Doric dialect (Scotland)

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Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. Doric, the popular name for Mid Northern Scots[1] or Northeast Scots,[2] refers to the Scots language as spoken in the northeast of Scotland. There is an extensive body of literature, mostly poetry, ballads, and songs.


The term "Doric" was formerly used to refer to all dialects of Lowland Scots, but during the twentieth century it became increasingly associated with Mid Northern Scots.[3]

The name possibly originated as a jocular reference to the Doric dialect of the Ancient Greek language. Greek Dorians lived in Laconia, including Sparta, and other more rural areas, and were alleged by the ancient Greeks to have spoken laconically and in a language thought harsher in tone and more phonetically conservative than the Attic spoken in Athens. Doric Greek was used for some of the verses spoken by the chorus in Greek tragedy.

According to The Oxford Companion to English Literature:

"Since the Dorians were regarded as uncivilised by the Athenians, 'Doric' came to mean 'rustic' in English, and was applied particularly to the language of Northumbria and the Lowlands of Scotland and also to the simplest of the three orders in architecture."[4]

Use of the term Doric in this context may also arise out of a contrast with the anglicised speech of the Scottish capital, because at one point, Edinburgh was nicknamed 'Athens of the North'. The upper/middle class speech of Edinburgh would thus be 'Attic', making the rural areas' speech 'Doric'.[citation needed] According to another source, 18th century Scots writers like Allan Ramsay justified their use of Scots (instead of English) by comparing it to the use of Ancient Greek Doric by Theocritus.[5]


Most consonants are usually pronounced much as in other Modern Scots dialects but:

  • In Buchan the cluster cht, also ght, may be realised /ð/ in some words, rather than /xt/ as in other dialects, for example: dochter (daughter), micht (might) and nocht (nought), often written dother, mith and noth in dialect writing.
  • The clusters gn and kn are realised /ɡn/ and /kn/, for example gnaw, gnap, knee, knife, knock (a clock) and knowe (knoll).
  • In Buchan, towards the coast, th followed by er may be realised /d/, rather than /ð/ as in other dialects, for example: brither (brother), faither (father), gaither (gather) and mither (mother), often written bridder, fadder, gaider~gedder and midder in dialect writing.
  • wh is realised /f/, rather than /ʍ/ as in Central Scots dialects, for example whit (what) and wha (who), often written fit and fa(a) in dialect writing.
  • The cluster wr may be realised /vr/, rather than /r/ as in Central Scots dialects, for example wratch (wretch), wrath, wricht (wright) and wrocht (wrought~worked), often written vratch, vrath, vricht and vrocht in dialect writing.

Some vowel realisations differ markedly from those of Central Scots dialects. The vowel numbers are from Aitken.[6] See also Cardinal vowels.

  • a (vowel 17) before /b/, /ɡ/, /m/ and /ŋ/ may be /ə/ or /ʌ/ rather than /a(ː)/.
  • aw and au (vowel 12), sometimes a or a' representing L-vocalisation,[7][8] are realised /aː/, rather than /ɑː/ or /ɔː/ as in Central Scots dialects, for example aw (all), cauld (cold), braw (brave, handsome, fine, splendid), faw (fall) and snaw (snow), often written aa, caal(d), braa, faa and snaa in dialect writing. In Buchan, in some words the stem final w may be realised /v/, often with a /j/ glide before the preceding vowel, for example awe [jaːv] (awe), blaw [bl(j)aːv] (blow), gnaw [ɡnjaːv], law [ljaːv], snaw [snjaːv] (snow) and taw [tjaːv]~[tʃaːv] often written yaave, blyaave, gnaave, snyaave and tyauve~tyaave~chaave in dialect writing.
  • In some areas ai or a(consonant)e /e(ː)/ (vowel 4 or 8) may be realised /əi/ after /w/, dark /l/ and occasionally after other consonants, for example claes (clothes), coal, coat, gape, wade, waik (weak), wait, wale (choose) and wame (belly), often written clyes, kwile, kwite, gype, wyde, wyke, wyte, wyle and wyme in dialect writing. A preceding /k/ or /n/ may produce a /j/ glide, with the vowel realised /a/, for example caird [kjard] (card), cake [kjak], naig [njaɡ] (nag) and nakit [njakɪt] (naked). The cluster ane is realised /en/ in Moray and Nairn but is usually /in/ in other areas,[9] for example, ane (one) ance (once), bane (bone) and stane (stone), often written een, eence, been and steen in dialect writing.
  • ea, ei (vowel 3) is usually /i(ː)/, though the realisation may be /e(ː)/ along the coast and in Moray and Nairn. The realisation may also be /əi/ in, for example, great, quean (girl), seiven (seven), sweit (sweat), weave and wheat, and /ɪ/ before /k/ in, for example, speak, often written gryte, quine, syven, swyte, wyve, fyte and spik(k) in dialect writing. Before /v/ and /z/ the realisation may be /ɪ/ in, for example, heiven (heaven), reason, season and seiven (seven), often written hivven, rizzon, sizzon and sivven in dialect writing.
  • ee (vowels 2 and 11), e(Consonant)e (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 may be /əi/ after /w/, dark /l/ and occasionally after other consonants in, for example, cheenge (change), heeze (lift) and swee (sway), often written chynge, hyse and swye in dialect writing.
  • eu (vowel 7 before /k/ and /x/ see ui), sometimes ui and oo after Standard English also occur, is generally /ju/ in for example, beuk (book), eneuch (enough), ceuk (cook), leuk (look) and teuk (took).
  • Stem final ew (vowel 14) may be realised /jʌu/ in, for example, few, new and also in beauty and duty, often written fyow(e), nyow(e), byowty and dyowty in dialect writing. Before /k/ the realisation may be /ɪ/ in, for example, week, often written wyke in dialect writing.
  • ui (vowel 7) is realised /i(ː)/ and /wi(ː)/ after /ɡ/ and /k/. Also u(consonant)e, especially before nasals,[10] and oo from the spelling of Standard English cognates, in for example, abuin (above), cuit (ankle) and guid (good), often written abeen, queet and gweed in dialect writing. In Moray and Nairn the realisation is usually /(j)uː/ before /r/ in, for example, buird (board), fluir (floor) and fuird (ford), often written boord, floor and foord in dialect writing. The realisation [i(ː)] also occurs in adae (ado), dae (do), shae (shoe) and tae (to~too).


