just slipped out

Been at a conference in Leeds all week, right, and when the lovely lady in the ticket office found me a really cheap train ticket homewards, I could hardly believe my ears to hear myself saying, “Thanks very mʊch.” Since I’d thought my very Scottish ʌ was by now impervious to change, I count this a major achievement. Who knows, if I spend much more time down in that part of the world, I could yet acquire me a whole new accent.

5 thoughts on “just slipped out

  1. Is that a short “oo” sound as a southern-English person would say “put” or “book”? I think if you can change like that it means you are quite good at listening. I’m *fairly* good at listening except when I’m not expecting to hear anything different. For instance in 2003 I astounded our B & B landlady in Budapest by pronouncing Nyugati Pályaudvar (the name of a railway station) relatively faithfully, but then the previous year when I visited I had been using the recorded announcements on the underground trains to compare the sounds of the station names with the written form, and had also discussed the pronunciation of that particular tongue-twister with my (American) hosts. But in Britain I tend to see the varied ways in which English is spoken as merely a matter of accent, and not spot exactly what is being pronounced differently.

    There was an interesting discussion recently about teaching phonics on one of the Facebook groups Rachel is on. Some English phonics book said that two “or” words (maybe horse and porch, I can’t remember) had the same sound but the Scottish ladies said they were different, one had a long sound and the other a short one. I’d not spotted that. I had spotted that the “ur” sound which we of the south use when we read hurt, Perth, and birch, is three different sounds in Scotland, with Perth having a distinctly e-ish flavour in keeping with how it is spelled and birch a distinctly i-ish flavour, as it is spelled. When I say we of the south use the same sound, I mean that we use the same sound for all three words. If we’ve spent most of our lives in Ross-shire and Bristol we might at least have an “r” sound there, whereas if we’ve spent our lives in the south-east the r sound would be virtually non-existent, but whatever the actual sound, it would be the same for all three.

    The other thing I constantly notice is that we English have a traditional pronunciation for many words (and names of places), whereas Scots and North Americans try (annoyingly) to reproduce what is written, for instance “the Chesh-ire cat” instead of “the Cheshur cat” or “Ports-mouth” instead of “Portsm’th”. It’s possible that some of these old pronounciations are being eroded. I doubt if many people in England refer to tuppence or thrippence any more, and I wonder how many still say “forrid” when they read the word forehead – unless they know the poem about the little girl Jemima where it is specifically rhymed with “horrid”. Probably the customer who addresses his envelopes to me in florid handwriting as “near Inverness, N.B.” does, but people of my age and younger, maybe not.


  2. Yeah i can hear it but rubbish at producing it. I’m very proud of my unprecedented ʊ moment.

    To me, it’s a miracle that any teacher can successfully teach phonics if their textbook comes from a different dialect area. That’s dialect in a non-pejorative sense. So different dialects have different sounds, and even when they share sounds, the shared sounds appear in different words. Comparing English vs Scottish vowels is made vastly more complicated because with Scottish being rhotic and English non, the whole vowel systems are very different.

    For Scottish varieties, horse has [ɔ] and porch has [o]. The difference isn’t length (short vs long) so much as quality (high/low and front/back).
    I don’t think many Scottish speakers have a difference between those three words (let’s say bird, word, herd). For most people, bird and word have the same vowel, something like [əɹ], and most people would also have the same vowel in herd, although some might still distinguish herd from bird & word.

    Placenames are often tricky for non-locals, whoever the non-locals might be. You also get English and Americans saying cock-burn instead of kobəɹn for Cockburn Street, Kir-kal-dy for kəɹkɔde, etc etc.

    And yes, pronunciations change over time.


  3. Having an r-sound after vowels, as in ‘near, square, start’ etc. Scottish English and American English are generally rhotic.

    In English English, r is restricted to the starts of words/ before vowels, doesn’t occur after vowels, so English varieties are called non-rhotic.


  4. Ah, I understand. That’s probably one of the areas my accent has changed most then – I tend to pronounce my ‘rrrrrs’! Although, I probably don’t when I’m at home…


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