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A History of the Scots Language

Billy Kay is the author of Scots The Mither Tongue and over the next few months, he will tell the story of the Scots language from its ancient origins to the present day.
Lewis Grassic Gibbon

They provide one of the few indications of the extent of Pictish lands in Scotland

Part 1. The Beginnings

Oten the Scots writer is quite unaware of this essential foreignness in his work; more often, seeking an adequate word or phrase, he hears an echo in an alien tongue that would adorn his meaning with a richness, a clarity and a conciseness impossible in orthodox English. That echo is from Braid Scots, from that variation of the Anglo-Saxon speech which was the tongue of the great Scots civilisation. Lewis Grassic Gibbon.

Lewis Grassic Gibbon gives eloquent testimony to the linguistic duality of most Scots today. He also reminds us of the ancient pedigree of the Scots language, which is spoken by most of us, and haunts the rest. Champions of a language, like Gibbon often cite its antiquity to strengthen its claim to be recognised as the true national tongue. Well, neither Scots nor Gaelic speakers can claim to speak the language of the country’s distant past. When the Gaels arrived in Argyll around the end of the fifth century and the Angles in what is now the Eastern Border in the early seventh century, what they found both in the Pictish North and the Cumbric South were tribes speaking a British Celtic language, or languages, related to modern Welsh. Indeed much early Welsh heroic poetry is set in the regions of Lothian and Strathclyde. Welsh place names abound all over Scotland: aber a river mouth gives Aberdour and Aberdeen; pen a headland or hill gives Pencaitland pen ced llan the enclosure in the wood on the hill.

While Pictish symbol stones give insight into the art of the Picts, not a line of their language comes down to us today. However in eastern Scotland, north of the Forth, there are over 300 place names with the preix pit, from pet a share or portion of land; Pitlochry in Perthshire is the stony share, Pitcaple in Aberdeenshire is the horse share, and Pitencrief in Fife is the share of the tree. They are almost certainly of Pictish origin and although most of the second elements of these pit names are Gaelic, they provide one of the few indications of the extent of Pictish lands in Scotland.

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