An Investigation of Attitudes to Scots and Glasgow Dialect Among Secondary School Pupils
Introduction: attitudes to Scots and Glasgow dialect
(University lecturer, quoted in Macaulay 1975:94)
Such judgmental statements reflect a negative and unfortunately widespread attitude towards the Glasgow dialect and, though perhaps to a lesser extent, towards Scots dialects generally. 'A mere dialect of English', 'bad English', 'Standard English corrupted by uneducable Scots', 'corrupt English or slang': these (cited in Aitken 1981: 76) are just some of the subjective labels attached to Scots. It is viewed unfavourably when contrasted with the Standard English language associated with South-East England, stronghold of political power, economic wealth and social prestige.
The opening quotation describes Glasgow dialect as 'the ugliest one can encounter'.
Sociolinguistic studies of language prestige find Standard English at the top of the class pyramid and regional British dialects, including Scots dialects, at the bottom with the working classes.
On Glasgow dialect and the negative attitudes to it, Macaulay (1975:94)
quotes a university lecturer:
Caroline Macafee (1983:27) states:
1.1 Focal points of project
1.2 The Linguistic Continuum TheorySuzanne Romaine (1977:26) claims that 'pure Scots' does not exist but what does is a 'complex continuum in which many speakers operate'. R.K.S. Macaulay (1977:26) also refers to Catford who suggests that the difference between Scots and English is not clear-cut: the terms identify two linguistic poles between which there is an infinite possible range of dialect mixture.
In Glasgow, the two poles would be represented by, on the one hand, Glasgow dialect, historically a hybrid of West Mid Scots vernacular and Standard English introduced in the eighteenth century, subsequently influenced by Highland English and Hibernian English due to the influx of immigrants from the Highlands and Ireland; and on the other, Scottish Standard English (SSE) showing no observable geographically-marked dialect features. Each polar extreme contains numerous linguistic forms which compete for use by individual speakers in actual utterances, e.g. the lexical choice between aye (dia) and yes (SSE), or the phonological choice between /hus/ (dia) and /h^us/ (SSE).
1.3 Standard, Dialect and Social ClassThe eighteenth-century Augustan notion of 'correctness' still prevails in the form of subjective opinions held by dialect and non-dialect speakers alike. How do these attitudes affect young dialogue speakers?
In Britain, cultural pressure has established Standard English as the major medium for written language. We also find the same standard for most formal examples of verbal communication, e.g. national television and radio. If the dominant opinion is that those resident in Britain should speak and write in English , it may lead dialect speakers to assume that their particular form of 'English', is by comparison 'bad' or 'corrupt' English. It is to be expected that dialect speakers will view their speech negatively when told that they are speaking a form of English, but one which does not sound like the prestigious standard - i.e. that their mode of communication is sub-standard.
It is unfortunate that in Scotland, spoken dialects are often termed 'English' when their historical origin shows that they are not this. In fact they are Scots dialects, though very often influenced by English, a closely related language, from a country in close proximity; even though both evolved from the common ancestor Old English. Not unlike the situation found today in the politically separate but linguistically related Scandinavian countries, at one time Scots and English were politically separate, languages identified by different names. But by their speech we can distinguish an Englishman from a Scotsman, although politically both are 'British'. Since language is one of the most overt markers of group membership within a national or social community, we can also distinguish the middle-class Scotsman from his working-class compatriot.
1.5 Linguistic insecurity
As for working-class dialect-speaking adolescents, how are they affected by linguistic insecurity?
1.6 Framework of procedureThe original project involved schoolchildren attending Lochend Secondary School in Easterhouse, in Glasgow's East End. Twenty were taken from the first year and twenty from the fifth, each group consisting of ten boys and ten girls. Each group of twenty completed Questionnaire A, and was then divided into two groups of ten for group discussion on Scots, dialect and English. Then, in their re-formed groups of twenty, they completed Questionnaire B.
2.1 Questionnaire A
I sought to extract information on whether the informant, preferred the town or the country; and which areas (from given choices) they would most like to live in, and which least, if they were not living in Glasgow. This was suggested by an idea of Trudgill's, that judgements made on dialect are based on criteria including romantic notions of the rustic ideal (Trudgill 1985:36). Finally in this section questions were asked regarding attitudes to accents of English and to foreign languages.
