Scots language: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Spoken in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, England
Region Scotland Scotland: Scottish Lowlands, Northern Isles, Caithness.
Ulster Ulster: Counties Down, Antrim, Londonderry, Donegal.
England England: Berwick.
Total speakers est. 200,000 (ethnologue) to over 1.5 million (General Register Office for Scotland, 1996)
Language family Indo-European
Official status
Official language in None.
— Classified as a "traditional language" by the Scottish Government.
— Classified as a "regional or minority language" under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, ratified by the United Kingdom in 2001.
— Classified as a "traditional language" by The North/South Language Body.
Regulated by — Scotland: None, although the Dictionary of the Scots Language carries great authority (the Scottish Government's Partnership for a Better Scotland coalition agreement (2003) promises "support").
— Ireland: None, although the cross-border Ulster-Scots Agency, established by the Implementation Agreement following the Good Friday Agreement promotes usage.
Language codes
ISO 639-1 None
ISO 639-2 sco
ISO 639-3 sco

Scots is the Germanic language variety traditionally spoken in Lowland Scotland and parts of Ulster. It is sometimes called Lowland Scots to distinguish it from Scottish Gaelic, the Celtic language variety spoken in the Highlands and Hebrides.

Since there are no universally accepted criteria for distinguishing languages from dialects, scholars and other interested parties often disagree about the linguistic, historical and social status of Scots.[1] Although a number of paradigms for distinguishing between languages and dialects do exist, these often render contradictory results. Focused broad Scots is at one end of a bipolar linguistic continuum, with Scottish Standard English at the other [2]. Consequently, Scots is often regarded as one of the ancient varieties of English, but with its own distinct dialects.[1] Alternatively Scots is sometimes treated as a distinct Germanic language, in the way Norwegian is closely linked to, yet distinct from, Danish.[1]

It has been shown that, among Scots speakers, there is little linguistic self-awareness. After the union of Scotland and England (1707), the use of Standard English was encouraged and the use of Scots discouraged. Due to the widespread use of Standard English in the media, many now believe they are merely using badly-spoken English, rather than Scots. Moreover, the fact that children are taught through the medium of Standard English has meant that few have an in-depth knowledge of Scots spelling (see apologetic apostrophe for example).



Native speakers sometimes refer to their vernacular as braid Scots (or "broad Scots" in English)[3] or use a dialect name such as the "Doric"[4], "Teri"[5] or the "Buchan Claik".[6] The old-fashioned Scotch occurs occasionally. The term Lallans is also used (though this is more often taken to mean the Lallans literary form[7]). Scots in Ireland is known in official circles as "Ulster Scots" or "Ullans", a recent neologism merging "Ulster" and "Lallans"[8].



Scots is a contraction of Scottis, the Older Scots[9] and northern version of late Old English Scottisc (modern English "Scottish"), which replaced the earlier i-mutated version Scyttisc.[10][11]

Prior to the 15th century the vernacular of Lowland Scotland was known as Ynglis or Inglis from Old English englisc, the modern form Ingles ['ɪŋlz] surviving in personal and place names such as Ingles and Ingleston. At the time it was Gaelic which was named Scottis.

By the beginning of the 15th century, the Lowland vernacular had arguably become a distinct language, albeit lacking a name which clearly distinguished it from the English of southern Britain. From 1495 the term Scottis was increasingly used to refer to the Lowland vernacular[1] and Erse, meaning Irish, as a name for Gaelic. For example, towards the end of the 15th century William Dunbar was using Erse to refer to Gaelic and in the early 16th century Gavin Douglas was using Scottis as a name for the Lowland vernacular[12][13]. The term Erse is usually considered pejorative, and the Gaelic of Scotland is now usually called Scottish Gaelic.


Northumbrian Old English had been established in southeastern Scotland as far as the River Forth by the seventh century[14]. It remained largely confined to this area until the thirteenth century, continuing in common use while Gaelic was the language of the Scottish court. The succeeding variety of Early northern Middle English spoken in southeastern Scotland, also known as Early Scots, began to diverge from that of Northumbria due to twelfth and thirteenth century immigration of Scandinavian-influenced Middle English-speakers from the North and Midlands of England[15]. Later influences on the development of Scots were from Romance languages via ecclesiastical and legal Latin, Norman[16] and later Parisian French due to the Auld Alliance as well as Dutch and Middle Low German influences due to trade and immigration from the low countries[17]. Scots also includes loan words resulting from contact with Gaelic. Early medieval legal documents include a body of Gaelic legal and administrative loans[18]. Contemporary Gaelic loans are mainly for geographical and cultural features, such as ceilidh, loch and clan.

From the thirteenth century Early Scots spread further into Scotland via the burghs, proto-urban institutions which were first established by King David I. The growth in prestige of Early Scots in the fourteenth century, and the complementary decline of French in Scotland, made Scots the prestige language of most of eastern Scotland. By the sixteenth century Middle Scots had established orthographic and literary norms largely independent of those developing in England[19]. From 1610 to the 1690s during the Plantation of Ulster large numbers of Scots-speaking Lowlanders, some 200,000, settled there.[20] In the core areas of Scots settlement, Scots outnumbered English settlers by five or six to one.[21]


Lufe God abufe al and yi nychtbour as yi self (Love God above all and your neighbour as yourself) an example of Early Scots on John Knox House, Edinburgh

Before the Treaty of Union 1707, when Scotland and England joined to form the Kingdom of Great Britain, there is ample evidence that Scots was widely held to be an independent language[22] as part of a pluricentric diasystem.

The linguist Heinz Kloss considered Modern Scots a Halbsprache (half language) in terms of a Ausbausprache - Abstandsprache - Dachsprache framework[23] although today, in Scotland, most people's speech is somewhere on a continuum ranging from traditional broad Scots to Scottish Standard English. Many speakers are either diglossic and/or able to code-switch along the continuum depending on the situation in which they find themselves. Where on this continuum English-influenced Scots becomes Scots-influenced English is difficult to determine. Since standard English now generally has the role of a Dachsprache, disputes often arise as to whether or not the varieties of Scots are dialects of Scottish English or constitute a separate language in their own right.

