We’re starting to get lots of data now for the project and have begun to transcribe some of the interviews. Some really interesting points are emerging from what we’ve got so far.

To give you taste of the type of data we’re looking at, we’ve included here a few extracts from the recordings where we compare the speaker talking to Roseleen, the insider and Sophie the outsider.

We’ll start with Jock, eighty years old, talking about his family, and in particular, his father’s death in the war. In the first extract he’s talking to Roseleen, our community insider, and in the second, he’s talking to Sophie, our ‘outsider’.


Talking to Roseleen
I would say the best drawer in the faimily fann we were bairns was my brother Andy, the lad that went to sea. ‘Cause I aie used to think Alex a- an exceptionally good drawer, you ken. And he was. But then again he went to sea and eh that was fitt he chose to dee. It wasna wi’ my mother’s blessing because we had a’ promised nae to ging to sea after my father lost his life as a result of the Russian convoys. He was a trawler skipper workin’ at Aberdeen and though my mother had been left comparatively well aff, that altered bringin’ up four o’ her loons.  But she lived ’til she was eh eichty-six.

Talking to Sophie
That’s my youngest brother Joe. He was actually born three weeks after his father died. Eh my father em was on the Russian convoys during the war. He was a fisherman who joined up voluntarily because he’d had a brush with a Nazi aircraft eh when he was at the trawling eh the fishing. He joined in R and R, got his commission because they say they were eh desperate for guys who could handle ships in them days and he ended up on the Russian convoys, and as a result met his death. Mother was left with three sons then.  I was eldest, eh I was ten, Andy was eight, Bill was five and and John was born exactly three weeks after he died.  So we weren’t exactly brought up with a silver spoon in the mouth as the saying goes, you know.


Note that when Jock is talking to Roseleen, he uses many dialect features. These include forms which you can hear all over Scotland, including  lad for boy, bairns for children, ken for know and aie for always.  He also uses some forms that you’ll only hear in the northeast: loons for boys/sons and fann and fitt for when and what. There are lots of dialect pronunciations too: ging for go, nae for not, wasna for wasn’t, dee for do, a’ for all.

In contrast, when talking to Sophie he switches to a more formal style: he uses sons instead of loons, weren’t instead of werena, when instead of fann and you know instead of you ken.  

Now let’s have a look at Poppy, seventy years old, talking to Roseleen about heating houses with paraffin in winter, and then about a fire which arose from a paraffin heater in a shop.


Talking to Roseleen
There was pink paraffin and blue paraffin and the pink paraffin didna smell but the blue– but the blue paraffin was cheaper and abody had paraffin fires (Roseleen) But you would have had electric and athing? (Poppy) Oh I wasna born in Victorian times! Paraffin heaters. Nae central heating, nae double glazing. Blankets. Thin cotton sheets in the summer, flannel-like sheets in the winter.  And if you was cold you’d aie a quilt

Talking to Sophie
It was during the day and it was a paraffin heater and there was a hole in the pipe and the paraffin was leaking and it just went up in a blaze like that (Sophie) And was everyone okay? (Poppy) Aye. Naebody was hurt. It took fire rapid, but fire engine came quick right, got everything under control. We was like the black road.  We a’ went in and shovelled a’ the burned stuff oot and tried to keep fitt was– we thought would sell . (Sophie).  How long did it take you to clear it all up then? (Poppy)  Oh it took months. Took months to get th- the smell of burnin’ and athing awa’.


Note the interesting thing here: Poppy uses lots of dialect forms with Roseleen – but she also does with Sophie! In fact, listening to her, she doesn’t sound much different from one recording to the next.

Lastly, take a look at some data from 22 year old Kevin talking about rock’n’roll bingo and vodka slushies:


Talking to Roseleen
It’s ace, aye. It’s aieways busy, abody kens Thursdays and Sundays are rock and roll bingo night.

Talking to Sophie
Yeah, our favourite nights to go out are Thursdays. Vodka slushies and the rock and roll bingo.


Like Jock, Kevin is tailoring his language to the person he is speaking to. For instance, when talking to Sophie he uses yeah and when talking to Roseleen he uses aye alongside other dialectal features such as aieways for always, abody for everybody and ken for know.

However, when we looked at the interviews more closely, we found that the speaker’s ability to switch was also affected by the type of language feature. For example, features like aye for yes or fitt for what, appear to be substituted fairly easily by speakers who make a bidialectal adjustment. We are early on in our analyses but what these features appear to have in common is that they are highly salient; most people will think of aye when you ask them to think of a Scottish language feature.

In contrast, when we looked at a grammatical feature – was in place of Standard English were – even our most bidialectal speakers have trouble switching this feature, as the example from Kevin below shows. Kevin continues to use we was when talking to Sophie instead of the expected switch to we were.


Talking to Roseleen
Me and Melissa was looking at flats and they were too dear up here

Talking to Sophie
He was wanting to do a thing for my birthday, we was going to go down to London and see them


Our early results suggest that in contrast to pronunciation and word switches, bidialectal organization ‘breaks down’ with these types of grammatical constructions.

A number of patterns are emerging from the study so far with several factors appearing to play a role in a person’s bidialectal behavior. Firstly, the type of language feature; some types of linguistic features are easier to switch than others, aye and yes appeared to show clear bidialectal organization, the use of standard were, however, showed much less.

Second, age: we had hypothesised that younger speakers would be more ‘dexterous’ bidialectals than the older speakers. This seems to be largely the case with the data we’ve analysed so far, but individual differences may exist as 81 year old jock’s ability to switch shows.

So it seems that there may be individual differences in when, where and how people switch between two dialects. Some speakers appear to vary their speech according to who their addressee much more than others as Poppy, Jock and Kevin show.  However, some linguistic features may simply never switch systematically at all, regardless of the bidialectal ability of the speaker. A Stanford linguist Professor John Rickford uses the term linguistic chameleon to refer to those types of people who can make fairly drastic shifts in their language style relative to their social environment. Our initial research suggests that there are linguistic chameleons, but they may only change colour in some parts of their speech.

We’re going to be exploring this in a more systematic way in the coming months. Stay tuned!