Attitudes towards Glasgow speech

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2000

39 Pages, Grade: 1,0



1. Introduction
1.1. Scotland - A Voice Reclaimed ?
1.2. Glasgow - From Clydeside to the Bright Side

2. Macaulay’s Glasgow Survey
2.1. The Purpose of Macaulay’s Study
2.2. Macaulay’s Informants and Methods
2.3. Attitudes Towards Glasgow Speech

3. Investigating Attitudes Towards Glasgow Speech in 2000
3.1. Informants and Questionnaire
3.2. A Few Critical Comments
3.3. Attitudes Towards Glasgow Speech

4. Summary and Outlook

5. Appendix
5.1. References
5.2. Questionnaire
5.3. Interview Transcripts

1. Introduction

1.1. Scotland - a Voice Reclaimed ?

“Often over the years home rule had seemed like that mythical Highland village [Brigadoon] - unrealistic, out of reach, a figment of wistful imagining,“ writes Kenny Farquharson, the Scottish political editor, in The Sunday Times of May 9th 1999 about the Scottish efforts to gain devolution. Confidently he goes on: “Not now. Not today. In the bracing air of Friday morning there was no myth: Scotland’s parliament was being born“ (Farquharson, 1999: I). How supportive this change in Great Britain’s administrative structure must have been to the self-esteem of the Scots cannot be fully understood yet. For 300 years Scotland had been without an autonomous administration, which it had lost to England with the Act of Union in 1707. Consequently, England provided the developing British Empire with its values and norms not only in politics, but also in language matters. Old Scots and its varieties, as the language of the Scottish nation - along with Gaelic in the Highlands-, went through a long process of anglicisation and was transformed into what is called today Scottish Standard English or the less anglicised Broad Scots. Baugh summarises the development when he says (Baugh, 1976: 383):

(...)[W]hen by the Act of Union in 1707 Scotland was formally united to England, English was plainly felt to be standard, and Scots became definitely a dialect. (...) English is taught in the schools, and cultivation of English has, rightly or wrongly, been taken as the first test of culture. The ambitious have avoided the native dialect as a mark of lowly birth, and those who have a patriotic or sentimental regard for this fine old speech are apprehensive of its ultimate extinction.

The dilemma of language standardisation seems to be that whereas on the one hand it makes communication easier and the evaluation of achievement in school subjects such as English possible, on the other hand it means that the “use of a lower prestige language, dialect, or accent by minority group members reduces their opportunities for success in the society as a whole“ (Bouchard Ryan, Giles and Sebastian, 1982: 1).

Scottish Standard English is quite similar to the Southern Standard with respect to grammar and syntax. However, it is not usually spoken with the Southern ‘prestige’ accent RP English - that used to be referred to as ‘the Queen’s English’ or ‘BBC English’ (Milroy and Milroy, 1993: 12) but rather with different Scottish accents some of which carry more prestige than others.

In terms of social mobility Broad Scots - mainly associated with working-class speakers - is the less favourable language variety. When, only recently, a journalist of the Observer referred to it as “ungrammatical and profane“ (Kemp, 2000: 12)[1] then this reveals how stigmatised the variety is and that the misconception every grammar which deviates from the standard is no grammar at all is deeply rooted in the public consciousness. However, there are some indications that with the recent administrative changes and new reflections on Scottish identity the twentieth century’s interest in Scots as a language[2] will receive fresh impulses. Thus, Scotland on Sunday envisaged recently (Paterson, 2000: 5):

At least Scots seems to be edging its way back into the school curriculum again, even if no-one can really agree on what it actually is. (..) Its fate lies with the aspirant working classes who used Scots in their childhoods, and insist on it as a legitimate means of expression in their adult and professional lives (...).

It is not possible to predict to what extent language attitudes in Scotland as a whole will take a turn in that direction. Instead, this essay is interested in the extent to which the recent transformations have influenced people’s attitudes towards their own speech in a particular place in Scotland: Glasgow. The concept of attitude as it is employed in this paper follows Edwards (1982: 20) who defines attitude as “a disposition to react favourably or unfavourably to a class of objects“ which comprises “three components: feelings (affective element), thoughts (cognitive element) and predispositions to act (behavioural element).“

