Clan Carruthers

CLAN CARRUTHERS: Southern Scots, the language of the Border Reivers.

The above video is based on current research and is produced by the Linguistics and English Language Department of the University of Edinburgh.


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Were Carruthers Gaels and Gaelic speakers, or were they not?

The map to the left is taken from the Scots Language Centre based in Perth, Scotland, showing the four main dialects of Scots in Scotland. Carruthers are clearly marked in the Border or Southern Scots Leid (language) area.

Language plays an important part in helping to define the history of an area and the peoples that inhabited it. However, as language is dynamic in nature (i.e. ever changing), it does not deal with the origins, but simply with the conversational influences of a people over time, as can be seen in the video above. 

This blog is to try to help dispel myths that Carruthers were in any way Gaels or did in fact speak Gaelic. Hopefully, based on the current evidence available and presented here, this will help clarify how our ancestors conversed and where that language came from. It is clear through the evolution of our language, which appreciatively changed over time being dependent on the society of the day, that Western and Middle March Border Reivers remained, as one would suspect, a distinct linquistic population all on their own.


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The region of Dumfriesshire which includes the ancestral lands of Carruthers

Carruthers – in context

At this point it is fair to state that our Clan Society’s DNA Research group shows that Swedish sits distinctly in our genetic origins. However, as the Swedes, unlike the Danes and Norwegians never invaded nor were known to have settled in ‘Britain’, the Swedish patronymic DNA marker and how this male arrived in the ancient lands of Carruthers, remains a mystery.

What is known however, is that in order for the line to continue, they must have interbred/intermarried with the indigenous population of the region. This took place around 300 years prior to our name first being recorded during the reign of Alexander II (1214-1249).

Sadly, being topographical, our own name does not enlighten us to the Swedish origins, as Carruthers is taken from the ancient Brythonic language, akin to ancient Welsh, which meant the Fort (Caer) of Ruthers (Rydderch). As such the area of from which we took our name and which sat within the ancient kingdom of Strathclyde, would have been in existence as far back as 500 AD. This was at least 400 years before our Swedish ancestor seems to have popped up.

The Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Bernicia, which would eventually envelope Strathclyde between 6th-7th centuries, had become permanently united with its neighbour Deira to form the kingdom of Northumbria. Bernicia stretched northward from as far south as the River Tees, ultimately reaching the Firth of Forth and up beyond the Solway Firth (covering the lands of our ancestors). It is from these Anglo-Saxons that our language was rooted in the old Germanic tongue.


So what does the evidence show us?

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Map showing the influence of the Gaels in the 7th century.  Dumfriesshire is not included. It remained Briton, until being taken over by the Anglo-Saxons.

When the Romans arrived in 43 AD, the many tribes they encountered spoke a common Celtic Brythonic language. We also know from historical research that during the time of the Roman occupation in the area of our homeland ie sitting between Hadrians and Antonines walls, a Brittonic tribe lived in what would now cover Dumfriesshire, by the name of the Selgovae.

Their language became known as Cumbric by 800AD and was a dialect of Brythonic. This was spoken in much of the middle and western Borders and the Lowlands of Scotland.

Although the language itself has disappeared shepherds in Cumbria, just across the border from Annandale, still use a Cumbric rhyme counting system called Yan Tan Tethra, to count sheep. 1-20 would be: yan, tyan, tethera, methera, pimp (5), sethera, lethera, hovera, dovera, dik (10), yanadik, tyanadik, metheradik, bumfitt (15), yanabumfitt, tyanabumfitt, tetherabumfitt, metherabumfitt, giggot (20).

Evidence has further shown that the Cumbric language evolved over time into what is now known as a dialect of the Scots language called Border/Southern Scots. It has to be noted at this juncture that this language has a distinctly different root and influence than that of Scots-Gaelic.

This is because historically, the Celtic people on the islands of Britain (Brittania) and Ireland (Hibernia) are defined as being of two distinct groups. They were those who inhabited Britain, including what is now Scotland, Wales, England and the Islands who were known as Britons (Brythonic) and those who inhabited Ireland,  the latter being classed as Gaels (Goidelic). Both languages progressively evolved separately, based on external influences, into what they are today.


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The western border of Dumfrieshire is clearly defined in as the western border of Southern Scots

Gaelic or Scots

In Scotland the Goidelic language of Irish-Gaelic, evolved into Scots-Gaelic. The Brythonic language on the other hand, evolved over time and influence into what is now known as Scots (the language, not the people).

Even when Gaelic was at its height and became the language of ‘Scotland’, the Lowlands, to include the Borders retained the ‘Angles’ tongue, which was a progression of the Brythonic language into that of the Anglo-Saxons. Gaelic was therefore never really the predominant language of our ancestors.

This is backed by robust research and is summerised by a piece from Dr Dauvit Horsbroch PhD, the Language and Information Officer of the Scots Language Centre basedc in Perth, Scotland, who states;

  • Scots has been spoken in Scotland for many centuries and is spoken today throughout the east and south of the country – the historic Lowlands (to include the Borders ed.) – and also in Orkney and Shetland, which form the Northern Isles. Scots is a branch of the Germanic family of languages which includes Dutch, English and Frisian.
  • Scots originated with the tongue of the Angles who arrived in Scotland about AD 600, or 1,400 years ago. During the Middle Ages this language developed and grew apart from its sister tongue in England, until a distinct Scots language had evolved.  At one time Scots was the dominant language of Scotland, spoken by Scottish kings and queens, and was used to write both literary works and official records.
  • On the mainland, Scots comprises four main dialects which are subdivided into a total of ten sub dialects. Literature in the various dialects began to appear from the 17th and 18th centuries. John Jamieson’s Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language (1808) was the first to systematically catalogue the language. In addition, Scots speakers also settled parts of Ulster, Ireland during the 16th and 17th centuries establishing a dialect known today as Ulster Scots.

