Sunday, August 7, 2011

Separated by a Common Language. Truly.

Of all the accents and speech patterns from Great Britain, by far the most difficult for the American ear to pick up is surely Scots.

English and Scots are "sister languages" they say (or so I read) in that they started out more or less together but went their separate ways over the years. That means that some words are exactly the same; some words are a little different; and some words are totally and completely alien-sounding.

An American listening to Scots, or someone speaking English with a Scots accent, is never quite up to speed. It SOUNDS like the person is speaking English, but... no. Not the kind of English (most) Americans can pick up without a lot of repetition. In fact, I think you have to live in the region for a while to start picking it up.

To make matters worse, there are variations in words and speech patterns all over Scotland. Edinburgh is different than Glasgow and Southwest is definitely different from Shetland or Orkney. Here is a short example from Caithness. This you will hear in Dounreay and John o' Groats. Try to pick it up.

Here's Edinburgh. I got this pretty easily, although it took me a while to pick up the father's trade of "joiner." At least I think that's what's being said.

Here's Glasgow (1) and Glasgow (2). I couldn't pick this up at all. I felt I was basically listening to English... and yet...

Speaking Scots is NOT the same as speaking English with a Scots accent, though.


  1. Glasgow 1 is a poor recording.
    Glasgow 2 is actually Ayrshire. New Cumnock is a town there, and 'Cuddy'is a horse.
    Caithness is influenced by Norse as well as Gaelic.
    Edinburgh was clear I thought!
    In Scotland Carpenters are generally called joiners (in the south of England they are often called 'Chippy's.'
    Carpenters and joiners were originally different but are regarded as the same these days.

    You would quickly adapt to Edinburgh talk. Most do not use words that are hard to understand and would explain to dumb yanks cheerfully, it happens daily. A trip there would find you perfectly welcome and having a good time, although the constant west wind and rain may annoy!
    In Edinburgh as you know, people regard themselves as not having an accent, we just speak properly.

    Can you pick up BBC Radio Scotland in the US? I am not sure if the online works outside of the UK for legal reasons. try it and listen in to the accents.

  2. I agree that Edinburgh is fairly easy to understand, but I love the way any Scot has sub-titles on American TV. They're not always that hard to follow!

  3. I had a friend whose mother came from Aberdeen, somewhere around there. For years I thought she was speaking English as a second language. I thought she was from eastern Europe.

  4. @Adullamite - I will look for the BBC Scotland online and see. It would be interesting to find out. It was the pronunciation of joiner that threw me off, not that I didn't know what the word meant. We stress the "oi" sound more here -- "Oi" as in "noise" instead of "Jy". But I know that it is a master carpenter or cabinetmaker.

    @Expat Mum - Edinburgh isn't that easy. I was just trying to kiss up to Adullamite. :) No, actually, it was one of the regional accents that I understood well on the recordings. I can't understand its Duke very well, though. Love his forthrightness..

    @A. - Maybe she did. Just because her mother came from Aberdeen doesn't mean your friend wasn't raised in Bulgaria. :) I thought Aberdeen was in Maryland. No?

  5. Um, what was the problem understanding the various recordings?

    I didn't have any trouble, but I've always had a good ear for accents and languages.

  6. I's say you have a GREAT ear, since many of the words were in another language. I know you didn't play them over and over either. Well done.

  7. When I first moved to Scotland and had to have work done about the house, I chose them on whether or not I could understand them. For a long time that didn't give me much choice.



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