Notices

Scottish incomprehensibility - really?

Old May 23rd, 2006, 12:07 AM
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2003
Posts: 12,188
Likes: 0
Liked 0 Times in 0 Posts
Scottish incomprehensibility - really?

First - I've known many people from Scotland (that is, emigrés to Canada), and all have been quite comprehensible. So don't take the question too earnestly. I'm asking in preparation for my Scottish trip, but I find it difficult to believe I'll have any trouble at all.

However, I've been told that many Scots are almost impossible for other English speakers to comprehend. In support of this statement, movies like Trainspotting (which I haven't seen, but which apparently requires subtitles) are referenced. So is it really the case that the average non-Scottish tourist will ever have any difficulty understanding the local native-English-speaking population? (And this being said, I'm sure, like in most Commonwealth countries, a sizable percentage of the Scottish population does not have English as a first or even second language.)

I know that accents are related to highly fraught class issues in the UK (or is that another myth?).

And if you are Scottish, have you ever had difficulty understanding native English speakers from somewhere else?
WillTravel is offline  
Old May 23rd, 2006, 12:33 AM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 20,108
Likes: 0
Liked 0 Times in 0 Posts
Assuming most native Scots who frequent the boards need a bit of time to recover from their apoplectic fits....

A tiny proportion of people in Scotland speak Gaelic as a first language. Another small proportion (but I'm guessing here) speak the language of some other country entirely as their first language. Another small proportion (possibly) may like to bamboozle people they suspect of being English by speaking, as a cultural nationalist statement, as broad a version of Lallans Scots as they can (but to my ears it's no more difficult than regional dialects spoken in England, albeit with a lot more specialist vocabulary).

There are also people who mumble and have an accent and local dialect voacbulary and speech habits you might find difficult if your ear isn't attuned to it, as in most parts of the UK - and yes, that can be a class issue (see if you can get someone to play you a bit of Rab C Nesbitt programme!). I imagine a lot of people from some parts of the US might take a bit of time to get used to some of the accents and speech habits of some of their fellow-citizens (to judge from some of the people that appear on programmes like "Judge Judy" - yes, I have no shame).

But the vast majority of people speak standard English in a perfectly comprehensible accent (standard Scottish accents tend, if anything, to articulate individual sounds rather more clearly than their English equivalents). Londoners, for example, might well understand most Scots more easily than someone with a strong accent from the North East of England or the West Midlands.

In short, you needn't worry. You might like to put in some preparation time listening to people on BBC Scotland:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/scotland/
PatrickLondon is offline  
Old May 23rd, 2006, 12:34 AM
  #3  
 
Join Date: Jun 2003
Posts: 933
Likes: 0
Liked 0 Times in 0 Posts
Jings,crivvens an hoots mon!Ye'd better bide hame in yer ain wee hoose!

No. Really. This is 2006 . It's like everywhere you go -some people mutter or mumble and it's more difficult to understand what they say. I live in Shetland where we have a local dialect which you would find a bit hard to follow. Alas! We are polite people and would always speak in the English tongue for visitors!
Chill out WillTravel and enjoy Scotland!
Caryl
carylspall is offline  
Old May 23rd, 2006, 12:38 AM
  #4  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2003
Posts: 12,188
Likes: 0
Liked 0 Times in 0 Posts
Ha, don't worry, I am chilled out. I speak to Scottish people every single day with no misunderstanding. That's why I found it surprising what I have heard/been told.
WillTravel is offline  
Old May 23rd, 2006, 12:49 AM
  #5  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 1,132
Likes: 0
Liked 0 Times in 0 Posts
I’m half English and half Scottish so have a foot in both camps. Yes there are Scottish people who are difficult to understand for two reasons. Some have very thick accents (A strong Glaswegian accent can be a bit of a challenge), but the other reason is that, in common with most brits, they use a lot of slang that is idiomatic to the area. (For instance in Trainspottting they use the slang Collie dogs for drugs and Mantovani for women – see if you can work it out).

They also use their own dialect words which aren’t universal – eg a sandwich is a “piece”

I used to find my Uncle Arthur completely unintelligible, mind you he rather liked a drink.

However in general you shouldn’t have too much trouble, and once you get used to the cadences you’ll be fine.

There are class differences in Scottish accents, but the easiest way to tell is that posh scots have first names that should be surnames, Finlay, Calder, Ewart, Cameron etc.

