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17 Utterly Charming Articles on Scots Wikipedia

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Wikipedia is not just an English encyclopedia. It has versions in many different languages, and not just the big ones. There are active Wikipedias in everything from Abkhaz to Zulu, more than 250 of them. There are even dead languages with living Wikipedias (see Latin and Old English). There are also Wikipedias for languages commonly considered to be dialects of larger languages such as Venetian or Pennsylvania Dutch, though they often differ enough from the larger languages to be evaluated as separate systems by linguists.

One of those dialects is Scots, not to be confused with Scottish Gaelic or Scottish English. Scots is close to Standard English in the way Norwegian is close to Danish, which is to say, they are pretty much mutually intelligible. It’s possible to read the Scots Wikipedia and understand nearly everything, but there’s just enough unfamiliar vocabulary and syntax to make the experience linguistically interesting and also utterly charming. Here are selections from 17 Scots Wikipedia articles that illustrate the effect perfectly. 

1. WATHER (WEATHER)

"Wather tells us whit's gaun on in the lift abuin us."

We borrowed the word air from French, and atmosphere from Greek, but Scots kept the older form lift—compare German Luft.

2. FILOSOFIE (PHILOSOPHY)

"Filosofie is a Greek wird for 'luv o wit.' It can be uised ti mean monie things."

In Scots, knowledge is wit and many is monie.

3. GLESGA (GLASGOW)

"Glesga, an aften spelt Glesgae or Glesca, is Scotland's maist muckle ceity, on the River Clyde in west-central Scotland."

Muckle or mickle means large. It goes back to Old Norse and is the source of the English word much.

4. BAIRN (CHILD)

"A bairn, wee 'un, child or littlin is a youthie body, a lad or lass."

Bairn is one of the few articles that has its own separate entry on Scots Wikipedia, but not on English Wikipedia.

5. YIRD (EARTH) 

"The Yird is the thrid planet oot frae the Sun. It is the mukkilest o the solar seetem's fower stanie planets, an the ae bodie that modren syense kens ti haud lyf." 

Thrid preserves the "three" better than English third, which moved the r to come after the vowel. Here, the four terrestrial planets are called stanie, or stony, and to know is to ken.

6. SHAKESPEARE

"William Shakespeare wis an Inglish makar an playwricht, nou cried the brawest writer in the Inglis leid an the warld's maist kenspeckle dramatist."

A makar is a poet, a “maker,” and braw, the Scots version of brave, carries more the sense of "mighty fine." Kenspeckle means recognized.

7. COFFEE

"Coffee is a brewed drink makkit fae roostit seeds, eften cried coffee beans, o the coffee plant. Caffeinatit coffee haes a stimulatin effect in fowk." 

Fowk is folk, an older word than people, which was borrowed from French.

8. BEUK (BOOK)

"A beuk (spelt buik anaw) is a set o prentit sheets o papers hauden thegither atwein twa kivers."

Where English has "held together," Scots has hauden thegither.

9. MUISIC (MUSIC)

"Muisic is soun that is makkit by humans for tae be haurd deleeberate by ither humans."

Scots adverbs often take the same form as adjectives, especially when they follow the verb. So "deliberately heard" is haurd deleeberate. This article also includes a wee list o pure deadly tuins.

10. THE APOLOGETIC APOSTROPHE

"The apologetic apostrophe is the name gien tae a wey o writin Scots for tae mak the seimilarities atween Scots an Inglis gey appearent. It is the uiss o an apostrophe (') for tae shaw letters wantin frae Scots wirds but's aye tae the fore in Inglis, for tae gie the impression that Scots is nocht but orra Inglis.

"Aften thae wirds haes nivver haed thir letters 'wantin.' Ae exemplar in this seestem, is the wird taen it wad be spelt ta'en (frae Inglis taken); but the wird wis spelt tane in the 14t century, sae the apostrophe here coud be caa'd specious."

The apologetic apostrophe is a way of writing Scots that makes it look more like broken English. Read the English article about it here.

11. MATHEMATICS

"Mathematics is the studie o feck, structur, room, an chynge. Historically, Mathematics developed frae coontin, calculation, meisurement, an the studie o the shapes an muivins o pheesical objects, throu the uise o abstraction an deductive raesonin." 

Scots feck is effect or quantity. We know it in English only in the word feckless.

12. AULD LANG SYNE

"'Auld Lang Syne' is a Scots poem written by Robert Burns in 1788 an set tae the tuin o a tradeetional fowk sang. It is weel kent in mony a Inglis-speakin kintra an is aften sang for tae celebrate the stairt o the new year at the straik o midnicht on Ne'er Day."

Auld lang syne itself translates to “old long since” or “old times.”

13. BREID (BREAD)

"Breid is a staple fuid prepared by bakin a daich o floor an watter."

Why do we spell dough with a gh? Because it once had a fricative sound on the end, which is still there in Scots daich.

