ?w?r??ps at h?z w?rd
    He’s but a coof for a’ that:
    He’s but a cuif for aw that:
    hiz b?t ? k?f f?r ? ðat
    For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
    For aw that, and aw that,
    f?r ? ðat ?n ? ðat
    His ribband, star, an’ a’ that:
    His ribband, star, and aw that:
    h?z ?r?b?n star ?n ? ðat
    The man o’ independent mind
    The man o independent mynd
    ð? man o ?nd??p?nd?nt m?in
    He looks an’ laughs at a’ that.
    He leuks and lauchs at aw that.
    hi l?ks ?n l?xs at ? ðat
  4. A prince can mak a belted knight,
    A prince can mak a beltit knicht,
    ? pr?ns kan mak ? ?b?lt?t n?çt
    A marquis, duke, an’ a’ that;
    A marques, deuk, and aw that;
    ? ?markw?s djuk ?n ? ðat
    But an honest man’s abon his might,
    But an honest man’s abuin his micht,
    b?t ? ?hon?st manz ??b?n h?z m?xt
    Gude faith, he maunna fa’ that!
    Guid faith, he maunna faw that!
    g?d feð hi ?m?ne f? ðat
    For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
    For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
    f?r ? ðat ?n ? ðat
    Their dignities an’ a’ that;
    Thair dignities and aw that;
    ðer ?d??n?t?z ?n ? ðat
    The pith o’ sense, an’ pride o’ worth,
    The pith o sense, and pride o wirth,
    ð? p?? o s?ns ?n pr?id o w?r?
    Are higher rank than a’ that.
    Are heicher rank than aw that.
    ar ?hiç?r ra?k ð?n ? ðat
  5. Then let us pray that come it may,
    Than lat us pray that come it mey,
    ð?n lat ?s pre ðat k?m ?t m?i
    (As come it will for a’ that,)
    (As come it will for a’ that,)
    ?z k?m ?t w?l f?r ? ðat
    That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth,
    That sense and wirth, ower aw the earth,**
    ðat s?ns ?n w?r? ?ur ? ð? (j)?r?
    Shall bear the gree, an’ a’ that.
    Sall beir the grie, and aw that.
    sal bir ð? ?ri ?n ? ðat
    For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
    For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
    f?r ? ðat ?n ? ðat
    It’s coming yet for a’ that,
    It’s comin yet for aw that,
    ?ts ?k?m?n j?t f?r ? ðat
    That Man to Man, the world o’er,
    That man tae man, the warld ower,
    ðat man te man ð? ?war?ld ?ur
    Shall brothers be for a’ that.
    Sall brithers be for aw that.
    sal ?br?ð?rz bi f?r ? ðat

I’m not entirely sure how deuk should be pronounced, so I have given the English pronunciation above.

* Update (5 July): I had originally changed lord and word to laird /lerd/ and wurd /w?rd/, but several people in the Scots Language Centre’s Facebook group pointed out that Burns had probably intended these words to rhyme, even though they don’t rhyme either in Scots or English.

** Update (22 February): I had originally changed earth to yird /j?rd/, but further feedback from the Facebook group mentioned above suggested an intended rhyme with wirth.

bookmark_borderBurns in real Scots

Burns wrote his poems in Scots, but he generally used English orthography.

For instance, here’s a bit of Auld Lang Syne together with its pronunciation in IPA (thanks to Wikipedia):

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?
??d o??ld ?.kw?n.t?ns bi f??.?ot,
?n n?.v?? br?xt t? m?in?
??d o??ld ?.kw?n.t?ns bi f??.?ot,
?n o??l l?? s?in?
And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere !
and gie’s a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught,
for auld lang syne.
?n ðe?rz ? ho??n, m? tr?s.t? fi??!
?? ?i?z ? ho??n ? ð?in!
?n wi?l tak ? r?xt ??d w?.l? wo??xt,
f?? o?l? la? s?in.

