Standardising variety in the British Isles: administration, etymologies and patterns in 16 th -century Scots and English

Joanna Bugaj (University of Leeds/Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań)

Lexical differences between Scots and English in official or specialised types of discourse (e.g. law, administration) are often quoted in the discussion of the dubious status of Scots as a 'variety' or 'dialect' of English. The roots of this discrepancy can be traced back to the linguistic situation in the British Isles at the turn of the 15 th and 16 th century, which indeed has no later parallels. This is the last moment in which in two separate kingdoms of Scotland and England two different, though related, languages are on their way towards standardisation (Devitt 1989, Bugaj 2004). One of the criteria for a standard, as outlined by Haugen (1966), would be maximal variation in function, which both the English and Scots of the period seem to exhibit in a comparable degree. They are both used, for instance, in specialised discourses, one of them being the discourse of administration.

Administrative texts can be placed under an overarching term: legal language. Among other features, [1] the special nature of legal language is also reflected in the etymological background of its lexicon. In this paper I am going to investigate the etymologies of late medieval/early modern terminology in Scots and English administrative records (acts of parliament, burgh records, etc.).

Following earlier research on discourse-specific vocabulary in Scots texts (Bugaj 2005), I am going to broaden the database and pay attention to differences and similarities between Scots and English on the basis of the material from the Helsinki corpora (HC and HCOS). It is true that vocabulary choices in legal discourse may have been motivated by similar factors in both late medieval Scotland and in contemporary England. The borrowing strategies and sources, however, did not have to be similar at all. Today's differences between Scottish and English legal terminology can be traced back to that situation. The most important extralinguistic factors which would account for lexical differences are: the extent and form of foreign contacts, mostly with France, and the establishment of Latin as the traditional source of legal terminology, going back to classical rhetoric. The present paper is therefore going to address the issue of the extent of Romance influence on administrative text types in Scotland and England.


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