Background and history

Language use in Scotland in the modern period (conventionally dated from 1700) can be described as a continuum with Standard English at one end, and social and regional varieties of Broad Scots at the other. Writers vary their performance along that continuum, to a greater or lesser extent, depending on their social background and the context of writing. At one end of the continuum, writers adhere to the conventions of written English, which entered the final phase of its standardisation in the 18th century. At the other end, writers drew upon earlier written tradition and contemporary spoken Scots to produce the poetry and fiction of the ‘Vernacular Revival’ and its aftermath. It is generally understood that out of the interaction between Broad Scots and written Standard English, the hybrid prestige variety of today’s Scottish English emerged.

However, there has been comparatively little study of how this happened, beyond some detailed analysis of the evidence of spelling reformers of the 18th century, mainly in relation to changes in pronunciation of the period. By creating a searchable digital archive of Scottish writing from this key period, we lay the foundations for a new account of language development in Scotland. Initial research using this resource focuses on the vexed issue of spelling variation.

In comparison with the period post-1700, the Older Scots period (1375-1700) is well-served, with studies of Anglicization during this period supported by the Helsinki Corpus of Older Scots, and the ongoing development of various sub-corpora of correspondence in Older Scots. The CMSW project breaks new ground by filling the chronological gap between the HCOS and the SCOTS resources, thus making available to scholars and others a complete historical record of a major language variety whose development parallels and interacts with Standard English.