‘Scots’ is a spoken language with a number of different varieties, each with its own distinctive character. Scots is spoken in Glasgow, Dundee, Edinburgh and Aberdeen as well as in the Borders, Dumfries and Galloway, central Scotland, Fife, the Lothians, Tayside, Caithness, the North East and Orkney and Shetland. It is a language that has developed into dialects, traversing time and countries. The language travelled from Scotland into Ulster and was spoken by many of the pioneers, from both Scotland and Ulster, who settled in the ‘Colonies’ of the Americas. From there it spread from the coastal regions of the Carolinas and extended up into the Appalachian mountains, but the root remained the same; that of Scots, and in many cases Lallans, the tongue of our ancestors.
Scots: Root Language
Interestingly, although the whole of what is now the United Kingdom was once a Celtic nation, with our own ancestors being recorded as Brythonic, the surviving language of the Scots and for us in the borders especially, is defined by linquistic researchers as having a Germanic rather than Gaelic root.
It seems that Scots (Language) and its ancestor Anglo-Saxon, have been spoken in the region of the Scottish Borders since before the 7th century AD, that is 1,400 years or so. The earliest Anglo-Saxon text in Scotland is to be found carved on the Ruthwell Cross in this region and dates from the 8th century AD.
Progressively, the historic Celtic/Brythonic Kingdom of Strathclyde, from which Carruthers hail, became part of the ancient kingdom of Northumbria, which stretched from the River Humber to the Firth of Forth. In the 9th century it was conquered by the Danes, but the northern part of it, which lay in Scotland, survived and was taken over by the Kings of Scots in the 10th century. In 1237 the disputed frontier with England was finally settled (except for a small area near Gretna Green).
This gave birth to both a region and a society of Border clans and families that emerged based on family names – such as the Carruthers, Kerrs, Elliots and Scotts – and these kindreds made war and peace almost independently of the central powers. Raiding back and forward across the frontier, or against each other, they were known as the Border Reivers, to which Carruthers belonged, but they were finally suppressed in the reign of King James VI of Scotland and I of England, in the 17th century.
Scots: Language in General
Scots is therefore not only the name of one born in Scotland but is also the collective name for collective Scottish dialects known also as ‘Doric’, ‘Lallans’ and ‘Scotch’ or by more local area names such as Glaswegian, Dundonian, Doric, Borders, Fife, Buchan, Caithness, Orcadian and Shetland.
Scots is spoken by young and old people and is used in cities and country areas. People can have a strong emotional attachment to the language and often feel most comfortable using it amongst their friends and family.
Many people who speak Scots will speak differently when talking to strangers or in formal situations. Many people in Scotland speak both Scots and English and often use a mixture of both.
Scots was the language used by Robert Burns to write much of his poetry. Today Scots is still used by poets and writers but the places you are most likely to encounter it are in people’s homes, in the streets and in the everyday life of communities all over Scotland.
The Defining Dialects
Accepting that historically the North West of Scotland was predominantly Gaelic speaking, the Scots language itself consists of four main dialects in Scotland and one in Northern Ireland. These are classified by the names: (1) Insular, (2) Northern, (3) Central, and (4) Southern. These dialect regions were first defined and mapped back in the 1870’s. The fifth dialect is that of the (5) Ulster Scots, sometimes called Ullans. Within each of the four historical, main regional dialects of Scotland and one in Northern Ireland, there are also area related sub dialects as can be seen on the map above.
- Insular Dialects: Orkney and Shetland
- Northern Dialects: South Northern, Mid Northern and North Northern
- Central Dialects: North East Central. South East Central, West Central and South West Central.
- Southern: Border Scots
- Ulster Scots
These sub-dialects exist because people who belong to a main dialect also had/have ways of speaking, such a words, phrases, or pronunciations, which are only found in a smaller area within a main dialect. And even within sub dialect it is also possible to find forms of speech used in very local areas to include particular cities.
One example would be the dialect of Central Scots, which is a main dialect, which has a sub-dialect called West Central Scots, and within West Central Scots the city of Glasgow lies. This city as in other metropolitan areas, has long had a distinct city dialect called in Scotland-Glaswegian.
This means that people who speak with a Glasgow city dialect are speaking a form of West Central Scots and also belong to the wider Central Scots region because they share many features in common with other speakers in that larger dialect region.