The UK government now accepts Scots as a regional language and has recognised it as such under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

Notwithstanding the UK government’s and the Scottish Executive’s obligations under part II of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, the Scottish Executive recognises and respects Scots (in all its forms) as a distinct language, and does not consider the use of Scots to be an indication of poor competence in English.[24]

Evidence for its existence as a separate language lies in the extensive body of Scots literature, its independent — if somewhat fluid — orthographic conventions and in its former use as the language of the original Parliament of Scotland.[25] Since Scotland retained distinct political, legal and religious systems after the Union, many Scots terms passed into Scottish English. For instance, libel and slander, separate in English law, are bundled together as defamation in Scots law.

Language shift

From the mid sixteenth century written Scots was increasingly influenced by the Standard English of England due to developments in royal and political interactions with England[26] and the increasing influence and availability of books printed in England, and so most writing in Scotland came to be done in the English fashion[27]. In 1603 King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England. The Protestant reformation in Scotland adopted the 1611 Authorized King James Version of the Bible and the Acts of Union 1707 which led to England joining Scotland to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain, having a single Parliament of Great Britain based in London. After the Union and the shift of political power to England, the use of Scots was discouraged by many in authority and education, as was the notion of Scottishness itself.[28] Many leading Scots of the period, such as David Hume, considered themselves Northern British rather than Scottish.[29] They attempted to rid themselves of their Scots in a bid to establish standard English as the official language of the newly formed Union. Nevertheless Scots was still spoken across a wide range of domains until the end of the seventeenth century[27] , illustrated for example, in the summary by F. Pottle, James Boswell's twentieth century biographer, concerning James' view of the speech habits of his father Alexander Boswell, a judge of the supreme courts of Scotland :

He scorned modern literature, spoke broad Scots from the bench, and even in writing took no pains to avoid the Scotticisms which most of his colleagues were coming to regard as vulgar.

Others did however scorn Scots, such as intellectuals from the Scottish Enlightenment like David Hume and Adam Smith, who went to great lengths to get rid of every Scotticism from their writings.[30] Following such examples, many well-off Scots took to learning English through the activities of those such as Thomas Sheridan, who in 1761 gave a series of lectures on English elocution. Charging a guinea at a time (about £100 in today's money[31]), they were attended by over 300 men, and he was made a freeman of the City of Edinburgh. Following this, some of the city's intellectuals formed the Select Society for Promoting the Reading and Speaking of the English Language in Scotland. From such eighteenth century activities grew Scottish Standard English [32]. Scots remained the vernacular of many rural communities and the growing number of urban working class Scots[33].

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the use of Scots as a literary language was revived by several prominent Scotsmen such as Robert Burns. Such writers establishing a new cross-dialect standard literary norm.

During the first half of the twentieth century, knowledge of eighteenth and nineteenth century literary norms waned and currently there is no institutionalised standard literary form.[34] By the 1940s the Scottish Education Department's language policy was that Scots had no value " is not the language of 'educated' people anywhere, and could not be described as a suitable medium of education or culture"[35]. Students, of course, reverted to Scots outside the classroom, but the reversion was not complete. What occurred, and has been occurring ever since, is a process of language attrition, whereby successive generations have adopted more and more features from Standard English. This process has accelerated rapidly since widespread access to mass media in English, and increased population mobility, became available after the Second World War [36]. It has recently taken on the nature of wholesale language shift, sometimes also termed language change, convergence or merger. By the end of the twentieth century Scots was at an advanced stage of language death over much of Lowland Scotland[37]. Residual features of Scots are often regarded as slang.

Language revitalisation

Recently, attitudes have somewhat changed, although no education takes place through the medium of Scots. Scots may be covered superficially in English lessons, which usually entails reading some Scots literature and observing the local dialect. Much of the material used is often Standard English disguised as Scots, which has upset proponents of Standard English and proponents of Scots alike.[38] One example of the educational establishment's approach to Scots is "Write a poem in Scots. (It is important not to be worried about spelling in this – write as you hear the sounds in your head.)",[39] whereas guidelines for English require teaching pupils to be "writing fluently and legibly with accurate spelling and punctuation."[40] Scots can also be studied at university level.

The use of Scots in the media is scant and is usually reserved for niches where local dialect is deemed acceptable, e.g. comedy, Burns Night, or representations of traditions and times gone by. Serious use for news, encyclopaedias, documentaries, etc. rarely occurs in Scots, although the Scottish Parliament website offers some information in it.

Number of speakers

Areas where the Scots language was spoken in the twentieth century.[41][42]

It has been difficult to determine the number of speakers of Scots via census, because many respondents might interpret the question "Do you speak Scots?" in different ways. Campaigners for Scots pressed for this question to be included in the 2001 U.K. National Census. The results from a 1996 trial before the Census, by the General Register Office for Scotland[citation needed], suggested that there were around 1.5 million speakers of Scots, with 30% of Scots responding "Yes" to the question "Can you speak the Scots language?", but only 17% responding "Aye." to the question "Can you speak Scots?". (It was also found that older, working-class people were more likely to answer in the affirmative.) The University of Aberdeen Scots Leid Quorum performed its own research in 1995, suggesting that there were 2.7 million speakers. The GRO questions, as freely acknowledged by those who set them, were not as detailed and as systematic as the Aberdeen University ones, and only included reared speakers, not those who had learned the language. Part of the difference resulted from the central question posed by surveys: "Do you speak Scots?". In the Aberdeen University study, the question was augmented with the further clause "… or a dialect of Scots such as Border etc", which resulted in greater recognition from respondents. The GRO concluded that there simply wasn't enough linguistic self-awareness amongst the Scottish populace, with people still thinking of themselves as speaking badly pronounced, grammatically inferior English rather than Scots, for an accurate census to be taken. The GRO research concluded that "[a] more precise estimate of genuine Scots language ability would require a more in-depth interview survey and may involve asking various questions about the language used in different situations. Such an approach would be inappropriate for a Census." Thus, although it was acknowledged that the "inclusion of such a Census question would undoubtedly raise the profile of Scots", no question about Scots was, in the end, included in the 2001 Census.[43][44][45] The Scottish Government's Pupils in Scotland Census 2008[46] found that 306 pupils spoke Scots as their main home language.

