Angry Scottish people as tabloid entertainment

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The other day I stumbled on a corner of British television previously unknown to me: The Jeremy Kyle Show. We have similar things in the U.S., like Jerry Springer, but Jeremy Kyle seems to have stumbled on a viral idea that our counterparts haven't yet discovered, namely the entertainment value of confessions and arguments in linguistic varieties that the host (and most of the audience) finds hard to understand.

Thus Natalie Corner, "'Scottish Jennifer Aniston' on Jeremy Kyle baffles English viewers who can't understand a word", Daily Record 7/28/2016:

From a quick review of the web, it seems that this might have started with an obscenity controversy:

"Jeremy Kyle Show swear word broadcast because producers had not 'understood' guest's Scottish accent", The Telegraph 3/21/2016 ("According to Ofcom, the episode was reviewed by 11 different members of the production team as well as a Scottish team member who has experience with regional accents.")

"Alex Matthews, "ITV avoids punishment after Scottish woman said 'c***' on The Jeremy Kyle Show because no one could understand her thick accent", The Daily Mail 3/26/2016

In any case, the show's producers have realized that angry Scottish arguments, largely incomprehensible to English audiences, can be good theater:

Natalie Corner, "Jeremy Kyle plunges ENTIRE studio into darkness as he struggles to understand arguing Scottish family", The Mirror 5/16/2016

Hayley Richardson, "Och aye the nope: Jeremy Kyle is so confused by Scottish guests’ accents he gets the audience to help him present the show", The Sun 7/21/2016

You can find other examples on YouTube, e.g. this one from several years ago:

I'm not sure what the American counterpart would be — maybe traditional Appalachian or Gullah accents? Hawai'i Creole? Somehow I don't think the concept really translates here.



  1. cliff arroyo said,

    August 2, 2016 @ 8:47 am

    GAE native speaker and I could only make out a few words here and there, the first time through and about half the second time. I guess if I listened repeatedly I could probably reconstruct most of it…. but that is….thick (the kind of accent I don't necessarily immediately recognize as English when I overhear it).

    The closest in the US would probably be some extreme form of monolingual AAVE.

    Vaguely related: I remember many years ago a friend reported that on an episode of Oprah the Spanish word puta (whore) was bleeped.

  2. Ellen K. said,

    August 2, 2016 @ 9:09 am

    An illustration of why, with spoken language especially, it's not as simple as two language varieties being either distinctly separate languages, versus dialects of the same language. She goes from completely incomprehensible to easy to understand in the same sentence with (I think) no code-switching on her part.

  3. Robert said,

    August 2, 2016 @ 9:12 am

    What's also interesting to me are the words that are spoken "normally" (without an accent, or much of one), starting with "actually" and ending with "suddenly" (at least that's what I heard). Why do those words seem to be "immune" from the accent?

  4. Tony Whitley said,

    August 2, 2016 @ 9:14 am

    Back in the 80s there was said to have been a documentary about a deprived part of Glasgow where the accents were so thick they had to use subtitles – it was only shown in Scotland so this was for the benefit of other Scots!

    I haven't travelled widely in the US but I remember going to the information desk in Raleigh-Durham airport and not understanding a word of the response to my question about how to get to the hotel we were staying in.

  5. Michael Watts said,

    August 2, 2016 @ 9:22 am

    Also AmE native; I can't process that at speaking speed, but I get enough of it that I'm confident I'd have no trouble understanding if I made a regular habit of listening to this kind of thing. Surely the same holds true for the audience?

    I mean, the headline says "English viewers who can't understand a word". Here's my transcription:

    no proof I've no caught him um actually haven't ?? anything like that but I intuition got instinct ?? hangs not right his reaction it hangs when I speak to him

    intuition female intuition what do you mean

    well you hear everybody speaking up but you just feel that something's not right um it could be him um no actin' right or maybe me feelin' like he's off a wee bit and then suddenly it's ??? that somethin's not right you know what I mean

    I had to listen to that several times, but most of that was because I can't type at that speed.

