Scottish National Dictionary – History


In 1907 Sir William Craigie (the original editor of A Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue) gave a lecture in Dundee on the action necessary to involve local people in collecting ‘Scots words, ballads, legends, and traditions still current’. This proved greatly influential in the inception of SND.

Soon afterwards, the Scottish Dialects Committee was set up, with William Grant as convener, to pursue an ‘investigation into the present condition of the Scottish dialects’. Grant proposed finding correspondents in the different dialect areas who would be provided with lists of words culled from written sources and four volumes of the Transactions of the Scottish Dialects Committee (1913- 1921) containing a preliminary dictionary.

The first Editor: William Grant (1929-1946)

The Scottish National Dictionary Association (SNDA) was founded in 1929 to foster and encourage the Scots language, in particular by producing a standard dictionary of modern Scots. William Grant was the driving force behind the collection of Scots vocabulary and his persistence in the face of many obstacles ensured that the project had a solid foundation. The first fascicle of the SND was published to great acclaim in 1931.

A wide range of literary and historical sources was used by the Grant and his editorial staff in order to represent the full spectrum of Scottish vocabulary and cultural life. More ephemeral sources such as domestic memoirs, household account books, diaries, letters and the like were also read for the dictionary, as well as a wide range of local and national newspapers and magazines, which often shed light on regional vocabulary and culture. Given the fact that Scots has often been perceived as inappropriate for formal situations (including formal written text) during the period from 1700 onwards, many words and expressions that were in regular everyday use did not appear in print. In order include this rich linguistic oral heritage, field-workers collected personal quotations across the country.

The second editor: David Murison (1946-1976)

When David Murison took over as editor following William Grant’s death in 1946, he greatly increased the number and range of written sources and expanded the coverage of oral material. He improved the layout and clarity of the entries, revealing the healthy position of modern Scots usage in spite of centuries of neglect. Murison was therefore instrumental in encouraging the study of modern Scots and fostering respect for it as a language. In the 1950s, due to financial pressures, it was arranged that the dictionary should work in co-operation with the similar enterprises of the Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue and the Linguistic Survey of the University of Edinburgh. Supervisory control was now exercised by a Joint Council consisting of representatives of the Scottish universities and the Dictionaries. The SNDA continued on this basis until the project was completed in 1976 with the publication of the final part of volume 10, which included a supplement to bring the earlier volumes up to date.

The 21st century

In the early 2000s, Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd, the predecessor of Dictionaries of the Scots Language SCIO,  was awarded a Heritage Lottery Fund grant for the creation of a second supplement to SND, which brought it up to date as far as 2005. As by this time the content of the Scottish National Dictionary was available online in the Dictionaries of the Scots Language Online, the second supplement was published online only, as part of DSL Online.