North East Scots has an extensive body of literature, mostly poetry, ballads and songs. During the Middle Scots period writing from the North East of Scotland adhered to the literary conventions of the time; indications of particular "Doric" pronunciations were very rare. The 18th century literary revival also brought forth writers from the North East but, again, local dialect features were rare, the extant literary Scots conventions being preferred. In later times, a more deliberately regional literature began to emerge.

In contemporary prose writing, Doric occurs usually as quoted speech, although this is less and less often the case. As is usually the case with marginalised languages, local loyalties prevail in the written form, showing how the variety "deviates" from standard ("British") English as opposed to a general literary Scots "norm". This shows itself in the local media presentation of the language, e.g., Grampian Television & The Aberdeen Press and Journal. These local loyalties, waning knowledge of the older literary tradition and relative distance from the Central Lowlands ensure that the Doric scene has a degree of semi-autonomy.

Doric was used in a lot of so-called Kailyard literature, a genre that paints a sentimental, melodramatic picture of the old rural life, and is currently unfashionable. This negative association still plagues Doric literature to a degree, as well as Scottish literature in general.

Poets who wrote in the Doric dialect include John M. Caie of Banffshire (1879–1949), Helen B. Cruickshank of Angus (1886–1975), Alexander Fenton (1929–2012), Flora Garry (1900–2000), Sir Alexander Gray (1882–1968), Violet Jacob of Angus (1863–1946), Charles Murray (1864–1941) and J. C. Milne (1897–1962).[11]

George MacDonald from Huntly used Doric in his novels. A friend of Mark Twain, he is commonly considered one of the fathers of the fantasy genre and an influence on C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien.

Lewis Grassic Gibbon's Scots Quair trilogy is set in the Mearns and has been the basis of a successful play and television series. It is very popular throughout Scotland and tells the story of Chris, an independent-minded woman, mainly in a form of English strongly influenced by the rhythms of local speech.

A version of Aesop's Fables has been published in Doric, as well as some sections of the Bible.

The North East has been claimed as the "real home of the ballad"[12] and, according to Les Wheeler, "91 out of a grand total of (Child's) 305 ballads came from the North East – in fact from Aberdeenshire", which makes the usual name of "Border Ballad" a misnomer put about by Sir Walter Scott.

Contemporary writers in Doric include Sheena Blackhall, a poet who writes in Doric and Scottish Gaelic, Mo Simpson, who writes in the Aberdeen Evening Express and peppers her humour column with "Doricisms" and Doric words. The Doric has also featured in stage, radio and television, notably in the sketches and songs of the Aberdeen-based comedy groups Scotland the What? and the Flying Pigs.

Sample text

Gin I was God by Charles Murray (1864–1941) [13]

Recent developments

In 2006 an Aberdeen hotel decided to use a Doric voice for their lift. Phrases said by the lift include "Gyaun Up" /ɡʲɑːn ʌp/ (Going up), "Gyaun Doun" /ɡʲɑːn dun/ (Going down), "atween fleers een an fower" /əˈtwin fliːrz in ən ˈfʌur/ (between floors one and four).[14]

Also in 2006, Maureen Watt of the SNP took her Scottish Parliamentary oath in Doric. She said "I want to advance the cause of Doric and show there's a strong and important culture in the North East."[15] She was required to take an oath in English beforehand. There was some debate as to whether the oath was "gweed Doric" (/ɡwid ˈdoːrɪk/) or not, and notably it is, to a certain extent, written phonetically and contains certain anglicised forms such as "I" rather than "A", and "and" instead of "an":

"I depone aat I wull be leal and bear ae full alleadgance tae her majesty Queen Elizabeth her airs an ony fa come aifter her anent the law. Sae help me God."

