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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1952 (SND Vol. III). Includes material from the 1976 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

E, n., letter of alphabet. The fifth letter of the alphabet, now pronounced ee, ‡s.Sc. ei [i:, ‡əi] though originally [e:] (see e.g. Bnff. 1836 in Ellis E.E.P. V. 777). Also called yay [je:] (Sc. 1761 Magopico (1810)1). In Sc., e has for the most part the same uses and values as e in Eng., varying in sound, when accented, from mid front lax to high front tense and to mid mixed, when unaccented:

1. (1) Final and no longer pronounced, it represents generally an inflectional ending, and, by frequently producing an open syllable, affects the quality or quantity of the preceding vowel, e.g. ban, bane; her, here; rip, rype; dun, dune.

(2) (a) In an accented open syllable followed by a mute e, e has the sound [i:] as in Eng., e.g. bene, bere, dede, eme, fere, tene, but is frequently shortened with change of quality, esp. in em.Sc.(a).

(b) In unaccented syllables, the sound of e is reduced and can be represented in a broad transcription by [ə] but there is a tendency in Sc. to retain a slight trace of the original quality of the vowel somewhere in the range between [ɛ] and [ɪ], e.g. begunk, deval, oxter. As a result, e is occasionally written for the historical i in the ending -it of the pa.t. and pa.p. of weak verbs, e.g. cracket.

(3) When the vowel is short, and the syllable is closed, it usually has the sound [ɛ], e.g. fecht, seck, with variants [æ], esp. in s.Sc., e.g. bed, leg, [], in em.Sc.(a), e.g. ken, gless, fell (see P.L.D. p. xliii.), except before r, where it tends to [e], this sound sometimes being represented by ai, e.g. merchant, mair-; sair, ser (serve). See A, II. 2.; em.Sc.(a) retains [] in this case. This sound is found corresponding to Eng. [ɑ:] in such words as clerk, hert, sergeant.

2. e appears in combination with another vowel to indicate a diphthong: (1) ei, ey [ei, əi], e.g. fey, gey, pey; eident, gleid, and, in s.Sc., key, mei (me); (2) ie, ye [ɑe], usually in words common to Sc. and Eng., e.g. lie, pie, cried; also fye (ne.Sc. form of whey), kye.

3. e is found in various vowel digraphs: (1) ae: (i) [e: Gen.Sc., but e1: em.Sc.(a)], representing usually O.E. and O.N. ā in final syllables, e.g. blae, frae, strae, faem; (ii) [e] representing an unrounding of [ø] from O.E. ō in final syllables, now prevalent in m.Sc., e.g. dae, shae; (iii) esp. in I.Sc. representing the sound [æ] of various origin, e.g. aet, daek, fael;

(2) ea [now mostly [i:] but, in Sh., mn.Sc. (b) and em.Sc. (a) and prob. Gen.Sc. in 18th cent., [e:], and in Ags., in certain words, often in association with a front consonant, [e1:], e.g. beat, deaf, death. See P.L.D. §§ 41, 42, 88 (3), 118.1, 120, 121, 142]. This spelling, alternating with the less frequent ai, represents mostly, as in Eng., O.E. , ēa, ē, e in open syllables, e.g. ream, quean, swear, tear, threap;

(3) ee [i:], often as a variant spelling for (4) or (6) below, e.g. cleek, deel, dreech, een, pree, commonly in n.Sc. for the sound corresponding to [ø, y] in the other Sc. dialects, i.e. from O.E. ā before n; O.E. ō and Fr. u (m. and nn.Sc. only), e.g. speen, fleer, g(w)eed (this feature is also found surviving in some words in w. Per., the Central Dmf. area around Thornhill and in the coastal area from Burnmouth to Berwick-on-Tweed); peer, eese (see P.L.D. §§ 118, 121, 128, 146, 157); in Ork. for O.E., ā, e.g. heem, nee (see P.L.D. § 164.1); and in Gen.Sc. for Romance [i], e.g. eemage, feenish, leeshance, obteen, peety. See P.L.D. § 45;

(4) ei [i:], from O.E. (Anglian ē), ēa, ēo, ē in open syllables; Gen.Sc. except for conditions under 3 (2), e.g. breid, deid, deil, dreich, eik, eild, ein (eyes), heid, reid;

(5) eo, eu, where e represents the semivowel [j], e.g. deuk, leuch. eo appears in I.Sc. words derived from O.N., e.g. geo, skeo. eu derives mainly from O.E. ō, esp. before -k, -ch, e.g. beuk, eneuch, heuk, teuch, varying in pronunciation from [ju, jʌ] to [ø] according to dialect (see P.L.D. §§ 35.6, 86, 93.1, 96.1, 100.1, 121) and alternating with the spelling ui to represent [ø];

(6) ie, occurring (i) as a variant spelling of ea, ee or ei, e.g. bield, ‡diel, ‡flie (fly, n.), driech, shieling; corresponding frequently to O.E. ēo, e.g. fien(t), frien(d); (ii) finally, as a dim. or hypocoristic ending, e.g. Jockie, lassie, lintie; (iii) finally, as an adj. ending, corresponding to Eng. -y, e.g. bonnie, couthie, pawkie; the pronunciation of (ii) and (iii) varying from [i] to [e] in different areas and different conditions according to the preceding vowel and consonant;

(7) oe, usually only in final syllables of various origin, e.g. loe (love), joe (alternating with jo).

4. Phonologically, e [e, , ɛ] develops from an original a in a closed syllable before r + cons., s + cons., and some other conss., prob. by the process of lengthening to ā and thence by fronting to ai, e. See P.L.D. §§ 32, 33, 48.1; e.g. erles, erm, herm, Merch, mercat, sherp; festen, Glesca, hesp, mester; efter, epple, gether, peth. The spelling e alternates with ai in many cases, as in 3 (2). It is probable that this change was universal in earlier Sc. but has since been modified under the influence of St.Eng.

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"E n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 13 Apr 2024 <>



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