When I moved to Scotland nearly five years ago, I imagined I would quickly acquire a Scottish accent. That hasn’t happened, however. This is due partly to the number of non-Scottish colleagues I have and to the other varieties of English I hear on TV.
However, a big problem is not being able to guess pronunciations correctly based on my knowledge of RP. There are at least four major issues:
- Syllable-final /r/. In common with most varieties of American English, the /r/ is pronounced in words like port, far and better. Given that I know how to spell, this is easy enough to do when I have time to think, but I can’t do this perfectly while speaking quickly – not only will I forget to put in some /r/s, but I’d also tend to put in some extra /r/s in words like bath.
- ir, er and ur: In most Scottish accents, the words bird, herd and curd don’t rhyme. It’s the same problem as before: I can do it when I’m given time to think, but not otherwise.
- wh: The h is not silent in wh, and this leads to the same problems as before. The spelling is not always a guide – the h is silent in whelk, for instance.
- north vs. force: In common with some other varieties of English (including old-fashioned RP and Jamaican), the vowel in north is different from the one in force. In this case, I can’t even do it correctly when given time to think about it, because I’d need to relearn all relevant words.