British languages

I read this fabulous piece of writing today and thought some of you might like it. It’s about Gaelic rather than Welsh (although Welsh gets a mention…), but I think the sentiment is probably the same for both languages:


I admit I gave up when it went into broad Scots and never reached Gaelic, but I knew ‘outwith’ and took it to mean ‘outside’. I realise it means more. Also, I have another related question… well, related in that it is, where do our words come from?
Broga, frog, brought to my attention by @stella, clearly might easily, if female, become y froga. So, did the English get ‘frog’ from us, or we from them???

It does look an interesting read, but I’m afraid I have up on the Scots too - maybe not the best way of retaining readers!

I heard the word “outwith” for the first time a few weeks ago in an email from a Welsh speaker who has also lived in Scotland. I wonder which influence that was… (At the time I think I put it down to blurry eyed late night email writing - whoops! :blush:)

Broga, frog, brought to my attention by @stella, clearly might easily, if female, become y froga. So, did the English get ‘frog’ from us, or we from them???

Perhaps neither - perhaps both languages got it from a common ancestor?

It seems to have got into both languages from a common Indoeuropean root that meant “to jump”- so a frog’s a jumper:)
It’s also present in the Russian word “прыгать” (prygat’ - to jump).
Oh, I love etymology - it shows that we all have so much in common:)

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Calling @Millie. She might already investigated that and could just give us some explanation or … if not, this might be another theme for her Glossologics blog article.

Interesting discussion.

I haven’t written about ‘frog’, but I do know it was ‘frogga’ in Old English - I have a quote lined up from the Homilies of Aelfric to include in another post: He afylde eal heora land mid froggum - he filled the land up with frogs.

Aelfric dates to around CE 990, and I would be very surprised if the word had come from Welsh. German has Frosch, Dutch has something similar.

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(kik)vors :smiley:

It does go back to (mostly) English after you get past the chunk of Gaelic.

So did I, and of course, the word “without” used to be used in English English to mean exactly the same thing as “outwith”, e.g. there is a parish near my town called “St. Helen Without”, so called because it was outside the town (of Abingdon). Also e.g.

There is a green hill far away,
Without a city wall,
Where the dear Lord was crucified,
Who died to save us all.
Cecil Frances Alexander, 1818-1895

It doesn’t mean the hill doesn’t have a city wall, but that it is outside the city wall. :slight_smile:

We don’t know the qualifications of the tutor marking the dissertation mentioned, but if he ever studied English at a British university, he should certainly have come across “outwith” and many other Scotticisms.

It’s an interesting and entertaining article, but there are one or two questionable statements in it. such as the one about Pictish: no one really knows what this was like, but it seems much more likely it was a Brittonic language (i.e. like Welsh, Cumbric, Cornish and Breton) and not like Gaelic, which came from Ireland, with the Gaels.

Also these paragraphs:

Twenty years ago the Gael broke up with me, and I broke up with Gàidhlig, and I didn’t think much more about it in the intervening years whilst I worked to acquire Polish, Italian, and Japanese. I always knew I’d wanted to raise my children bilingually and after marrying another monoglot speaker of the now-globally-dominant English, I had optimistically pinned my hopes on working really hard to brush up my French.

Turns out it’s not as easy as that. Those of you who are linguists will already know this, but I discovered that unless you are fully ‘immersed’ in a language, a child (or to a lesser extent, an adult) cannot absorb the grammatical structures or enough vocabulary to ever be able to speak the language beyond the level of a three year old. That was about the level of my French, after learning it for four years at high school and dipping in and out of the language for 25 years hence.

That’s no problem, if you have a native French, Mandarin or Arabic speaker at home, but useless if you’re both speakers of English. The dominance of English is such that it stands firm in the way of being able to achieve immersion in just about any other place in the world (Sadly, if your French is as ‘horrible’ as mine, in France you will only ever be addressed in English no matter how hard you try)

Well, I guess we know what she is getting at, but there is a lot that one can do short of full immersion, certainly to get past the level of a three-year-old. And there are certainly strategies that one can adopt to try to ensure that “you will only ever be addressed in English no matter how hard you try”.

There is also “in with”, as in Dylan’s Positively 4th Street: “I used to be among the crowd you’re in with”, that was probably some poetic licence at work - but I just found Chaucer (thanks, Google): This purse hath she inwith her bosom hid.