1.2. Glasgow - From Clydeside to the Bright Side

At the beginning of the nineteen-eighties Glasgow re-invented itself[3]. The Clyde shipyards and other branches of heavy industry had been in a deep crisis since the early 70’s and were never fully to recover. The legacies of under-investment and overcrowding meant increasing unemployment, poverty, and crime rates. The already negative perception of Glasgow in the rest of the country became even worse, and Glaswegians themselves needed some help to reinstate their self-confidence. Thus, in 1983 the campaign “Glasgow’s Miles Better“ was called into being (Bell and Brooke, 1994: 63). Partly financed by the city and private businesses, it succeeded in attracting tourists to Glasgow as a cultural place, and more and more money could be invested in the restoration of its magnificent Victorian buildings. Five years later Glasgow was host to the National Garden Festival. It also became the official European City of Culture in 1990 and was National City of Architecture and Design in 1999. Today, the city relies heavily on communication, heritage (McCrone, Morris and Kiely, 1995: 37-40), and service industries. Its image is better than ever (Singer, 2000: 6).

When the linguist R.K.S. Macaulay did his Glasgow survey in 1973 the city was already in decline. This paper will discuss whether or not Glasgow’s transformation has effected or even changed Glaswegians’ attitudes towards their own speech.

2. Macaulay`s Glasgow Study

2.1. The Purpose of Macaulay’s Study

With three sets of interviews which he tape-recorded and analysed Macaulay investigates “the characteristics of language shared by groups of speakers, groups determined by such shared attributes as age, sex, and social class, since one of the ways in which people show membership in a particular group is by the way they speak“ (Macaulay, 1977: 1). Additionally, he collected data that give evidence of the extent to which varieties of language that did not carry overt prestige have been able to survive, in spite of all pressures towards language standardisation. Macaulay’s other focus, however, is on how native Glasgow speakers see their own speech and on the ways in which these attitudes contribute to the linguistic environment of children and their treatment and reaction to that treatment at school as well as to the professional lives of adults. In as far as Macaulay suggests ways of tackling the problems that became apparent due to his research, the Glasgow survey constitutes a pragmatic approach to issues such as linguistic ‘insecurity’ and linguistic ‘self-hatred.’

2.2. Macaulay’s Informants and Methods

To obtain data about Glasgow speech, its variations and its correlation with the categories mentioned above (age, social class etc.) Macaulay generated a quota sample that is fairly representative of the Glasgow community. The hence called community sample consists of native Glasgow speakers of both sexes from three age groups (ten-year-olds, fifteen-year-olds and adults) and four different social class categories which are based on occupation. (The father’s occupation was basis for the selection of children.) There were different questionnaires for every age group to which the informants were asked to respond. In order to minimise the degree of the informants’ self-monitoring, they were interviewed without being told about the actual purpose of the investigation. For practical reasons and “because snap judgements about an individual’s ability or personality may be made on the basis of such superficial characteristics of language“ (Macaulay, 1977: 5) Macaulay concentrates on the analysis of pronunciation. Five phonological variables - the vowels (i), (u) and (a), the diphthong (au) and glottal stop- are being analysed. Their variants, or rather the frequency of their use, produces numerical values for each variable so that an index can be generated for the latter which then can be correlated with non-linguistic variables of social context (Downes, 1998: 96f). As the main result it appeares that the existing linguistic variation is “systematically related to social class and sex, and that the pattern is less clear at the age of ten though it is fairly well established by the age of fifteen“ (Macaulay, 1977: 56). What the data gives an abundance of evidence for as well is that occupation serves as an extremely accurate indicator of social class.

Part of the interviews carried out with the fifteen-year-olds and the adults in the community sample were also questions concerning people’s attitudes towards Glasgow speech. The results will be discussed below. For the same purpose two other sets of interviews were carried out - one with teachers and one with employers. For the teacher sample people of both sexes and from primary, secondary and tertiary level of education were chosen. The employers sample consists of people in managerial positions in a variety of occupations, ranging from the Staff Manageress of a local factory to the Assistant Staff Manager of a Scottish bank.

2.3. Attitudes Towards Glasgow Speech

Macaulay’s interest in Glaswegians’ attitudes towards their own speech and that of their fellow citizens leads him to formulate questions which are to reveal opinions about language variation in general and attitudes towards Glasgow speech in particular. What became apparent is that whereas most informants appreciate regional accents for their function in creating (group-) identity, the majority of Glasgow speakers expresses aversions towards Glasgow accent or forms of it. For example, the director of a family business in Glasgow claims: “I’m not terribly fond of the Glasgow accent because I think it’s’s lazy, just as I think I’m not fond of Scouse - it’s lazy“ (Macaulay, 1977: 90). Or as a commercial artist states: “It’s a bit long drawn out, isn’t it ? We have certain words we drag out like that. Yes, I don’t say it’s very nice really, it isn’t nice. And when I hear it on television I say ‘Oh-h-h’“ (Macaulay, 1977: 90).

