Tracing L-vocalisation in early Scots

  • Benjamin Molineaux
  • Joanna Kopaczyk
  • Warren Maguire
  • Rhona Alcorn
  • Vasilios Karaiskos
  • Bettelou Los


This paper provides novel evidence for the frequency and spatio-temporal distribution of the earliest instances of Scots L-vocalisation. This so-called “characteristic Scots change” (McClure 1994: 48) entails the loss of coda-/l/ following back vowels, with concomitant vocalic lengthening or diphthongisation (e.g. OE healf > OSc hawff; OE bolster > OSc bouster; OE full > OSc fow, cf. Johnston 1997: 90). Using data from the Linguistic Atlas of Older Scots (LAOS), spanning 1380-1500, we reassess the claims for the emergence of L-vocalisation in the early 15th century (Aitken & Macafee 2002: 101-4) and for its completion by the beginning of the 16th (cf. Stuart-Smith et al. 2006, Bann & Corbett, 2015). Based on attestations of <l>-less forms and reverse spellings, we map the spread of <l>-loss over time and space. Emphasis is placed on the relative chronologies and lexical and geographic distributions of the change in different phonological contexts, including morpheme-final, pre-labial, pre-velar and (more lexically sporadic) pre-alveolar. Particular attention is also paid to the under-explored /l/~Ø alternation in borrowed items from (Norman) French (cf. realme~reaume ‘realm’) and their potential influence on the development of coda-/l/ in Scots. The results show low-level presence of the phenomenon throughout our corpus, but no signs of a categorical change in any of the target contexts.