Standardisation meets Anglicisation: Changes in the written language of Scotland in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Agata Maria Daleszynska

Edinburgh University, United Kingdom


Standardisation meets Anglicisation: Changes in the written language of

Scotland in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Previous studies of the linguistic situation in the 16th century Scotland have shown that contact between Scots and English led to major changes in the use of Scots and English in various text types. This paper (i) corroborates earlier findings, illustrating language change in textual corpora, and (ii) addresses questions which have so far remained unanswered. Through analysis of stylistic variation in samples from the period, I explore the attitudes of Scottish people towards 16th century language change,

and suggest that these continue to have reflexes in the present day language of Scotland.

Despite their common Germanic root, English and Scots coexisted in the contguous territories of present day England and Scotland until the 16th century, both undergoing a gradual process of standardisation. Eventually, Scots, spoken in the Scottish Lowlands became a distinctive, socially and politically prestigious language of the Scottish Kingdom, widely used in speech as well as in various official and informal writing (Corbett 2003: 9). Nevertheless, from the early 16th century we can observe an increase in variation in the majority of Scottish text types (from personal letters to Acts of Parliament), which seems to reflect an influx of English lexical and grammatical forms into Scots. This process of gradual replacement of the indigenous Scots forms with English alternatives is referred to as Anglicisation.

This paper discusses the socio-political motivations behind Anglicisation. In addition, drawing on new data from the Helsinki Corpus of Older Scots, I replicate Devitt's earlier enquiry into Anglicisation and confirm the trends reported earlier for three variables. By examining the frequency with which English morphological and spelling forms occur in Scottish writings between the years of 1533-1661, I show that there has been a change from a semi-standardised form of language into an increasingly anglicised one. In addition to illustrating variation and diachronic language change in Scottish writings in the 16th and 17th centuries, this paper discusses the sociolinguistic implications of these findings.

First, the paradoxical position of written Scots. Having reached high status as a national, but uncodified language of the Scottish Kingdom, I suggest that written Scots was vulnerable to gradual replacement with Anglicisation. Second, this unstable position of Anglicisation across domains. Not all written registers or domains were equally susceptible to the incursion of Anglicisation, with personal letters showing a lower rate than legal documents. We can infer strong positive attitudes towards the local variety, and the variable distribution of forms observed in my corpus suggest that Scots and English must have existed in a diglossic relationship, the traces of which have been preserved until this day.

Session: Paper session
Planning/Policy 5 (Standardization, Codification)
Friday, April 4, 2008, 10:30-12:00
room: 14