Macaulay also finds evidence of the influence of such aesthetic value judgements on teachers’ conduct towards their pupils as well as the inclination of employers to prefer some job applicants to others. Although the results from the teacher sample suggest a fairly tolerant attitude as regards the use of non-standard varieties of English, they also show that the issue is considered a problem. Nearly a third of all teachers are of the opinion that the school should influence the children’s speech. A primary school teacher, for example, says that her own method is “to correct the child when it makes a speech fault“ in order to “get a good standard of English“ (Macaulay, 1977: 92). Macaulay sees this strategy as one of the reasons for the inarticulateness of many young Glaswegians, much complained about by informants of the employers sample. Therefore, he[4] favoures an approach that is adapted by another group of informants who think that the school should not intervene in such a way, but rather that the issue of accents and their different social prestige should be discussed in schools. As a college lecturer suggests: “Point out that there are advantages in developing the second register [Standard English, the author] from a purely mercenary point of view“ (Macaulay, 1977: 93). Pupils would then be enabled to modify their own accent if they wished.[5]

Even though the results from Macaulay’s employers sample suggest a predominantly tolerant attitude towards accents as well[6], they clearly indicate that accent is a factor that influencs an employer’s decision on whom to offer a job. The Glasgow accent fared rather badly here too. “We get quite a lot of employers who specifically state that they don’t want someone with a strong Glasgow accent,“ says, for instance, the managing director of a local employment agency (Macaulay, 1977: 116), whose statement is probably closer to the actual situation on the labour market than those of other business managers.

The following discussion of new material dealing with the topic will show that these attitudes have not changed considerably.

3. Investigating Attitudes Towards Glasgow Speech in 2000

3.1. Informants and Questionnaire

With Macaulay’s Glasgow survey on his mind, the author of this essay conducted a small scale survey (Bilton, 1982: 660-688) in March 2000 that aimed at investigating native Glasgow speakers’ attitudes towards Glasgow speech. Due to pragmatic reasons the investigator did neither attempt to obtain a random sample nor a judgement sample that would have been representative of the speech community in Glasgow as a whole. It seemed more practicable to concentrate on one rather homogeneous group of speakers. That is why, in fact, all people interviewed roughly belonged to the same age group and the same social class, namely to the group classified by the Registrar-General ( Macaulay, 1977: 18) as class IIa: white-collar, intermediate non-manual. Ten adults were interviewed, four of whom were men. Their age ranged from 22 to 37 and six informants were in managerial positions. As undergraduates the two youngest informants have to be considered as still being in education, even though one of the two had recently been expelled from university and was working part-time at the moment of the investigation.

Six interviews (1M, 2F, 3F, 8F, 9F, 10F) were conducted by the principal investigator at a social gathering, in an atmosphere that can be described as informal. However, the speech and attitude of the informants cannot be evaluated as casual, but rather as careful and controlled. The reasons for this may lie in the fact that the investigator is no native speaker of English, that he was an unknown person to the informants, that the presence of a tape recorder made the interview situation more formal, and that the data was not gathered in a group session but in separate interviews. The latter made it impossible to assure that people did not talk to each other about the questions asked and the answers given, even though the investigator had asked for it. Therefore, he requested his contact person, a native speaker, to carry out four interviews at work, the resulting contextual style of which can only be described, however, as slightly less careful speech than in the ones conducted by the principal investigator. The answers in those four interviews tended to be shorter, which is probably due to time restrictions involved.

The information about the interviewees’ attitudes towards Glasgow speech was gained from their responses to a set of open-ended questions. The questionnaire was the same for all participants, except that it contained five more questions for managerial staff, which were specifically directed at them, in order to gather data about the relevance of speech in their decision on applicants in a job interview situation. All interviews were recorded and the tapes were completely transcribed (see Appendix).

