How Scandinavian is Scotland?

Published 22nd June 2012
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Scottish translation - Lingua TranslationsThe Scottish government has reportedly been exploring the possibility of closer links with Scandinavia and the Nordic nation.

311 miles, as the crow flies across the North Sea, separate Aberdeen on the North East coast of Scotland from Egersund on the South West coastline of Norway.

Yet that could become much less of a divide if political leaders have their way.

According to media reports, strategy experts within the Scottish National Party (SNP) are looking to divert Scotland’s focus away from the UK and towards the Nordic countries if a referendum on independence is passed.

This has got us thinking. Just how Scandinavian is Scotland and its culture, and are there many similarities already in existence, particularly in terms of language?

After some research into this we found that commonly used Scottish words such as bairn (meaning child), kilt (from the verb kjalta, meaning ‘to fold’), midden (dump) and muckle (large) are amongst many which are derived from Old Norse. Place names like Dingwall, Lerwick, Tinwald and Wick  all trace their origins and etymology back to Scandinavia too.

Scotland and the Nordic nations share a Protestant tradition, with folklore and storytelling commonplace. Some would argue that such cultural similarities are due simply to their proximity within north west Europe.

However, Thomas W. Stewart, Jr. of the Truman State University wrote the following when looking at lexical imposition: ‘A population of Norse settlers in the Northern and Western Isles of Scotland eventually shifted from Old Norse to the contemporary Gaelic of the established community. Although little direct evidence of the sociolinguistic conditions of the contact situation exists, an unusual sound pattern found among the words transferred from Old Norse into Scottish Gaelic suggests that an unexpectedly large number of words beginning with /s/+ [stop] clusters were transferred under Norse-speaker agency (via imposition) rather than under Gaelic-speaker agency (via borrowing).’

Jo Grimond, former Liberal MP for Orkney and Shetland, was famously asked to give the name of his nearest railway station on a parliamentary expenses form, and wrote ‘Bergen, Norway’.

For centuries there were indeed political links across the North Sea. The first Viking raid on Iona is thought to have taken part in 794AD, and much of the Hebrides and Caithness would come under Norse rule. Orkney and Shetland continued to be earldoms under Norway until 1468.

This Norse settlement resulted in the Scandinavian-derived Norn language being spoken on Orkney and Shetland until the 18th Century, and influencing the Shetlandic and Orcadian dialects to this day. However, it did not, in the main, affect the central belt – i.e. the most populous, culturally dominant part of the country.

Unsurprisingly, many Scots still strongly identify with their Gaelic heritage, with government estimates suggesting around a third of Glasgow’s population has family ties with Ireland.

Gauging just how much the language of the viking and Gaelic settlers has impacted upon Scotland linguistically is difficult, and there have been many studies and much research into this area. Certainly, if the SNP get their wish to break away from the United Kingdom union, then it is within the realms of possibility that the language of the Scots could take on a fresh, Scandinavian twist in the future.

Lingua Translations provide Scottish Gaelic translation services by professional linguists and native speakers. For more information, or to find out how Lingua Translations can help you or your business to translate into/from Scottish Gaelic, simply call +44 (0)1792 469990 or email



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