An apparent practical snag[citation needed] with the attempts to institutionalise a single variety of Scots for official use is, as in Standard English, the incorporation of vocabulary from literary registers often absent in colloquial registers (e.g. the use of "ken", meaning "know", which still occurs in many Eastern dialects but is entirely absent in others such as Glaswegian). An example is the Scots-language home page of the Scottish Parliament.[47]


Map of Scots dialects

There are at least five Scots dialects:

The southern extent of Scots may be identified by the range of a number of pronunciation features which set Scots apart from neighbouring English dialects. The Scots pronunciation of come [kʌm] becomes [kʊm] in Northern English. The Scots realisation [kʌm] reaches as far south as the mouth of the north Esk in north Cumbria, crossing Cumbria and skirting the foot of the Cheviots before reaching the east coast at Bamburgh some 12 miles north of Alnwick. The Scots[x]-English[∅]/[f] cognate group (micht-might, eneuch-enough, etc) can be found in a small portion of north Cumbria with the southern limit stretching from Bewcastle to Longtown and Gretna. The Scots pronunciation of wh as /ʍ/ becomes English /w/ south of Carlisle but remains in Northumberland, but Northumberland realises “r” as /ʁ/, often called the burr, which is not a Scots realisation. Thus the greater part of the valley of the Esk and the whole of Liddesdale can be considered to be northern English dialects rather than Scots ones. From the nineteenth century onwards influence from the South through education and increased mobility have caused Scots features to retreat northwards so that for all practical purposes the political and linguistic boundaries may be considered to coincide.[49]

Northeast English, spoken throughout the traditional counties of Northumberland and County Durham, shares other features with Scots which have not been described above.

As well as the main dialects, Edinburgh, Dundee and Glasgow (see Glasgow patter) have local variations on an Anglicised form of Central Scots. In Aberdeen, Mid Northern Scots is spoken by a minority. Due to them being roughly near the border between the two dialects, places like Dundee and Perth can contain elements and influences of both Northern and Central Scots.


Among the earliest Scots literature is John Barbour's Brus (fourteenth century), Wyntoun's Cronykil and Blind Harry's Wallace (fifteenth century). From the fifteenth century, much literature based around the Royal Court in Edinburgh and the University of St Andrews was produced by writers such as Robert Henryson, William Dunbar, Gavin Douglas and David Lyndsay. The Complaynt of Scotland was an early printed work in Scots. The Eneados is a Middle Scots translation of Virgil's Aeneid, completed by Gavin Douglas in 1513.

After the seventeenth century, anglicisation increased. At the time, many of the oral ballads from the borders and the North East were written down. Writers of the period were Robert Sempill, Robert Sempill the younger, Francis Sempill, Lady Wardlaw and Lady Grizel Baillie.

In the eighteenth century, writers such as Allan Ramsay, Robert Burns, Robert Fergusson and Walter Scott continued to use Scots. Scott introduced vernacular dialogue to his novels. Other well-known authors like Robert Louis Stevenson, William Alexander, George MacDonald, J. M. Barrie and other members of the Kailyard school like Ian Maclaren also wrote in Scots or used it in dialogue.

In the Victorian era popular Scottish newspapers regularly included articles and commentary in the vernacular, often of unprecedented proportions.[50]

In the early twentieth century, a renaissance in the use of Scots occurred, its most vocal figure being Hugh MacDiarmid whose benchmark poem A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle (1926) did much to demonstrate the power of Scots as a modern idiom. Other contemporaries were Douglas Young, John Buchan, Sidney Goodsir Smith, Robert Garioch and Robert McLellan. The revival extended to verse and other literature.

In 1955 three Ayrshire men, 'Sandy' MacMillan, an English teacher at Ayr Academy, Thomas Limond, noted town Chamberlain of Ayr and A.L. (Ross) Taylor, Rector of Cumnock Academy collaborated to write Bairnsangs[51], a collection of children's nursery rhymes and poems in Scots. The book contains a five page glossary of contemporary Scots words and their pronunciations.

Alexander Gray's translations into Scots constitute the greater part of his work, and is the main basis for his reputation.

In 1983 William Laughton Lorimer's translation of the New Testament from the original Greek was published.

Highly anglicised Scots is sometimes used in contemporary fiction, for example, the Edinburgh dialect of Scots in Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh (later made into a motion picture of the same name).

But'n'Ben A-Go-Go by Matthew Fitt is a cyberpunk novel written entirely in what Wir Ain Leid (Our Own Language) calls "General Scots". Like all cyberpunk work, it contains imaginative neologisms.

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam has been translated into Scots by Rab Wilson (published in 2004). Alexander Hutchison has translated the poetry of Catullus into Scots, and in the 1980s Liz Lochhead produced a Scots translation of Tartuffe by Molière. J. K. Annand translated poetry and fiction from German and medieval Latin into Scots.

The strip cartoons Oor Wullie and The Broons in the Sunday Post use some Scots.


The orthography of Older Scots had become more or less standardised[52], particularly in the middle to late sixteenth century.[53] After the Union of the Crowns in 1603 the Standard English of England came to have an increasing influence on the spelling of Scots[54] through the increasing influence and availability of books printed in England. After the Acts of Union in 1707 the emerging Scottish form of Standard English replaced Scots for most formal writing in Scotland.[27]

The eighteenth century Scots revival saw the introduction of a new literary language descended from the old court Scots, but with an orthography that had abandonded some of the more distinctive old Scots spellings[55], adopted many standard English spellings, although from the rhymes it was clear that a Scots pronunciation was intended[56], and introduced what came to be known as the apologetic apostrophe[57], generally occurring where a consonant exists in the Standard English cognate. This Written Scots drew not only on the vernacular but also on the King James Bible and was also heavily influenced by the norms an conventions of Augustan English poetry.[58] Consequently this written Scots looked very similar to contemporary Standard English, suggesting a somewhat modified version of that, rather than a distinct speech form with a phonological system which had been developing independently for many centuries.[59] This modern literary dialect, ‘Scots of the book’ or Standard Scots[60] once again gave Scots an orthography of its own, lacking neither “authority nor author.”[61] This literary language used throughout Lowland Scotland and Ulster[62], embodied by writers such as Allan Ramsay, Robert Fergusson, Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, Charles Murray, David Herbison, James Orr, James Hogg and William Laidlaw among others, is well described in the 1921 Manual of Modern Scots[63].

