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Corby: The most Scottish town in England?


The BBC just published an interesting article on Corby, a town in England located near Kettering and Northampton (so East Midlands). Corby is a really interesting wee town because a whole bunch of Glaswegian and Central Belt steel workers moved there from the 1930 onwards when the Glasgow based company Stewarts & Lloyds built a huge steelworks in the town. Naturally, when a population moves to a new location, especially in some sort of critical mass, they take their cultural practices with them. Corby is now one of the few places in England where you can buy Irn Bru, square sausage and haggis with pretty much no problems at all. The town has its own pipe band, several Highland dancing clubs, a Rangers football supporters club (at least up until 2013), an annual Highland games and other notably Scottish activities and organisations. But one thing that sets Corby apart from other locations in the East Midlands is its associated accent (here’s a nice British Library clip of people discussing the Corby accent):

The most striking is the Corby accent, or mixture of accents. Some sound Glaswegian. Others seem to have a slight Scottish twang. And there are those that speak with a broad Scottish accent (BBC article).

When the Clyde Valley workers moved to Corby, they brought with them their accent, an accent which 2nd and 3rd generation family members also adopted (or at least certain features of it). The BBC article even goes so far as to suggest that people in Corby still feel Scottish, despite the fact that many of them are born and bred in England:

However, when it came to how the population described its national identity, 5,585 people in Corby said “Scottish only”. By comparison, 33,018 people described themselves as “English only” and 10,299 people said they were “British only”.

But the census doesn’t necessarily tally with local perceptions.

Steve Ireland, 64, who used to work in a whisky factory and the RAF in Scotland, but is English and now lives in Corby, maintains the town is very much still a “mini-Scotland.

Steve Noble, whose parents moved down from Glasgow in 1970 to work on the steelworks when he was 10 and is the landlord of the White Hart pub, agrees many families in Corby still feel Scottish.”

Now, the point of today’s blog isn’t to get into an argument about what does or doesn’t constitute Scottishness, but rather to suggest that this reading of families in Corby is really quite different to sociolinguistic work which looks at these issues. Of particular note is the work of Judy Dyer who conducted a really nice piece of sociolinguistic research on Corby back in the early 2000s (‘We all speak the same around here: Dialect levelling in a Scottish-English community‘).

Examining the LOT/THOUGHT merger and the GOAT vowel, Dyer shows that LOT/THOUGHT patterns much like other Anglo-English varieties (that is, two vowel phonemes here instead of just one as most Scots varieties do), but GOAT seems to be slightly different, with men favouring the monophthongal variant (that is, a variant similar to the Scots variant) while women favour the Anglo-English variant which is more diphthongal. Dyer asks why ‘historically Scottish features have been adopted at all, given the stigma associated with them (Dyer 2002: 109), and points out that a traditional variationist account would suggest that the male speakers in Corby are indexing some sort of Scottishness through their use of the monophthongal GOAT, and this is a reading which certainly fits in with the narrative outlined in the BBC article. But what’s especially interesting is that;

the third generation men interviewed, even those producing the highest percentages of historically Scottish variants, did not identify themselves as Scottish in any way. This is manifest both anecdotally in their support for the English (rather than Scottish) team in the Football World Cup (1998), and in their own self identifications. RD, one of the third generation male speakers with the highest use of historically Scottish variants, describes celebrating New Year with Scottish friends as an entirely new cultural experience, and ClT, another third generation man refers to the Cockney slang for Scots (‘sweaty socks’) and jokingly calls the Scots ‘sweaty jocks,’ clearly constructing them as ‘the other’ in his discourse (Dyer 2002: 110). 

Dyer goes into a good amount of detail concerning the kinds of social discourses surrounds Scots and Scotland, using data from 1st, 2nd and 3rd generation families in Corby and comes to the conclusion that it’s not Scotland the speakers indexing through their use of monopthongal GOAT, but rather it’s simply to display an orientation towards local identity. This perhaps isn’t surprising, and similar findings are reported in Scotland for young people’s use of TH-fronting in Glasgow (i.e. it’s not that they’re trying to identify as English or Londoner, but rather orientation towards and constructing a specific local identity).