In Disney/Pixar's Brave, the character Young MacGuffin speaks the Doric dialect, and a running joke involves no one else understanding him. This was a choice by the voice actor, Kevin McKidd, a native of Elgin.[16]

Translation of the Bible

In August 2012, Gordon Hay, an Aberdeenshire author, successfully completed what is believed to be the very first translation of the New Testament into Doric. The project took him six years.[17]

Select vocabulary

Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. The most distinctive and common Doric phrase is Ay ay, fit like?, "Hello, how are you?" (Ay Ay, whit like? - ay is sometimes spelt aye.[18] The SND also states: "The spelling of this and the preceding word in Sc. is irregular, but ay = yes, and aye = always, seem to predominate. Both words in Sc. are markedly diphthongal but not identical in pronunciation. N.E.D. and Un. Eng. Dict. prefer ay = always, and aye = yes, the first of which rhymes with the ay series of Eng. words like say, day, etc., while the second does not. The Concise Eng. Dict. spells ay = yes, and aye = ever, always.")[19]

  • A'm awfu sair needin the lavvy - (awfu pronounced 'affa' or 'affi' depending on location) I am bursting for the toilet.
  • A'm fair dancin mad - I am in a rage.
  • A'm fair forfochten - I am very tired.
  • ay is't - reply to the greeting fine mornin
  • ay fairly or ay michty ay - yes indeed.
  • aye peckin or peckin awa - Literally "Always pecking." The reply to Fou's yer doos?
  • the Broch - Fraserburgh also Burghead near Elgin.
  • caumie doun! - Calm down!
  • Causey Mounth - the road over the "Mounth" or Grampians
  • come awa ben the hoose for a fly an a piece - Welcome. Come in and I'll make you a cup of tea and something to eat.
  • Claik - the Doric dialect of Buchan fishing villages - also used more generally to mean either gossip.[20]
  • dinna be coorse or A'll skelp yer dowp - Don't be naughty or I will smack your bottom. dock can also be used instead of dowp.
  • fa? (wha?) fit? (whit?) fit wey? (whit wey?) faur? (whaur?) fan? (whan) - "who? what? what way? why? where? when?"
  • far aboots? (Whaur aboots?) - Whereabouts? (Aberdeen is nicknamed "Furry Boots City" from a humorous spelling of far aboots - furry boots.)
  • far div ye bide? (Whaur div ye bide?) - "Where do you live?"
  • fit? (Whit) - "What?"
  • fit like? (Whit like) - A greeting, essentially, "How are you doing?", to which the response might be "Nae bad. Yersel?" "Aye tawin on", "Fine, thanks" or "juist tyauvin awa'"
  • fit ye deein? (Whit ye daein?) - "What are you doing?"
  • fit's adee? (Whit's adae?) - "What's wrong?"
  • foggy bummer - Bumblebee
  • for a filie (for a whilie) - for a long time
  • fou lang (hou lang) - how long
  • fou's yer dous? (Hou's yer dous?) - literally "how are your pigeons?", now used as "how are you?" A stock phrase, not so often used in speech as to send up Doric.
  • futrat (Whitrat) - Weasel or other Mustelid, but commonly used for ferret now.
  • gealt - cold
  • gie's a bosie! - "Give me a hug!"
  • gulsochs - sweets, cream cakes, doughnuts, caramels etc.
  • knapdarloch - dung hanging in knots in wool round a sheep's bottom
  • louns an quines (louns an queans) - Lads and lassies, boys and girls. (NB loun or loon has no derogatory connotation in Doric)
  • min - Man, as in Ay ay, min.

See also


  1. Robert McColl Millar (2007) Northern and insular Scots Edinburgh University Press. p. 3
  2. Ana Deumert & Wim Vandenbussche (2003) Germanic standardizations: past to present. John Benjamins. p. 385
  3. McColl Millar. 2007. Northern and Insular Scots. Edinburgh: University Press Ltd. p. 116
  4. Drabble, Margaret (ed.) The Oxford Companion to English Literature (fifth edition, 1985)
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  6. Aitken A.J. ‘How to Pronounce Older Scots’ in ‘Bards and Makars’. Glasgow University Press 1977
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  9. Grant, William; Dixon, James Main (1921) Manual of Modern Scots. Cambridge, University Press. p.44
  10. SND:U 2 4i
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  13. Charles Murray (1920) In the Country Places, Constable & Company Limited, p.11.
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  18. The SND entry for ay has 16 citations using ay and two using
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  20. Harper (2009) p. 24


Further reading

External links