Highland English

Not to be confused with Scottish Gaelic or Scots language.

Highland English or Highland and Island English[1] is the variety of Scottish English spoken by many in the Scottish Highlands and the Hebrides. It is more strongly influenced by Gaelic than other forms of Scottish English.[2][3]



The grammatical influence of Gaelic syntax is most apparent with verbal constructions, as Scottish Gaelic uses the verb to be with the active participle of the verb to indicate a continuous action as in English, but also uses this construction for iterative meanings; therefore "I go to Stornoway on Mondays" becomes "I am going to Stornoway on Mondays". Occasionally older speakers use -ing constructions where Standard English would use a simple verb form, example "I'm seeing you!" meaning "I can see you!". The past tense in Highland English may use the verb to be followed by "after" followed by the participle: "I am after buying a newspaper" to mean "I have [just] bought a newspaper", although this construction is more common in Irish English. Some speakers use the simple past in situations where standard English would require "have" plus verb constructions, for example "France? I was never there" rather than "I have never been there".

The diminutive -ag is sometimes added to words and names, and is a direct lift from Gaelic, e.g. Johnag, Jeanag. It is still used in Caithness as well. A great variety of distinctive female names are formed using the -ina suffix appended to male names, examples: Murdina ( < Murdo), Dolina, Calumina, Angusina, and Neilina.

Relationship to other languages

Discourse markers taken directly from Gaelic are used habitually by some speakers in English, such as ending a narrative with "S(h)in a(g)ad-s' e" or "Sin agad e" (trans. "there you have it" = Std Eng. "So there you are/so that's it"), or ending a conversation with "Right, ma-thà" or "Okay ma-thà" /ma haː/ meaning "then".

Speakers of Highland English, particularly those from areas which remain strongly Gaelic or have a more recent Gaelic speaking history, are often mistaken as being Irish by some non-Highland Scots; presumably as a result of the shared Gaelic influence upon the English of both areas. Highland English and Hiberno-English share a similar accent which is quite different from that of the English spoken in Lowland areas of Scotland.


A list of words that appear in Highland English, although these are sometimes shared with Scottish English in general, as well as Lowland Scots, and to other areas where Highlanders have emigrated in large numbers.

See also

Other English dialects heavily influenced by Celtic languages

Notes and references

  1. Trudgill, Peter (1984). Language in the British Isles. Cambridge University Press. p. 152. ISBN 978-0-521-28409-7
  2. Jones, Charles (1997). The Edinburgh History of the Scots Language. Edinburgh University Press. pp. 566–567. ISBN 978-0-7486-0754-9.
  3. McMahon, April M. S. (2000). Lexical Phonology and the History of English. Cambridge University Press. p. 142. ISBN 978-0-521-47280-7.
  4. McArthur, Tom (1998). The English Languages. Cambridge University Press. p. 172. ISBN 978-0-521-48582-1
  5. Filppula, Markku et al. (2008). English and Celtic in Contact. Routledge. p. 206. ISBN 978-0-415-26602-4
  6. Robert Eklund (2008): Pulmonic ingressive phonation: Diachronic and synchronic characteristics, distribution and function in animal and human sound production and in human speech, Journal of the International Phonetic Association, vol. 38, no. 3, pp. 235–324.
  7. The Gaelic Gasp* and its North Atlantic Cousins, Eleanor Josette Thom, A study of Ingressive Pulmonic Speech in Scotland. A dissertation submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the MA in Linguistics, University College London. September 2005
  8. Trudgill, Peter (1984). Language in the British Isles. Cambridge University Press. p. 321. ISBN 978-0-521-28409-7
  9. Wells, John Christopher (1982). Accents of English 2 : The British Isles Cambridge University Press. p. 412. ISBN 978-0-521-28540-7
  10. Watson (2003) p. 11.
  11. Jedrej and Nuttal (1996) p. 1617.
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