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Scottish Dialect

Who uses this dialect?

This is the speech of the Scots, those who live in the northern part of the island of Britain, more-or-less defined as north of Hadrian's wall.

Rhythm and Music

This dialect can be either very heavy or very delicate, depending on what is appropriate for your character. My usual trick for this dialect is to imagine that you have a rag in your mouth. The mouth is held more openly than in, say, Upper-class English. You can think of the sound as being generated either under the back of the tongue or in the space immediately above the back-most part of the tongue.

As a side note, in reality there are almost as many variations in Scottish dialects as in English. Highlanders speak very differently from lowlanders, to but scratch the surface. The dialect presented here is a sort of Generic Stage Scots, and should not be taken as representative of the speech of all Scots.

Scottish Syntax

The Scots use all the standard tricks described on the dialect page, with just a few changes in vocabulary:
  1. Scots tend to say "nae" for "not." So, instead of the word "cannot," the Scots would say "cannae." Similarly, "do not" becomes "dinnae," and so forth.
  2. Instead of the word "understand" Scots use the word "ken." This word is also occasionally used to substitute for "know," as in "I dinnae ken where the fellow be."
  3. Where an Englishman might say "lad" or "lass," a Scot will use the diminutive "laddie" or "lassie." A Scot might use these terms for adults, as well.
  4. Scots will also use "ye" instead of "you."
  5. Scots will use the word "wee" for "little" or "small."

Sound Changes

Each of the links below is an ".mp3" file demonstrating a sound change. Listen to the example as many times as you need to, repeating it on your own afterwards. Take as much time as you need to with each sound. If you take the examples in order, you will sometimes run into sounds you haven't gotten to yet. Don't worry about it, just do the best you can until you've gone through all the sounds. Then go back and listen to the examples again, and make whatever corrections you need to.

I have included notes where appropriate.

  1. Let's start with a fairly simple one: the short 'oo' sound in "book" or "could," shifts to the long 'oo' sound in "too."
    He hooked the book e're it could hit his foot.

  2. The 'ow' sound in words like 'cow' becomes an 'aow.' This is one of the classic Scottish sounds.
    Art thou going down to the town?

  3. And here's the other: all 'r' sounds are rolled. This is the hardest sound to learn, if you have not alredy figured it out.
    She wrapped him 'round her little finger.

  4. We now come to one of the fun changes, the "j-u glide." The gist of this is to insert a 'y' sound before a long 'u' sound, unless doing so would change the meaning of the word.
    Do tell the Duke's student what a fool is due.

    Notice the difference between 'do' and 'due.'

  5. Both long 'a' (as in "play") and long 'e' (as in "see") get a short 'e' (as in "egg") mixed into them.
    They chased the grey goose along the way.

    The greedy chief will keep the feed.

  6. The long 'o' sound in words like 'go' is stretched out a bit.
    Go over to the row boat.

  7. The short 'i' in words like "listen" moves toward a short 'e,' as in "egg."
    If ye will nae listen, ye will miss the sound of the pigeons.

  8. Final 't' is stopped only when it follows a vowel sound.
    What hat do ye want to wear to the great feast?

  9. The 'tl' sound becomes very carefully articulated.
    The gentleman lifted his little bottle.

Tag Line.

Finally, here's a verse from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayam to practice with. I recommend using this verse to get into dialect before rehearsal or performance.

Here with a loaf of bread beneath the bough
A flask of wine, a book of verse and thou
Beside me singing in the wilderness
And wilderness is paradise enow.

And there you have it, all the changes thou shalt need to speak like a Scot. I wish ye much joy of it!

Back to the dialect page.