The language of William Dunbar: Middle Scots or Early Modern Scots?

Joanna Kopaczyk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper provides linguistic arguments for a new periodisation of the Scots language where adequate space for the Renaissance, or the early modern period, would be created. In his search for the definition of the ‘middle’ period in Germanic languages, Roger Lass (2000) selected a range of linguistic features whose absence or presence would testify to a specific degree of archaism in the language of a given author, with special attention paid to Middle English poetry. This paper uses the same methodology to establish whether the language of William Dunbar warrants the label ‘middle’, which is traditionally applied to his writing, or perhaps a less anachronistic designation would be appropriate. A series of linguistic tests (phonological and morphological) proves that the language used in Dunbar’s poetry at the beginning of the sixteenth century does not qualify as a ‘middle’ stage in the history of a Germanic language. It is argued that, if one wants to achieve coherence with other Germanic periodisations on linguistic grounds, one should treat William Dunbar’s language as early modern Scots.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-41
JournalEuropean Journal of English Studies
Issue number1
Early online date25 Mar 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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