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Follow Along with a Conversation in Doric Scots

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The Scottish Corpus of Text and Speech (SCOTS) is a collection of over 1300 spoken and written texts covering a wide range of language use in Scotland. Since it went online in 2004, researchers have used it to study various aspects of Scottish dialects. It allows you to search for specific words, as well as the words with which they most commonly occur, and to see the places where the users of those words are from on a map. One of the most impressive features of the corpus is the automatically highlighted transcription of the audio files. While you listen, you see exactly where you are in the transcription, which makes it a lot easier to follow the conversation, especially if you're unfamiliar with the expressions.

While exploring the corpus I discovered an audio file in the collection that contains a delightful conversation between two teachers discussing their own strong dialect features and how people react to them. They both speak a Northeastern variety known as Doric Scots, but even so, there are differences between the way the two of them speak, as well as between them and their students. This excerpt is an example of the flavor of their conversation:

A: I was thinkin' aboot what we were eh gonna dae for this Doric speakin or

B: spick aboot this efternuin.

A: I'm eh sure we've been picked because we're baith fae the sticks,

B: [laugh] Fae teuchterland! [laugh]

A: fae teuchterland and ehm of-, well, I suppose there is quite a strong accent we, we've got doon here in Laurencekirk but

B: Mmhm

A: certainly some o the words and stuff I mention, some o the kids'll

B: Aye.

A: look at ye funny.

B: Aye.

A: I, I'll tell ye the, the ain that ayeways comes up is h- "haivers." Ken the kids doon here say

B: Haivers.

A: "haivers"

B: Mmhm

A: Right, wi me if ye're haiverin.

B: Aye, ye're speakin rubbish.

A: Well I always thought it was ye were hummin and haein.

B: Or speakin nonsense. Oh! Oh it's, aye.

A: Right, I'm, I'm just, you know, I'm haiverin about that.

B: I thought haiverin wis, ye're bletherin a heap o nonsense. Stop yer haivers.

They use fae for from, ain for one, and ken for know. They jokingly refer to themselves as being from Teuchterland, a somewhat insulting term for the Highlands that implies a rural lack of sophistication—a bit like Hicksville. They realize they have slightly different ideas of what haivers means.

In other parts of the conversation they discuss conflicted feelings about the use of their dialects in school, the changes from their parents' and grandparents' generations, and the situations that call for "putting on" their "phone voice," their expression for switching to a more standard dialect.

It's a fascinating discussion of the social aspects of dialect that's actually being conducted in the dialect. You can hear for yourself what it sounds like, and read along the with transcription at the same time, here. Click on "Play audio" in the box to the right.

How Do You Stress the Word: THANKSgiving or ThanksGIVing?

Here’s something else to stress about for Thanksgiving: where to put the stress in the word Thanksgiving.

If you’re from California, Iowa, or Delaware, you probably say ThanksGIVing, with the primary stress on the second syllable. If you’re from Georgia, Tennessee, or the Texas Panhandle, you probably say THANKSgiving, with the primary stress on the first syllable.

This north-south divide on syllable stress is found for other words like umbrella, guitar, insurance, and pecan. However, those words are borrowed from other languages (Italian, Spanish, French). Sometimes, in the borrowing process, competing stress patterns settle into regional differences. Just as some borrowed words get first syllable stress in the South and second syllable stress in the North, French words like garage and ballet get first syllable stress in the UK and second syllable stress in the U.S.

Thanksgiving, however, is an English word through and through. And if it behaved like a normal English word, it would have stress on the first syllable. Consider other words with the same noun-gerund structure just like it: SEAfaring, BAbysitting, HANDwriting, BULLfighting, BIRDwatching, HOMEcoming, ALMSgiving. The stress is always up front, on the noun. Why, in Thanksgiving alone, would stress shift to the GIVE?

The shift to the ThanksGIVing pronunciation is a bit of a mystery. Linguist John McWhorter has suggested that the loss of the stress on thanks has to do with a change in our concept of the holiday, that we “don’t truly think about Thanksgiving as being about thankfulness anymore.” This kind of thing can happen when a word takes on a new, more abstract sense. When we use outgoing for mail that is literally going out, we are likely to stress the OUT. When we use it as a description of someone’s personality ("She's so outgoing!"), the stress might show up on the GO. Stress can shift with meaning.

But the stress shift might not be solely connected to the entrenchment of our turkey-eating rituals. The thanksGIVing stress pattern seems to have pre-dated the institution of the American holiday, according to an analysis of the meter of English poems by Mark Liberman at Language Log. ThanksGIVing has been around at least since the 17th century. However you say it, there is precedent to back you up. And room enough to focus on both the thanks and the giving.

TAKWest, Youtube
Watch Boris Karloff's 1966 Coffee Commercial
TAKWest, Youtube
TAKWest, Youtube

Horror legend Boris Karloff is famous for playing mummies, mad scientists, and of course, Frankenstein’s creation. In 1930, Karloff cemented the modern image of the monster—with its rectangular forehead, bolted neck, and enormous boots (allegedly weighing in at 11 pounds each)—in the minds of audiences.

But the horror icon, who was born 130 years ago today, also had a sense of humor. The actor appeared in numerous comedies, and even famously played a Boris Karloff look-alike (who’s offended when he’s mistaken for Karloff) in the original Broadway production of Arsenic and Old Lace

In the ’60s, Karloff also put his comedic chops to work in a commercial for Butter-Nut Coffee. The strange commercial, set in a spooky mansion, plays out like a movie scene, in which Karloff and the viewer are co-stars. Subtitles on the bottom of the screen feed the viewer lines, and Karloff responds accordingly. 

Watch the commercial below to see the British star selling coffee—and read your lines aloud to feel like you’re “acting” alongside Karloff. 

[h/t: Retroist]


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