Another section was designed to glean information on dialect within school life and within the teaching of English. Informants were asked what they liked/disliked about school and about English as a curriculum subject. They were also asked about spelling, how well it reflected their own speech and that of other Glaswegian, Scottish and English speakers; and were asked to provide alternative spellings of some words. They were presented with a list of well-known personalities and asked if they could identify the Scots, and if they did this on the basis of their accents.
A section of the questionnaire was designed to test the informants' familiarity with Scottish literary figures and their works. (This I felt might be related to their perceptions of the status of Scots.) Sets of questions and examples were given to determine knowledge of Scots lexis, lexical incidence and grammatical formations. Attitudes to these were also sought. These examples were set among English filler examples.
The informants were asked to listen to tape-recordings of four Glasgow speakers; and then to say where the speakers were likely to come from, who of their acquaintance spoke like them, and whether they themselves ever spoke like them or would aspire to do so. I was interested to find which of the recorded speakers the informants identified with most closely. They were also asked if the speakers sounded friendly, if they sounded correct, and which class they appeared to belong to. All the speakers were university graduates aged between 21 and 31. They spoke upon a neutral subject: a film which they had all seen.
Speaker 1: Age 21, female, from the south side, of Glasgow. She could be considered an SSE speaker, and can be heard to say yes, /lafIg/ and /^b^ut/ (cf. Glasgow dialect aye, /lafIn/, /^bu2/.
Speaker 2: Age 22, male, residing in Easterhouse. Uses many Glasgow dialect features, e.g. /^bu2/, /wa^r/, boggin (cf. SSE /^b^ut/, /wat^r/, dirty).
Speaker 3: Age- 23, female, residing, in Easterhouse. Uses some dialect features and makes some attempt at SSE forms. Can be heard to say /f^lm/, /^gen/, /bI?/ (cf. SSE /fIlm/, /^gEn/, / bIt /) ; but says yes and /w^n/ instead of Glasgow dialect aye and /wan/.
Speaker 4: Age 31, male, residing in the east of Glasgow, educated at the universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Oxford. Speaks a form of SSE but is nearer to Southern English SE than Speaker 1. can be heard to say /fa(Ir/, /^b^ut/, /hItlIr/ ('Hitler') (cf. Glasgow dialect /fe(^r/, /^bu?/, /hI?I^r/).
After being asked for their impressions of the recordings, the informants were asked if they were happy with their own speech.
2.2 The group discussions
2.3 Questionnaire B
3.1 Questionnaire A results
D: fifth-year boys (percentages, estimated on a score out of ten)
E: all first-year informants, F: all fifth-year informants,
G: all girls, H: all boys (percentages estimated on a score out of twenty).
Percentages for the whole group of informants are estimated on a score out of forty.
3.2 Attitudes to dialect and nationality
When asked if they as Scots spoke differently from the English, 87% said yes; and of those, 51% felt this to be a good thing while 43% felt it to be interesting. Those responses are at first sight very positive, with only a few thinking the difference a bad thing. However, when asked the same questions of the Welsh and the Irish, those who agreed that they spoke differently scored higher on the question whether they thought the differences interesting.
Encouragingly, diversification of regional British dialects/accents is seen positively. Welsh and Irish varieties, however, were regarded from the Scottish informants' viewpoint in a slightly more favourable light than English ones.
53% saw no difference between their own Glaswegian speech and that of other Scottish people. Interestingly, only four informants among the whole group of forty, all girls, felt that the differences they perceived were a bad thing. Boys were marginally higher in the scores for good and interesting.
60% felt that there were no differences between the speech of those living in the east of Glasgow and those in the west.
On residential preference, 80% opted for urban life as opposed to rural. while males showed a liking for both town and country, females seemed to prefer city life. Encouragingly, the informants enjoy their city environments, there is no strong evidence of love of the rustic life, and all informants claimed to like living in Glasgow. Confirming a very positive attitude to their native city, 65% felt Glasgow to be just as a Scottish as any other city in Scotland, and 30% felt that it was more Scottish.
