Regional variation in British English - Focus on Scotland

Seminar Paper 2004 10 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Linguistics



1. Introduction

2. Definition Scottish English- Scots

3. Variations in contrast to Standard English
a) Pronunciation
i) Vowels
ii) Consonants
b) Grammar
c) i) Vocabulary
ii) Idioms

4. Attitudes towards Scottish English
a) History
b) Written Scots/Scottish English in the past
c) Attitudes
d) Scottish English today

5. Conclusion


1. Introduction

Visitor: “Can you tell me where the railway station is?”

Scotsman (wildly gesticulating): “Ochayenaebother-


Visitor (perplexed): “Are you a tourist too!”[1]

This short joke describes in few words what one can expect of Scottish English: although it is only a dialect of Standard English, it has many own features that make it hard even for native English speakers to understand it at once.

In my seminar paper, I would like to give an overview over the distinctive features Scottish English presents us compared to Standard English in pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary. Furthermore, this seminar paper will discuss the attitudes people have towards Scottish English and shortly how it is still in use today.

2. Definition Scottish English- Scots

But first of all the terms Scottish English (ScE) and Scots must be defined.

Scottish English is the form of the English language used in Scotland. It has special features as described further down which partly also come from the two other languages of the country, Gaelic and Scots.[2]

Scots or Lallans (meaning Lowlands) is the Germanic language that is used in the lowlands of Scotland as well as parts of Ireland where it is also known as Ulster Scots (Ullans).[3]

About 80% of Scotland´s 6 million population have access to Scots[4].

It would lead too far to work out the clear dinstinctions between those two terms.

For the extent of this seminar paper it is enough to say that Scottish English can be regarded as one pole and Scots as the other, defining how close to Standard English a speaker or region is. The dominant features of both overlap so that we can concentrate on ScE here.

3. Variations in contrast to Standard English

A variety of differences towards Standard English (StE) can be found in Scottish English (ScE). Those invole the aspects of pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary.

a) Pronunciation

i) Vowels

In ScE, there is a Vowel Length Rule which determines when a vowel is pronounced long.[5]

Generally, it can be said:

-The following vowels are usually short: /ə/ (in unstressed positions), /I/ /Λ /, /ε/, /a/.
-The following vowels are usually long: /e/, /i/, /o/, /u/, /ø/, /ө/, /y/, /Y/ as well as
-in stressed syllables before /v/, /ð/, /z/, /3/ and /r/ and
-before another vowel and before morpheme boundary.[6]

As ScE is a rhotic dialect, there are no diphthongs such as / Iə/ , /εə/ , /3:/ , /υə/ as in Standard English with its non prevocalic /r/. Together with the fact that even short vowels remain distinct before /r/, it leads to the fact that certain word pairs are only distinct by the /r/:

bee /bi/ - beer /bIr/

bad /bad/ - bard /bard/

hut /hΛt/ - hurt /hΛrt/

moo /mu/ - moor /mur/

Furthermore, ScE doesn’t have a distinction between /æ/and /a:/. Instead, it has /a/ which is then used for words such as “bad”, “bard” or “calm”.

The vowals /υ/ and /u:/ are homonyms. Conclusively, words such as “pool” and “pull” both get pronounced /pul/.

In words such as “serenity” or “obsenity” the second syllable is often pronounced with /i/ as in serene or obscene rather than /ε/.

The /l/ is in ScE dark in all positions.[7]

Another striking feature of ScE is that the /u/ occurs often when there is a /au/ in StE such as in “house” which gets /hus/ (written “hoose”).[8]

A special feature of Lowland Scots is that the /oυ/ in StE, which is /o/ in ScE, gets /e/. The word “home” gets /hem/ and no /ne/ which is also written as “nae”. This occurs with many words: dae, tae, gae, tae, frae (from).[9]


[1] http://www.scotweb.co.uk/underthekilt/language.html

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scottish_English

[3] http://www.wordiq.com/definition/Scots_language

[4] Stockwell, Peter. 2002. Sociolinguistics. A resource book for students. London: Routledge 82.

[5] Peter Trudgill. 1983. On dialect, Social and geographical perspectives. London: Blackwell, 5.1

[6] http://www.scots-online.org/airticles/phonology.pdf (Andy Eagle, 2001). Also see Peter Trudgill, 5.1.1.

[7] Bauer, Laurie. 2002. An introduction to international varieties of English. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP,.28.

[8] Hughes, Arthur; Peter Trudgill. ³1996. English accents and dialects. London: Arnold, 117.

[9] http://www.scots-online.org/grammar/wcscots.htm


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University of Würzburg – Anglistik und Amerikanistik
Regional British English Focus Scotland Sociolinguistics




Title: Regional variation in British English - Focus on Scotland