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Ah - yes - I didn’t realise until this year that the word ‘outwith’ wasn’t a ‘proper’ word until someone took me up on it. I then looked into it and saw that it was a Scottish thing. I’m Welsh but went to university in Scotland and lived there for 14 years. Funnily enough, I never questioned the word ‘outwith’ when I moved to Scotland when I was 18. I’d never received English-medium education before that point, so ‘outwith’ was just another new word to absorb, and I’ve been using it ever since.


“the people of the lowlands probably just absorbed the tongue of the Gàidhealtachd, and certainly had spoken the Gàidhlig tongue for hundreds of years if not more” - is that totally correct? The lowlands (a’ Ghalldachd) south of the Firth of Forth spoke a language close to Welsh (Stratchclyde, Gododdin), I always thought. Anyway, thanks for sharing this interesting article - language and cultural identity are sometimes a sad combination

The whole article is full of sentimentalism and wishful thinking. The idea that one language is somehow more suited to a certain geography than another is just plain silly. And it does the whole “100 words for rain” myth, too.

Certainly, for a period from around the withdrawal of the legions until the late middle ages, Gaelic expanded from the original Scottish settlement in the far west across much of Pictland (Except the Norse areas of the far north) and the British kingdom of Strathclyde. It didn’t intrude much on the Northumbrian (i’e Anglo-Saxon) eastern coastal area south of Edinburgh, and it was the culture of this latter region that gradually expanded across much of the lowlands from the end of the Middle Ages, bringing with it the Scots language. Thus, the history of Scotland is one of slow but pretty constant flux, and it is plain ridiculous to consider one language to be a kind of default for the whole country.

I suspect that the writer is looking for something within themselves - a bit of Scottishness that they think is missing, and they think they will find it by “re”-connecting with the Gaelic.

Nevertheless, I’m pretty sure that they’ll find something, and it looks like they already are, and I’m certain that it will be valuable and will change their life in a profoundly positive way, and that’s great, and there are plenty of people on here (including me) who could tell similar stories. But whether what they find is what they thought they were searching for, I’m less certain.


Oh dear, I didn’t read that far, or glossed so much, I missed it!! But anyway, surely the arrival of Irish Gaelic was with the Dalriada which was here in mid-Argyl? I certainly thought Pictish was ‘original British’ and from the same root as Cymraeg. Y Gododdin certainly spoke something I can understand, or could back when I was reading Aneurin and Taliesin.
To @louis I certainly have said ‘in with’, meaning . in effect, ‘in with the in crowd’!!

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Hang on a moment - yes to the always-over-cooked stuff about a hundred words for rain or snow or whatever, but if two languages are spoken in two very different landscapes, they’re clearly going to do different descriptive jobs, aren’t they? For example, there’s at least one Aboriginal language where they have no words for ‘left’ or ‘right’, they just always use points of the compass - that’s a very different kind of interaction with the landscape to what we’re used to…

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That’s a fair enough point, but firstly by ‘a certain geography’ I meant ‘fixed’ in the sense of ‘shared’. Of course Gaelic is going to be more comfortable describing rain-sodden moorland than an Australian desert language, but then so is Scots. And the Aboriginal language to which you refer may be different (and fascinating, and many other things) at describing its environment, but better than the Aboriginal language next door?

I think that’s the sound of goalposts being dragged off the park to an entirely different pitch…:wink:

I suspect I’d be inclined to agree that two languages that have lived side-by-side for a long time are likely to have more points in common than otherwise… :sunny:

Considering that the original discussion was about Gaelic and Scots, I think that’s a little bit unfair… :wink:

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Mind you, plenty of indo-European languages use words derived from “left” and “right” for north and south (Welsh being one of the most obvious, but they are hidden in the etymology there in a lot of them. I’m sure there’s a thread or two round here discussing that…)

Other way round of course, so just pointing it out out of interest!

Edit - Ah, here we are for anyone interested…

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And apparently (according to the GPC) “broga” does come from the English. In fact, “ffroga” is recorded in Welsh before “broga”.

The “ff” to “b” change is a bit of an odd one (“f” to “b” or “m” is perfectly understandable and common)* but “ff” seems to be a bit of a wild card sometimes! (Ffebruar to chwefror etc!)

  • that is, the sound represented in Welsh by “f”, and similarly with “ff”.s
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