This little project occurred as the result of
woefully inaccurate information I have seen on various USA websites,
concerning the sacred dialect of Glasgow, and the dialects of Scotland
in general, and I hope it will go some way to putting matters
straight. I would stress that I am not having a go at English
people, or those English speakers who live elsewhere, but I am
merely trying to illustrate the difficulties that Scots people
have with the English language. English speakers resident
in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere, are
all allowed to converse freely in the media in their own versions
of “English” without criticism, yet, as it will be
found if you care to read on, in these little islands that comprise
the UK, we are not.
When I first began to write about my experiences of Glasgow
Corporation Transport I could not help but recall the speech
used by the bus crews, and how strangers to the city would have
struggled to understand the Glasgow dialect. As the articles
I wrote have often been read by people from outside the UK I
thought it may be appropriate to give a fairly brief guide to
the local dialect.
The United Kingdom is a puzzle to people who hail from elsewhere.
It professes to comprise four separate “countries”.
However, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, are not generally
recognised as separate entities elsewhere in the world, and we
are all often lumped unceremoniously together as “England”.
Why then is it that a resident of Seattle can have a conversation
with someone from Florida, thousands of miles away without having
to ask for words to be translated, when a Londoner cannot make
out a word spoken by a Scotsman, who only lives 400 miles away? If
it were permissible, then Scots would conduct their official
business in their own tongue, which, although using English as
a base, could be, and indeed formerly was, regarded as a separate
language. The requirement to use Standard English for international
communication would pose little problem, as, although our local
politicians may be ignorant of the fact, we are in that precise
I am not in favour of the class system that has persisted in
most European countries for centuries, although I would have
to say that the system exists whether we like it or not. Therefore
we have a “working class”, which comprises most of
us, a “middle class”, which comprises the majority
of our political leaders, and the “upper class” which
tends not to become involved in much but ensures that the “controlling” middle
classes make decisions that will be favourable towards them.
Unfortunately, in Scotland particularly, we also have an “unemployed
class”, which comprises a significant part of the population.
Therefore, the dialects referred to in this article tend to be
the common speech that is very much the preserve of the underprivileged
many, rather than the select few.
The common speech of almost the whole of Scotland utilises “Broad
Scots” words and phrases that are not recognised as “good
English” by our governing bodies, and we have to learn
from an early age to substitute the words concerned for their
English equivalent. This is made very difficult by the fact that
some words do not really translate, and our syntax, grammar,
and choice of tense, is often different from standard written
English. To cite an example, the Scots word “sleekit” is
usually translated into Standard English as “sly”,
which in no way conveys its true meaning to a Scots speaker,
where the word conveys so much more.
Schoolchildren in the UK are obliged to attempt to learn the
English as spoken in the south east of England, despite the fact
that a Scottish child will never be able to cope with the vowel
sounds used by the people of what are known as the “English
Home Counties”. If there is any doubt about that, if a
southern Englishman utters the words “fir” and “fur” then
it will be almost impossible to differentiate between the two,
as the vowel sounds are too similar. In Scotland the corresponding
vowel sounds are very different, and the problem does not arise.
Also, it is almost impossible for us to pronounce those words
like our English cousins. In fact, the vowel sounds utilised
in south east England are actually beyond the scope of most English
speakers worldwide. If you don’t believe me, listen to
a native of Newcastle upon Tyne in north east England. Nevertheless,
we Scots are obliged to try and master what is to us an alien
and over elaborate manner of pronouncing the English language,
and this results in a distinct lack of confidence when we are
forced to speak “proper English” in public.
Although most of us are able to master written English, the
pure spoken language is beyond all but very few of us. Scottish
newsreaders on television try very hard to minimise their Scottish
accents, particularly the glottal stop, and it is a great source
of amusement for me to hear them say, “and now for the
Scoddish football results”. They develop a sort of “educated
Scots drawl”, which results in this tendency, although
one would have to hear it to appreciate the sounds actually made.
In essence, we have to make an attempt at being bi-lingual, which
causes us untold grief, and creates a source of amusement and
feeling of superiority in our English neighbours. It is true
that, of the many Scottish dialects, the Glasgow dialect in particular
tends to amount to mere mispronunciation of Standard English,
interspersed with a relatively small number of slang words, localised
phraseology, and rhyming slang, but read on.