  6. Jonathan said,

    August 2, 2016 @ 9:38 am

    For the inventiveness of Scots insults you've never heard before, see this (Donald Trump is the object, following his claim that Scotland had voted for Brexit): From memory this was heavily censored; but, for example, "incompressible jizztrumpet" and "tiny-fingered, Cheeto-faced, ferret-wearing shitgibbon" featured and there were many more on Twitter in particular.

  7. Greg said,

    August 2, 2016 @ 9:42 am

    I haven't travelled widely in the US but I remember going to the information desk in Raleigh-Durham airport and not understanding a word of the response to my question about how to get to the hotel we were staying in.

    Being from that area, there are certainly folks in NC with very hard to follow accents (specifically High Tider and various Appalachian flavors), but it's rare for them to be in central NC. Locals from the outskirts of Raleigh and Durham have a distinctly Southern American but not generally overwhelming accent. Though somewhat on-topic, I believe both High Tider and Appalachian accents are the result of the relative geographic isolation of populations of people of Scottish/Scots-Irish descent.

  8. JS said,

    August 2, 2016 @ 10:01 am

    I have a general familiarity with some Scottish English via family but had no idea about θ > h, which has thrown a wrench into Michael Watts's transcription at several points — "his reaction to things when I speak to him," etc. Is this widespread?

    I shared Ellen K.'s feeling that this went from challenging > relatively clear after the host's remark, and had attributed it to the "discourse structure" provided by that remark.

  9. Gary said,

    August 2, 2016 @ 10:16 am

    I understood every word lol. I live in Scotland, this particular accent is called a "teuchter" accent. Transcript to follow.

  10. Gary said,

    August 2, 2016 @ 10:26 am

    "No. No proof, I haven't caught him actually having or doing anything like that. But yes, intuition, gut instinct, a couple of things not right, his reaction to thing when I speak to him."

    "Intuition. Female intuition?"

    "Yes well you hear everybody speaking about that. You just feel when something's not right. I could be him not actng right (acting weird) or maybe me feeling like he's off (acting weird) a wee bit. Then suddenly its all inside out, like something's not right. Do you know what I mean?"

  11. JS said,

    August 2, 2016 @ 10:45 am

    Also note Gary translated "aye" to "yes" and "havenae" to "haven't". Re: what I said about discourse structure, for me the second "aye" was immediately clear given context, whereas the first required a second listen as it responds to remarks from the host that aren't included here.

  12. Jonathan said,

    August 2, 2016 @ 10:45 am

    Serendipitously, the BBC have this story today: "Google is asking for Scots to work with its voice recognition technology in a bid to help its mobile phones decipher the accent"; . Nice to see that children are offered a pay rate 10% higher than adults!

  13. Michael Lewis said,

    August 2, 2016 @ 11:44 am

    For an American equivalent or something close, listen to the accent from Tangier Island, Virginia, a small island in the Chesapeake Bay, populated since the late 1600's
    Oddly, the first 15 seconds of singing are much more understandable than the conversations that follow.

  14. CLS said,

    August 2, 2016 @ 1:35 pm

    I have long wondered why (in my opinion) people differ so much in their ability to understand unfamiliar accents. Despite having equal experience, or lack thereof, with a given dialect, and equal linguistic training (for what it's worth), one person may find a speaker utterly incomprehensible while another has little trouble understanding.

    Many years ago, as a small child in the Southern US, I once observed my visiting Cockney grandfather talking with our African-American handyman. They plainly couldn't understand a word the other was saying, but I understood both, no problem.

  15. Geoffrey K. Pullum said,

    August 2, 2016 @ 1:38 pm

    Keep in mind that the Ethnologue treats Scots as a distinct Germanic language from English, with ISO 639-3 standard 3-letter tag SCO (English is ENG). Moreover, it refers to "difficult intelligibility among dialects": speakers of the three main dialects (Doric, Lallans, and Ulster) do not necessariy understand each other. AAVE, by contrast, is treated as a dialect of the English spoken in the United States. So the lack of intelligibility of SCO for an American speaker of ENG is not that surprising.

