Sound and vision blog

16 March 2020

Recording of the week: 'I didn't catch any of that!'

This week's selection comes from Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English.

In this audio clip, Iona McDonald describes a familiar experience – failure to understand someone from a different part of the country or English-speaking world. Extremely broad dialect speakers can occasionally seem unintelligible, even to speakers of closely related varieties, as this amusing anecdote illustrates:

Anecdote about Scots dialect

We used to have some friends from the Falkirk area who used to come up and stay with us every year in the summer time and they had a very very strong accent very strong Central Scots accent and Sandy had been playing outside and came running in very windy day came running in and he said to my mother yir streetcher’s fawin doun yir claes’re on the grund and we all looked at the poor boy blankly and he repeated himself again yir streetcher's fawin doun yir claes’re on the grund and we were still making absolutely nothing of it we had to say right slow it down Sandy and yir streetcher's fawin doun and yir claes are on the grund so oh right we've got it now it meant your clothes-pole has fallen down and your clothes are on the ground and he just stomped his foot and looked so put out and said yous are aw too polite.

Iona MacDonald
Iona MacDonald © BBC 2005

Dialects differ systematically from other varieties in terms of vocabulary, grammar and accent (i.e. pronunciation). Sandy’s animated description here contains words, such as streetcher [= ‘clothes-pole’] and claes [= ‘clothes’], a non-standard pronoun, yous, and numerous localised pronunciations that render his Central Scots dialect incomprehensible to family friends from Skye. Yous occurs in a number of Scottish dialects and indeed in places like Merseyside and Tyneside, but Standard English no longer distinguishes between singular and plural ‘you’. Sandy’s pronunciation of doun, grund, aw and fawin are also typical of many Scottish accents and, to a lesser degree, of varieties in North East England.

This passage comes from a BBC Voices Recording in Portree, Isle of Skye, and is one of 300 conversations about language, accent and dialect made by the BBC in 2004-5.

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