Here is an interesting graphic created by Jim Scobbie at QMU Edinburgh. It shows ‘a typical Scottish vowel system, single tokens from one speaker’, as revealed by ultrasound tongue imaging.
We know that the vowel system of Scottish English is rather different from the vowel systems of all other kinds of English (except northern Irish, which has historical links with it). Most striking is the absence of the FOOT-GOOSE opposition that is found in all other varieties of English. In Scottish English, good rhymes with mood, look is a homophone of Luke, and put rhymes with shoot. All have the same close vowel, phonetically somewhere in the range u - ʉ - y.
(For some reason the Co-op decided to use a Scottish actor to utter the payoff line good with food at the end of each of their current series of television ads. For example, right at the end here.)
There is also typically no opposition between LOT and THOUGHT or between TRAP and PALM. So cot and caught are likely to be homophones kɔt (as in many other kinds of English, though not in England), and so are Sam and psalm sam.
This gives the vowel system i ɪ e ɛ a ʌ u o ɔ shown in Scobbie’s plot. It is striking that it shows ɪ as lower than ɛ, with u just as front as i. (NB: the lips are to the right, differently from our usual vowel charts.)
There are no intrinsically long vowels in the Scottish system, although some vowels undergo lengthening when morpheme-final or when followed by v, ð, z, r (the ‘Scottish Vowel Length Rule’ or Aitken’s Law). In particular, vowels are short before d, which means that the vowel in Scottish need sounds shorter than that in English need, though the quality is still tense i. If we take the verb to knee, however, its past tense kneed has a long vowel because of the morpheme boundary. Thus we have a minimal pair nid – niːd. Other comparable pairs are brood – brewed and tide –tied. Try side and sighed on your Scottish friends: they will typically be amazed that non-Scots do not distinguish between them.
Scottish English varies from place to place and class to class, and Scots (language/dialect) even more. Here’s a clip of fishermen in Cromarty talking about the loss of their special vocabulary. (Thanks, Amy Stoller, for this.)
This clip is also notable for the placename Avoch. As you can hear, the speaker calls it ɔx. I didn’t put the name of this tiny village in LPD, though EPD has it, as ɔːx, ɔːk. Wikipedia transcribes the name ɒx, and has a sound clip. Since there is no LOT-THOUGHT opposition in Scottish English, it is pointless to argue which of the two is correct.
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I shall be busy at a conference over the next few days. Next posting: 12 April.