Other authors developed dialect writing, preferring to represent their own speech in a more phonological manner rather than following the pan-dialect conventions of modern literary Scots.[56], especially for the northern[64] and insular dialects of Scots.

During the twentieth century a number of proposals for spelling reform were presented. Commenting on this, John Corbett (2003: 260) writes that "devising a normative orthography for Scots has been one of the greatest linguistic hobbies of the past century." Most proposals entailed regularising the use of established eighteenth and nineteenth century conventions, in particular the avoidance of the apologetic apostrophe which supposedly represented "missing" English letters. Such letters were never actually missing in Scots. For example, in the fourteenth century, Barbour spelt the Scots cognate of 'taken' as tane. Since there has been no k in the word for over 700 years, representing its omission with an apostrophe seems pointless. The current spelling is usually taen.

Through the twentieth century, with the decline of spoken Scots and knowledge of the literary tradition, phonetic (often humorous) representations became more common.



Most consonants are usually pronounced much as in English but:

  • c: /k/ or /s/, much as in English.
  • ch: /x/, also gh. Medial 'cht' may be /ð/ in Northern dialects. loch (fjord or lake), nicht (night), dochter (daughter), dreich (dreary), etc. Similar to the German "Nacht".
  • ch: word initial or where it follows 'r' /tʃ/. airch (arch), mairch (march), etc.
  • gn: /n/. In Northern dialects /ɡn/ may occur.
  • kn: /n/. In Northern dialects /kn/ or /tn/ may occur. knap (talk), knee, knowe (knoll), etc.
  • ng: is always /ŋ/.
  • nch: usually /nʃ/. brainch (branch), dunch (push), etc.
  • r: /r/ or /ɹ/ is pronounced in all positions, i.e. rhotically.
  • s or se: /s/ or /z/.
  • t: may be a glottal stop between vowels or word final. In Ulster dentalised pronunciations may also occur, also for 'd'.
  • th: /ð/ or /θ/ much as is English. Initial 'th' in thing, think and thank, etc. may be /h/.
  • wh: usually /ʍ/, older /xʍ/. Northern dialects also have /f/.
  • wr: /wr/ more often /r/ but may be /vr/ in Northern dialects. wrack (wreck), wrang (wrong), write, wrocht (worked), etc.
  • z: /jɪ/ or /ŋ/, may occur in some words as a substitute for the older <ȝ> (yogh). For example: brulzie (broil), gaberlunzie (a beggar) and the names Menzies, Finzean, Culzean, MacKenzie etc. (As a result of the lack of education in Scots, MacKenzie is now generally pronounced with a /z/ following the perceived realisation of the written form, as more controversially is sometimes Menzies.)

Silent letters

  • The word final 'd' in nd and ld: but often pronounced in derived forms. Sometimes simply 'n' and 'l' or 'n'' and 'l''. auld (old), haund (hand), etc.
  • 't' in medial cht: ('ch' = /x/) and st and before final en. fochten (fought), thristle (thistle) also 't' in aften (often), etc.
  • 't' in word final ct and pt but often pronounced in derived forms. respect, accept, etc.


For a historical overview see the Phonological history of Scots.

The vowel system of Scots[65]:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 8a 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 1. Generally merges with vowels 2, 4 or 8.

2. Merges with vowels 1 and 8. in central dialects
  and vowel 2 in Northern dialects.
  Also /(j)u/ or /(j)ʌ/ before /k/ and /x/ depending on dialect.
3. Vocalisation to /o/ may occur before /k/.
4. Some mergers with vowel 5.

long /əi/
short /aɪ/
/i(ː)/ /e(:)/
/e/. /o/ /u(:)/ /ø/2 /e:/ /əi/ /oe/ /əi/ /iː/ /ɑː/
/ʌu/3 /ju/ /ɪ/ /ɛ/ /a/ /ɔ/4 /ʌ/

In Scots, vowel length is usually conditioned by the Scots vowel length rule. Words which differ only slightly in pronunciation from Scottish English are generally spelled as in English. Other words may be spelt the same but differ in pronunciation, for example: aunt, swap, want and wash with /a/, bull, full v. and pull with /ʌ/, bind, find and wind v., etc. with /ɪ/.

