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Thursday, 11 December 2008

Bloody Foreigners


baxter460 I have said this before – and I will no doubt say it again – but I think it's amazing how any one person manages to communicate with another. We encounter the problem all the time online. The world may be shrinking but it is still a very big place and I often have to have a think about what words I choose to use in my blog because I know I'll have to explain them so that my non-British readers will be able to follow me. I don't always do it because oftentimes the context will sometimes make it clear what I'm on about.

In my daily life I don't use nearly as many Scotticisms as you might expect and the ones I do use are often for effect in exactly the same way as I might use an Americanism especially since I've managed to acquire an American wife and a few of her expressions have rubbed off just as she has adopted a few of ours. And, after being here about twelve years, she can just about say Edinburgh right (that would be Edinburruh in case you wondered or at least something quite close to that) although she still gets dollars and pounds mixed up on occasion. Probably the main one I use is 'no' instead of 'not' as in "I'm no doing that," (emphasis on the 'no') although since I changed jobs a few years back and no longer associate with the riff-raff I used to, I've pretty much dropped that. I certainly don't talk like Aggie and Shuggie.

I'm frequently amused when I hear foreigners attempting a 'Scottish' accent just as I expect an American would shake their head if they heard me attempt an 'American' accent because there's no such a thing. I would imagine with big cities like New York there would be a variety of accents just as there is in Glasgow because there are a number of accents. Aggie and Shuggie hail from Govan on the south side of the city. I've never lived there although we did rent a flat in the nearby Gorbals for a couple of years but even then it was in the posh bit. The Gorbals of my childhood no longer exists; all the tenements have been replaced by blocks of flats and even some of those are due for demolition. Ironically there are tenements in the west end that are quite sought after; we rented one there for a year although I wasn't that impressed actually.

I mention that because our landlady had a profound accent, a Kelvinside accent, which sounds, as Billy Connolly so succinctly put it as if someone's talking with jawries in their gob (i.e., marbles in their mouth). The English have a similar accent kicking around which I would classify as 'Hooray Henry', an expression, coined by the American Damon Runyon, I just learned. In both cases the accent is an affected one: Listen to me, I'm superior to you, can't you simply hear it in my voice? A lady from Kelvinside would never in her wildest dreams call the lavatory 'the cludgie' if she referred to the fixture at all.

Let me tell you a story though. No, first let me tell you about Stanley Baxter. Baxter is a veteran comedian and impressionist – he's 82 now – and I grew up with him on the television. Baxter's shows pulled in huge audiences on both the BBC and ITV during his heyday. The Stanley Baxter Show ran for eight years on BBC1 between 1963 and 1971, while The Stanley Baxter Picture Show was broadcast between 1972 and 1975 on ITV. His last main show, Stanley Baxter in Reel Terms, aired on Channel 4 in 1996 and he's actually doing a one-off this Christmas believe it or not.

One of the things he'll be best remembered for is Parliamo Glasgow in which he treated Glaswegian as if it was a foreign language. The two 'words' I think everyone who saw him will remember will be 'noohoosferra' and 'cudyegoa' and these even wound up in adverts Baxter used to do for tea if memory serves me right, e.g. "Noohoosferra cuppa tea" and "Cudyegoa wee biscuit wi that?"

This is the kind of thing best seen rather than talked about although there are a couple of Parliamo Glasgow books kicking around.

You can view a video here along with an interview with Baxter.

Now, I promised you a story. When I was an IT trainer one of my trainees was a lady of Indian extraction although she has a pronounced English accent – Birmingham I believed she hailed from. She wore a sari every day as a matter of course. Anyway, she had moved up to Glasgow to be with her family who ran a small corner shop and, as is typical in her culture, she ended up serving behind the counter. On her very first day a young boy came into the shop looking for 'ginger' and so she tried to sell him a bottle of the spice completely oblivious to the fact that in Glasgow 'ginger' is a common euphemism for any carbonated drink. It was how he responded to her that struck her: "Bloody English," he said before storming out of the shop. What's striking is that it was her accent that he took offence to and not her colour and indeed this says a lot about how the Scots view the English.

Eventually this found its way into a poem, albeit years later. The result you can read in this month's issue of The Ranfurly Review. The poem is called 'Bloody Foreigners'. Taking my cue from Stanley Baxter I also provided a translation.


mand said...

I have marvelled all my life at people communicating at all. I'm sure it's why i have ended up (actually i hope this isn't the end) a writer - and a linguist.

Americans often exclaim at the variety of accents in the geographically tiny area of the UK, so perhaps there isn't the same variety over there? Or... aha! it's coming to me!... perhaps there is so much more variety that people don't spot that it goes with region, but put it all down to ethnicity.