Once you get your head around the Scottish accents you’ll be ready for the ultimate challenge – the Geordies.
david_west is offline  
Old May 23rd, 2006, 01:06 AM
  #6  
bellastarr
Guest
 
Posts: n/a
hi willtravel-I'm an American lady with lots of Scottish ancestry on bith sides, and made a solo trip all over Scotland a few years ago. I'll admit that the first day, I had a bit of trouble understanding what was being said to me at times, but I think alot of that was because I was a total first time traveler in Scotland, and because of local idioms and dialects. After a while, the haze cleared, and I was fine. I listened to the radio alot, and it helped. It's great fun learning the local slang words for things, but the biggest thing I learned was that going North from Loch Lommond, a distance that (on a map) looks like it will take a few hours in a car will take thrice that! Enjoy your trip!

.
 
Old May 23rd, 2006, 01:15 AM
  #7  
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 538
Likes: 0
Liked 0 Times in 0 Posts
If anything, incomprehensibility is less of an issue in Scotland than elsewhere in Britain.

If people don't want outsiders involved in their conversations, the patois they lapse into in many parts of Scotland is notoriously impermeable. And fast.

If they want to communicate, or be communicated to, they speak and understand ordinary English, at an ordinary pace, in their local accent. In some parts of Scotland - most famously Aberdeen, but in my view anywhere in the Highlands and wherever Gaelic is still spoken - that local accent is peculiarly easy on the ear. Far, far easier to understand than most English regional accents: above all than the ghastly Estuary that's taking over most of England south of Birmingham.

Cynics suggest Aberdonians want no possible risk you might misunderstand how much they're asking for. They certainly don't want any likelihood you'll fail to buy any gewgaw they're trying to sell you.
CotswoldScouser is offline  
Old May 23rd, 2006, 02:39 AM
  #8  
 
Join Date: Mar 2005
Posts: 1,526
Likes: 0
Liked 0 Times in 0 Posts
<<Once you get your head around the Scottish accents you’ll be ready for the ultimate challenge – the Geordies.>>

haddaway man

Geordie
Geordie is online now  
Old May 23rd, 2006, 02:43 AM
  #9  
 
Join Date: Apr 2005
Posts: 299
Likes: 0
Liked 0 Times in 0 Posts
Intersting post, reminds me of a wedding I was at a few years ago: an old school friend from Dumfries (SW Scotland) was marrying a quine from Aberdeen (NE Scotland). At the reception, ther 2 families found it very difficult to understand each other, but had no trouble with the several English guests!
I also remember my friend's wife could understand him no problem, but when he started talking to his family & friends from Dumfries she got lost - not because of the words, but because of the speed. I suspect that will be the main cause of any problems you may have understanding people.
doonhamer is offline  
Old May 23rd, 2006, 02:55 AM
  #10  
 
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 5,964
Likes: 0
Liked 0 Times in 0 Posts
Some Scottish accents are among the most pleasant in the UK, to my ears. That said, I cannot watch Rab C Nessbitt without subtitles. Similarly I had a workfriend who would spend her holidays at home in Glasgoc, and come back totally incomprehensible.
willit is online now  
Old May 23rd, 2006, 03:06 AM
  #11  
 
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 19,881
Likes: 0
Liked 0 Times in 0 Posts
<<(And this being said, I'm sure, like in most Commonwealth countries, a sizable percentage of the Scottish population does not have English as a first or even second language.)>>

I would say the percentage that doesn't have English as a 1st language, let alone a 2nd language would be a few percent.

Compared to England the immigrant population is very low and even in the areas where Gaelic is spoken, it would be very rare for English not to be spoken as well
alanRow is offline  
Old May 23rd, 2006, 04:59 AM
  #12  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 2,655
Likes: 0
Liked 0 Times in 0 Posts
A few years ago a bunch of surveys decided that the 'Scottish' accent was the most friendly in the UK. Consequently, lots of big companies (like banks) started shipping all their call centres up there. Now, I'm not sure whereabouts in Scotland my bank has decided to put it's call centre (First Direct, if you're interested), but I have a right old game trying to understand the clerk on the other end of the phone.
Kate is offline  
Old May 23rd, 2006, 05:24 AM
  #13  
 
Join Date: Jan 2006
Posts: 1,452
Likes: 0
Liked 0 Times in 0 Posts
I lived in Scotland for three years and did not have any problems understanding conversations. On occassion, I learned a new word or two. Even when terms were used that were different from what we used, we could understand through the context of what was said.

Having said that, when certain Glaswegians wanted a little fun at our expense they did their patter. It was always in fun (or so we attributed it) and they eased up when they saw we took it well.