  • The unstressed vowel /ə/ may be represented by any vowel letter.
  • a (vowel 17): usually /a/ but in south west and Ulster dialects often /ɑ/[66]. Note final a (vowel 12) in awa (away), twa (two) and wha (who) may also be /ɑ/ or /ɔ/ or /e/ depending on dialect[67].
  • au, aw (vowel 12) /ɑː/ or /ɔː/ in Southern, Central and Ulster dialects but /aː/ in Northern dialects.with au usually occurring in medial positions[68][69] and aw in final positions[68]. Sometimes a or a' representing L-vocalisation[70][71]. The digraph aa also occurs, especially in written representations of the (/a:/) realisation im Northern and Insular dialects[69]. The cluster 'auld' may also be /ʌul/ in Ulster. aw (all), cauld (cold), braw (handsome), faw (fall), snaw (snow), etc.
  • ai (vowel 8) in initial and medial positions[72] and a(consonant)e [73] (vowel 4). The graphemes ae[72] (vowel 4) and ay (vowel 8) generally occur in final positions[72][74].All generally /e(:)/. Often /ɛ/ before /r/. In Northern dialects the vowel in the cluster -'ane' is often /i/. Merger of vowel 8 with 4 has resulted in the digraph ai occurring in some words with vowel 4 and a(consonant)e occurring in some words with vowel 8, e.g. saip (soap), hale (whole), ane (one), ance (once), bane (bone), etc. and word final brae (slope) and day etc. The digraph ae also occurs for vowel 7 in dae (do), tae (too) and shae (shoe) [74].
  • ea[75], ei[76] (vowel 3), has generally merged with/i(ː)/ (vowel 2) or /e(ː)/ (vowel 4 or 8) depending on dialect. /ɛ/ may occur before /r/. In the far north /əi/ may occur. deid (dead), heid (head), meat (food), clear etc.
  • ee[77] (vowels 2 and 11), e(Consonant)e[78] (vowel 2). Occasionally ei and ie with ei generally before ch (/x/), but also in a few other words, and ie generally occurring before l and v. The realisation is generally /i(ː)/ but final vowel 11 (/iː/) may be /əi/ in Southern dialects. ee (eye), een (eyes), speir (enquire), steek (shut), here, etc. The digraph ea also occurs in a few words such as sea and tea.
  • e[79] (vowel 16): /ɛ/. bed, het (heated), yett (gate), etc.
  • eu[80][81] (vowel 7 before /k/ and /x/ see ui): /(j)u/ or /(j)ʌ/ depending on dialect. Sometimes u(consonant)e[82]. Sometimes u phonetically and oo after Standard English also occur, e.g. beuk (book), eneuch (enough), ceuk (cook), leuk (look), teuk (took) etc.
  • ew (vowel 14): /ju/. In Northern dialects a root final 'ew' may be /jʌu/. few, new, etc.
  • i[83] (Vowel 15): /ɪ/, but often varies between /ɪ/ and /ʌ/ especially after 'w' and 'wh'[84]. /æ/ also occurs in Ulster before voiceless consonants. big, fit (foot), wid (wood), etc.
  • i(consonant)e, y(consonant)e[85], ey (vowels 1, 8a and 10): /əi/ or /aɪ/. 'ay' is usually /e/ but /əi/ in ay (yes) and aye (always). In Dundee it is noticeably /ɛ/.
  • o[86] (vowel 18): /ɔ/ but often merging with vowel 5 (/o/) often spelled phonetically oa in dialect spellings such as boax (box), coarn (corn), Goad (God)joab (job) and oan (on) etc.[87]
  • oa[88] (vowel 5): /o/.
  • oi, oy (vowel 9)
  • ow[89], owe (root final), seldom ou (vowel 13): /ʌu/. Before 'k' vocalisation to /o/ may occur especially in western and Ulster dialects. bowk (retch), bowe (bow), howe (hollow), knowe (knoll), cowp (overturn), yowe (ewe), etc.
  • ou the general literary spelling[90] of vowel 6. Also u(consonant)e in some words: /u/ the former often represented by oo, a 19th century borrowing from Standard English[91]. Root final /ʌu/ may occur in Southern dialects. cou (cow), broun (brown), hoose (house), moose (mouse) etc.
  • u[92] (vowel 19): /ʌ/. but, cut, etc.
  • ui, the usual literary spelling[93] of vowel 7 (except before /k/ and /x/ see eu), the spelling u(consonant)e also occurred, especially before nasals[93], and oo from the spelling of Standard English cognates: /ø/ in conservative dialects. In parts of Fife, Dundee and north Antrim /e/. In Northern dialects usually /i/ but /wi/ after /ɡ/ and /k/ often spelled ee in dialect writing, and also /u/ before /r/ in some areas e.g. fuird (ford). Mid Down and Donegal dialects have /i/. In central and north Down dialects merger with vowel 15 (/ɪ/) occurs when short and vowel 8 (/e:/) when long, often written ai in dialect writing, e.g. buird (board), buit (boot), cuit (ankle), fluir (floor), guid (good), schuil (school), etc. In central dialects uise v. and uiss n. (use) are [jeːz] and [jɪs].


Not all of the following features are exclusive to Scots and may also occur in English.

Definite article

The is used before the names of seasons, days of the week, many nouns, diseases, trades and occupations, sciences and academic subjects. It is also often used in place of the indefinite article and instead of a possessive pronoun: the hairst (autumn), the Wadensday (Wednesday), awa ti the kirk (off to church), the nou (at the moment), the day (today), the haingles (influenza), the Laitin (Latin), The deuk ett the bit breid (The duck ate a piece of bread), the wife (my wife) etc.


Nouns usually form their plural in -(e)s but some irregular plurals occur: ee/een (eye/eyes), cauf/caur (calf/calves), horse/horse (horse/horses), cou/kye (cow/cows), shae/shuin (shoe/shoes). Nouns of measure and quantity unchanged in the plural: fower fit (four feet), twa mile (two miles), five pund (five pounds), three hunderwecht (three hundredweight). Regular plurals include laifs (loaves), leafs (leaves), shelfs (shelves) and wifes (wives).


Personal and possessive pronouns

English Scots
I, me, myself, mine, my I, me, masel, mines, ma
we, us, ourselves, our we, hus, wirsels, wir (or oorsels, oor)
you (singular), you (plural), yourself, yours, your ye, yis, yersel, yer, yer
they, them, themselves, theirs, their thay, thaim, thairsels, thairs, thair

Relative pronoun

The relative pronoun is that ('at is an alternative form borrowed from Norse but can also be arrived at by contraction) for all persons and numbers, but may be left out Thare's no mony fowk (that) leeves in that glen (There aren't many people who live in that glen). The anglicised forms wha, wham, whase 'who, whom, whose', and the older whilk 'which' are literary affectations; whilk is only used after a statement He said he'd tint it, whilk wis no whit we wantit tae hear (he said he'd lost it, which is not what we wanted to hear". The possessive is formed by adding 's or by using an appropriate pronoun The wifie that's hoose gat burnt (the woman whose house was burnt), the wumman that her dochter gat mairit (the woman whose daughter got married); the men that thair boat wis tint (the men whose boat was lost).

A third adjective/adverb yon/yonder, thon/thonder indicating something at some distance D'ye see yon/thon hoose ower yonder/thonder? Also thae (those) and thir (these), the plurals of that and this respectively.

In Northern Scots this and that are also used where "these" and "those" would be in Standard English.

Other pronouns

English Scots
this, these this, thir
that, those that, thae
anyone onybody
anything ocht
nothing nocht
everyone awbody
everything awthing
both baith
each ilk
every ilka
other ither


Modal verbs

The modal verbs mey (may), ocht tae (ought to), and sall (shall), are no longer used much in Scots but occurred historically and are still found in anglicised literary Scots. Can, shoud (should), and will are the preferred Scots forms. Scots employs double modal constructions He'll no can come the day (He won't be able to come today), A micht coud come the morn (I may be able to come tomorrow), A uised tae coud dae it, but no nou (I used to be able to do it, but not now).