3.2. A Few Critical Comments

Before discussing the collected data, a few critical comments on the structure of this investigation are necessary. The survey did not aim at analysing linguistic variables, i.e. the informants’ speech, which means that the lack or absence of different contextual styles (cf. above) was irrelevant. However, some responses to the questionnaire would supposedly have been given in another way had the interviewer been a native speaker and known to the informants. It is possible that the latter, either consciously or subconsciously, displayed more local pride than they actually felt, knowing of the investigator’s general interest in and passion for Scottish matters. It can also be assumed that the overtly expressed attitudes do not always coincide with the actual behaviour of the informants in everyday life.

As it was mentioned before, no true random sample constituted the basis of the survey. The informants’ sex and age are the only factors with which their statements can be correlated, and since the age difference between the youngest and oldest informant is only 15 years, even that category could not be expected to yield results that varied considerably. In contrast, a sample of primary or secondary school children would have been more likely to produce other data than the one collected by Macaulay in 1973. At least, that is what the changed education policies of the nineteen-nineties indicate. All results, therefore, have to be considered against this background.

3.3. Attitudes Towards Glasgow Speech

Asked whether they thought it was a good thing that people in different parts of the UK speak differently, the majority of the informants responded positively. Among the reasons given were the following:

a) it gives people a sense of identity:

I think it gives people a sense of identity if they have their own accent. There’s something good about people knowing where you come from and you knowing where they come from by the way they speak. (1M)[7]

Yeah, I think it is nice that each area has got its own , ehm, sort of identity, if you like. (2F)

Yeah, I think it’s nice to have that kind of distinctiveness about your own culture. (9F)

b) it makes speech more interesting:

I think it’s nice to hear different accents. Ehm, if we all spoke the same it’d be pretty boring. (10F)

Yeah, because if we spoke all the same it would be pretty strange. (6M)

Two informants were rather indifferent to the question:

Yes. I mean it’s just dialect. (5M)

Ehm. Haven’t got a view either way. (4F)

Only one of the interviewees expressed an awareness of the different status language varieties are assigned to and that this might effect peoples lives:

Yes, because you can judge people instantly by their accent. [Laughs.] I don’t know. I’ve never really thought about that before, whether it’s a good thing or not. But you do judge people by their accents. Oh yes, you do. It’s got it’s good sides and bad sides. I’d say it’s good because I like some accents and I don’t like others. I’d say that a Southern Ireland accent is really nice. The bad thing is - people judge you because of your accent. They just presume you’ll be a certain way. (8F)

In order to assess whether or not the informants had a concept of Glaswegian speech as a distinct regional accent they were asked if they could always recognise a Glaswegian by the way he or she speaks. Of the ten people interviewed six were able to answer with a definite ‘yes’:


[1] Reviewing an anthology of Scottish poetry he writes: “Only in the last decades of the twentieth century did a literature gather substance, using the language, ungrammatical and profane [my own emphasis], of the urban poor, notably in the novels of James Kelman and Irvine Welsh, though the vision remains of a benighted underworld.“

[2] The notion of a Scottish national tongue or Standard Scots is more complex than portrayed in this paper. For more detailed information see: Brown, 1995: 294-297.

[3] For a more extensive account of the history of Glasgow see: Corrance and Boyd (1981)

[4] Macaulay, 1977: 143: “The question of social judgements about language, particularly about accent, should be openly discussed in school, instead of being treated as a taboo subject even less mentionable than sex or money.“

[5] James and Lesley Milroy point out, however, that this ability can be difficult to acquire. Milroy and Milroy, 1993: 18: “Hudson (1980) has likened using regional dialect forms to ‘wearing a badge’, showing where you are from and where you feel you belong. (...)[I]t is hopelessly unrealistic to imagine that children could be taught to simply ‘change their badge’ from time to time, just because we might think it would be in their best interest that they should learn this. Ideas about extending the linguistic repertoires of schoolchildren tend to neglect this fundamental social function of language.“

[6] The peculiarities of an interview situation, however, have to be borne in mind. Expressed feelings and thoughts regarding the issue do not necessarily coincide with the actual predisposition to act.

[7] ‘M’/‘F’ indicates whether the informant was male or female.

Excerpt out of 39 pages


Attitudes towards Glasgow speech
University of Leipzig  (Anglistik)
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This paper is based on a small-scale empirical study conducted by the author and deals with middle-class Glaswegians and their attitudes towards Glasgow speech.
Attitudes, Glasgow, Sociolinguistics
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David Ronneburg (Author), 2000, Attitudes towards Glasgow speech, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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