It’s unlikely that the BBC would reach this kind of depth in their analysis, especially since the Scottish accent in Corby can be fitted into such a neat nationalistic narrative (alliteration ftw), but it does raise the point that how linguists and how journalists approach complex language situations can be really quite different.

The Social Linguist

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A New Scotland: Who Should Get to Vote?


Normally, I avoid political rambling on the blog for several reasons. First, I’m not especially politically minded. Second, politics and sociolinguistics are uncommon bed-fellows. And third, there are a ton of politics-orientated blogs out there, so I don’t see the point in adding to them. But I’d be lying if I said that the question of Scottish independence didn’t have me intrigued, given that it’s quite possibly the biggest question the people of Scotland will ever have to answer in the history of the country.

And in that previous sentence is a key phrase: the people of Scotland. Not ‘Scottish people’, not ‘the Scots’, but ‘the people of Scotland’. And it’s important since how voting rights are being determined is by residency, not by ancestry or any other rubric. Which, as a fully paid up member of the Scottish Vowel Length Rule (where words like greed and agreed are contrastive by the length of the vowel /i/, unlike in English English where the vowels are the same length), I find pretty disappointing. I grew up in Scotland, studied in Scotland, lived, worked and contributed to Scotland’s economy. From the ages of -9 months to 26 1/2 years old, I lived in Scotland. And then I had to move, mainly because there were no jobs in Scotland in sociolinguistics (who’da thunk it? It’s such a growth industry!). And now that I’m living in England, I’m ineligible to vote in one of the biggest decisions ever to affect my country.

This blog post is inspired in part by the fact that right now, I’m giving a talk at the Scottish Leadership Conference in Troy, MI (just outside Detroit) about the Scottish Studies Fulbright Award (which, if you’re thinking about applying, you should do now! There’s only about a month left to go until the deadline!), and I know that there will be a lot of people there talking about Scottish independence and so on. It was also inspired by this post here, but what jumped out at me was the following quote:

By any measure, my accent, vocabulary and appetite for cholesterol-rich foodstuffs still mark me out as a Scot. I think “glaikit” is a superior term to “stupid”, “messages” preferable to “groceries” and “shoogly” more mellifluous than “unstable”.

So for the writer, the biggest determinant of Scottish identity is language use (and therein, we get to the confluence of sociolinguistics and politics!). And there’s been lots written about identity and nationality (one I’m making my way through just now is Monica Heller’s recent book on the topic), so it’s no surprise that language use should be invoked here as a key marker of ‘Scottishness’. Language is, after all, how we show the world who we are and where we come from, and language is, for me, one of the most important ways I construct my identity as Scottish. And being in America right now, my Scottishness is perhaps even more explicitly foregrounded (especially when I switch into my faux-American accent and realise that I sound like an eejit).

Now, what the practical ramifications of independence will be are unclear, particularly relating to things like passports and border control (I’m guessing that nothing much would change here, but I could be wrong), but if independence does go through, at least I won’t have to feel that twinge of uncomfortableness when filling in Government forms that ask for your country of birth (for me, it’s Scotland, not the UK).

Incidentally, while I’m annoyed that I can’t vote on the independence question, and would welcome any movement which would allow Scots abroad to vote (like this chap is trying to do), I understand the complications on drawing a line between who should and who shouldn’t be allowed to vote. Indeed, the SNP has now publicly disavowed Scots abroad and won’t let them vote. But supposing it was to happen, would the best way to determine Scottishness be  a linguistic test (sample questions below)?:

  1. What’s do you call the smallest finger on your hand?
  2. (Fill in the blank) A migraine is a kind of severe ______.
  3. Spot the odd one out: loch, burn, stream.
  4. (Fill in the blank) The car is dirty. It needs ______.
  5. (Speak into the microphone clearly and read the following passage aloud): Wash those grass stains off your knees!
  6. (Translation): Here hen, ur ye gaunae go up the toon the morra night or no?

A workable proposal? I think so.

The Scottish Linguist

Japanese people visiting Scotland: this information could save your life!


