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I’m reading a book, The Eagle Cliff, written in 1894, set in the western isles of Scotland. The author, R. M. Ballantyne, tends toward 19th century realism. Characters’ dialogue is written (and spelled) in such a way as to mimic their manner of speech. There are some characters who speak "common" english as it might be spoken in London. These characters’ dialogue is written (almost—some words uncommon in my area are employed, but no unorthodox abbreviations or gross misspellings) just as I would write it in America. Others, speak with some flavor of scottish accent, also using some words that might be considered “scottish english.”

Here's an example:

“Oo ay, we’re somewhere’s wast’ard o’ the Lewis. But whether wast, nor’-wast, or sooth-wast, I could not say preceesely. The nicht, ye see, wass uncommon dark, an’ when the fog came doon i’ the mornin’, I could na’ feel sure we had keep it the richt coorse, for the currents hereaboots are strang. But we’ll see whan it comes clear.”

I can discern nearly all of the words spoken this way. There is one word that I cannot really tell what it means, and I’m not sure if it’s misspelled to reflect how it was pronounced, or if the spelling indicates something about it's meaning, or perhaps both.

what-e-ver

It is used almost exclusively at the end of a sentence, as if it were some sort of interjection or word with a multiplicity (or vagueness) of meaning. It is uttered by some (Scottish) seamen, who are prone to a kind of sing-songy speech, as well as unsophisticated villagers.

Here are some examples (emphasis added):

“That's true, sir, but we’ll be none the worse o’ the poy, what-e-ver.” (ch 3)

“Yonder iss the end o’ yer bonnet stickin’ oot o’ his pooch, what-e-ver,” said Donald. (ch 9)

“Me preach!” exclaimed the laird; “I never did such a thing in my life.”
“Maype you'll read a chapter, what-e-ver,” persisted the elder. (ch 11)

I cannot grasp its meaning (or purpose) in these sentences. I was unable to find a “scottish english” lexicon. Can anyone tell me what “modern” word this refers to or what its meaning might be?

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My copy of the 1985 edition of the Chambers Concise Scots Dictionary lists — in addition to the standard English adjectival meaning — the Orkney and Highland adverbial senses of in any case, however, nevertheless, under any circumstances.

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Pretty much the sense it has in standard British English. This is standard English being spoken, with an attempt to give a Western Isles accent. In my experience though Western Isles speakers have very soft accents, and speak very clear English, because their linguistic base was originally Scottish Gaelic (still is for many). Scots speakers on the other hand can be quite distinct from Standard English. Words like nicht, an (for and), etc, are Scots. But I wouldn't expect to find Scots speakers in the Western Isles, or much in the northern highlands. Scots is the original language of lowland Scotland.

  • nicht is actually from Anglo-Saxon niht (night), not from the Gaelic. – TRomano Nov 9 '14 at 11:45
  • Well Scots is an Anglo-Saxon language, descendeded from Northumbrian Old English, while Standard English descends largely from Mercian Old English. – williamp Nov 25 '14 at 19:49

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