Linguistics and English Language

Linguistic Circle

Speaker: Robert McColl Millar (University of Aberdeen)

Title: Lexical variation and lexical attrition: towards a greater understanding of the processes underlying lexical change in Scots

Abstract: One of the most evocative words my mother used was ferfochen, as in A’m sair ferfochen wi ma brither an his weans ‘I am overwhelmingly oppressed to the point of exhaustion with [the actions of] my brother and his children’. I have only used the word in heightened contexts; in particular when self-consciously writing Scots. My daughter is unlikely ever to hear the word. Loss of lexical items and replacement with other lexical items has always been a perfectly normal feature of linguistic change. On a grand scale it is unremarkable. In Scots, however, loss of lexis is regularly accompanied by the replacement of local vocabulary by global colloquial English equivalents.

In many cases this loss of lexis is to be expected, since many Scots words and phrases were associated with traditional occupations and pastimes. Scotland’s mining industry is moribund; fishing is now carried out only in a few ports; changes in technology and practice have made agriculture practically unrecognisable in comparison to even fifty years ago. This situation, as Millar, Barras and Bonnici (2014) demonstrated for the East Coast fishing communities in their Fisherspeak project, is more complex than this, however. Words connected to the everyday coastal environment but not necessarily to the fishing industry, associated, for example, with the flora and fauna of the sea and shore, seem also to be disappearing from the speech of local young people, particularly in relation to the expression of subtle differences in meaning and classification. What is actually happening to the knowledge and use of Scots lexis among Scots speakers? This presentation will consider these issues in relation to the findings of Fisherspeak and other studies over the last fifty years. Moving forward, it will consider issues related to regional and national patterns of lexical use represented in the products of the Linguistic Survey of Scotland (carried out in the 1950s) in relation to both its methodologies of questionnaire construction and its means of data analysis. These will be compared with the practices of more recent dialectological investigation. To what extent can these comparisons inform the construction of a survey intended to assess the level of knowledge and use of Scots words and phrases in the 2020s?

Reference: Millar, Robert McColl, William Barras and Lisa Bonnici. 2014. Lexical Variation and Attrition in the Scottish Fishing Communities. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Contact details

Dr Chris Cummins

Reschedule event survey

If you would have liked to attend but can't make this event, please click on the link below and help us schedule future events better.

Reschedule Linguistic Circle

Further information:

Dec 06 2018 -

Linguistic Circle

2018-12-06: Lexical variation and lexical attrition: towards a greater understanding of the processes underlying lexical change in Scots

Lecture Theatre F21, Psychology Building, 7 George Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9JZ