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HIGHLAND ENGLISH The English language as used in areas of the Scottish Highlands where GAELIC was spoken until the late 19c or later, and the Hebrides or Western Isles, where many still have Gaelic as their mother tongue. The varieties of these two areas have also been distinguished as Highland English and Hebridean English (sometimes Island English). Since the late 17c, the majority of the inhabitants of the Highlands and Islands have learned STANDARD ENGLISH by the book, mostly from Gaelic-speaking Highland or Hebridean teachers, only some of whom had studied in Inverness or the Lowlands. The consequent influence of Gaelic is widespread, but most strongly marked among the bilingual speakers of the Isles. It varies in detail with the underlying Gaelic dialect and is also variously influenced from Lowland SCOTS. Some features, of grammar especially, from the Gaelic substrate are shared with HIBERNO-ENGLISH.


(1) Corresponding to the opposition between voiced and voiceless stops in English, Gaelic opposes voiceless unaspirated to voiceless aspirated stops, and lacks voiced consonants opposed to /s/ and /ʃ/. This has led to ‘reversal of voicing’, as in ‘chust’ for just, ‘pleashure’ for pleasure, ‘whateffer’ for whatever, ‘pring’ for bring, and more rarely the converse, as in ‘baratice’ for paradise. These usages are shibboleths of Gaelic-influenced speech. (2) ‘Pre-aspiration’ of voiceless stops is widespread: the insertion of an /h/ before certain consonants, as in ‘weehk’ for week, ‘hahpen’ for happen, ‘abouht’ for about. (3) The same consonants are aspirated word-initially: ‘phig’ for pig, ‘thake’ for take, ‘kheep’ for keep. (4) In the Hebrides, /l/ is commonly clear. (5) Many speakers pronounce vowels long that are short in SCOTTISH ENGLISH generally: for example, in bad, father, parlour, psalm, brainy, make, table, equal, heat, leak, weak, boat. (6) As in the Lowlands and Ireland, some speakers realize such words as film and worm with epenthetic vowels: ‘fillum’ and ‘wurrum’.


The following features are characteristic: (1) Cleft sentences and other constructions with thematic fronting: Isn't it her that's the smart one? Isn't she smart?; It's led astray you are by the keeping of bad company; From Liverpool he was writing. (2) Simple verb tenses instead of perfect forms: I'm a widow for ten years now; All my life I never went to the mainland. (3) Progressive constructions: Don't be learning bad English to the bairn; We were having plenty vegetables that year; If you can be waiting till the morning, our sale will be starting then. (4) Distinctive modal usages in conditional and temporal clauses, including ‘double would’: Try and get here before the rain will come; It's a poor crop we'll be having if there won't be more rain in it; If she would know about it, she would be over straight away. (5) The formula to be after doing (something), replacing the regular perfect or past: I'm after taking the bus I have just taken the bus; That's me just after cleaning it up I've just this minute cleaned it up. (6) Doesn't in all persons and numbers: I doesn't know; They doesn't bother. (7) Non-reflexive use of -self: It's glad I am to be seeing yourself; I'll tell himself you are here; Herself will not be too pleased at that. (8) Sentence-initial sure: Sure, it'll spoil the taste of it. (9) Double plurals, especially where the plural is irregular: Many peoples are coming every year; Three womens did the work. (10) Singular forms for normally plural words: She had a trouser on; He cut it with the scissor. (11) Anticipatory pronoun constructions, especially in questions: Who is he, the man? Did you see him, the minister? (12) Elliptical sentence responses replacing or supplementing yes and no: Did Iain give you the letter?—He did; Is Morag coming?—She is not; Did you get the job finished?—Ay, we did/so we did.

Vocabulary and idiom

In general, vocabulary is the same as in ScoE at large, and most people use such vernacular Scots words as bairn child, brae slope, greet weep, oot out, the negatives no (He's no in) and -na (I canna say), and ay yes. Many Gaelic words are freely used by Gaelic-speakers and some by non-Gaelic-speakers: athair father, baile village, balach lad, bodach old man, bothan she-been, caileag young girl, cailleach old woman, wife, duine bochd poor fellow, ropach messy, srúbag a drink. Gaelic terms of address, vocatives, and salutations are common among Gaelic-speakers: m'eudail, mo ghraid, my dear, A Chaluim Calum!, A Mhammi Mummy!, beannachd leat/leibh goodbye, oidhche mhath good night, tapadh leat thank you; slàinte, slàinte mhath, slàinte mhór health, good health, big health (all three known and used throughout Scotland as toasts). English and Gaelic may be casually mixed: Geordie m'eudail, come oot till ye see the ronnags (stars); I have the cadaleunain (pins and needles) in my fingers. The preposition on features in a number of idioms: The minister has a terrible cold on him; That beast has a wild look on it; They're putting on him that he stole the sheep; It's on himself the stairn (confidence) is.

Literary usage

In Lowland Scottish literature, a suspect tradition that dates from the mid-15c features such Highland shibboleths as the use of she and her nain sell (her own self) instead of the pronoun I: ‘Her nainsell has eaten the town pread at the Cross o'Glasgow, and py her troth she'll fight for Bailie Sharvie at the Clachan of Aberfoil’ ( Walter Scott, Rob Roy, 1817, ch. 28). [Translation: I have eaten the town bread at Glasgow Cross and by my troth I'll fight for Bailie Jarvie at the Clachan of Aberfoyle.] Other representations display genuine Highland features, sometimes profusely, as in: ‘I don't know what you'll get that you'll be foreffer in Iain Beag's shop…. The folk that will be gathering there on nights iss not the company I would be choossing for a son of mine’ ( Fionn MacColla, The Albannach, 1932; Reprographia, 1971). Compare HIBERNO-ENGLISH, ISLE OF MAN, WELSH ENGLISH. See SCOTTISH GAELIC.