The Accents in Black Watch

Posted by Cait Robinson, Publications Fellow

Black Watch performs at the Armory Community Center now through June 16.
Scottish accents are among the most difficult for American English speakers to understand and imitate—even Apple’s famous Siri application is unable to make out Scottish users. Scottish dialects are heavily influenced by Gaelic, Norse, Scots (a Germanic language still spoken in parts of the Scottish Lowlands and Ulster, Ireland), Old English, and German and are divided into five regional subsets.

Most Scots pronounce consonants just as speakers of standard British or American English do. Exceptions are r, which is rolled, and ch, which, at the end of a syllable, takes on a guttural German sound, as in “loch.” This guttural sound also surfaces in words like “daughter” or “night.” As in spoken American English, Scottish English often drops the final g on verbs: walkin’ instead of “walking.” Adjectives ending in “ed” are pronounced with an “it,” as in spottit (“spotted”).

The real trouble begins with glottal stops, the trademark speech pattern of the Scottish. A non-vocal sound made by obstructing airflow in the back of the throat, the glottal stop is also common in American English: it is often used in place of a crisply articulated t in the middle of a word. (Say the words “curtain” or “important” quickly, and you will automatically make a glottal stop.) Scottish people, however, use glottal stops where Americans do not. A glottal stop can replace a k or p that is surrounded by vowels, as in “taken” (ta’en) or “paper” (pa’er). In many cases, it also replaces consonants at the end of a sentence when they are preceded by a vowel, as in “root” (roo’) or “call” (ca’).

Scottish English also interprets vowels differently from American and standard British English—with few consistent rules. For example, the words “bone” and “stone” are pronounced been and steen in eastern Angus, but become bane and stane an hour’s drive south. The Scottish also do not distinguish between oo (as in “pool” and “fool”) and u (as in “pull” and “full”): they are homophones with regional variations.

Watch the video for an overview of a basic Scottish accent and try it out for yourself:

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