Aff yur heid: English fail to understand Glaswegian accent

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RESEARCHERS have found hard evidence of what every Glaswegian has known for centuries – the English simply cannot understand them.

Despite being the birthplace of A-listers such as Billy Connolly, Robert Carlyle and James McAvoy, the experiment concluded that Glasgow accents genuinely baffle the southern English.

A group of volunteers from London failed to understand one in three sentences spoken by their Glaswegian cousins.

Billy Connolly’s Glaswegian accent may be hard for Londoners to follow.

 

The Glasgow University-based academic who carried out the study said the combination of special words and lack of vowel sounds in the city’s accent was mainly responsible for the head-scratching south of the border.

Dr Jane-Stuart Smith suggested another important factor was that some southerners expected not to understand anything a Glasgwegian said.

Ian Pattison, the creator of Rab C Nesbitt, said the findings demonstrated “latent discrimination” against Scots by our southern counterparts.

The research involved recording the speech of four Glaswegians, all of them male, middle class and aged between 20 and 46.

A panel of 24 English speakers from Greater London were then played a total of 24 sentences and scored on their understanding.

The study, which was conducted in a variety of sound conditions, found that on average southerners failed to understand one in every three sentences spoken by Glaswegians.

Dr Stuart-Smith said that there are many differences between Glaswegian English and Southern English speech.

She said: “Some relate to particular words – a Glaswegian will say ‘heid’ for ‘head’, or ‘aff’ for ‘off’, or ‘lang’ for ‘long’, or ‘oot’ for ‘out’.”

Dr Stuart-Smith said another crucial difference is that there are fewer vowels spoken in Glaswegian English.

She said: “If you think about the words ‘full’ and ‘fool’, a Glaswegian speaker will pronounce both these words in the same way.

“A southern English speaker lengthens ‘full’, adding an extra vowel sound.”

The same applies to ‘palm’ and ‘Pam’, which Glaswegians prounce in the same way. Southern English speakers stretch out ‘palm’ with a long ‘aa’ sound.

With the words ‘cot’ and ‘caught’, both words would be pronounced the same by a Glaswegian while a southern English speaker would add an ‘or’ vowel sound.

The point, said Dr Stuart-Smith, is that the Glaswegian accent makes different words sound the same, adding to the confusion for southerners.

She added: “There is a stereotype that Glaswegians are hard to understand and speech perception can play a role.

“A lack of actual contact with Glaswegians may also be a factor for southern English speakers.”

Discrimination

Ian Pattison, who lives in Glasgow, said: “If you look at the list of Scottish faces we have Billy Connolly, David Tennant, Jimmy Reid, Andrew Neil, who all, despite their terrible linguistic impediment have managed to have luminary careers.

“I think it is positively discrimination by southerners. They have made the choice not to understand Glaswegians, it’s latent discrimination. They could have been prepared not to understand the accent, that could have been their pre-perception.

“Where are these people that can’t understand the Glaswegian accent? I can’t understand their lack of understanding. There used to be a time when nobody living in London left London, but now when you visit there are people from all around the world living there.”

He joked: “The only thing Glaswegians find hard to understand is ‘it’s your round’.”

Chris Hall, who works as a TV production co-ordinator in Glasgow, lived in London for two years.

He said: “I found people in London liked to make fun of my Glaswegian accent and had trouble understanding what I said – especially in a professional capacity.”

“An accountant at the company I worked for told me to put everything to him in an email, as he couldn’t understand a word that I said.

“I also had trouble over the phone, trying to book hotels or restaurants for clients.

“I think there is a lot of discrimination in London towards the Glasgow accent.

“I think people presume they won’t understand you. If people took the time to listen properly they would understand a lot more.”

Sympathise

Scottish Labour councillor, James Adams, from Rab C Nesbitt’s Govan ward, said: “I can sympathise with our friends down south – I confess to being none the wiser when the Cockneys start up with their rhyming slang, and who knows what people from Edinburgh must think of us when we speak the full Glaswegian.

“But in all seriousness, we should avoid stereotyping. The richness in the diversity of our regional accents such as Liverpudlian, Mancunian, Geordie and Cockney is part of the reason Britain is a great place to live.”

Dr Stuart-Smith, and the English researchers she worked with on the project, also subjected Glaswegians to southern English accents.

Glaswegians did much better, managing to follow four out of every five sentences.

5 COMMENTS

  1. I am a Texan, through and through, and I understand James McAvoy completely. Of course, I watch him a LOT. His interviews are some of the funniest I’ve seen. He’s so witty! I L-O-V-E his accent! I wouldn’t want him to change a thing about it. 🙂

    • James McAvoy is from Port Glasgow, not Glasgow. Port Glasgow is a good half hour drive away from Glasgow.

  2. I am American and can understand a Scot more than English. Between the English accent and their made-up words ( how do you get moggy from the word cat or brolly for umbrella?), I don’t know what the hell they are even talking about? I read articles in a London paper and must ask friends in Ireland or England to translate the words for me! I’m coming to your Glascow area in a year or two, and am looking forward to making new Scot friends and some interesting conversations!

  3. I live near Washington DC, USA, and people from all over the US as well as all over the world live here – it’s highly diverse. I know only one Scot, so have had little experience with the accent, but I’ve always prided myself, as someone in public service, as being able in a minute or so to adjust my ears to anyone’s manner of speaking English, no matter how fractured. Then I visited Glasgow…after three embarrassing tries to get directions from the hotel concierge, we set off on foot none the wiser and got completely lost. On the train to Edinburgh we listened for an hour to some youths talking and joking and picked up about three words of it. We had to change tour buses to get a guide whose version of Scottish English we could understand. I admit defeat, Glaswegians – I’m not the great listener I always thought I was. But you were all very nice about it!

  4. I live in Washington DC, USA, and people from all over the US as well as all over the world live here – it’s highly diverse. I know only one Scot, so have had little experience with the accent, but I’ve always prided myself, as someone in public service, as being able in a minute or so to adjust my ears to anyone’s manner of speaking English, no matter how fractured. Then I visited Glasgow…after three embarrassing tries to get directions from the hotel concierge, we set off on foot none the wiser and got completely lost. On the train to Edinburgh we listened for an hour to some youths talking and joking and picked up about three words of it. We had to change tour buses to get a guide whose version of Scottish English we could understand. I’ve met my match, Glaswegians – I’m not the great listener I always thought I was. But you were all very nice about it!

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