As to who is most influential in shaping their attitudes here, peer pressure, seems to be powerful, as friends are more influential than parents or the media. The schoolchildren are least influenced by what their teachers say.
3.3 Attitudes to school and the teaching of English
A worrying 70% felt that the spelling system they were taught at school did not reflect their speech well, with 75% of all males stating this. 70% felt that all Glaswegians were in the same position as themselves, and of the 17% who felt that some others in Glasgow were better served by the spelling system, one younger boy gave as an example: 'The mayor [sic!] of Glasgow and I think think she would live in Bearsden.' This statement clearly demonstrates an awareness that language varieties which are closer to the accepted standard (i.e. SSE) are better represented by the standard spelling system. Note also that a high-status language variety is associated here with a high-status residential area.
77% felt that the rest of the Scottish populace were in the same position regarding spelling. The situation, then, may be seen as a national one, since this figure is higher than for the rest of Glasgow. Adding weight to this theory, more felt that the speech of Newcastle was better represented by the spelling than for the previous examples (28%). The 'Englishness' of Newcastle must be a factor in this judgement, since realistically the dialect of north-eastern England may not be any better represented by the English spelling system, and may be actually worse, than, say, SSE. When the question was applied to London and America, the results were very similar, 48% of the informants thinking the speech of those places better served by the spelling system than theirs.
The informants evidently do feel that there are other dialects/varieties of English in Britain and the USA which are better represented by the common spelling system. This could be symptomatic of linguistic insecurity, the informants associating the spelling system with the standard form and feeling that their own speech does not correspond to this. Nevertheless, when asked if they would change the spelling system, 68% said no.
lnformants were asked to give examples of alternative spellings for words which they thought could be represented better. From the few given, most were Scots in character and all came from the younger group: three examples of hame for home, two of aye for yes and one of dae for do. The most outstanding example was telt instead of told: outstanding, because it was given by one of the fifth-year girls unconsciously, in answer to another question in a previous section of the questionnaire.
The subjective judgements given on other national varieties of English were somewhat inconclusive since informants had the option of leaving blanks; but from the responses given, English, Scottish, American, Australian and Canadian were generally seen as easy to understand. The differences came when they were asked if they liked or disliked the various forms, or found them pleasant or unpleasant. Of the above selection, the English accent scored highest for 'disliked' and 'unpleasant': 30% and 18% respectively. There seems to be a general distaste for English English, although it is seen as easy to understand.
Interestingly, of the non-Germanic languages given (Gaelic, Italian and Russian), Gaelic is viewed less than favourably. It compared poorly with Italian for being liked (33% and 23%) and for pleasantness (35% and 15%). If there are any negative feelings held with respect to the status of Scots, then I feel that the poor attitude to Gaelic may be a defensive reaction to what is often claimed to be the original and ideal language of the Scottish nation.
On the section dealing with observation of Scottish nationality by accent, more thought the Duke of Edinburgh to be Scottish (33%) than David Steele M.P. (23%). I think that perhaps the informants are unfamiliar with Prince Philip; but of those who thought he was not Scottish, 43% said that it was because of his accent that they knew. Billy Connolly and the Proclaimers scored highest for recognition as Scottish: 95 % and 88% respectively. For recognition by accent the scores were 53% and 68%. Some informants, however, do not use accent to decide nationality: association with Scotland is also used. For example, Rod Stewart was thought to be Scottish by 48%, although no-one said it was because of his accent that they knew this.
Familiarity with Scottish literature - important, I feel, for the status of Scots - was disappointingly poor. The informants had a far greater knowledge of English literary figures such as Shakespeare (80%), Enid Blyton (63%) and Agatha Christie (45%) than, for example, Hugh MacDiarmid (8%), Tom Leonard or Edwin Morgan (both 10%). The only well-known Scot was Robert Burns (78%), with 94% identifying him as Scottish. Admittedly, one must take account of the younger group, who consistently recognised fewer of the literary figures than did the older group.