NY - Albany: Washington Park - Burns Monument
NY – Albany: Washington Park – Burns Monument, a photo by wallyg on Flickr.
It’s not obviously if you don’t know Scots that hand and right should be pronounced at /ho??n/ and /r?xt/ (rather than RP /hænd/ and /ra?t/) — one might (wrongly) assume that only words that are spelt differently should be pronounced differently from standard English with a Scottish accent.

Sadly, these days even Scots find it hard to liberate themselves from English when they recite or sing the Bard’s poems.

For instance, if you go to BBC’s page about A man’s a man for a’ that, there are a good number of renditions of the poem. However, none of them are likely to resemble how Burns himself would have pronounced it. Even fairly basic words such as head is pronounced as /h?d/ rather than /hid/ by most of them.

Have we got to the point where most people in Scotland are unable to pronounce the words shared between English and Scots in Scots rather than English when they haven’t been spelt in a way to indicate the difference? If so, somebody needs to republish Rabbie Burns’s poems in Scots orthography before people get irrevocably used to the English pronunciation.

bookmark_borderDavid Livingstone, the inventor of Newscots

(An article from the English-language Wikipedia of a parallel universe that slipped through a wormhole and ended up in my inbox.)

Livingstone's statue in Princes Gate Gairdens, Edinburgh
David Livingstone was born on 19 March 1813 in the mill town of Blantyre, five years before Scotland would regain her independence as a result of the Napoleonic wars, into a Protestant family believed to be descended from the highland Livingstones, a clan that had been previously known as the Clan MacLea. Born to Neil Livingstone (1788–1856) and his wife Agnes (1782–1865), David, along with many of the Livingstones, was at the age of ten employed in the cotton mill of H. Monteith – David and brother John working 12-hour days as “piecers”, tying broken cotton threads on the spinning machines. The mill offered their workers schooling of which David took advantage.

Gradually, and by dint of infinite patience and concentration, the young cotton worker became master of many languages, and began the scientific study of their structure. About 1841 he had freed himself from all the burden of manual labour, and could occupy his thoughts with the dialect of his native district, West Central Scots; his first publication was a small collection of folk songs in the Ayrshire & Lanrikshire dialect (1843). His remarkable abilities now attracted general attention, and he was helped to continue his studies undisturbed. His Grammar of the Scots Dialects (1848) was the result of much labour, and of journeys taken to every part of the country. Livingstone’s famous Dictionary of the Scots Dialects appeared in its original form in 1850, and from this publication dates all the wide cultivation of the popular language in Scots, since Livingstone really did no less than construct, out of the different materials at his disposal, a popular language or definite people’s language for Scotland. With certain modifications, the most important of which were introduced later by Livingstone himself, but also through a latter policy aiming to merge this Scots language with Buikscots, this language has become Newscots, one of Scotland’s three official languages (the others being Buikscots and Gaelic).

He lived very quietly in lodgings in Glesga, surrounded by his books and shrinking from publicity, but his name grew into wide political favour as his ideas about the language of the workers and peasants became more and more the watch-word of the popular party.

Livingstone holds perhaps an isolated place in literary history as the one man who has invented, or at least selected and constructed, a language which has pleased so many thousands of his countrymen that they have accepted it for their schools, their sermons and their songs. He died in Glesga on September 23, 1896, and was buried with public honours.

bookmark_borderBits in Scottish = badge in Danish

Originally uploaded by jemsweb

I’ve struggled with the phonetic realisation of /?/ in Scottish English (i.e., the vowel in words such as bit) for a long time. I keep thinking it should be some sort of [ɪ], but it’s clearly much more open than that.

It helped a bit when a person called Pete commented on John Wells’s Phonetic Blog that it ought to be transcribed as /?/ rather than /ɪ/, but it only really clicked into place this morning.

Anna (often called Bits by Phyllis and the rest of the family) picked up an orange nursery badge. I said in Danish: “Amaia, det er et badge.” Anna exclaimed: “It’s called the same as me! [Danish] /b?æd?s(j)/ – [Scottish English] /b?ts/”

I now need to test this theory, namely that Danes can accurately imitate the pronunciation of Scottish English and Scots /ɪ/ by using a Danish /æ/.