Other than the Gaelic (a language which does receive official
recognition) spoken by what is estimated to be less than 30,000
out of 5 million Scots, Scotland is not credited with having
its own language. Our education system ensures that we continue
to read and write in English, but is totally ineffective in convincing
us that we should all speak like educated southern English speakers.
If the main Scandinavian languages are brought into play, many
Scandinavians will state that Danish is merely a dialect of Norwegian,
yet the Danish language is afforded its separate status, distinct
from Norwegian. The Danish grammar and syntax is almost identical
to Norwegian, but the pronunciation and spelling differs somewhat.
On the other hand Swedish, which shares the same historical roots
with both languages, has developed in a manner very much removed
from both. I lived for a brief period in the north of Norway
and being Scottish, found the spoken language very easy to assimilate,
far easier than “Home Counties English”. When I later
visited Sweden on several occasions and attempted to converse
in Swedish with the locals they invariably thought I was Danish,
due to what they described as my “Lowland” accent.
At no time when I attempted to speak Swedish was I mistaken for
English. On recent visits to Denmark, the Danes thought our family
was from The Netherlands or Germany by our efforts at speaking
Danish, and again we were never taken for English.
The Scottish education system has slowly but surely caused the
disappearance of many Broad Scots words formerly common in everyday
usage, although several books and dictionaries have been produced
to remind us of the language and speech of our forefathers. There
was an experiment in the county of Ayrshire some years ago to
educate pupils in their native tongue, but whatever became of
it I am not aware. I would suppose that successive Education
Committees ensured its rapid demise, in the name of conformity.
We once had our own language, but people who should have known
better allowed it to be taken from us.
Now to the speech of Glasgow, and the “Glasgow” accent. It
is extremely difficult to give a geographical breakdown of where
the Glasgow dialect is spoken, as there are similarities in the
common speech throughout the entire west of Scotland. However,
those resident speakers who live within the city boundary tend
to be the only true speakers of “Ra patter.” The
reasons for this are relatively simple, as Glasgow shares the
common trait of all cities in having its own unique “slang” words,
phraseology, and rhyming slang, which tend to be watered down
the further from the city centre one travels. If a native of
Glasgow strikes up a conversation with, say a native of Motherwell,
a town some 10 miles distant from Glasgow, and a native of Greenock,
almost 30 miles to the west, then there will be broad similarities
in their speech, and someone from outwith the west of Scotland
who is listening in will simply think that three Glaswegians
are having a chinwag. However, after a sentence or two all parties
involved will (or should) begin to realise they are actually
speaking slightly different dialects. The chances are that both
the Motherwell man and the Greenock man will identify the home
town of the Glaswegian, but there will be little scope for the
Glasgow man to identify the home town of either of the other
two, whom he will simply refer to as “teuchters”,
which is a word of Gaelic origin used by Glaswegians to refer
to non-city types.
An interesting point to note is that a native Glaswegian, who
speaks the everyday language of the street, will refer to his
native city simply as “Glesca”, with the “s” being
soft as in “sugar”. Those Scots, including Glaswegians,
professing to have had a “proper” education will
often refer to the city as “Glazgo”, or “Glassgow”,
hissing the “s” like a snake if they object to putting
a “z” in the word, and the rest of Scotland tends
to refer to it as “Glesgae”, or “Glesga.” It
is therefore extremely important to identify and understand the
local version, as in “Ra Glesca buses” (The Glasgow
Stanley Baxter made a great play on everyday Glasgow speech
with his “Parliamo Glasgow” television series, and
this little article will make no attempt at trying to do what
has been done before in that respect. There is a link to examples
of Stanley’s brilliance elsewhere on this site. Glaswegians
will realise that Stanley Baxter takes it a bit to the extreme,
but his work nevertheless provides some clever examples of how
everyday Glasgow speech must sound to outsiders. The essence
of Baxter’s observations is that Glaswegians tend to string
the words of fairly short sentences together into single incomprehensible
words. Whether Glaswegians accept that as fact does not matter
as it is true!
Another point, not often considered by non Scots who think we
all speak like Billy Connolly, is that various Scottish dialects
exist quite separate from Glaswegian, and Glasgow has its own
very distinct dialect. Why is the Glasgow dialect so different
to the other Scottish dialects? The answer lies in the fact that
Glasgow is situated very close to Ireland, and that opens up
a whole new can of worms.