I have to disagree over the Hooray-Henry accent being affected. Yes, it is put on by many people in order to sound posher. But for someone who grew up surrounded by that accent, it would be native - how could it not be?

Can you tell i love accentology, though i'm not sure that's the word for it?

Thanx for the link to, btw, which i've bookmarked. Juicy dictionary.

Rachel Fox said...

Excellent English translation. Jolly good, old chap.

Marion McCready said...

Great post, I lived just outside Castlemilk until I was nine then we moved doon-the-watter where the schoolkids would laugh at my rolling 'r' when I said girl!

Anonymous said...

Because I lived in Herefordshire from age 3 to age 8, I have an English accent of sorts... but I spend more and more time living north of the border, I pick up more and more Scottish-isms. I've noticed I've started ending 'ed' words with a 't' sound rather than a 'd' sound, ie. "I pickt it up"... I lived in the Borders for 9 years as a teenager and reckon that's where I got that one from. However, I've never really been able to shake the English accent -- and I want to! Mainly because every so often it causes an "issue" with some bigot or other who won't accept that I'm "really" Scottish. It's a thorny old issue.

Not really related, but I've been pretty affected by it and keep needing to vent... I was also witness to some hideous racism last week, in a cafe in Edinburgh. Five cab drivers came in and ordered, and one of the very sweet Polish waitresses made a small mistake in taking down their order. When the food came one of the guys went to the counter, demanded to see the manager (who is Italian) and then treated him to a full-on shouting lecture about "employing f---ing Poles and n----rs," and how they should "get back to their own countries" because "his taxes are what's keeping them here." The waitress ended up in tears and my boyfriend and I had to leave. I've never seen anything like it.

McGuire said...

Interesting analysis of accent, and the clarificaton that Glasgow really can be seen (like all accents) as a language itself. A tongue.

I had no idea you were raised in the Gorbals. Both my parents came from the Gorbals, my Father in a place called Oatlands (deep inside the Gorbals, which is actually about to be demolished). I spent a lot of my childhood in the Gorbals. I love it, very much.

Always a pleasure.
Catch yee again soon ma man!

Jim Murdoch said...

MM, I see what you mean about the Hooray-Henry 'accent' but I couldn't really think how else to describe the Kelvinside accent without providing an audio example or at least an example of someone like Connolly lampooning it. So, bad choice of word. It all brings me back to the opening of the article, how what I wrote made sense to me but not to you. Ah well.

It's an interesting thought about the Americans and ethnicity but I'm not sure it's a simple as that. There are areas of the States with clear and distinct accents that have nothing to do with race, e.g. both blacks and whites in the deep south speak the same way and it's more common for a child to pick up the accent of the locals rather than its parents who might have retained their childhood accents on relocating.

Rachel, yes, I had mixed feelings about including the 'translation' but it's a fun poem and I thought a tongue-in-cheek 'translation' would work and it seems to have.

Sorlil, that really illustrates my point. I mean, we're talking a half-hour's journey by car, possibly less.

Claire, kids can be very cruel – we all know that – and I'm sure if it wasn't that they'd have picked on something else. Of course, in Scotland we're a lot more aggressive in our humour. I remember once my family took a trip down to Twickenham – I'd be about eight at the time – and while I was out checking the area some of the local boys ran by me an called me "Four-eyes." I'd never been called "Four-eyes" in my life. It was so tame.

As for your experience in the café … what can I say? Do the Italian and the Pole not pay taxes too? Personally I delight to meet people who are different to me.

And, McGuire, no, I wasn't brought up in the Gorbals. Carrie and I rented a flat there – one of the new builds just by the blue bridge. I recall my dad driving us through the Gorbals once when I was kid and there were fires in the streets – "Apache territory" I think Billy Connolly would have called it – and I remember being a wee bit feart.

Anonymous said...

I empathise, especially with the online bit. Being an Australian, well it provides unique challenges in terms of ironical humour and informality. On the other hand, a universal meta-language maybe evolving?

McGuire said...

I interpreted 'The Gorbals of my childhood no longer exists' too literally.

I teach TESOL, I met so many people from so many different cultures, sign of the times, but I really couldn't imagine a duller scotland, if it was simply 'littered' with fellow native Scots.

I wonder where those fires came from.

Dave King said...

Enjoyed the post. I thought at one point that maybe we ought all to learn Esperanto. I'm rather surprised we've not developed a web langusge, a bit like the international speak used by airlines etc, but more extensive, obviously. On a rather different point, I am absolutely useeless at accents. All accents and try to avoid any sort of ..ese except my own.

Jim Murdoch said...

