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Proud to have a Scottish accent!


A few days ago, I was flicking through the search terms that people use to visit the blog, and I was quite surprised to see that someone had clicked on it through looking for ‘scotland more proud of accent psychology’. It was surprising because I hadn’t actually ever written about this (or if I had, it was only tangentially), but something in the blog must have flagged it up on Google as having something to do with the search terms. It was also surprising because in Week 4, we did our first undergraduate reading group and the article we talked about was Nickolas Coupland and Hywel Bishop’s ‘Ideologized Values for British Accents’ (Journal of Sociolinguistics, 2007, which, rather weirdly, doesn’t come up on Google Scholar…).

Anyway, Coupland and Bishop’s article is based on data collected as part of the BBC Voices project, which was a major study into language variation in the UK, primarily lexical variation. As part of the study, people were asked what they thought about different varieties of English (labels only, not sound clips), and the respondents had to rate 34 varieties of English (from both the UK and further afield) according to social attractiveness (friendliness, trustworthiness etc) and social prestige (intelligence, employability etc).

Some of the results are entirely expected. For example, Birmingham English was rated last in both axes, RP was rated positively on social prestige but not on social attractiveness, and urban varieties were generally more negatively evaluated than rural varieties. But since the study collected data on where the respondent was from, Coupland and Bishop were able to see how this affected the kinds of ratings that were given to the various varieties. They divided the respondents into six main groups (Wales, Scotland, Norther Ireland, North of England/Midlands, South-East of England and South-West of England), and what was really surprising was that Scottish respondents were more positive about their own accent than other respondents. As Coupland and Bishop (2007: 81) say, ‘for two of the accents from Scotland (Scottish English and Edinburgh English), Scottish respondents provide more positive prestige judgements than respondents from all the other regions. With respect to the Glasgow accent, Scottish informants are again most positive’. Weirdly, though, for some accents, the in-group respondents didn’t rate their own variety the highest, so for the Belfast accent, for example, ‘it is the Scottish respondents who orientated most positively towards the Belfast accent’.

So, being Scottish means that you’re more likely to rate other Celtic varieties highly on prestige, but if you’re from Wales or Northern Ireland, it’s more likely to be the case that ‘accents labelled as generic national varieties [will be] seen as significantly more prestigious’ (Coupland and Bishop 2007: 81). Coupland and Bishop then go on to discuss social attractiveness and the picture gets a bit more complicated.

Scottish respondents were more likely to show in-group loyalty towards their own varieties than all the other groups considered in the study, and they rated Scottish English varieties more highly on the social attractiveness scale than they did for other varieties (this ties in quite nicely with Karen Torrance’s M.Phil dissertation on language attitudes in Glasgow). Welsh respondents were positive in their evaluations of Welsh English, but respondents from Cardiff didn’t rate Cardiff English very highly, nor did respondents from Belfast rate Belfast English very highly.

Why might this be the case? Well, Coupland and Bishop explain the results through reference to a form of Celtic in-group loyalty. Since the Welsh, Irish and Scottish are all Celtic in background, this is assumed to be a sort of link that ties these three nations together. But that doesn’t explain why Scottish speakers are more likely to rate Belfast English more highly than people from Belfast would. It might be that attitudes towards ‘generic national varieties’ are more negative in Scotland than elsewhere, or maybe Scottish speakers are just more tolerant of non-standard varieties.

Whatever the reason might be, one thing is clear: if you want your accent to be rated positively by more people, just move to Scotland (but only if you’re Welsh or Irish).

– The Social Linguist

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