We can then take this one step further, to a national scale, and say that people speaking Glasgow city dialect are Scots speakers because Central Scots is one of the main dialects of the Scots language as a whole.
Border Scots is part of the Lallans tongue, which has been spoken in our native region for well over a millennia and a half (>1,500 years).
This dialect is described in the ‘Dictionary of the Scots Language’ as:
LALLAN, adj., n. Also lal(l)and, -lant. A variant form of Lawland, q.v., lowland, the spelling with -ll-being particularly associated with meanings 2. of adj. and n. See P.L.D. § 29.1. Specif. in regard to speech: using the speech of the Lowlands of Scotland, Scots-speaking as opposed to Gaelic- or English-speaking, in Scots.
- adj. Pertaining to the Lowlands of Scotland (sm.Sc., Per., Fif., Lth., Ayr. 1960). Comb. back-lallan, from the back or remote part of the Lowlands. Deriv. Lalander, a dweller in the Lowlands. Now gen. in pl. (sc. tongue, speech, etc.): the historic speech of Lowland Scotland, descended mainly from the Northern dialect of Anglo-Saxon, the speech recorded in this dictionary. Since c.1940 the name Lallans has been specif. applied by its exponents to the movement begun by Lewis Spence, Hugh McDiarmid and others to recreate and extend the range and vocabulary of Scots in literary usage and also definition.
This Scots dialect is still heard in the greater part of the Scottish Borders, taking in our historic lands in Annandale and those of Eskdale, Ettrick, and Roxburgh. Included within it are Annan, Hawick (Haaick), Jedburgh (Jethart), Kelso (Kelsae), Lockerbie and Selkirk.
What is interesting is that to the western borders of Dumfrisshire, where the Southern dialect is spoken, starting slowly from west of Nithsdale and into Galloway, the South West Central Dialect is used. It is defined internally by the people themselves who usually refer to it by the name of the place they live. Therefore a speaker may say for example that they speak ‘Dumfries’ (Border) or that they speak ‘Gallowa’ (South West Central).
Carruthers in Ireland (Ulster Scots)
Interestingly and of course accepting that ALL Carruthers sprung from the lands of ‘Carruthers’ in and around Annandale, Dumfriesshire, the majority of descendants of the family who finished up staying in what is now Northern Ireland, have retained the base spelling of our name.
They have also retained and devloped, as have those around them, their own derivation of the Scots language and more distinctively the Lallans dialect. These Scots, to include Carruthers, came to Ulster with the Scottish ‘Settlers of the Plantation’ in the early seventeenth century. Its presence was sustained and reinforced by later migrations and by the strong social and economic ties across the narrow ‘North Channel’ between Scotland and Ireland.
Many went over during the Lowland Clearances to escape persecution, and took the dialects of ‘South West Central’ and ‘Southern Scots’ with them. They made their own definitive dialect – Ulster Scots. The Ulster Scots as a people remain, although self-identifying, extremely proud of their Scottish Ancestry and retain great relations and exchange with Scotland and its culture, history and heritage. This is clearly seen today, whenever the Scots and Ulstermen are in the same place, they tend to congregate together for a drink and a bit of the ‘craic’.
Although it is important to recognise that migrations between the two coastlines have been ongoing for millennia, it is generally accepted that it was the Hamilton & Montgomery Settlement of May 1606 that saw the floodgates open leading to tens of thousands of Lowland Scots pouring into Ulster over the years. This however, was just the beginning – these first Ulster-Scots settlements were built up over the following centuries, through constant fresh migrations, which both increased the size of the Ulster-Scots community and enriched their heritage and traditions. The permanent Lowland Scots imprint on Ulster remains crystal clear and distinctly well defined to this day.
There are families of Carruthers scattered throughout Ulster, and beyond and wherever we are, we intigrate and make a difference, while still retaining a pride in our origins. We are, as the old Scots saying goes ” Awe Jock Thampsons Bairns” after all.
With our Scottish ancestry and blood, comes our culture and with our culture there is nothing more beautiful than the lilt of the language itself, and for us from the borders of Scotland and the Lallans dialect in particular, this must include the writings of the Bard, one ‘Rabbie Burns’ whose birth we celebrate throughout the world on the 25th of January every year.
The poems and songs of Burns give us an inkling into the speech of our forefathers, and the lives that they led in the 18th century. Buried in Dumfries, Burns had a great passion for the land and the people in it, which is still shared by ‘Scots’ people on both sides of the Irish Sea and beyond.