The origins of owld in Scots

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The usual development of OE [ɑld] in words such as old in Scots is to auld, reflecting the development of this sequence in northern dialects more generally. But in some Scots dialects other pronunciations of these words, reminiscent of dialects of English south of the Ribble-Humber Line, are found. These forms, of the type owld, are found across Lowland Scotland,with particular concentrations in the far north and south-west. Origins in Irish English and English in England have been suggested for this feature of Scots but these hypotheses have not been explored. Aitken & Macafee (2002: 61-2) instead argue for an endogenous origin of both auld and owld, but this proposed double endogenous development of OE [ɑld] is problematic in a number of ways. In this paper, I examine the history of these developments in Scots in comparison to their development in dialects of English in England and Ireland. The lack of evidence for the owld development in Older Scots suggests that these forms are of relatively recent origin. Crucially, the Eighteenth-Century English Phonology (ECEP) database reveals that the owld pronunciations were in fact a feature of early forms of Standard English.Furthermore, several characteristic features of Irish English have spread into south-west Scotland, and the distribution of owld forms in the area fits this pattern. Thus Scots forms such as owld are not the result of endogenous development, but have their origin in English, in the case of south-west Scotland at least in part from Irish English, and elsewhere in Scotland from early forms of Standard English. These owld forms have been ‘localised’ and reinterpreted as‘Scots’, alongside or replacing original auld. The analysis of the origins of this feature highlights not only the role of contact with varieties of English in the development of Scots,but also the importance of sources such as the ECEP database for understanding the historical phonology of Scots and English
Original languageEnglish
JournalEnglish Language and Linguistics
Early online date5 May 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 5 May 2020


  • Early Modern English
  • localisation
  • phonology
  • Scottish Standard English
  • Scots


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