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The Scottish Highlands & Lowlands

Map of Scottish Highlands and Lowlands

What is a Scottish Highlander?

You would assume that someone called a Scottish Highlander lives in mountainous or at least hilly terrain of Scotland. Right! However…

When I was at university one of my lecturers told a story about his arrival at the University of Edinburgh. He was born and brought up on a small island in the Western Isles which is flat but fertile. No bump in the landscape is higher than 140 metres (460 ft) above sea level. He spoke with an Edinburgh man who asked him if he were a Highlander and my lecturer said yes. 

Yes? So it seems there is something more to the definition than altitude. Most of the people there speak Gaelic (Gàidhlig) which is a Celtic language. The stranger really asked my lecturer if he spoke Gaelic. He is a native speaker of Scottish Gaelic. The language is the most important part of the definition. 

And a Lowlander speaks a language now called Broad Scots or Lowland Scots. Into the 1600s, this language was called Inglis, Inglisch, Inglys, Ynglis, etc. Spelling was not fixed and firm. Most Scots today speak Scots English, that is, a fairly standard English with some words used in Scotland, and considered archaic in the south of England. For example the song ‘D’ ye ken John Peel’ was written in the north of England about 1824 about an Englishman who loved to hunt. ‘Ken’, meaning know, is used in the Lowlands of Scotland as well.

The Highlands, the high bits and the low, are the north and west of Scotland where Gaelic was commonly spoken into the 20th century. In 1100 or so, the country was mostly Gaelic-speaking except for the Northern Isles (Orkney & Shetland) and perhaps the northeastern part of Caithness as well as southeastern Scotland (Lothian). Norse was spoken in the north and Inglish in the southeast. 

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