Unit 17: Grammar


What is grammar? One way to think about it, is as a set of general guidelines within a speech community, which determine the order words go in and how they are changed to show things like singular and plural – or past and present. As with vocabulary and pronunciation, grammar is not set in stone but constantly changing.

Many languages have formal prescriptive grammar books, which give rise to notions of right and wrong. Another effect of these prescriptive grammar books is to “freeze” the grammar of a language at a given moment in time. Scots being a non-standard language does not have prescriptive grammar books and so is not fixed in such a way.

Thus, a mix of historical forms and innovations continues to give rise to regional variations, which have been explored in unit 10 on Dialect Diversity. This grammar unit looks at some of the ways in which Scots language grammar differs from English grammar and highlights variations within Scots. Some grammatical terms are used but their meaning should be clear from the context and examples.

You will notice that this unit works slightly differently from other units in this course. You will be introduced to a range of grammatical features with relevant examples rather than read an essay-style description of grammatical developments. In addition, you will work hands-on with a variety of examples.

The unit provides you with the vocabulary to think about and discuss Scots, English and other Modern languages in that it gives you the grounding to undertake further exploration and discover new aspects of the language. In addition, the approach taken in this unit is to work with grammar in spoken and written Scots, which is why there will be plenty of opportunities for you to listen to Scots and speak it, too.

Furthermore, you will be coming across a range of grammatical terms in this unit. In case you are not familiar with any of them, refer to the Oxford English Dictionary’s Glossary of grammatical terms [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

Important details to take notes on throughout this unit:

  • survivals from Old English or Middle English
  • the ways in which the grammar continues to change
  • regional variation in grammar
  • variation even in a single speaker.

Activity 1

Before commencing your study of this unit, you may wish to jot down some thoughts on the important details we suggest you take notes on throughout this unit. You could write down what you already know about each of these points, as well as any assumption or question you might have.

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17. Introductory handsel