The difference between Lallans and Scots

A friend of mine recently asked me for clarification of the difference between Lallans and Scots as terms for one of the ways people speak and write in this part of the world. I did what I almost always do in these situations and I phoned my dad. We chatted and he confirmed what I feel.

So, here’s what I feel about the two terms as I wrote in an email to my pal that I thought you might like:

Lallans and Scots are basically names for the same thing, though I would say that ‘Scots language’ is the preferred term now. Lallans is a long-time name for the language (Burns sometimes used it), but the political connotations it took on in the ‘Scottish Renaissance’ of the twentieth century mean that it is associated with the ‘synthetic Scots’ as used by Hugh MacDairmid etc in the mid-twentieth century. By that I mean that sometimes ‘Lallans’ is used to talk about a kind of Scots which doesn’t have to be rooted in a specific place.

So, if you are using or writing in a kind of Scots which uses words or grammar some of which is traditionally from the North East and some is from Fife and some is from Ayrshire, that is sometimes called Lallans, but I’d be very happy to call that Scots language, and I think most people would. For example, Matthew Fitt’s translations of the likes of Harry Potter use mostly a sort of Angus Scots (he’s from Dundee) but he might take good words from anywhere, and that is still described by him and others as ‘Scots language’ now. The additional complication is that most people would refer to the specific language of an area not even as ‘Scots’ but as ‘Fife’ or ‘Doric’ or ‘Glaswegian’ etc. So that’s handy for you… I’d still use ‘Scots language’ for that, and maybe refer to the language variety.

So, if I was writing a blurb for a board at, say, Glasgow Cathedral I might say:

Scots language, which is sometimes called Lallans, has been used in the area for many centuries. The language variety of Scots spoken in the area today is often also referred to as Glaswegian.

Is that useful? If you have a specific situation in mind let me know and I can see what I think I’d do. It is a MINEFIELD. No-one like the speakers of a minoritised language to kill it through in-fighting!

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