  16. Bob Moore said,

    August 2, 2016 @ 2:41 pm

    I was living in Cambridge England during the 1987 UK general election campaign. One of the TV channels ran a series of "person on the street" interviews to show what ordinary people thought about the election. One from Northern Ireland was subtitled for the benefit of the general British audience, due to the strong regional accents.

  17. Gregory Kusnick said,

    August 2, 2016 @ 3:14 pm

    The 1972 film The Harder They Come, with dialog in Jamaican English, was subtitled in English for release in the US.

  18. cameron said,

    August 2, 2016 @ 3:25 pm

    The woman in the audio clip at the top of the post is much easier to understand than the woman in the video clip near the bottom of the post. The difference might just be the speed of delivery.

    I lived in Northern England (near Leeds) for a few years as a child, so I generally do pretty well understanding Scots, and Geordies as well. But angry Glaswegians can be quite inscrutable.

    The only place in the US where I found the local accent to be sometimes difficult to understand was central PA. I lived in State College for a while and the true locals ("townies" was in fact the term used) spoke with a distinctive staccato delivery, often distorting words with unusual stress patterns (especially a predilection for strongly stressing the first syllable of words). For some reason, the local men were harder to understand than the local women – the men tended to speak more rapidly it seemed.

  19. Eric P Smith said,

    August 2, 2016 @ 3:30 pm

    I'm a native Scot. My transcription differs slightly from others':

    n- nae proof, I havnae caught him, m, um, actually havin' or daein' anything like that but aye, intuition, gut instinct, couple o' things no right, his reaction to things when I speak to him

    (intuition, female intuition, what do you mean?)

    aye, well you hear everybody speaking about it, you just feel like something's no right, um, it could be him, um, no actin' right or maybe me feelin' like he's off a wee bit and then suddenly it's inside you like somethin's no right, you know what I mean.

    Debuccalisation of /θ/ to [h] is widespread in much of Scotland.

  20. BerlinBrian said,

    August 2, 2016 @ 3:35 pm

    Gary, you might live in Scotland, but I wonder for how long exactly. Calling this accent/dialect 'teuchter' is about as far from the truth as it is possible to be! This word, now regarded as derogatory, is a Lowland term of comic dismissal used exclusively to refer to Highlanders, especially Gaelic speakers. In other words those Scots who speak a most mellifluous, clear, and beautifully accented English.

    The people in the Jeremy Kyle clips are Lumpenproletariat types of the worst sort from the industrial west of Scotland, i.e. the Glasgow area. I might now live in Berlin but I spent the first 20 years of my life in just this milieu, so I know what's what. I write this not to get at you, but it would upset me if people visiting this site who don't know Scotland went away with the idea that the lovely people from the Highlands would ever dream of speaking like this.

  21. Victor Mair said,

    August 2, 2016 @ 4:29 pm

    Just found out about this book; it seems pertinent to the present discussion:

    Dialect Matters: Respecting Vernacular Language

    Description on Amazon:

    "Based on Peter Trudgill's weekly column in the Eastern Daily Press newspaper, this book has two overall messages. The first is that language is a fascinating and enjoyable phenomenon which not enough people know enough about. The second is that we should not discriminate negatively against individuals and groups because of their accent, dialect or native language. Linguistic prejudice, known as 'linguicism', is more publicly and shamelessly demonstrated than racism and sexism, as is 'prescriptivism', the practice of elevating one language or language variety as 'better' than another. Written in an entertaining and accessible style, Trudgill's columns support the language of ordinary people and explore topics such as nonstandard versus standard dialects; vernacular (everyday) language as opposed to politically correct language; informal vocabulary as opposed to business-school jargon; and minority versus majority languages. Each article is also accompanied by notes designed for students and those unfamiliar with the East Anglian setting."