From the evidence of the hearth and poll taxes of the 1690’s it may be estimated that there were then around 750,000 speakers of Scots who counted for about 70% of the Scottish population. The 2011 Scottish census returned 1.5 million speakers of Scots within Scotland making up some 30% of the Scottish population of 5.4 million.

(The Scottish Language Centre is an organisation that researches and promotes the origins and use of the Scots Language).


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Ruthwell Cross, Dumfriesshire

The three official languages of Scotland

The three officially recognized languages in Scotland are English; Scots; and Scots-Gaelic.

Scots as a language was included in the List of Declarations under the European Charter of Minority Languages in 2012.

In order to differentiate it from the Goidelic offshoot language of Scots-Gaelic, it is also referred to as Lowland Scots. There are mentions of the language in runic carvings known as the Dream of the Rood on Ruthwell Cross in Dumfriesshire, dating back to the 8th century.

The earliest text of the language dates back to the 14th century. There were also a number of Latin charters with vernacular glosses in them that date back to the 12th century.

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Currently spoken by around 30% of all Scottish citizens, Scots shouldn’t be confused with Scottish Gaelic, the sister language of Irish.  The Scots language, which evolved over time from Brythonic, is a Germanic-based language, from the language of the Angles and Saxons. It is spoken mostly in Lowland Scotland to include our area of interest, the Borders. Scots is often wrongly classified as one of the ancient varieties of the English language, however it is more regularly recognised as a sister, rather than daughter language of the same.

Scots was also influenced during its development by the Romance languages such as legal and ecclesiastical Latin, Norman, and French and other influences include Dutch and Middle Low German.

iu-8.pngScottish Gaelic, spoken by 1% of the Scottish population, has also loaned some words to Scots, mostly those denoting geographical and cultural features. The reality is that Gaelic was only at its zenith for a short period of time, from around the 8th-9th century however, the language gradually went into decline and retreated back into the Western Isles and some parts of the Highlands to varying degrees..

It’s perhaps also worth adding that many people, including our own family from Dumfriesshire and surrounding shires who emigrated to Ireland during the Lowland Clearances in the 1600s, spoke their home tongue, which in turn they took with them. This migration was either as a part of the Montgomery Hamilton Settlement of 1605 also known as the Dawn of the Ulster-Scots or secondly, during the Plantation of Ulster.

The former was due to two Scots, James Hamilton and Hugh Montgomery, who received land in the counties of Down and Antrim as a reward for rescuing local chieftain Con O’Neill. This led to the settlement of over 10,000 Scots in these areas, who successfully worked the land and brought with them their language, religious beliefs and customs. Their day-to-day language was Scots, which in turn was reflected in the language spoken in Ulster at the time, reflecting their homelands in the Lowlands of Scotland. This, of course, included those from the ancient lands of our family.

The Plantation of Ulster was the colonisation (plantation), of that region organised by the British Government under James VI/I. It started a year after the Settlement in 1606, and also became known, with regards the Borderers, as the Lowland Clearances.

Today, there are five main dialects of Scots: Insular, Northern, Midland, Southern (Border) and Ulster-Scots. Within each of the dialects there are more variations, just like any other language.


So what do we know, based on the current works by linguistic researchers at Edinburgh and Aberdeen Universites and the National Library of Scotland:

  • We know that the original people of our homelands were the Selgovae.
  • We know they were a Briton tribe whose language was Cumbric (Brythonic), rooted in ancient Welsh.
  • We know that the region was never fully influenced by the Gaels nor Gaelic, even in the height of the use of Gaelic as a language.
  • We know that the name Carruthers originates in Annandale, and thus all of our name are by a blood line, Border Scots of that region.
  • We know that patronymically, Carruthers carries a specific Swedish marker, not from Gutland and has to have interbred with the indigenous population to ensure the line continued.
  • This population on the maternal side, could trace their lineage back to Brythonic times in the old kingdom of Strathclyde and beyond.
  • We know that the the language that evolved from the region has Germanic rather than Goidelic (Gaelic) roots and was influenced by Latin, Dutch, Norman, French and Old English.
  • We know that this language being accepted by treaty, is now known and accepted in its own right as Scots, a sister language to modern English. This is much like Danish, Swedish and Norwegian, three distinct sister languages from the same root.
  • We also know that the Scots language was introduced to Northern Ireland by the Scottish Lowland immigration to Ulster, becoming a dialect in its own right.
  • We know that there are considered to be five major dialects of the Scots language. These include both Ulster Scots and Southern, the latter also known as Borders and distinct in its own right, which covers the Carruthers homelands of Dumfriesshire.

What this clarifies is that based on the current evidence from Scottish scholars, the indigenous population of our ancient homelands, whose language was originally Cumbric/Brythonic, was overtaken by the Germanic Anglo-Saxon (Frisian) language, and heavily influenced by Norman-French, Dutch and Middle English.

The Language of our forebears and in fact many other Reiver Riding Families, progressed to become a separate dialect of the Scots language specific to its region i.e. the Scottish Borders (Southern).

Hope this helps and thank you to the lingustic scholars who gave us this evidence, which helps us bring light to this fascinating subject.


Clan Carruthers Society WP footnote 2021

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