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Posts Tagged ‘Edinburgh’

Tim Visser – Has his accent changed?


The Dutch rugby player Tim Visser has just been announced as part of the Scottish rugby squad for their summer tour against Australia, Samoa and Fiji. This has been heralded as a great boon for Scotland as they look to arrest a losing streak of seven loses on the trot, and Visser’s try scoring potency is hoped to carry over onto the international stage. Of course, Visser being eligible to play for Scotland has only been possible due to the IRB’s residency rules which allow an internationally uncapped player to play for any country where they satisfy a three year residency rule.

Visser joined Edinburgh in June 2009, so in June 2012 he becomes eligible to play for Scotland since he hasn’t played for any other union at international level. Unfortunately, he’ll miss the Australia game (where we’ll be humped anyway), but he’ll make it to the Samoa and Fiji games, so we’ll get to see what he’s made of on the international stage.

Anyway, when I listened to an interview last week where he talked about being selected as part of the Scotland squad, and I was struck by how, well, Scottish he sounded, which was surprising because… he’s Dutch. Of course, I’ve got no idea what his target variety was when he was learning English, or even how long he’s been speaking English, so to check whether he’s always spoken with a ‘Scottish’ accent, I looked around for earlier interviews and found this one from when he moved to Edinburgh from Newcastle Falcons.

Now, the subject of how far people can change their accent in adulthood has long been contested within sociolinguistics, but it seems that while a speaker might not be able to pass as a ‘native’, they can adjust certain elements (this is nicely demonstrated in Jonathan Harrington’s research on the Queen). Generally speaking, it sounds to me as though Visser’s accent has changed across the two time periods, where he sounds more ‘English’ in 2009 and more ‘Scottish’ in 2012 (points below discuss Visser in 2009)

  • His DRESS vowel is a bit more fronted (for the word Edinburgh, F2 was 1600Hz in 2009 and 1560Hz in 2012).
  • His TRAP/BATH/PALM set is more fronted and lowered (his F1/F2 values for can in 2009 came out at 820Hz and 1440hz while for dad they came out at 709Hz and 1395Hz. Of course, following phonetic context of nasal versus plosive will likely play a part here).
  • And his FACE vowel is more diphthongal.
  • Curiously, his FOOT vowel is merged with GOOSE (in fact, it’s really rounded and fronted which is more like Scottish English).
  • There are a few features he’s not acquired completely in either period, including the devoicing of normally voiced fricatives and plosives (in words like was and squad).

I should add the caveat that one measurement per vowel is really not a good way to make claims about whether someone’s accent is changing or not and is not recommended practice, but there’s not really that much data to go on and unfortunately there’s no reading lists of him in 2009 and 2012, but it sounds to my ear that something there.

What’s also interesting is thinking about whether Visser’s accent has changed purely through prolonged contact with other Scottish English speakers (they do exist in Edinburgh, or so I’ve been told), or whether he now identifies with Scotland more because he’s now Scottish-qualified and that’s supposed to bring with it an element of sporting pride, or if it’s some sort of combination of these. My own take on it is that despite Visser qualifying for Scotland, he wouldn’t view himself as a Scotsman, so the ‘identifying with Scotland’ angle carries a bit less weight, suggesting that any changes are predicated on acquisition of Scottish English features through contact, rather than through any sort of identity politics, perhaps lending more weight to Trudgill’s point that ‘identity doesn’t matter‘.

– The Social Linguist

Fulbright interview, munros and lots of driving…

August 30, 2011 3 comments

Last week’s radio silence was down to a number of factors. The first was that I was annual leave and had headed up to Scotland for a bit of hillwalking with my Dad and brother (clocking up nearly 800 hundred miles in the process…). The second was that I had an interview for a Fulbright scholarship last Tuesday in Edinburgh. Thankfully, the two events coincided with one another which meant I could kill two birds with one stone, saving on fuel, accommodation and general expenditure, and as a ‘tight Scot’, you can imagine that this was greeted with some enthusiasm.

I’ll leave the prosaic matter of hillclimbing (wherein I bagged my first two munros) for a later post, and keep this one focused on my interview and some general linguistic observations I made while in Edinburgh.

Way back in March or April, I spotted an interesting post on Facebook by one of my colleagues advertising a Fulbright Scholarship on Scottish Studies and after some quite intense deliberation on my part, I decided to apply for it. My proposal was to carry out further research on my PhD data and write it up as a book, plus do some teaching on Scottish sociolinguistics (I’m editing an EUP volume on this topic, so it fits quite nicely). The project would take place at the University of Pittsburgh alongside Scott Kiesling, a major figure in the field of language and masculinity. The proposal offered quite a lot and I was really pleased with the final product, even though the application process was pretty arduous and took a lot of time to do, something made more difficult by the fact that the deadline was in the middle of the marking period. Nevertheless, I managed to put something quite respectable together, helped along the way by my friend Mel and my girlfriend Rebecca (thanks!).

I was lucky enough to get short-listed (huzzah!) and I had my interview last week in Edinburgh. Unfortunately, however, my interview didn’t go quite as well as I had hoped, mainly because I think I over-prepared and over-thought the questions. For example, the first question was ‘How would you describe your research to a lay person?’. “Ok” I thought, “I’ve got this”. And out popped this rambling, far-too-technical ‘answer’ which started off with the immortal line “My research is an ethnographically informed account of  sociolinguistic variation among urban adolescent males”… Mmmm, not as ‘non-technical’ as I might have wanted. I also managed to add something like “I’m interested in the vowel sounds of words like cat“. Now, how exciting does that sound?? What I should have said would have been something along the lines of “I’m interested in the relationship between language and violence among adolescent males in Glasgow”, but no, my brain went on academic auto-pilot. Bah.

Occasionally, I hit upon some good answers, but generally I felt too waffly, woolly and not really hitting the target, and I wasn’t convinced that my plans for the future lit up the interviewing panel’s expectations too much. Of course, I could probably be being far too negative about this, but I suppose when you know you could have done better, you know your future is in your own hands, and then you feel like you’ve messed that opportunity up, negative thoughts are kind of par for the course.

I don’t find out for sure until next week whether I’m successful or not, but from my own perspective, I’m not counting on it. For a later blog entry, I’ll post up some hints and tips which might help future applicants through the process.

After my interview, I did some wandering around Edinburgh, grabbed a bit of lunch and tried to put the interview down to experience. While on my wanderings, I couldn’t help but notice some interesting signs….

The first one was a sign at the train station highlighting the role that the SPT is playing in promoting effective sexual health…

In case you can’t see the middle bit, here’s a closer view:

Now, quite what an STDS manager (or should that be STDs?) does is anyone’s guess, but I found it quite amusing nonetheless…

The second sign I noticed had me (more or less) frothing at the mouth in abject rage, primarily because of the number of people this error would have had to have gotten past…

This mistake makes me go 'arrrrghghghghghhghgh!!!!!'

No prizes for noticing the glaringly obvious error (possessive your instead of contracted verbal form you are), but it is almost unforgivable that this should have made it past the first stage of the signwriting process. I’m not sure what kind of quality assurance checks these things go through, but presumably a spell-checker (or someone with an ounce of intelligence about them) would have spotted this. It’s also not as though the intention was to have something ‘Your getting here has made us all happier’, where the possessive is marking an event of some sort, since there is no subordinate clause after the main clause. Something has gone drastically wrong here, and the fact that I see these kinds of errors all over the place makes me worry about the standards of written English in the public domain. Or maybe it was just cause I was so annoyed about my interview that I was looking for something I could vent at…

– The Social Linguist