Insights September 22, 2021

The evolution of Scots

By Living Word

Mozilla Firefox recently became the first major piece of software to enable users to read a browser written in Scots. We explore the fascinating evolution of Scots as a language in its own right.

In a statement written in Scots, Mozilla Firefox explained that as of the 10th of August 2021, ‘fowk will can browse the wab throu the Scots leid’ – which means that ‘people will be able to browse the web through the Scots language’.

‘Until noo,’ the statement continued, ‘the haesna been muckle uphaud for saftware throu the leid but Rubric howps this will chenge an steer mair fowk, an in parteeclar younkers, tae mak mair uiss o Scots an bigg its staunin in the warld.’ This, perhaps reasonably obviously, means that ‘until now, there has not been much uphold for software through the language, but Rubric [the firm that translated the browser] hopes this will change and steer more people, and in particular youngsters, to make more use of Scots and increase its standing in the world.’

It’s quite clear from these couple of sentences that Scots, which is spoken by around 1.9 million people according to the Scottish 2011 census, is quite different to English. So how did it evolve?

A brief history of Scots

Scots originated when the Angles settled in Scotland 1,400 years ago. Throughout the Middle Ages, the language diverged from English until it became the kind of Scots similar to the language still spoken by so many today. Scottish kings conversed in Scots, and official Scottish records too were written in what was then considered to be Scotland’s national language.

After Scotland’s political union with England in 1707, Scots was replaced by English as the national language. It is now considered to be a regional language under the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages and is recognised as such by the UK government.

Feeling validated

The inclusion of Scots in Mozilla Firefox represented a recent revival of the Scots language, as seen in schools, the Scottish parliament and on social media, the software firm explained. Translator and Scots writer Thomas Clark told The Scotsman that Scots speakers felt “validated” by the new browser, adding that the “real challenge” for getting the translation right was “finding a medium between an interesting, lively, accessible Scots and making sure that it wasn’t too antiquated or whimsical”.

It’s clear that the Scots language will continue to be hugely important to Scottish people, and that it represents a very large part of Scotland’s culture and history. One thing’s certain – Mozilla Firefox has picked up on a mission that isn’t going to go away: to better represent and protect minority languages, like Scots, for future generations.