Negation occurs by using the adverb no, in the North East nae, as in A'm no comin (I'm not coming), A'll no learn ye (I will not teach you), or by using the suffix -na[94] sometimes spelled nae (pronounced variously /ə/, /ɪ/ or /e/ depending on dialect), as in A dinna ken (I don't know), Thay canna come (They can't come), We coudna hae telt him (We couldn't have told him), and A hivna seen her (I haven't seen her). The usage with no is preferred to that with -na with contractable auxiliary verbs like -ll for will, or in yes/no questions with any auxiliary He'll no come and Did he no come?.

English Scots
are/aren't are/arna
can/can't can/canna
could/couldn't could/couldna
dare/daren't daur/daurna
did/didn't did/didna
do/don't dae/dinna
had/hadn't haed/hadna
have/haven't hae/haena
might/mightn't micht/michtna
must/mustn't maun/maunna
need/needn't need/needna
should/shouldn't shoud/shoudna
was/wasn't wis/wisna
were/weren't war/warna
will/won't will/winna
would/wouldn't wad/wadna

Present tense of verbs

The present tense of verbs adhere to the Northern subject rule whereby verbs end in -s in all persons and numbers except when a single personal pronoun is next to the verb, Thay say he's ower wee, Thaim that says he's ower wee, Thir lassies says he's ower wee (They say he's too small), etc. Thay're comin an aw but Five o thaim's comin, The lassies? Thay've went but Ma brakes haes went. Thaim that comes first is serred first (Those who come first are served first). The trees growes green in the simmer (The trees grow green in summer).

Wis 'was' may replace war 'were', but not conversely: You war/wis thare.

Past tense and past participle of verbs

The regular past form of the verb is -it, -t or -ed, according to the preceding consonant or vowel:

  • hurtit, skelpit (smacked), mendit;
  • traivelt (travelled), raxt (reached), telt (told), kent (knew/known);
  • cleaned, scrieved (scribbled), speired (asked), dee'd (died).

Many verbs have forms which are distinctive from English (two forms connected with ~ means that they are variants):

  • bite/bate/bitten (bite/bit/bitten), drive/drave/driven~dreen (drive/drove/driven), ride/rade/ridden (ride/rode/ridden), rive/rave/riven (rive/rived/riven), rise/rase/risen (rise/rose/risen), slide/slade/slidden (slide/slid/slid), slite/slate/slitten (slit/slit/slit), write/wrate/written or vrit/vrat/vrutten (write/wrote/written);
  • bind/band/bund (bind/bound/bound), clim/clam/clum (climb/climbed/climbed), find/fand/fund (find/found/found), fling/flang/flung (fling/flung/flung), hing/hang/hung (hang/hung/hung), rin/ran/run (run/ran/run), spin/span/spun (spin/spun/spun), stick/stack/stuck (stick/stuck/stuck), drink/drank/drukken~drunk (drink/drank/drunk);
  • creep/crap/cruppen (creep/crept/crept), greet/grat/grutten (weep/wept/wept), sweit/swat/swutten (sweat/sweat/sweat), weet/wat/wutten (wet/wet/wet), pit/pat/putten~pitten (put/put/put), sit/sat/sutten~sitten (sit/sat/sat), spit/spat/sputten~spitten (spit/spat/spat);
  • brek~brak/brak/brokken~brakken (break/broke/broken), get~git/gat/gotten (get/got/got[ten]), speak/spak/spoken (speak/spoke/spoken), fecht/focht/fochten (fight/fought/fought);
  • beir/buir~bore/born(e) (bear/bore/borne), sweir/swuir~swore/sworn (swear/swore/sworne), teir/tuir~tore/torn (tear/tore/torn), weir/wuir~wore/worn (wear/wore/worn);
  • cast/cuist/casten~cuisten (cast/cast/cast), lat/luit/latten~luitten (let/let/let), staund/stuid/stuiden (stand/stood/stood), fesh/fuish/feshen~fuishen (fetch/fetched), thrash/thruish/thrashen~thruishen (thresh/threshed/threshed), wash/wuish/washen~wuishen (wash/washed/washed);
  • bake/bakit~beuk/bakken (bake/baked/baked), lauch/leuch/lauchen~leuchen (laugh/laughed/laughed), shak/sheuk/shakken~sheuken (shake/shook/shaken), tak/teuk/taen (take/took/taken);
  • gae/gaed/gane (go/went/gone), gie/gied/gien (give/gave/given), hae/haed/haen (have/had/had);
  • chuse/chusit/chusit (choose/chose/chosen), soom/soomed/soomed (swim/swam/swum), sell/selt~sauld/selt~sauld (sell/sold/sold), tell/telt~tauld/telt~tauld (tell/told/told), cut/cuttit/cuttit (cut/cut/cut), hurt/hurtit/hurtit (hurt/hurt/hurt), keep/keepit/keepit (keep/kept/kept), sleep/sleepit/sleepit (sleep/slept/slept).


Adverbs are usually of the same form as the verb root or adjective especially after verbs. Haein a real guid day (Having a really good day). She's awfu fauchelt (She's awfully tired).

Adverbs are also formed with -s, -lies, lins, gate(s)and wey(s) -wey, whiles (at times), mebbes (perhaps), brawlies (splendidly), geylies (pretty well), aiblins (perhaps), airselins (backwards), hauflins (partly), hidlins (secretly), maistlins (almost), awgates (always, everywhere), ilkagate (everywhere), onygate (anyhow), ilkawey (everywhere), onywey(s) (anyhow, anywhere), endweys (straight ahead), whit wey (how, why).


English Scots
above, upper, topmost abuin, buiner, buinmaist
below, lower, lowest ablo, nether, blomaist
along alang
about aboot/anent
across athort
before afore
behind ahint
beneath aneath
beside aside
between atween/atweesh
beyond ayont
from f(r)ae
into intae

Interrogative words

English Scots
who? wha?
what? whit?
when? whan?
where? whaur?
why? why/how?
which? whilk?
how? hou?

In many parts of Scotland, predominantly the North East, the 'wh' in the above words are pronounced 'f'. The use of 'wh' is more common in glaswegian dialects.