14. GOWF (GOLF)

"Fowk haes lang raxt their harns ower hou gowf cam aboot, at the hinderend naebody will richt ken." 

Brains is a strange Old English word with no modern cognates. Harns, on the other hand, is much closer to existing German and Scandinavian languages.

15. COMPUTER

"A computer is a machine for tae mak manipulatin data mair eith. A body taks data inpits an maks ootpits in uissefu forms."

A body is how a body says “one” in Scots. Easy comes from French, but eith is from Old English.

16. SNAWBUIRDIN (SNOWBOARDING)

"Snawbuirdin is a winter sport. A body staunds on a snawbuird an gaes scrievin doun a brae happit wi snaw. It's sib tae skiin but baith feet is strappit tae the ae buird insteid o haein a buird (ski) on ilka fit."

Scrievin is gliding, brae is a hill-side or slope, and ilka is each.

17. SKIIN (SKIING)

"Skiin is a winter sport needin a muntain."

Exact and to the point. Well said!

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8 Professional Translators Choose Their Favorite 'Untranslatable' Words
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Readers tend to think of a translated novel as having just one author. While that’s technically true, each work contains two voices: that of the author and the translator. Translators must ensure that their interpretation remains faithful to the style and intent of the author, but this doesn't mean that nothing is added in the process. Gabriel García Márquez, the author of One Hundred Years of Solitude, once famously said that the English version of his novel was, in some ways, better than his original work in Spanish.

“A good translation is itself a work of art,” translator Nicky Harman writes. Put differently, translator Daniel Hahn believes translation is literally impossible. “I don’t just mean it’s really, really difficult, but really, it’s not actually possible,” he says. “There’s not a single word in any of the languages I translate that can map perfectly onto a word in English. So it’s always interpretative, approximate, creative.”

In a show of appreciation for this challenging craft, the Man Booker International Prize was created to annually recognize one outstanding work of literature that has been translated from its original language into English and published in the UK. Ahead of the winner being announced on May 22, the translators of eight Man Booker International Prize nominees have shared their favorite "untranslatable" words from the original language of the novels they translated into English.

1. BREF

Sam Taylor, who translated The 7th Function of Language by Laurent Binet from French to English, said the best definition of bref is “Well, you get the idea.” It’s typically used to punctuate the end of a long, rambling speech, and is sometimes used for comedic effect. “It’s such a concise (and intrinsically sardonic) way of cutting a long story short,” Taylor says.

2. SANTIGUADORA

Unsatisfied with any of the English words at their disposal, translators Sarah Moses and Carolina Orloff left this word in Spanish in Die, My Love, a psychological novel by Ariana Harwicz. The word, which describes a female healer who uses prayer to break hexes and cure ailments, was explained in the text itself. The translated version reads: “If only there were santiguadoras living in these parts, those village women who for a fee will pray away your guy’s indigestion and your toddler’s tantrums, simple as that.”

3. HELLHÖRIG

The German word Hellhörig "literally means 'bright-hearing' and is used, for example, to describe walls so thin you can hear every noise in the next room," says Simon Pare, who translated The Flying Mountain, a novel by Christoph Ransmayr. Pare notes that while English equivalents like "paper-thin" and “flimsy” carry the same negative connotation, they don’t have the same poetic quality that hellhörig has. "'The walls have ears,' while expressive, is not the same thing,” Pare laments.

4. VORSTELLUNG

Vorstellung (another German word) can be defined as an idea or notion, but when its etymology is broken down, it suddenly doesn’t seem so simple. It stems from the verb vorstellen, meaning “to place in front of—in this case, in front of the mind’s eye,” according to Susan Bernofsky, who translated Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck. “The Vorstellung is the object of that act of mental conjuring-up," Bernofsky adds. (Fun fact: All nouns are capitalized in German.)

5. 눈치 (NUNCH'I)

Literally translating to “eye measure,” the Korean word nunch’i describes “an awareness of how those around you are currently feeling, plus their general character, and therefore the appropriate response,” says Deborah Smith, the translator of Han Kang’s The White Book. Korean culture stresses the importance of harmony, and thus it’s important to avoid doing or saying anything that could hurt another person’s pride, according to CultureShock! Korea: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette.

6. ON

Anyone who has survived French 101 has seen this word, but it’s a difficult concept to fully grasp. It’s also one that crops up regularly in novels, making it “the greatest headache for a translator,” according to Frank Wynne, who translated Vernon Subutex 1 by Virginie Despentes. On is often translated as “one” (as in “one shouldn’t ask such questions”), but in general conversation it can come off as “preposterously disdainful,” Wynne notes. Furthermore, the word is used in different ways to express very different things in French, and can be taken to mean “we,” “people,” “they,” and more, according to French Today.

