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I Am a Language Nerd

April 6, 2010

One of my most popular pages here (linked in my Popular Pages tab) was my entry on learning a bit of Irish Gaelic while in Ireland.  Well, I recently discovered another fun language, quite by accident: Scots.  Obviously, I’ve heard of the Scots language before, but until recently I didn’t understand that Scots (also called Lowland Scots) and Scottish Gaelic were actually two different languages.  As a language nerd, learning this was a fun discovery.

What happened was this: I was putting the finishing touches on this past Saturday’s post about all the projects I have going on, and ended with a reference to B.T., calling him the “wee bairn”.  I thought: you know, some people might not know that “wee bairn” is sort of the Scottish way of saying “little baby” except it sounds cooler than “little baby”.  So, I decided to link it to a definition that made it clear.  And one of the top results on a Google Search was a Wikipedia article.  So, I linked it.

But then, I went to read the Wikipedia article on Bairn.  And there was something funny about it.  Go ahead, check out the link.  It’s funny: you can read it, but the spelling and grammar are all kind of strange.  The first thought in my head: was this just a badly-written article or the result of vandalism on a lesser-visited page?  But then I noticed in the address bar that this was on “”.  That was an indication that I wasn’t reading an English language page at all, but the Scots language page.

A little more zooming around the Scots Wikipedia was very enjoyable.  Scots, as a language, is largely intelligible to English.  The spellings are frequently different, but if sounded out phonetically will sound very similar to their counterparts in English.  There are some distinct turns of phrase that would sound foreign and incorrect in English-speaking ears.  For instance, on the Scots Wikipedia mainpage we see the the following: “We hae 2,971 airticles the nou.  There’s 5,940 veesitors/uisers here the nou.”  The words “hae”, “airticles”, “nou”, “veesitors” and “uisers” are, respectively “have”, “articles”, “now”, “visitors” and “users”, of course.  But the phrase “the nou” at the end of these sentences looks odd at first.  It doesn’t take much to realize that this translates pretty easily into “We currently have 2,971 articles.  There are currently 5,940 visitors/user here.”

But that was a selection that was very similar to English.  Further digging in the Scots Wikipedia page reveals passages that sound as though they’re half in a thick dialect of English and half in some other language entirely.  Take this line from the Welcome page: “Gin ye are interestit in writin airticles thare’s mair ablo but afore haund a wee bit wicins that micht be a haund findin yer wey aboot.”  I think “gin” means “if”, but I can’t be certain.  “Mair” seems to mean “more” from other sentences I saw it used in.  But I’m not at all sure what “mair ablo but afore haund a wee bit wicins…” means even if I can parse out what several of the words that make up that part mean.  I think it all means that “before you run off writing articles on Wikipedia there are few things you should know that might be helpful”, but I’m stretching to wrap my head around it.

Anyway, if you haven’t already (and your nerdy interests run like mine) take a look at the Scots Wikipedia page and have fun looking at the similarities and differences between Scots and English.

Happy Writing!

5 Comments leave one →
  1. fedwickagency permalink
    May 6, 2010 5:16 pm

    Stephen, I took a peek at the Scots wikipedia. It looks spookily like English. Very entertaining. For another real interesting language, if you’re language-obsessive—which I assume you are—I would suggest Basque, which as I understand has no known relatives.

    -J. P. Cabit
    Editor, Fedwick Agency

    • May 8, 2010 12:33 pm

      That’s interesting. I’d always assumed Basque was some kind of transitional romance language that existed in a space between French and Spanish since Basque country is on the borders between France and Spain. I’d never really looked further into it. I guess that explains why there are Basque separatists (historically, where ever there has been a difference in language, there have been people who have wanted independence).

    • May 8, 2010 12:52 pm

      Incidentally, what is it that your site is about? I had a look, and its content is that of a blog set in the future, but there’s no link or about page to suggest whether this is a story unto itself or related to another writing project.

      • fedwickagency permalink
        May 8, 2010 9:17 pm

        Stephen, yes, Fedwick’s is a news source tracking the happenings of the 22nd century. As for being set in the future, I suppose it would be “The Future,” if you were living in say the 21st century.

        -J. P. Cabit
        Editor-In-Chief, Fedwick Agency

  2. July 7, 2010 9:19 pm

    Hey Stephen, wasn’t sure where to leave a note, so I figured this was a good place for it.

    This week’s theme on my blog is the English Language. I don’t have a very large audience, but I’d like to offer you a spot for a guest post on linguistics (seeing you, like me, are a bit of a linguist). Would you be interested in doing this at all? Again, my followers are only a handful, so it doesn’t offer much in publicity, but sometime in the future when (hopefully) my clientele, as it were, is bigger, I could give you a guest post and send some readers your way. 🙂

    Shoot me a note if you’re interested. You can find a link to contact me on my main writer’s website.


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