What’s the Difference Between a Language and a Dialect?

You might have noticed yesterday that when I mentioned the word bairn, I referred to its use in both Scots and Scottish English. And you might have asked yourself: what’s the difference?

I’m not an expert, and not going to go into all the details, but suffice it to say that they’re quite distinct. Continue reading

Caught Red-Handed

I heard this phrase this afternoon, and thought, Well, there’s no great mystery with this one. Red-handed refers to having blood on one’s hands from an act of murder or some other violence. No complicated, confusing web of etymology here.

But then I thought, I always think that, and then I look something up and there’s a fascinating, unexpected origin of the expression that I’ll be excited to share with you, dear reader. Continue reading

Burns Night!

I’ve just realised it’s Burns Night!

If you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s a Scottish celebration of the poet Rabbie Burns, whose best-known is probably the song Auld Lang Syne. The night involves the Burns Supper, which can be quite an elaborate affair, and invariably involves a meal of haggis, neeps (turnips), and tatties (potatoes). Before it’s served there’s the Piping of the Haggis. Bagpipers play as the delicious dish is brought in, and the host or a guest then recites Burn’s Address to a Haggis:  Continue reading

American Life: Appalachian English

It seems appropriate today to cast my eye on the United States, but not in the way you might expect. You’ve probably heard and read enough about that already, so I just want to share this video about the way the natives of the Appalachian Mountains in the eastern United States speak English. It’s delightful to hear their accents and very specific vocabulary. It sounds quite unique, though I think I definitely detect something of the original Scottish and Irish settlers. I think there’s definitely a link between the fact that they call a bag a poke, and in Irish the word for pocket is póca. I’m not surprised that their vocabulary and accent wouldn’t change much over time, being so isolated.

These are the type of people who might be stereotyped as hillbillies, but they all seem like nice folk. Hard to understand at times, but nice. I don’t think there’s much point to this really, just to show what English can be, and how diverse, culturally and linguistically, America can be.