I read this article in The Guardian last week about this, a Japanese guidebook to Scotland. Now obviously, I can’t read Japanese, but if The Guardian article is anything to go by, I’m kind of glad I can’t, because I think I’d probably end up a) laughing too much or b) get too annoyed, both of which would result in me not finishing it. For those of you who might have missed the story, it’s basically a guidebook for Japanese visitors heading to Scotland, what to expect, what to call things, how to interact with the locals and so on.

What I can’t figure out is just how much of it is tongue-in-cheek and how much of it is ‘serious advice for the world traveller’. Taking just the first sentence of The Guardian article, Japanese tourists are advised to ‘Avoid football supporters and “flat sausage”, and never, ever, refer to a Scottish person as English’. As a Scottish person, I feel qualified to talk about this advice.

1) Avoid football supporters

Ok, I can perhaps understand this, but where tourists will be visiting (major sites, tourist hotspots etc) will likely not include the major football areas of either Glasgow or Edinburgh. Even further afield (Dundee, Aberdeen etc), as far as I’m aware, the football grounds and associated supporters’ bars are nowhere the tourist trail, so the likelihood of a tourist meeting a football fan is already pretty low. And anyway, unless said tourist was to go up to said football fan and say something like ‘your football team’s rubbish by the way’ (cause they’ve already acquired some Scottish English discourse markers), then football fans are likely to take no notice of tourists. So this piece of advice is close to scaremongering in my view.

2) Avoid ‘flat’ sausage

Those of you who live south of the border might wonder what on earth this might be, but no-one in Scotland actually calls it this. Instead, it’s known as lorne sausage or more usually square sausage and it’s probably one of the best inventions to come out of Scotland, particularly since it fits so well in a roll (or bun, bap, hob, barm or whatever your vernacular word of choice is). Square sausage means your meal is more stable (no sausages rolling out), and your sauce is more easily distributed across the sausage. All in all, it’s one of those foods that all tourists to Scotland should try, along with black pudding, whiskey and clootie dumpling.

3) Don’t call a Scottish person English

This is set out as though the mistake will cost the tourist their life, but seriously, people who are unfamiliar with Scotland and the Scottish accent think we’re from all over the place, including Ireland, Australia, Canada and England (I’ve been asked at one time or another if I’m from each of these countries), so  it’s often really not a big deal. Moreover, Scottish people would probably be quite forgiving of someone who has never been to Scotland before and would likely try and explain politely that they’re not English (I expect, without any violence).

I also took exception to the following piece of advice: ‘Please do not expect to have the same quick, polite and accurate service here to compare with Japanese service at shops, restaurants and hotels. Be patient anywhere in Scotland, it is not Japan’.

Actually, people who work in the service sector in Scotland are incredibly polite, quick and accurate, more so if they work in a tourist spot, so I really don’t know what this advice is based on. I worked in the Glasgow Science Centre for years when I was a student and I was always proud of the high standards of service we gave to our visitors (gosh, I feel like I’m recounting our trainee handbook!), and most places I’ve visited in Glasgow, Edinburgh or further afield have never made me think that customer service in Scotland is found wanting.

Maybe there’s nuggets of wisdom in the book that haven’t been included in the review, so perhaps I’m being a little unfair, but even if these few pieces of advice I’ve discussed above are taken as representative of Japanese worries about Scottish culture, then I’m a bit surprised Luath decided to publish it at all…

The Social Linguist

Ding dong the bells are ringing!


Not for me, but for my younger brother who is getting married this weekend! I don’t really say much about my younger brother on here, but this is such a momentous occasion for him that I can’t help but wax lyrical about how proud, happy and just generally chuffed to bits I am for him and his soon-to-be wife. Kris isn’t one for decision-making, and he’s normally pretty hopeless at planning anything beyond the next week, but he seems to be getting this whole ‘being an adult’ thing down pat. He’s got a mortgage on a wee flat in Lanark and he’s getting married, two things which have thus far eluded me in my adult life. I always took the mickey out of him for being the immature one, but it seems that once this weekend is over, the shoe will be on the other foot.