7. TERTULIA

Store this one away for your next cocktail party. The Spanish word tertulia can be defined as “an enjoyable conversation about political or literary topics at a social gathering,” according to Camilo A. Ramirez, who translated Like a Fading Shadow by Antonio Munoz Molina. Although tertulia is tricky to translate, it's one of Ramirez's favorite Spanish words because it invokes a specific atmosphere and paints a scene in the reader’s mind. For instance, the first chapter of The Hobbit, “An Unexpected Party,” becomes “Una Tertulia Inesperada” when translated into Spanish.

8. PAN/PANI

Like the French on, the Polish words pan (an honorific address for men) and pani (an address for women) are challenging to explain in English. While many European languages have both a formal and informal “you,” pan and pani are a different animal. “[It's] believed to derive from the days of a Polish noble class called the szlachta—another tradition unique to Poland,” says Jennifer Croft, who translated Flights by Olga Tokarczuk into English. This form of address was originally used for Polish gentry and was often contrasted with the word cham, meaning peasants, according to Culture.pl, a Polish culture site. Now, it’s used to address all people, except for children or friends.

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What Is Foreign Accent Syndrome?
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One night in 2016, Michelle Myers—an Arizona mom with a history of migraines—went to sleep with a splitting headache. When she awoke, her speech was marked with what sounded like an British accent, despite having never left the U.S. Myers is one of about 100 people worldwide who have been diagnosed with Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS), a condition in which people spontaneously speak with a non-native accent.

In most cases, FAS occurs following a head injury or stroke that damages parts of the brain associated with speech. A number of recent incidences of FAS have been well documented: A Tasmanian woman named Leanne Rowe began speaking with a French-sounding accent after recovering from a serious car accident, while Kath Lockett, a British woman, underwent treatment for a brain tumor and ended up speaking with an accent that sounds somewhere between French and Italian.

The first case of the then-unnamed syndrome was reported in 1907 when a Paris-born-and-raised man who suffered a brain hemorrhage woke up speaking with an Alsatian accent. During World War II, neurologist Georg Herman Monrad-Krohn compiled the first comprehensive case study of the syndrome in a Norwegian woman named Astrid L., who had been hit on the head with shrapnel and subsequently spoke with a pronounced German-sounding accent. Monrad-Krohn called her speech disorder dysprosody: her choice of words and sentence construction, and even her singing ability, were all normal, but her intonation, pronunciation, and stress on syllables (known as prosody) had changed.

In a 1982 paper, neurolinguist Harry Whitaker coined the term "foreign accent syndrome" for acquired accent deviation after a brain injury. Based on Monrad-Kohn's and other case studies, Whitaker suggested four criteria for diagnosing FAS [PDF]:

"The accent is considered by the patient, by acquaintances, and by the investigator to sound foreign.
It is unlike the patient’s native dialect before the cerebral insult.
It is clearly related to central nervous system damage (as opposed to a hysteric reaction, if such exist).
There is no evidence in the patient’s background of being a speaker of a foreign language (i.e., this is not like cases of polyglot aphasia)."

Not every person with FAS meets all four criteria. In the last decade, researchers have also found patients with psychogenic FAS, which likely stems from psychological conditions such as schizophrenia rather than a physical brain injury. This form comprises fewer than 10 percent of known FAS cases and is usually temporary, whereas neurogenic FAS is typically permanent.

WHAT’S REALLY HAPPENING?

While scientists are not sure why certain brain injuries or psychiatric problems give rise to FAS, they believe that people with FAS are not actually speaking in a foreign accent. Instead, their neurological damage impairs their ability to make subtle muscle movements in the jaw, tongue, lips, and larynx, which results in pronunciation that mimics the sound of a recognizable accent.

"Vowels are particularly susceptible: Which vowel you say depends on where your tongue is in your mouth," Lyndsey Nickels, a professor of cognitive science at Australia's Macquarie University, wrote in The Conversation. "There may be too much or too little muscle tension and therefore they may 'undershoot' or 'overshoot' their target. This leads to the vowels sounding different, and sometimes they may sound like a different accent."

In Foreign Accent Syndromes: The Stories People Have to Tell, authors Nick Miller and Jack Ryalls suggest that FAS could be one stage in a multi-phase recovery from a more severe speech disorder, such as aphasia—an inability to speak or understand speech that results from brain damage.

People with FAS also show wide variability in their ability to pronounce sounds, choose words, or stress the right syllables. The accent can be strong or mild. Different listeners may hear different accents from the speaker with FAS (Lockett has said people have asked her if she's Polish, Russian, or French).

According to Miller and Ryalls, few studies have been published about speech therapy for treating FAS, and there's no real evidence that speech therapy makes a difference for people with the syndrome. More research is needed to determine if advanced techniques like electromagnetic articulography—visual feedback showing tiny movements of the tongue—could help those with FAS regain their original speaking manner.

Today, one of the pressing questions for neurologists is understanding how the brain recovers after injury. For that purpose, Miller and Ryalls write that "FAS offers a fascinating and potentially fruitful forum for gaining greater insights into understanding the human brain and the speech processes that define our species."

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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