Word order

Scots prefers the word order He turnt oot the licht to 'He turned the light out' and Gie's it (Give us it) to 'Give it to me'.

Certain verbs are often used progressively He wis thinkin he wad tell her, He wis wantin tae tell her.

Verbs of motion may be dropped before an adverb or adverbial phrase of motion A'm awa tae ma bed, That's me awa hame, A'll intae the hoose an see him.


Diminutives in -ie, burnie small burn (stream), feardie/feartie (frightened person, coward), gamie (gamekeeper), kiltie (kilted soldier), postie (postman), wifie (woman, also used in Geordie dialect), rhodie (rhododendron), and also in -ock, bittock (little bit), playock (toy, plaything), sourock (sorrel) and Northern –ag, bairnag (little), bairn (child, common in Geordie dialect), Cheordag (Geordie), -ockie, hooseockie (small house), wifeockie (little woman), both influenced by the Scottish Gaelic diminutive -ag (-óg in Irish Gaelic).

Subordinate clauses

Verbless subordinate clauses introduced by an (and) express surprise or indignation. She haed tae walk the hale lenth o the road an her seiven month pregnant (and she seven months pregnant). He telt me tae rin an me wi ma sair leg (and me with my sore leg).


  • Negative na: /ɑ/, /ɪ/ or /e/ depending on dialect. Also 'nae' or 'y' e.g. canna (can't), dinna (don't) and maunna (mustn't).
  • fu (ful): /u/, /ɪ/, /ɑ/ or /e/ depending on dialect. Also 'fu'', 'fie', 'fy', 'fae' and 'fa'.
  • The word ending ae: /ɑ/, /ɪ/ or /e/ depending on dialect. Also 'a', 'ow' or 'y', for example: arrae (arrow), barrae (barrow) and windae (window), etc.


Ordinal numbers end mostly in t: seicont, fowert, fift, saxt— (second, fourth, fifth, sixth) etc., but note also first, thrid/third— (first, third).

English Scots English Scots
one ane first first
two twa second seicont
three three third third
four fower fourth fowert
five five fifth fift
six sax sixth saxt
seven seiven seventh seivent
eight aicht eighth aicht
nine nine ninth nint
ten ten tenth tent
eleven eleiven eleventh eleivent
twelve twal twelfth twalt

Times of day

English Scots
morning forenuin
midday twal-oors
afternoon efternuin
evening forenicht
dusk dayligaun
midnight midnicht
early morning wee-oors