3.4 Identification with recorded speakers
3.5 Reactions to Poetry
Unrelated Incidents; by Tom Leonard: reactions here were split, but 65% of the girls preferred the SSE version. In these examples, the use of dialect in what may be viewed as a formal situation, seeming to require formal language, is viewed more favourably by males than by females.
3.6 Knowledge and attitudes on Scots items
Interestingly, telly (shortened version of television) scored higher for English than the above set of words, but had high enough scores for both Scots and slang to make it appear that words which can be readily contrasted with a standard alternative are all thrown into the same general bag. Non-standard examples are labelled slang, but some are thought to be Scottish slang (e.g. /hus/ and /hem/) and others indeterminate Scottish or English slang (e.g. telly).
Bampot, bramble, chanty, close, clype, dreich, gallus, pinkie. swither, tenement. (Ang. 'stupid person, blackberry, chamber-pot, front entrance to a tenement building, tell tales, dull and wet (weather), spirited or rough, little finger, be undecided, block of flats,')
Swither. dreich and chanty appeared to be relatively unfamiliar, and scored highly for disapproval. A large proportion of informants rated them as Gaelic: e.g. dreich was so described by 73%. Clype had 40% for Scots and 40% for slang. Pinkie and close were more familiar, but they scored high for Scots and slang although not as high as /hus/ and /hem/. Tenement, which has no English equivalent and therefore no stigma, had no score at all for slang; and similarly bramble scored highest for English with 58%. Gallus, judged as Scots and slang, was generally disliked, perhaps because it is developing pejorative meanings of 'hard' and 'tough'.
Sadly, Scots is too often synonymous with 'slang' in the opinions of these school pupils. Words most unfavourably judged appear to be so because of unfamiliarity or pejorative meanings. There is a definite tendency throughout this section for females to rate Scots words as slang more frequently than males. This is consistent with their preference for the SSE speaker in the Scottish poetry readings.
3.7 Sentences exhibiting Scots phonology, morphology and syntax1. An urny gaun tae bed. (Glasgow dialect phonology and morphology)
2. I wear my hair in a side-shed. (Scots lexis: cf. 'parting')
3. You missed yourself at his party. (Scots idiom)
4. Can I have that book, please? (Non-standard use of modal verb, c.f. 'may')
5. She knoaked a boa'le over iz heid. (As I above)
6. I will put it out. (Non-standard use of modal verb, cf. 'shall')
7. That's an awful nice watch. (Scots form of the adverb, cf. lawfully')
8. She has a ghastly sore head. (Scots lexis, cf. 'aching')
Sentences 1 and 5, which were spoken in Glasgow dialect, were considerably stigmatised, with respectively 50% and 60% of informants judging them incorrect. 4 and 7, which were spoken, in SSE and contain non-standard forms which are perhaps less readily detectable, scored respectively 13% and 23% for incorrect.
When asked for alternatives to individual words given, in order to determine knowledge of Scots, the following examples appeared:
4.1 Results of Questionnaire B
The majority felt that the Glasgow dialect was one of the city's good points; but since no-one noted it as being either good or bad in Questionnaire A, I have no way of knowing whether this represents a change in attitude.
There was a healthy increase in those who preferred the dialect speaker's poetry renditions, with 78% now preferring his reading of Unrelated Incidents and a lessened majority preferring the SSE speaker's version of To a Mouse.
The tendency to classify Scots or Glasgow dialect words as 'slang' had markedly decreased. /wa? ^r/ and /hem/, forms of which the historical explanation had been given in the talks, now had no score at all for slang, though they still, as previously, scored high for Scots. It appears that a basic introduction to the facts relating to the Scots language is sufficient to cure the habit of equating all non-standard variables with slang. (In the first questionnaire, it was observable that the older informants had a wider knowledge of Scots words but also a greater tendency to classify them as 'slang'.) Similarly, there was much less agreement in rating, sentences 1 and 5 as incorrect: only 13% and 20% as compared to the previous scores of 50% and 60%.
