Phonetic Differences of the Scottish Language

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Phonetic Differences of the Scottish Language
Scottish Standard English has major phonetic differences from Standard American English. (Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Phonetics is the scientific study of speech. Specifically, phonetics looks at the production of speech sounds used in different languages. Scottish is a Germanic language with five distinct dialects of its own: North, South, Central, Islands and Lowlands. These dialects differ somewhat in grammar, lexicon and phonetics. But to simplify matters, there is a Standard Sottish English, according to language expert Robert Blumenfeld. Standard Scottish English has distinctive vowel lengths, rhythm and pitch. These traits, combined with its use of the "glottal stop," separate the Scottish language from other forms of English.

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Glottal Stop

Although not used in Standard Scottish English, several branches of the Scottish language employ the glottal stop. This is when speakers erase the final letters of a word in their speech. For instance, in the word "with" they would subtract the "th" and make it sound like "wi." It is usually used at the end of words, but is sometimes used in the middle of words, such as the "tt" in the word "better." The glottal stop is used frequently in the Highlands and in Glasgow, and less frequently in the Lowlands.

Rhythm and Pitch

Every language has a certain rhythm. While American English has a more freestyle rhythm that is open to each individual speaker, Scottish English has more rigid stress patterns. In addition to rhythm, languages differ in their rules on pitch. Scottish is famous for having a series of falling tones on accented syllables, even in question phrases. It is also very common in Scottish sentences for the speaker to use falling tones before rising back up in pitch halfway, only to fall once again to finish the sentence.

Vowel Lengths

Compared to American English, the Scottish language holds vowels at different lengths --- some vowels in Scottish are longer than in American English and some are shorter. For example, Scottish lengthens the "ee" sound in words like "please" and "beard." But it holds the "i" vowel for a very short time in words like "bid" and "lit." Yet the "a" vowel is pronounced for the same length of time as in American English.

Voiceless Consonants

The northern accents of the Western and Middle Highlands and Islands differ significantly from Standard Scottish English. One of the distinguishing features of Highlands Scottish is the use of voiceless consonants in the place of voiced ones. "Zh" is the voiced version of "sh," and "j" is the voiced equivalent of "ch." So in Highlands Scottish, the word "pleasure," for example, replaces the voiced "zh" sound with an unvoiced "sh" sound to get the sound "pleashure." Another example is the word "enjoying," which becomes "enchoying" in Highlands Scottish.

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