Aside from the relatively few Scottish Gaelic speakers, the
rest of Scotland tends to use dialects comprised of “Auld
Scots” words shared between them, the most universal of
which is the Germanic word “ken” for English “know”.
The word appears to have crept in to Lowland Scots speech, along
with many others, as a result of sea trade with the Netherlands
and Scottish historical ties with Scandinavia. In these modern
times, in every other area in Scotland except Glasgow, the “ken” word,
which is (nowadays) detested by Glasgow people, is used. What
is used in Glasgow then? The fact is that the plain English word “know” is
used in Glasgow.
In an attempt to research this wee article I came across a website
in the USA which purports to be devoted to the study of “Scotch – Irish”??
including the language of “Ullans”, of which more
later. I almost fell off my chair when I read “Some examples
of Ullans still in use today”.
One example given was “Och aye ye bonnie wee lassie”.
Whilst all of those words are in fact used in Glasgow, the sentence
is totally meaningless, as whilst it would theoretically be possible
to utter such words in the order they have been quoted, it is
likely that men in white coats would appear to carry you off
to the local lunatic asylum if you were to make such a statement
in public. The least said of that infamous other “Scotch” quotation “Och
aye the noo”, the better, as Scottish people simply do
not use such a phrase, and nor do they appear to have ever done
so. It appears to have been an English, or other, attempt at
mimicking the Scots tongue.
Modern Glasgow speech owes its existence to several factors.
Glasgow started off as a village in the county of Lanarkshire,
and the people would have spoken a dialect known as Lowland Scots
or “Lallans”. This language, which was officially
recognised as being separate from English, contained loan words
that appear to be of Dutch and Scandinavian origin. It was spoken
throughout lowland Scotland, including its eastern side, and
Glaswegians will no doubt be disgusted to learn that the original
inhabitants of Glasgow would have made prolific use of the word “ken”,
the same as their fellow Lowland countrymen in Edinburgh and
In the early 17th century a substantial number of Protestant
Scots farmers from the west of Scotland, together with a considerable
number of Protestant English, were deliberately “planted” by
the British Government in the Irish province of Ulster, when
lands formerly occupied by Roman Catholic landowners was offered
to them on very attractive terms. The land concerned was often
confiscated from the original landowners by various dubious means.
The politics and history of this have been adequately documented
elsewhere, and are the principal cause of much of the political
and sectarian unrest still current in Ireland. The mixture of
Lowland Scots, Northern English, and the English spoken by non “Gaeltacht” speaking
Irish natives resulted in creation of the language known as “Ullans”.
Glasgow readers should please note with shock and horror that
the “ken” word was still universally used in Ullans
and that phenomenon was to continue for a very long time.
Glasgow began to become industrialised from the late 18th century
and a significant part of its workforce emigrated to Glasgow
from Ireland, in what almost became a reversal of the circumstances
in the century before. The majority of these immigrants tended
to come from Ulster, which was geographically closer to Glasgow
than southern Ireland, whose immigrants would tend to arrive
in Liverpool. The Ulstermen brought to Glasgow with them their “Ullans” dialect,
which by that time would have been closer to Standard English
than the “Lallans” dialect spoken in Scotland. The
Irish potato famine in the late 19th century also ensured that
many further Ullans speakers landed on the quays of Glasgow,
and there is little doubt that the Ullans language had the effect
of “Anglifying” the Glasgow dialect. A study of
everyday Scottish speech will reveal that the Glasgow dialect
actually contains more pure English words than any other Scottish
dialect, with the possible exception of those dialects that occur
where the original language would have been Gaelic. It is the
manner in which Glaswegians pronounce the English words which
causes the difficulty.
So, the “Glesca patter” began as a mixture of Irish
witticisms, plain North of England, and dour Lowland Scots speech,
and this phenomenon did not exist elsewhere in Scotland. Therefore
Glaswegians speak like no other Scots, and in that they take
much pride. Incidentally, the best place to hear “ra patter” is
at the Glasgow Barrowland market, known locally as “Ra
barras”. However, please do not be tempted to join in “ra
patter”, as attempts to ape Glasgow speech are usually
taken as an insult by its good citizens.
