Masterclass: Varieties of Scots in Late Modern Times

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Varieties of Scots in focus

Late Modern times in Scotland, especially the second half of the eighteenth century, were characterized by stormy linguistic debates which were “pursued with an intensity almost unequaled in any other part of the United Kingdom” (Jones 1994: 71). The Union of the Crowns in 1603 as well as the Union of Parliaments in 1707 removed the political centre of power from its previous seat in Scotland. In consequence, socially mobile individuals turned to “southern life-styles and modes of expression, in order to gain access to those prestigious circles south of the border” (Dossena 2019: 27). The concept of polite and refined language use gained traction during Late Modern times as well, which opened the market for grammars and dictionaries in which a southern standard variety was codified and prescribed. Few Scottish debaters argued for a distinctly Scottish standard during those times, and as Dossena (2003: 383) sums up, “Scots may be shown to have undergone a standardization process that, mainly owing to language-external factors, was disrupted by an increasingly forceful attempt at anglicization at a certain point in history”. In order to shed some light on these turbulent times when linguistic awareness was sharpened, four scholars active in the field will explore different approaches to varieties of Scots and Scottish English during the Late Modern period.

This masterclass is aimed at early-career researchers, in particular PhD students in English linguistics, but anyone with a keen interest in research on varieties of Scots or Late Modern times is highly welcome to join.

Attending the masterclass is free and open to the public.

The masterclass is hosted at the Department of Literature, Area Studies and European Languages, University of Oslo, by Doctoral Research Fellow Nora Dörnbrack and Associate Professor Jacob Thaisen.


The masterclass will take place on 7 and 8 June. Times indicated are Oslo-time.

7 June 2022


Opening of the masterclass

Session I: Varieties of Scots in Late Modern Times I

Chair: Nuria Yáñez-Bouza


18th-century Scots viewed through the lens of female letter-writers’ discursive practices
Christine Elsweiler, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München

18th-century letters by Scottish women have been shown to manifest Scots features at a time when conceptually written genres had already been completely anglicised (Millar 2020: 100). They thus form a valuable resource for the study of 18th-century Scots on the orthographic, morphological and morphosyntactic levels.

In addition, these letters offer important insights into the discursive practices of female writers. Letter-writing in the 18th century was governed by epistolary conventions, e.g. regarding the structure of the letters but also the realisation of speech acts such as apologies, requests or leavetaking, though not the same degree as in previous centuries (Pallander-Collin 2010: 660–661). While all female writers were conscious of epistolary norms, as is evident e.g. in their use of conventional leavetaking formulae, their overall letter-writing skills largely depended on their level of schooling (see Brant 2006: 42, Whyman 2009: 31–32). Moreover, letters by women reflect various situations, ranging from business contexts to more private family matters, which influence the choice of conventional pragmalinguistic patterns (Fitzmaurice 2008: 104–105). In light of these varied educational backgrounds and situational contexts, my talk aims to showcase 18th-century Scottish female-authored correspondence as a rich resource for the study of pragmatic variation in Scots.

I will focus on the organisation of speech act sequences, in particular requests, in the context of the larger letter discourse, drawing on letters from the 18th-century component of the Helsinki Corpus of Scottish Correspondence (ScotsCorr). This will allow me to explore to which extent women of different levels of schooling vary in their discursive patterns across situations.


Brant, Clare. 2006. Eighteenth-Century Letters and British Culture. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.

Fitzmaurice, Susan. 2008. “Epistolary Identity: Convention and Idiosyncrasy in Late Modern English Letters”. In: Marina Dossena and Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade (eds). EStudies in Late Modern English Correspondence. Methodology and Data. Bern: Peter Lang. 77–112.

Millar, Robert McColl. 2020. A Sociolinguistic History of Scotland. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Pallander-Collin, Minna. 2010. “Correspondence”. In: Andreas Jucker and Irma Taavitsainen (eds). Historical Pragmatics. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton. 651–677.

ScotsCorr = The Helsinki Corpus of Scottish Correspondence 1540–1750. 2017. Ed. Anneli Meurman-Solin. Helsinki: University of Helsinki. <>.