  22. Rubrick said,

    August 2, 2016 @ 5:07 pm

    I think a good American equivalent might be a native speaker from the U.S. Virgin Islands. My freshman year college roommate had lived there his whole life. I was very proud of how much I'd improved at understanding him over time — until I heard him on the phone with his mother. Turns out all the "improvement" had been on his end. I found it completely incomprehensible (and wonderful).

  23. Jamie said,

    August 2, 2016 @ 5:32 pm

    I am solidly middle class southern English, have only ever spent a couple of weeks in Scotland, but had no trouble understanding that clip. I don't know if speaking a couple of foreign languages helps with comprehending a wider range of sounds?

    The BBC used to get complaints (maybe they still do) about "incomprehensible" newsreaders who had a barely detectable hint of a regional accent, so I guess some people are more sensitive to this sort of thing.

  24. JS said,

    August 2, 2016 @ 6:09 pm

    I suppose Scots-to-Scottish English is a continuum, but I would be surprised to hear the recording above described by Scots (the people) as Scots (the language). So I think AAVE or the like is not a bad American parallel — especially since it also constitutes a continuum towards the standard. I think the average "mono-varietal" speaker of SAE would be pretty flummoxed by the far end of the AAVE spectrum, to which s/he often has no real exposure.

  25. Yvy tyvy said,

    August 2, 2016 @ 6:59 pm


    You don't want non-Scottish people to think Scots talk in "that hideous way"? Speaking as someone who has little experience listening to Scottish English, I thought the recordings in this article sounded very lovely. You remind me of pre-French-Revolution aristocrats who complained about lowly-born people saying /mwa/ instead of the "correct" /mwe/.

  26. maidhc said,

    August 3, 2016 @ 3:01 am

    I was brought up with lots of emigrant Scots, so I don't have trouble with much except the thickest Glaswegian. But my family was launched into Raleigh-Durham NC without any preparation, and it took at least a year to be able to understand most of what people were talking about. I wonder if things have changed since the 1960s. I've read some articles claiming that Strine has moderated quite a bit since the 1950s. I wonder if the Southern accent has done the same?

    For me, as a child, the experience of being thrust into a Southern-speaking environment was similar to what I encountered later, after years of high-school French, being in a place where everyone spoke French. I knew the words and the concepts, but they flew by so fast that I couldn't keep up.

  27. David Marjanović said,

    August 3, 2016 @ 4:00 am

    This word, now regarded as derogatory, is a Lowland term of comic dismissal used exclusively to refer to Highlanders, especially Gaelic speakers. In other words those Scots who speak a most mellifluous, clear, and beautifully accented English.

    That's code for "their recent ancestors grew up speaking Gaelic, then learned Standard English as a foreign language and spoke that to their children". Scots was never spoken there in the first place.

  28. BerlinBrian said,

    August 3, 2016 @ 5:40 am

    @David Marjanović

    What you say is perfectly true. I wasn't suggesting any other scenario, so why the word "code"? "Scots" refers to nationality here not the language.

  29. Doug K said,

    August 3, 2016 @ 2:14 pm

    maidhc – Southern accents not much moderated by 1990, perhaps by now ?
    I arrived in Winston-Salem NC in 1990, speaking only South African English and Afrikaans.
    At work among the programmers, we could communicate fairly well across the language divide. In the town, oil-change places, fast food, etecetera, quite often there was mutual utter incomprehension. Usually my wife could translate for us. After a couple of years I could understand most of what was said to me.

  30. RachelP said,

    August 5, 2016 @ 2:44 am

    I am from SE England, and I was at Oxford railway station one day and a bloke came up to me and said what sounded like Hoo-di-hoo-di something, you get the idea. I asked him to repeat it and after three tries worked out he was asking if I knew what time the train to Edinburgh was. When I said I didn't know he said, "Ahhh, yer for'n are yah?"

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