As he’s getting married in Scotland, the groomsmen will all be kilted up and I’m really looking forward to wearing the whole get up. While I normally wear a kilt when I go to the rugby, I never really get a chance to wear the full outfit. The kilt is a wonderful piece of clothing that makes any man look good, and with Kris, he really needs all the help he can get. It amazes me that kilts and other highland wear were actually banned in the 18th century so as to control and suppress the clans of Scotland but now it’s more commonly associated with allowing one to bare one’s buttocks (or other delicate parts!) to the general populace with ease (as demonstrated here and discussed here). Thankfully in Scotland, men don’t get asked what they’re wearing under their kilts, so I get to avoid that conversation… (see here for an explanation)

So my best man’s speech is prepared, marking is all done (huzzah!), hotel is booked and tickets to the last home game of the Glasgow Warriors are bought (priorities!). Added to that, it’s a bank holiday on Monday, so I at least get a chance to recover from all the festivities. Weekends like this only come up occasionally, so I’m hoping for fair weather, good company and great memories.

– The Social Linguist

Categories: Home life Tags: , , ,

It’s hard being a Scottish rugby fan…


It all started off so promisingly as well. Scotland had come off the back of a not great Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, and it was felt that the bad couldn’t get any worse. Eventually, the try drought had to stop; silly mistakes had to be cut out; a better attacking platform had to be developed. All Scottish rugby fans had been crying out for a new dawn since the inaugural Six Nations back in 2000, and hope has sprung eternal since the days of Matt Williams, Frank Hadden, and more recently Andy Robinson, that things could be turned around and we could once again become a force in world rugby.

Every year since I’ve been following the Six Nations, I’ve always gone into the tournament with fresh vigor and determination that this would be our year. This would be the time where we would blow teams away with our daring attack and phenomenal defense, carving up the pitch with devastating runs and pinpoint accuracy kicks. Alas, I’ve always been disappointed that we’ve come up so short. In. Every. Single. Tournament. Since I’ve been watching (2007), we have finished second last, with Italy the only team preventing us from the ignominy of finishing dead last.

This year, again, I had hoped it would be different. But as soon as Robinson announced the line up for the game against England, we knew we were doomed because it contained Dan Parks. Now, Dan Parks has been an admirable servant of Scotland for over a decade, and he has single-handedly saved many games for Scotland through his impeccable place kicking and touch finders, but his form of late has been dipping rather dramatically. This came to a head during the game against England when he botched a clearance kick which was charged down and led to an England try. Game over. What was even worse about this was that almost straight after the game, he retired from international rugby with immediate effect. Pretty awful news and I felt sorry for the guy who had put his body on the line for Scotland on so many occasions.

But this had the potential to herald our new dawn, with a new 10 coming in to replace Parks in the form of Greig Laidlaw (the current Edinburgh number 10), and instantly, our backline was transformed, making line breaks almost at will. But what seemed to constantly plague us were silly mistakes in the opposition 22, and against Wales, this manifest itself in two entirely avoidable yellow cards which effectively ended the contest. But we bounced back against the French and scored some well worked tries, playing probably the most attractive rugby I’ve ever seen Scotland play. Alas, we still lost, and then against Ireland, we appeared to throw away any semblance of a coherent game plan, and lost the game quite comprehensively.

So we are now zero for the last six games, and go into the last weekend of the Six Nations with our usual attempt to avoid finishing last by beating Italy. At home. Where we lost in 2008. And 2010. If we don’t beat them, we’re also ‘awarded’ both the Wooden Spoon (last place) and a tournament whitewash (no wins).  So a lot is at stake here, and I seriously wonder if Andy Robinson’s position will be at all tenable if Scotland lose. I can’t even countenance what the reaction will be in the Scottish media, since this will represent our worst run of results in about a decade.

Whatever happens though, I have to applaud the Scotland team. It can’t be easy going out on to the pitch, investing so much emotional, physical and mental effort for no reward, and then having to repeat it the next week. But I’m hopeful that today, Scotland can go out and throw down a marker that doesn’t completely devalue all the efforts they’ve made this season.

And maybe next year will be our year.

FREEDOM!!!

– The Social Linguist

Categories: Home life, Random Tags: , ,

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…


February is, without a doubt, my most favourite time of the year, no contest. Why? Well, it’s certainly nothing to do with the weather, nor is it because my teaching load is noticeably heavier in semester 2, nor is it because January is over and Spring is looming over the horizon. It’s because February rings the start of the Six Nations Championship and a glorious six weeks of international rugby action. Woohoo!

