‘Older scots’ or ‘middle scots’?

[Continued from the Home page]

‘Middle English’ falls in between Old English (up to ca. 1100) and Early Modern English (from ca. 1475), but the earliest surviving writings in Scots date only from the 1370s: writings from this period are thus not in the ‘middle’ of anything. Linguistic historians such as A. J. Aitken accordingly labelled the period ca. 1370-1450 as ‘Early Scots’ and ca. 1450-1700 as ‘Middle Scots’. ‘Middle Scots’ can be further subdivided into Early Middle (ca. 1450-1550) and Late Middle Scots (ca. 1550-1700). Confusingly, this means that an English work of c. 1420 is in ‘Middle English’, but a Scots work of the same date (say for example Andrew of Wyntoun’s Original Chronicle) is in ‘Early Scots’. An English work of c. 1530 is in ‘Early Modern English’, but a Scots work of equivalent date (perhaps an early poem by Sir David Lyndsay) is still in ‘Middle Scots’.  Some linguistic scholars have proposed alternative terminology or period-divisions, but since there is no general concensus on them, the simplest solution is to use ‘Older Scots’ for the whole period.