Feelings of linguistic insecurity were evident throughout the study, e.g. regarding spelling and the tendency to describe words which the informants themselves regularly used as 'slang' . Nonetheless, it seems to me that these feelings are countered by an almost indignant pride: the inconsistency of attitude is shown, e.g. by their claiming to be happy with their own speech yet judging that of the taped dialect speaker, with whom they strongly identified, to be 'incorrect'. The subjective distaste for Southern Standard English and Gaelic is also striking: it may be defensive, since those are the two languages with which Scots dialects are constantly being compared, the former as a model and the latter as a nationalistic ideal for the language of Scotland.
I feel it to be significant that the informants have a very poor knowledge of Scottish literary figures and their work (whether in Scots or English). in my opinion, a vital factor in cultivating a healthy attitude towards a language within the language community is that it must be perceived as having enough status to be an acceptable medium for creative art. Scots literature must be a contributory factor towards the survival of the Scots language. In addition, if schools took a little time to highlight the history, status and use of Scots, the effects could only be beneficial. Perhaps the result would be a greater confidence in the use both of the vernacular and of English.
I am, however, very happy with the- results of the short discussion periods. After the removal of some of the myths about their language, the informants changed their attitudes to the words which they used regularly but had felt to be 'incorrect' in comparison to the standard forms. Instead of they now described those words as 'my dialect' or 'the Scots language. The abolition of that quintessentially negative term 'slang', which taints attitudes towards any speech form to which it is applied or misapplied, might contribute to the saving of Lowland Scots.
Leith, Dick (1983) A Social History of English. Language and Society Series, Ch. 6 (Routledge and Kegan Paul, GB).
Low, John T. (1975) 'The Scots Language: The Contemporary Situation'; in McClure ed., op. cit., pp. 17-27.
Macafee, Caroline (1983) Glasgow. Varieties of English Around the World, Text Series, Vol.3 (John Benjamins Publishing Co., Amsterdam, Philadelphia).
Macaulay, R.K.S (1975) 'Linguistic Insecurity', in McClure ed. ,op. cit. , pp.35-43
Macaulay, R.K.S. (1977) Language, Social Class and Education: A Glasgow Study. (Edinburgh University Press).
McClure, J.D., ed. (1975) The Scots Language in Education, ASLS Occasional Papers No 3, pp. 17-27. (Waverley Press, Aberdeen).
Munro, Michael (1985) The Patter: A Guide to Current Glasgow Usage. (Glasgow District Libraries).
Reid, Euan (1974) 'Social and Stylistic variation in the speech of children: some evidence from Edinburgh', in Sociolinguistic Patterns in British English, pp. 158-73, ed Peter Trudgill (Edward Arnold)
Robinson, Mairi, ed.-in-chief, (1985) The Concise Scots Dictionary (Aberdeen University Press).
Romaine, Suzanne (1975) 'Linguistic Variability in the speech of some Edinburgh schoolchildren'. M.Litt. thesis, University of Edinburgh.
Romaine, Suzanne (1978) 'Post-vocalic /r/ in Scottish English: sound in progress?' in Sociolingustic Patterns in British English, pp. 144-58, ed, Peter Trudgill (Edward Arnold).
Romaine, Suzanne (1980) 'Stylistic variation and evaluative reaction to speech: Problems in the investigation of Linguistic Attitudes in Scotland.' In Language and Speech, Vol. 23, part3, pp. 213-32 (January-March 1980)
Trudgill, Peter (1980) 'Sociolinguistics and Scots Dialects', in ASLS Ocassional papers, No.3, The Scots Language in Education, pp. 28-33 (Waverly Press, Aberdeen).
Trudgill, Peter (1983) On Dialect: Social and Geographical Perspectives, chapters 11 and 12 (Basil Blackwell, Oxford).
Trudgill, Peter (1985) Accent, Dialect and the School. (Edward Arnold).
Poetry Sources'To a Mouse', Robert Burns, in Poems and Songs of Robert Burns, ed. James Barke (1976) (Collins, Great Britain)
'Unrelated Incidents', Tom Leonard, in Intimate Voices: Selected work 1965-1983 (1988) (Galloping Dog Press, Newcastle uopn Tyne).