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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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Big Questions
Why Does Japan Have Blue Traffic Lights Instead of Green?
ANTTI T. NISSINEN, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
ANTTI T. NISSINEN, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

In Japan, a game of Red Light, Green Light might be more like Red Light, Blue Light. Because of a linguistic quirk of Japanese, some of the country’s street lights feature "go" signals that are distinctly more blue than green, as Atlas Obscura alerts us, making the country an outlier in international road design.

Different languages refer to colors very differently. For instance, some languages, like Russian and Japanese, have different words for light blue and dark blue, treating them as two distinct colors. And some languages lump colors English speakers see as distinct together under the same umbrella, using the same word for green and blue, for instance. Again, Japanese is one of those languages. While there are now separate terms for blue and green, in Old Japanese, the word ao was used for both colors—what English-speaking scholars label grue.

In modern Japanese, ao refers to blue, while the word midori means green, but you can see the overlap culturally, including at traffic intersections. Officially, the “go” color in traffic lights is called ao, even though traffic lights used to be a regular green, Reader’s Digest says. This posed a linguistic conundrum: How can bureaucrats call the lights ao in official literature if they're really midori?

Since it was written in 1968, dozens of countries around the world have signed the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals, an international treaty aimed at standardizing traffic signals. Japan hasn’t signed (neither has the U.S.), but the country has nevertheless moved toward more internationalized signals.

They ended up splitting the difference between international law and linguists' outcry. Since 1973, the Japanese government has decreed that traffic lights should be green—but that they be the bluest shade of green. They can still qualify as ao, but they're also green enough to mean go to foreigners. But, as Atlas Obscura points out, when drivers take their licensing test, they have to go through a vision test that includes the ability to distinguish between red, yellow, and blue—not green.

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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Using Words Like 'Really' A Lot Could Mean You're Really Stressed
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Are you feeling really exhausted? Or have you noticed that it's incredibly hot out today?

If you recognize the adverbs above as appearing frequently in your own speech, it could be a sign that you're stressed. At least, those are the findings in a recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. As Nature reports, researchers found that peppering our speech with "function words" is a pretty accurate indicator of our anxiety levels.

Function words differ from verbs and nouns in that they don't mean much on their own and mostly serve to clarify the words around them. Included in this group are pronouns, adverbs, and adjectives. A team of American researchers suspected that people use these words more frequently when they're stressed, so to test their hypothesis, they hooked up recording devices to 143 volunteers.

After transcribing and analyzing audio clips recorded periodically over the course of two days, the researchers compared subjects' speech patterns to the gene expressions of certain white blood cells in their bodies that are susceptible to stress. They found that people exhibiting the biological symptoms of stress talked less overall, but when they did speak up they were more likely to use words like really and incredibly.

They also preferred the pronouns me and mine over them and their, possibly indicating their self-absorbed world view when under pressure. The appearance of these trends predicted stress in the volunteers' genes more accurately than their own self-assessments. As study co-author Matthias Mehl told Nature, this could be a reason for doctors to "listen beyond the content" of the symptoms their patients report and pay greater attention "to the way it is expressed" in the future.

One reason function words are such a great indicator of stress is that we often insert them into our sentences unconsciously, while our choice of words like nouns and verbs is more deliberate. Anxiety isn't the only thing that influences our speech without us realizing it. Hearing ideas we agree with also has a way of shaping our syntax.

[h/t Nature]

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