Scots and English: Common Roots and Connotations

I’ve always been interested in language; in particular the hows and whys of just exactly what happened to form language into what it is today and the discussion of the Scots language the other day provoked more than just a few ideas to spring out of my head and actively turn about.

 I remember watching a documentary on the history of the English language on the history channel that I found extremely fascinating, however  at the time I was especially interested in how the French entered into the language since that happened to by my other-language-of-choice at the time. In my unsuccessful search for anything as much as a snippet to share here, I found this very interesting time-line of the evolution of the English language that begins with the Celts (it also gives several links to other sites to read about the history of English).

What I found so interesting from this lost documentary I mentioned, however, was the many diverse languages that English had borrowed from and how the origins of particular words themselves seem to give some layer to the connotations that particular words hold. For example, the distinction between house and mansion: the word ‘house’ has clear Germanic roots (the word for house in Danish is hus and in German haus) while the word ‘mansion’  clearly has Latin roots (it is very similar to the French for house, maison). House and Mansion have very different connotations—house being slightly more humble. One could argue that the majority of words in English with Germanic roots come across as slightly more humble than their Latin-rooted equivalents.  Interestingly enough, there is a similar Scots word with a latin origin as well— manse—which is a house inhabited or formerly inhabited by a minister.

These connotations also are particularly important to English poetry. In one of my early college poetry writing classes there was a discussion of the use of ‘viking words’ as the professor liked to call them. These ‘viking words’ were words that packed more punch or gave more action to a poem and the professor recommended a healthy dose of both Germanic and Latin words to make a  poem more complete. It is evident that words do carry some semblance of the culture that their derived from. I’m well aware of the similarities between Danish and English, having just returned from a semester abroad in Copenhagen. I’m also aware that the Danish are the kind of people who would prefer a house to a mansion, or at the very least would call their mansion a house.

But this choice of words in the English language based on their roots brings me back to the choice of using Scots or a mix of Scots and English in poetry. Obviously, there are connotations that words from the Scots language hold just as with words of any other language. In class, we discussed the the use of the language for humor. In fact, the idea that humor is indeed an important quality of the Scots language is quite viable. In my search for information on humor and the Scots language I came across this online copy of Charles Mackay’s The Poetry and Humor of the Scottish Language. You can read it online here:

Also, the discussion of ‘sister languages’ led me to find this diagram of a ‘language family’, namely the Indo-European language family:

From what I’ve read, Scots has retained more Germanic rooted words  than English has. I can’t help but wonder what exactly it is that gives languages particular over-all traits… and in relation to that… does English have some kind of connotation or particular attribute to it that makes it more useful for particular things… other than it’s international audience?