What about the “ken” word? Well, my father’s
aunt was born in Parkhead, Glasgow, about 1890, and she still
used the word “ken”, but only in nursery rhymes and
songs. Her sister, my grandmother, died before I was born. So
I would reckon the “ken” word maybe disappeared from
ordinary Glasgow speech in the late 19th Century, or possibly
the early 20th. It doesn’t really matter, as these days
you’ll never hear a Glaswegian use the word at all.
It was my original intention to list a glossary of words used
in the Glasgow dialect, together with their respective English
and ordinary Scots translations. However, in typical Glasgow
fashion, the Glaswegian “patter” will often steadfastly
refuse to adopt the “normal” Scots words, rejecting
them as too coarse or “broad” for use in the City
of Culture. The result is that Glaswegians tend to drift
in and out of broad Scots and Standard English as the fancy takes
Sunday, January 12, 2014 1:01 PM
the speaker, and how “Glasgow” he or she wishes to
sound. Glaswegians will often “turn oan ra patter” a
yard wide when they wish to impress persons of non Glaswegian
origin, or simply to bond with each other when they perhaps meet
on holiday abroad. Therefore a definitive study of Glasgow speech
would be an enormous task. Also, much generalisation and confusion
would arise and I did not wish to see any “common Ullans
phrases still used in Glasgow” appear on any of the world’s
websites. So here is a very brief guide to Glasgow pronunciation:-
Firstly, Glasgow vowels are usually very long, especially in
words consisting of only one syllable, and often almost equate
to a double vowel. An example of the vowel “a” is
found in the English word “want”, which is dealt
with in Glasgow as “wa-ant”.
The vowel “e” is similarly treated with “bed”,
sounding almost like “be-ed”.
The vowel “i” is also doubled, and this is noticeable
in words like “right” being pronounced as “righ-it”.
Well, almost, but not qui-ite. The actual sound produced has
to be heard to be appreciated.
The vowel “o” can be short as in the now little
favoured word “ony”, which means “any”,
or long as in “stoap”, which not surprisingly means “stop”.
The vowel “u” can be short as in “durt” (dirt),
or long as in “stuupit” (stupid)
Now we have to deal with some Glasgow specialities. Words ending
in “-and”, are usually pronounced as:-
“hand” = “haun”, “stand”= “staun”.
For the benefit of US types we pronounce these “awn”, as
in Goldie Hawn. The final “d” is always silent in Glasgow, but
not elsewhere. In Fife, the only other place in Scotland where they pronounce
these words similar to Glaswegian, albeit with a much shorter vowel sound,
the end “d” is usually retained.
Similarly the word “car” is referred to as a “caur”,
and tramcars were referred to as “caurs”. “Jar” and “Bar” used
to be referred to as “jaur” and “baur”,
although I doubt whether the present Glasgow generation would
favour that pronunciation.
A Glasgow speciality, although used in some other surrounding
districts, concerns words like “care”, “bear”, “stare”, “stair”.
These are pronounced “cerr”, “berr”, “sterr”,
and “sterr” respectively. The Scots word “flair” for “floor” even
gets similar treatment as “flerr” in Glasgow. If
ever there was proof required that the Glasgow dialect was influenced
by non-Gaelic Irish speakers, then here we have it.
A Glasgow bus conductor addressing his passengers could be heard
shouting “Zurronymerrferrsuprasterr?” (Are there
any more fares upstairs?)
Yet another Glasgow speciality consists of words where the last
vowel is “o”:-
Top = tap, drop = drap, off = aff, and so on. Throughout most
of the rest of Scotland, these words are pronounced “tope”, “droap”,
The letter “l” causes the production of another
unusual sound, especially when it occurs at the end of a word
in its double form. Here we end up with well = weww, bell = beww,
swell = sweww, etc. This is not a speech impediment, and occurs
in other UK dialects. Unfortunately the final product is difficult
to describe, but the “l” tends to sound like a “w”.
The letter “r” is rolled in a trilling manner found
more or less throughout Scotland, unlike in most English counties
(with the notable exception of Cumbria) where it almost disappears
Then we have words ending in “-ed”, and these are
pronounced e.g. “melted” = “mewteed” (l
replaced with w and e vowel doubled), and “sorted” = “sorteed”
We now have to consider the English words like “full”, “pull”,
and “bull”, which are pronounced “fool”, “pool”,
and “bool” by our “proper English” speakers.
