What Languages do People Speak in Scotland?

English is the most commonly spoken language in Scotland, and indigenous languages are minority languages.

Scotland, which lies to the north of England, is part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In 1607, the Scottish king, James VI (of the King James Bible) inherited the throne of England and moved his capital to London. Scotland and England then entered a union, and a hundred years later, in 1707, officially became The United Kingdom. English replaced indigenous Scottish languages – such as Scots Gaelic and Pictish – and today is the dominant language of Scotland. However, nationalism among the Scottish people has led to a resurgence of the indigenous languages.

In 1997, the Scottish people voted to reinstate a Scottish parliament, which had been absent since Scotland and England officially joined in 1707. This new parliament was convened 700 years after the defeat of the English by William Wallace at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. Because of the increased national fervor that came with the Wallace anniversary, efforts to revive the use of indigenous Scottish languages have made them more visible. For example, many traffic and railway signs are written in both English and Scots.

English, the Most Widely Spoken Language in Scotland

English is spoken by 99% of Scottish citizens. However, the Scottish dialect of English is distinct from that of England and other English-speaking countries, as it was somewhat influenced by Gaelic; additionally, may Scots, particularly those of lower classes and in the Highlands, speak English with a heavy accent, making it difficult for foreigners to understand.

Despite the differences in dialect, the written version of English is generally the same as the standard English spoken in the rest of the British Isles. However, its vocabulary is influenced by Lowland Scots. All government communique are issued in English, as well as Scots and Scottish Gaelic, which are all recognized as officials languages.

Origin of Native Languages Spoken in Scotland

The indigenous languages of Scotland derive primarily from the Germanic and Celtic language families. English developed from the Germanic languages, as a result of the Saxons that came to the British Isles during the ninth and tenth centuries. Scots is also considered to be a Germanic language, as it developed the influence of Germanic tribes, although indirectly via contact with Scandinavians and others from Nordic Europe. Norn, an extinct language that was spoken in the Hebrides, is also Germanic, having developed from Old Norse, and was heavily influenced by the Scandinavians.

The Celtic languages consist of two families: Brittonic and Goidelic. These languages are more indigenous to Scotland than the Germanic languages, as they existed in the area before the expansion of the Roman Empire into the British Isles. They are considered to be part of the Indo-European language family. Some Celtic dialects, such as Galwegian Gaelic, are now extinct.

Scots Language

Scots is an indigenous language that is recognized by the government as an official language of Scotland. Scots is a Germanic language and was once considered to be a distinct dialect of English. It developed from immigration from Scandinavia during the 1300s and 1400s and was heavily influenced by Latin, Parisian French, Norman, Middle Low German, and Dutch. It was commonly spoken in the Lowlands.

There are several different dialects of Scots that are currently spoken, none of which is considered “official.” The various dialects depend on the region and include Northern Scots, Insular Scots, Southern Scots, and Central Scots. There is also a Jewish hybrid, Scots-Yiddish.

Today, 30% of Scots speak or understand Scots to some degree. Sixty-four percent of Scottish adults do not consider Scots to be a distinct language but rather an ancient version of English. This preference may be due to increased nationalism, as viewing modern standard English as a derivative of Scots helps to legitimize it further.

Scottish Gaelic

Scottish Gaelic is a Celtic language that derives from the Goidelic branch. It is similar to Irish Gaelic, as both are derived from Middle Irish. Scottish Gaelic is considered to be an indigenous language according to the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. The influence of Scottish Gaelic can be seen in much of the country’s nomenclature, as the names of many cities derive from Gaelic terms. For example, the town of Balerno is so named because “baile” is Gaelic for “town.” Although only 1% of Scotland’s population speak Scottish Gaelic, today, there are efforts to revive the use of Scottish Gaelic, particularly among young people.

Immigrant Languages Spoken in Scotland

The United Kingdom is home to a large number of immigrants, many from other European countries but also from other parts of the world. The main immigrant languages include Polish, Italian, Chinese, and Urdu.

Main Foreign Languages of Scotland

Additionally, the primary foreign languages in Scotland are European. They include French, German, Spanish, Italian, and many more.


“United Kingdom.” CIA World Factbook.

“Scotland.” Wikipedia. “Languages of Scotland.” Wikipedia.

Primary Languages

Other Languages