For anyone wanting to comprehend the weird dialectical leanings of an Irvine Welsh novel (and no, I’m not talking Marxism), let alone Robert Burns, some kind of primer in the Scottish variant of English might be welcome. Luckily, the Scots Language Centre and Scottish publisher DC Thomson (based in my old home town of Dundee) have come to the rescue with the Oor Wullie site, a guide “tae Scots language” designed to teach the unique Caledonian version of English with the help of the iconic Scottish cartoon character Oor Wullie.

According to the Wikipedia definition, Scots “is the Germanic language variety spoken in Lowland Scotland and parts of Ulster … It is sometimes called Lowland Scots to distinguish it from Scottish Gaelic, the Celtic language.” That said, there is also Scottish English, which is the educated variant of the tongue often spoken with an equally pronounced brogue or burr, and is the language of the Records of the Parliaments of Scotland and other significant writings of the period. There has also been an evolution from Early Scots, ” virtually indistinguishable from early Northumbrian Middle English,” through Middle Scots, to Modern Scots. So the exact status of Scots, and how far it is the true autochthonous version of Scottish English, is still hotly debated. That said, for those who want to ken it, and get their lugs around such fantastic words as boggin (adj.: dirty, disgusting, smelly, stinking),  halliracket (adj.: noisy, wild, crazy), and shoogle (vb.: sway, move unsteadily; to rock, wobble, swing), it’s all there for yz.

Oor Wullie (full name: William MacCallum) has been appearing agelessly in print since 1936, with his spiky hair and dungarees apparently fitting every change in style and fashion since. For Scots, he’s probably as instantly recognizable a national symbol as the kilt, and one of the best standard-bearers to carry the message of the Scots language. The whole site is structured as an educational resource, with materials for teachers and parents. So will ye nae tek a quick keek at the sait, ye bampot? Ye ken it maiks sense…


  1. Fans of Scots dialect writing may also enjoy the ‘Wee McGregor’ books by JJ Bell, and the Para Handy books by Neil Munro, both of which I had the pleasure of scanning and proofreading for Gutenberg Australia.

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