The equivalent Glasgow vowel sound for all of these words rhymes
with “hull”, or “cull”.
Two words which are afforded “speshul” treatment
are “along” = “alang”, and “wrong” = “wrang”.
Please note that “song” and “long” are
definitely not “sang” and “lang” in Glasgow.
Elsewhere in Scotland, mibbe, bit no in Glesca, nevvur!!
A further barrier to understanding Glaswegians is their tendency
to substitute “th” at the beginning of a word with “r”,
or to miss it out altogether if the word concerned is not the
first word in a phrase. Therefore, “rat” = “that”, “rey” = “those”, “these”,
“Rat perr ‘err” = “That pair there”. However,
yet again our favourite dialect decides that it is possible to use “th” as
in the English words “although”, and “thanks”. In fact
the substitution of the “th” sound with “r” in either
of those two words would be nonsensical, widdin’t it?
And of course we are all “Scotch” and we drink “Scotch”,
don’t we? Nae chance!! We are Scottish, or Scots. A “scotch” is
a wedge shaped piece of wood designed to be placed under a wheel
to brake it, and the word is also used in England, and elsewhere,
to describe a measure of whisky (not whiskey, which is the Irish
version). A Glaswegian will ask for a “hauf a’ whisky” and,
never, ever, will the “scotch” word pass over his
lips, but the whisky might!! A “hauf” refers
to the old measure of “half a gill”, and is pronounced “hoff”,
Yes, we do say “Och aye!”, on occasion, but it is
generally only heard as an exclamation made by persons who find
themselves over exerted, or temporarily incapacitated by too
minny haufs, or an elderly person attempting to rise from a low
chair. It may also be used to affirm in the positive, but never
accompanied by “the noo”, or any other superlatives
assumed by international “experts” to be part of
our everyday speech.
One must not forget the glottal stop, which is extensively used
in Scotland, and indeed also in many English dialects. Not surprisingly,
it is also a feature of “proper” Danish speech,
and Danes will make no attempt at correcting it, as it is part
of their official pronunciation. However, here in the UK our “educated” types
try to ensure that it is only for the use of common louts (like
me), even going so far as to end up with the involuntary pronunciation
of the word “Scottish” as “Scoddish”,
as referred to elsewhere. The glottal stop, for those who are
not familiar with it, has the effect of softening consonants
at the end of mono-syllabic words, or in the penultimate syllable
of a word. It is impossible to describe, but consists of a sound
made deep in the throat, like a faint click.
I racked my brains to find a list of Glasgow slang words unique
to the city, but, considering that I moved away from the area
in 1973, I failed to find more than a handful that have
survived to the present day. As indicated elsewhere, the Glasgow
dialect tends to reject Broad Scots nouns and relies more
heavily on their standard English equivalents (pronounced
a la Glasgow), than other Scottish dialects. I now live in a
town in the Scottish Borders which has its own local Scots dialect,
but which is also rich with the influence of the speech
of Northern England. To hear a Scots person use the Northern
English word “Tarra” for “Cheerio” would
be incredulous to a Glasgow man, but not here in Hawick or in
nearby Langholm. We are only 15 miles from the English border,
so we have the unfortunate benefit of listening to our
English neighbours also struggling with “Standard English”.
The neighbouring English counties of Cumbria and Northumbria
share with us more than a few words and phrases that appear to
be neither Scots or English, but a fusion of both. On both sides
of the border there is mutual understanding of our dialects regardless
of any perceived nationality, so perhaps that is why we
Scots have to be content with being referred to as Englishmen
in kilts by the rest of the world.
For the benefit of any Scots who have a problem with “The
English”, our currency is accepted willingly by shopkeepers
in Carlisle and Berwick-upon-Tweed, who also understand our speech,
as they hear it spoken regularly, and do not mock us for it.
Yet the citizens of both towns do not feel disadvantaged by being
in the far flung corners of England. They are just glad that
they aren’t disadvantaged by being Scots!
I apologize for the spelling of some Broad Scots words, but
in the absence of an “Offishul Glesca – Inglish” dictionary,
I have tried to do my best so that the Glasgow pronunciation
is given some justice.
So, noo thit yez ‘uv been telt aboot the wye thit
Glesca punters yaze ra patter don’t yooz bloks try in’ make
iz look luk eejits thit cannae talk right oan yer fancy high
falutin’ American websites, awright!!