Whyman, Susan. 2009. The Pen and the People. English Letter Writers 1660–1800. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Coffee/Tea Break


Graphic cues and expressive form in eighteenth-century Scottish writing
Jeremy J. Smith, University of Glasgow

As Bo Andersson has argued ‘materiality is an essential semiotic dimension of all texts; it plays an essential role for the reader’s reception of the text’ (2014: 11), and recent developments in the practice of historical pragmatics have underlined the importance of this claim (see e.g. Peikola et al 2017, Smith 2020). In this presentation I examine a selection of manuscripts and printed books from eighteenth-century Scotland in order to demonstrate how features such as spelling, punctuation, and script or font – some not traditionally part of linguistic enquiry – are in fact culturally meaningful. There will be a special focus on the material remains of two of the major authors associated with the so-called ‘vernacular revival’, viz. Allan Ramsay and Robert Burns.


Andersson, Bo. 2014. "Female writing in manuscript and print: two German examples from the cultural and political context of late seventeenth-century Sweden -- Maria Aurora von Königsmarck (1662–1728) and Eva Margaretha Frölich (?–1692)" Studia Neophilologica 86. 9-28.

Peikola, Matti, Aleksi Mäkilähde, Hanna Salmi, Mari-Liisa Varila and Janne Skaffari (eds) 2017. Verbal and Visual Communication in Early English Texts. Turnhout: Brepols.

Smith, Jeremy J. 2020. Transforming Early English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Discussion – Session I

8 June 2022


Opening remarks

Session II: Varieties of Scots in Late Modern Times II

Chair: Moragh Gordon


Periodisation MasterChef, or how to chop up the timeline
Joanna Kopaczyk, University of Glasgow

Historical linguists have two main points of focus: (1) how language changes in time and (2) how language was shaped and used at various points on a timeline. The concept of time is thus pervasive in the discipline and perhaps too frequently taken for granted. In this masterclass I ask a basic procedural question - how do we chop up a timeline to enable informed assessments of language (or languages) across periods. How do we know what we're talking about when we say "Middle" or "Late Modern"? I start with various conceptualisations of time and theoretical underpinnings of periodisation, with special focus on Fabian’s ‘Typological Time’. Against this background, I look at the rationale for periodisation in language history and the language-internal and extra-linguistic criteria which most often underlie our customary and well-known divisions into periods. The talk will specifically dissect the timelines of English and Scots, with some excursions into other languages and their periodisations. I will show how periodisation shapes our perception of language history, how it has been used in teaching historical linguistics and why it should be consciously interrogated by all historical linguists.


Coffee/Tea Break


The status of Scots: changing perceptions
J. Derrick McClure, University of Aberdeen

In our time, the tenet that Scots is a “language” is commonly asserted, often with a vigour which suggests the defence of a point of honour rather than the statement of a verifiable fact. But perceptions of the status of Scots have varied markedly through the ages; and the actual linguistic and sociolinguistic relationship between Scots and the London-based dialect which has become an international lingua franca is such as to leave the status of Scots inherently ambivalent. Until the late fifteenth century, the Germanic dialect of non-Gaelic Scotland was uniformly referred to as Inglis, and even ardently patriotic writers were, to all appearances, wholly untroubled by the assumption that they shared a language with the rival monarchy. The poet, scholar and translator Gavin Douglas in 1513 was the first to make a bold proclamation that his language was Scottis, Inglis being a foreign language from which Scots could borrow words as from Latin or French. Douglas wrote when Scots was at the peak of its independent development; but soon afterwards the advent of printing, the Reformation and the loss of Scotland’s political independence radically changed its actual and perceived status. With the eighteenth-century Vernacular Revival, the distinctive linguistic features of Scots and its social and literary status came under renewed attention; and the Scottish Renaissance of the twentieth century had the same result. This paper will examine the contributions to the debate on the identity of Scots by selected poets and scholars of different periods, and examine the extent to which social, political and cultural as well as purely linguistic factors have influenced attitudes to the language.


Discussion – Session II

12.00 Closing remarks


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Published May 3, 2022 9:24 AM - Last modified May 3, 2022 9:24 AM