You're right there, McGuire, mind you, on the whole I'm quite fond of my countrymen and women. There's the odd pillock of course but every nation has to drag around a few of those in the gene pool.

And, Dave and Paul, yes, but rather than inventing a new language is it not more likely that one (i.e. English) becomes dominant, okay, not a King's/Queen's English but a branch thereof? It would take a conscious effort to try and impose a new language like Esperanto and people do tend to take the easy option and adapt rather than invent.

Conda Douglas said...

Jim, accents are fascinating. And also fascinating was the last story about the little boy in the shop. Reminds me of when I was being served by a salesclerk recently. She was obviously a Scots who had just moved to the States. When I told her that some of my family was originally (six generations ago)from Scotland she asked my last name. When I said "Douglas" she reared back and said, "Oh, lowland--that's not Scots" and didn't want to serve me anymore! Luckily, my great-grandfather's name was MacDonald, and that passed muster for being Scottish enough!

Anonymous said...

Good stuff, post and poem.

Jena Isle said...

I always wondered how the English language can have so many accents. Bloody foreigners indeed. Btw, why do you not make use of other words in place of "bloody"? Like "God bless" or "good". lol...just wondering. The English language is a colorful one. Cheers.

Art Durkee said...

I seem to have a knack with accents, because my ear treats them as musical phrases. I memorize music quickly, and I seem to be able to hear different accents rather well. I don't know much linguistically, and I know that I know almost no regional variants, but I do enjoy listening to Glaswegian.

It's also how I learn actual foreign languages: sound leads to sense.

Anonymous said...

as they say Great Britain and United States - two countries divided by a common language.

Jim Murdoch said...

I've been a witness to bigotry all my life, Conda, and what I've noticed is how arbitrary it is. I was born in Glasgow so I'm Scottish but a few months earlier my parents were living in England and so it is pure chance that this is my nationality. It's not as if they drove all night with my mother in labour to make sure I was born at a certain set of coordinates on the map although I've known people fanatical enough to do something like that. I have known a few members of the Clan Douglas in my time and I was totally unaware they were of a lower caste because that is what we're talking about here.

Dick, good comment, succinct.

Jena, you would have to live here to understand. To be honest 'bloody' has fallen into disuse. When I was a kid it was common along with 'bleeding' but nowadays 'fucking' seems to be the most frequently used swear word. I used it in the title of the post, and the poem, because it has a special connotation dating back to when I was a kid. Robert Winder’s book about the history of immigration in Britain is entitled Bloody Foreigners for example.

Art, actually I'm very poor at accents. I don't even have a distinct Glaswegian accent!

And, JD, tell me about it! My wife is an American. Her kids say her accent has become corrupted but I can't see it myself although she gets asked if she's from Canada more than people assume she's an American.

Gutsy Living said...

I lived in Glasgow for one year, and never really understood the locals.
That was back in 1979.

Jim Murdoch said...

Yes, GutsyWriter, I can empathise. My wife's been here for twelve years now and there are still expressions cropping up I have to clarify, e.g. only on Saturday I talked about a football strip and had to explain this was the kit, the outfit worn by the players. You can tell how often I talk about football when it took twelve years for that to crop up in conversation.

Anna Russell said...

I came across this site via the Blog Toplist (I'm still trying to figure out how I came across that one, mind you) and I'm glad I did.
As a fellow Scottish writer, this had me laughing out loud in some places, nodding my head in avid agreement in others.
Edinburruh really made me smile.

I think some Scots words are familiar to overseas readers, but not nearly as many as I mistakenly assumed when I furst started writing. I'm stil explaining "bairn" to people!

Anyway, a very enjoyable read and I'll definitely be back for more.

Anna xxx

Jim Murdoch said...

Of course, Anna, some Scottish expressions are known the world over but honestly when was the last time you said, "Och aye the noo?" I certainly never have. And, of course, it's not always 'bairns' is it? In Glasgow it's 'weans' - there used to be a kids' clothes shop on Argyle Street called 'Weans World' for example.

Glad you found the site. Do check out the 'Aggie and Shuggies'.

Anna Russell said...

True, true. But I have been trying to bring back "Jings" - spread the word!

mand said...

I thought everyone knew 'bairn'. Maybe it has something to do with era. Books (not Scottish ones and not highbrow ones) written in the 1930s wouldn't hesitate to have a Scottish characer use 'bairns'. 'Weans' would be more obscure, methinx.

Jim Murdoch said...

Ah, yes, Anna, as in the classic phrase: "Jings, crivvens, help ma boab."

And, Mand, I too was a bit suprised at that. That said I was in my thirties before I ever heard anyone call a kid a 'bairn' and she was from Dumfries.

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