See also


  1. ^ a b c d A.J. Aitken in The Oxford Companion to the English Language, Oxford University Press 1992. p.894
  2. ^ Stuart-Smith J. Scottish English: Phonology in Varieties of English: The British Isles, Kortman & Upton (Eds), Mouton de Gruyter, New York 2008. p.47
  3. ^ SND:Scots
  4. ^ SND:Doric
  5. ^ Scottish Corpus of Texts and Speech
  6. ^ Peter Buchan, David Toulmin, Buchan Claik: A Compendium of Words and Phrases from the North-east of Scotland, Steve Savage Publishers Limited
  7. ^ Ethnologue
  8. ^ Tymoczko M. & Ireland C.A. (2003) Language and Tradition in Ireland: Continuities and Displacements, Univ of Massachusetts Press. p.159
  9. ^ SND: Scots
  10. ^ [ OED online], Scots, a. (n.)
  11. ^ OED online, Scottish, a. and n.
  12. ^ The Stewart Kingdom of Scotland 1371 - 1603, Caroline Bingham, 1974
  13. ^ Companion to the Oxford English Dictionary, Tom McArthur, Oxford University Press, 1994
  14. ^ A History of Scots to 1700, DOST Vol. 12 p. xxxvi
  15. ^ A History of Scots to 1700, DOST Vol. 12 p. xliii
  16. ^ A History of Scots to 1700, pp. lxiii-lxv
  17. ^ A History of Scots to 1700, pp. lxiii
  18. ^ A History of Scots to 1700, pp. lxi
  19. ^ "A Brief History of Scots" in Corbett, John; McClure, Derrick; Stuart-Smith, Jane (Editors)(2003) The Edinburgh Companion to Scots. Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 0-7486-1596-2. pp. 9ff
  20. ^ Montgomery & Gregg 1997: 572
  21. ^ Adams 1977: 57
  22. ^ Nostra Vulgari Lingua: Scots as a European Language 1500 - 1700 By Dr. Dauvit Horsbroch
  23. ^ Kloss, Heinz, ²1968, Die Entwicklung neuer germanischer Kultursprachen seit 1800, Düsseldorf: Bagel. pp.70, 79]
  24. ^ Second Report submitted by the United Kingdom pursuant to article 25, paragraph 1 of the framework convention for the protection of national minorities Available here [1]
  25. ^ See for example Confession of Faith Ratification Act 1560, written in Scots and still part of British Law
  26. ^ "A Brief History of Scots in Corbett, John; McClure, Derrick; Stuart-Smith, Jane (Editors)(2003) The Edinburgh Companion to Scots. Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 0-7486-1596-2. pp. 10ff
  27. ^ a b c "A Brief History of Scots in Corbett, John; McClure, Derrick; Stuart-Smith, Jane (Editors)(2003) The Edinburgh Companion to Scots. Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 0-7486-1596-2. p. 11
  28. ^ Jones, Charles (1995) A Language Suppressed: The Pronunciation of the Scots Language in the 18th Century, Edinburgh, John Donald, p.vii
  29. ^ Jones, Charles (1995) A Language Suppressed: The Pronunciation of the Scots Language in the 18th Century, Edinburgh, John Donald, p.2
  30. ^ "Scuilwab" (PDF). 
  31. ^ UK CPI inflation numbers based on data available from Measuring Worth: UK CPI.
  32. ^ "A Brief History of Scots in Corbett, John; McClure, Derrick; Stuart-Smith, Jane (Editors)(2003) The Edinburgh Companion to Scots. Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 0-7486-1596-2. p. 13
  33. ^ "A Brief History of Scots in Corbett, John; McClure, Derrick; Stuart-Smith, Jane (Editors)(2003) The Edinburgh Companion to Scots. Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 0-7486-1596-2. p. 14
  34. ^ Eagle, Andy (2006) Aw Ae Wey - Written Scots in Scotland and Ulster. Available at
  35. ^ Primary education: a report of the Advisory Council on Education in Scotland, Scottish Education Deptartment 1946, p. 75
  36. ^ "A Brief History of Scots in Corbett, John; McClure, Derrick; Stuart-Smith, Jane (Editors)(2003) The Edinburgh Companion to Scots. Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 0-7486-1596-2. p. 15
  37. ^ Macafee C. "Studying Scots Vocabulary in Corbett, John; McClure, Derrick; Stuart-Smith, Jane (Editors)(2003) The Edinburgh Companion to Scots. Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 0-7486-1596-2. p. 51
  38. ^ "Exposed to ridicule". The Scotsman. 7 February 2004. Retrieved 2009-05-21. 
  39. ^ "''Scots - Teaching approaches'' Learning and Teaching Scotland Online Service". 2005-11-03. Retrieved 2009-05-21. 
  40. ^ "''National Guidelines 5-14: ENGLISH LANGUAGE'' Learning and Teaching Scotland Online Service". Retrieved 2009-05-21. 
  41. ^ Grant, William (1931) Scottish National Dictionary
  42. ^ Gregg R.J. (1972) The Scotch-Irish Dialect Boundaries in Ulster in Wakelin M.F., Patterns in the Folk Speech of The British Isles, London
  43. ^ (PDF) The Scots Language in education in Scotland. Mercator-Education. 2002. ISSN 1570-1239. 
  44. ^ T. G. K. Bryce and Walter M. Humes (2003). Scottish Education. Edinburgh University Press. pp. 263–264. ISBN 074861625X. 
  45. ^ Jane Stuart-Smith (2004). "Scottish English: phonology". in Bernd Kortmann and Edgar W. Schneider. Walter de Gruyter. pp. 48–49. ISBN 3110175320. 
  46. ^ [2]
  47. ^ "The Scottish Parliament: - Languages - Scots". Retrieved 2009-05-21. 
  48. ^ Mairi Robinson (editor-in-chief), The Concise Scots Dictionary, Aberdeen University Press, 1985
  49. ^ "SND Introduction - Phonetic Description of Scottish Language and Dialects". Retrieved 2009-05-21. 
  50. ^ William Donaldson, The Language of the People: Scots Prose from the Victorian Revival, Aberdeen University Press 1989.
  51. ^ Bairnsangs ISBN 9780907526117
  52. ^ Agutter, Alex (1987) “A taxonomy of Older Scots orthography” in Caroline Macafee and Iseabail Macleod eds. The Nuttis Schell: Essays on the Scots Language Pesented to A. J. Aitken, Aberdeen University Press, p. 75.
  53. ^ Millar, Robert McColl (2005) Language, Nation and Power An Introduction, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke. pp. 90-91
  54. ^ Wilson, James (1926) The Dialects of Central Scotland, Oxford University Press. p.194
  55. ^ Tulloch, Graham (1980) The Language of Walter Scott. A Study of his Scottish and Period Language, London: Deutsch. p. 249
  56. ^ a b William Grant and David D. Murison (eds) The Scottish National Dictionary (SND) (1929–1976), The Scottish National Dictionary Association, vol. I Edinburgh, p.xv
  57. ^ William Grant and David D. Murison (eds) The Scottish National Dictionary (SND) (1929–1976), The Scottish National Dictionary Association, vol. I Edinburgh, p.xiv
  58. ^ J.D. McClure in The Oxford Companion to the English Language, Oxford University Press 1992. p.168
  59. ^ McClure, J. Derrick (1985) “The debate on Scots orthography” in Manfred Görlach ed. Focus on: Scotland, Amsterdam: Benjamins, p. 204
  60. ^ Mackie, Albert D. (1952) “Fergusson’s Language: Braid Scots Then and Now” in Smith, Syndney Goodsir ed. Robert Fergusson 1750–1774, Edinburgh: Nelson, p. 123-124, 129
  61. ^ Stevenson, R.L. (1905) The Works of R.L. Stevenson Vol. 8, “Underwoods”, London: Heinemann, P. 152
  62. ^ Todd, Loreto (1989) The Language of Iish Lieature, London: MacMillan, p. 134
  63. ^ Grant, William; Dixon, James Main (1921) Manual of Modern Scots. Cambridge, University Press
  64. ^ McClure, J. Derrick (2002). Doric: The Dialect of North–East Scotland. Amsterdam: Benjamins, p.79
  65. ^ Aitken A.J. ‘How to Pronounce Older Scots’ in ‘Bards and Makars’. Glasgow University Press 1977
  66. ^ SND:A 1
  67. ^ SND:A 2 (1)
  68. ^ a b SND:A 4
  69. ^ a b SND:U 2 (1)
  70. ^ SND:A 2 (2)
  71. ^ SND W 6
  72. ^ a b c SND:A 5
  73. ^ SND:A 3
  74. ^ a b SND:E 3
  75. ^ SND:E 3 (2)
  76. ^ SND:E 3 (4)
  77. ^ SND:E 3 (3)
  78. ^ SND:E 1 (2)
  79. ^ SND:E 1 (3)
  80. ^ SND:E 3 (5)
  81. ^ SND:U 2 (2)
  82. ^ SND:U 2 (4)
  83. ^ SND:I
  84. ^ SND:U 4 (2)(ii)
  85. ^ SND:I 3
  86. ^ SND:O
  87. ^ SND:O 3 (1)
  88. ^ SND:O 3
  89. ^ SND:O 3 (4)(ii)
  90. ^ SND: U 3 (4)(i)
  91. ^ SND:O 5 (1)
  92. ^ SND:U 4 (2)
  93. ^ a b SND:U 2 (4)(i)
  94. ^ See the Scottish National Dictionary's entry for -na, SND:NA


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External links

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Dictionaries and linguistic information

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010
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Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




Scots and Northern variant of Scottish.


Proper noun




  1. A Germanic language closely related to English and descended from northern dialects of Middle English, spoken in parts of Scotland, now especially in the central, northeastern and southern regions of the country.



See also


Scots pl.

  1. Plural form of Scot.


Scots (not comparable)


not comparable

none (absolute)

  1. Scottish


External links


  • Anagrams of cosst
  • costs


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