Doric dialect (Scotland)

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Doric, the popular name for Mid Northern Scots[1] or Northeast Scots,[2] refers to the dialects of Scots 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 Sparta, a more rural area, 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:

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


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[edit]

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

Recent developments[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

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]

See also[edit]


  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)
  5. ^ Billy Kay (2006). Scots: The Mither Tongue (New ed.). Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing. ISBN 1845960521. 
  6. ^ Aitken A.J. ‘How to Pronounce Older Scots’ in ‘Bards and Makars’. Glasgow University Press 1977
  7. ^ "SND:A 2 (2)". Retrieved 2010-11-08. 
  8. ^ "SND W 6". Retrieved 2010-11-08. 
  9. ^ Grant, William; Dixon, James Main (1921) Manual of Modern Scots. Cambridge, University Press. p.44
  10. ^ SND:U 2 4i
  11. ^ Henderson, John (1996). "Doric Dialects and Doric Poets of North-East Scotland". Electric Scotland. Retrieved 2012-07-26. 
  12. ^ "Display KIST Information Example". Retrieved 2010-11-08. 
  13. ^ Charles Murray (1920) In the Country Places, Constable & Company Limited, p.11.
  14. ^ "Hotel lands uplifting Doric voice". London: BBC News. 2006-06-16. Retrieved 2009-06-24. 
  15. ^ "Doric oath as new MSPs sworn in". London: BBC News. 2006-04-19. Retrieved 2009-06-24. 
  16. ^ "Say What? How Kevin McKidd Brought Scotland to 'Brave'". Retrieved 2012-11-15. 
  17. ^ "BBC News - Bible's New Testament translated into Doric by Gordon Hay". 2011-02-28. Retrieved 2012-08-30. 
  18. ^ The SND entry for ay has 16 citations using ay and two using
  19. ^ "Aye, AY, Ey - region form". Retrieved 2012-11-15. 
  20. ^ Harper (2009) p. 24


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]