Although the World Cup is a wonderful spectacle and advert for the sport (England’s antics during and after the tournament a notable exception), the Six Nations distills this into an almighty battle between the Home Nations and Italy and France. No sport tournament comes close (in my mind at least) to embodying the passion, adrenaline, commitment, joy and heartbreak of the Six Nations. It is without par in the sporting world and I look forward to it every single year (well, every single year for the past six years or so).

In some respects, I’m disappointed I got into rugby so late on in my life. I was never into sports as a teenager, and during P.E. at high school, I would ask if I could go for a cross-country run instead of embarrassing myself with my two left feet and always being picked last. Rugby was (and still is) a peripheral sport in Scotland, despite the fact that it’s got a lot more going for it than football. It’s a game for all sorts of people, from small and quick to big and slow and everything in between. There’s very little animosity between club supporters, the players are respectful of the referee and his decisions (even if the decisions are wrong), and every game finishes with a handshake and a pat on the back, regardless of what happens on the pitch. In many ways, it’s a much more family friendly game than many football games, yet rugby hasn’t really capitalised on this distinction, and certainly not in Glasgow where football-related violence has always been an intrinsic part of being a fan (not for all fans of course, but for a vocal minority).

Anyway, now to head off and get ready for a day of screaming, shouting and cursing at the television. Can’t. Wait.

Oh, and here’s a wee ditty for you…

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
When the rugby is showing,
And Guinness is flowing, it’s Six Nations time!
It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
It’s the hap-happiest season of all.
With those try scorers running and scrums a-collapsing
You’ll roar when they score!
It’s the hap- happiest season of all.”

The Social Linguist

Categories: Home life, Random Tags: , ,

Scottish-American Relations: A Boon Industry?

January 24, 2012 3 comments

This article on the BBC today got me thinking about the relationship between America and Scotland and how it’s being re-defined in response to commercial pressures and the potential of an independent Scotland. Scotland has always had a close relationship with America, in large part due to the vast numbers of immigrants from Scotland who settled in the States during the early period of American expansion. This means that Americans are often quick to point out that their great-great-great-great grandfather came to America on a boat from Scotland and they’ve always thought of themselves as part-Scottish. This conversation happens quite a lot when I visit America, and from Irish friends of mine, I hear very similar kinds of stories.

Part of the attraction of claiming Scottish ancestry is that it is a way of claiming a romanticised picture of ‘Scottishness’ that’s build up as haggis and tartan, hills and glens, thistle and whiskey. This has been often a strategic way of marketing Scotland to a wider audience, and the proliferation of the ‘Kailyard novels‘ (literally, cabbage-patch novels) drew quite extensively from a rather one-dimensional of Scottish life (and were subsequently criticised as being an unrealistic picture of Scotland and its people). While the Kailyard novels were soon replaced by the more sophisticated works which emerged from the Scottish Literary Renaissance, nevertheless, the ideas the Kailyard writers explored remain deeply entrenched idealisms about Scottishness, both inside and outside Scotland.

But the political and commercial landscape of Scotland is changing, and forging closer links with countries beyond the UK seems to be an important plank to the Scottish Government’s strategy of global relevance. Part of doing this properly is moving beyond quite narrow definitions of what Scotland means and what it is to be Scottish, and that’s certainly what Salmond and the SNP appear to be trying to do (although they are still very much invested in traditional ideas about Scotland).

During my Fulbright interview last year, one of the questions I was asked was how I would ‘sell’ Scotland to people that I met in America. I started off by saying that I would try to go beyond essentialist notions of Scottishness and that Scotland wasn’t just about whiskey, haggis and tartan. The follow up was ‘well then, what is Scotland all about?’, at which point I started rambling about how it was impossible to define Scotland in simplistic terms because it relied too much on essentialist definitions, but I digress. I think that much of what I said then is echoed in what’s happening now.

Scotland is certainly trying to move beyond the Kailyard, but when these ideas are some of the most widely recognised symbols of Scotland, what do you replace it with?