Enjoy Scotland!
parisonmymind2 is offline  
Old May 23rd, 2006, 05:26 AM
  #14  
 
Join Date: Jun 2003
Posts: 63
Likes: 0
Liked 0 Times in 0 Posts
I've been to Scotland twice and occasionally have had a little difficulty with the accents but it's normally not a problem. One Scots couple I met on the ferry to Arran asked if we had a hard time understanding the accents and we had a nice giggle about it all.
What I did notice was that the Scots, at least the ones I met, were among the friendliest people I've encountered in my travels. I wondered if that had changed between my first trip in 1999 to my second in 2005...since I am American and our popularity has not improved. But I never felt unwelcome. Loved my 2nd visit as much as my first.

Bottom line...90% of the time I had no problem with the Scots accents.

And...last point...a few years ago at a wedding I had difficulty understanding a woman I only emailed with prior to meeting her at this event. She lives in Texas (I'm in Massachusetts) and I'm sure I sounded "odd" to her, too! Don't have to leave home to be puzzled by an accent.

LeeParis
LeeParis is offline  
Old May 23rd, 2006, 05:27 AM
  #15  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 370
Likes: 0
Liked 0 Times in 0 Posts
This reminded me of a funny story.

I was in a London pub and had walked up to the bar to get a drink. While I was waiting, one of the patrons turned to me and said something completely unintelligible.

Before I could stop myself, a line from 'I Love Lucy' popped out of my mouth. "I don't speak English. I'm American", I jested.

Without missing a beat the guy said, "I don't speak English either. I'm Scot!"

Just thought I'd share.
vegaslocal is offline  
Old May 23rd, 2006, 05:29 AM
  #16  
 
Join Date: Dec 2005
Posts: 10,168
Likes: 0
Liked 0 Times in 0 Posts
On the train to Aberdeen, the boy who ran the tea trolley was asking my seatmate, an elderly Aberdonian, about his wants and needs. The old man finally turned to me and asked what he had said. After I relayed the messages, he asked what language the boy had been speaking. "Glaswegian, I think," I replied. "Oh, aye," he said. "I thought he was a Rooshian."

A lot of Scottish movies are released in both English and Scots. If you can borrow the dvd of "Gregory's Girl", it has both and one of Bill Forsythe's early films, "That Sinking Feeling" is the same, IIRC.
Ackislander is offline  
Old May 23rd, 2006, 06:00 AM
  #17  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 8,156
Likes: 0
Liked 0 Times in 0 Posts
It is said, in fact, that Invernesians speak purer English than any other English speakers on the planet. I am frequently told that I'm incomprehensible, but that's because I speak nonsense rather than because of my accent.

There are as many accents in Scotland as you have had hot dinners. Frankly Trainspotting's a bit of a closed book, even to me, and it is definitely at the extreme end of the range. I can think of others which would fall into the same category.

Generally you will have no difficulty understanding the natives. Ther are some parts of deepest darkest Glasgow where you might need simultaneous translation.

There are issues of both accent and dialect, and, yes, they can be class based.

Now, I just LOVE Shetland accents. Unlike Glasgow ones which are awful.


And don't you believe that Londoner about anything!

And, as an adoptive Aberdonian, I resemble that remark, Scouser

I tell people that after 4 years in Aberdeen, having been taken to the fishing village near Fraserburgh where my husband's family lived, and I sat in the kitchen for 2 hours and understood not a word.

You may like to have a look at the questions and answers on this recent ebay item. See if you can understand them.

http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/ABERDEEN-AITKE...QQcmdZViewItem




sheila is offline  
Old May 23rd, 2006, 06:07 AM
  #18  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 20,108
Likes: 0
Liked 0 Times in 0 Posts
Come now, Sheila, we've all heard about the best-selling book in Aberdeen: "Indoor games for flag days".
PatrickLondon is offline  
Old May 23rd, 2006, 06:11 AM
  #19  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 1,132
Likes: 0
Liked 0 Times in 0 Posts
Never mind not trusting me – Sheila’s from “furry boot” town. (Read Ian Rankin for further explanation).

I’m a bit disappointed no one’s tried to work out the Trainspotting slang. (My favourite Irvine Welsh slang term is “Rockfords” for an unpleasant ailment)
david_west is offline  
Old May 23rd, 2006, 06:14 AM
  #20  
 
Join Date: May 2006
Posts: 500
Likes: 0
Liked 0 Times in 0 Posts
I am a native Canadian and I studied in Edinburgh for a year 10 years ago. I had no trouble understanding Scots. In fact, I love their accent, so I always loved listening to them talk!

I don't think you'll have any trouble.
pavfec is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Privacy Statement - Do Not Sell My Personal Information

FODOR'S VIDEO