Wit ya sayin?

By Basilia Weir

Basilia discusses the tribulations of growing up with a Scots dialect.

I was in primary four when I first got told off for my accent. It was sports day; the teacher asked me a question. I responded with “Aye, miss.” Sternly, I was told never to reply that way again. Going forward, it would be “yes”. I apologised and likely tried very hard not to cry – this was just the way I spoke, the way I’d always spoken, and no one had ever told me off about it before. When I went home and told my mum, she grabbed my shoulders, looked into my damp eyes, and told me never to change the way I speak for anyone. I nodded and understood the gravity of the message, but for my remaining three years of primary school I continued to speak in a “proper” manner. 

This went out the window in secondary school. Or, as we’d say, doon the pan. I spoke how I normally did, and it felt comfy and normal. People’s cats were deed; their faces glaikit. Shoes mauchit. Ye get it, ye’ve heard enough. But, well, this security didnae last long, cause when wee sixteen year auld me went tae summer skill at St. Andrews, she was greeted wae a newfound sense ae alienation. 

I remember no one being able to understand what I was saying. I mean, the Ayrshire accent is thick and heavy with slang, sure, but I figured if people could understand Still Game, my way of communicating wasn’t that different. Leaving my little Ayrshire bubble, I was incredibly confused and said bubble had permanently popped. There was a girl from Carrick, not too far away from me, I’m East Ayrshire and that’s South Ayrshire – and I remember clinging to her. Surely she’ll speak like me? Nope… no. Naw. Not even a wee bit. 

This realisation that my Scots was perhaps not as ubiquitous as I imagined continued in my final year of school. I took Advanced Higher English at a neighbouring school because we didn’t offer it. I was mind-blown to find out that somehow people only two and a half miles away spoke different – “proper.” 

Needless to say, when I got to Glasgow Uni, the alienation followed me on the bus every day. The minute I got to campus, my Ayrshire accent would get hidden behind a shiny, prettier veneer. For my first year, I distinctly remember adapting the iconic “Glasgow Uni” accent in order to feel less insecure. Funny thing is, it was only on campus. The minute I got home, or even if my friend from home called whilst I was there, the switch would flick. “Aye, sounds gid. Right. See ye in aboot 45 meenits. Am stervin, man.”

I’m a few years older now and a lot less ashamed of my accent, and yet that switch still exists. Now that I’ve moved to Glasgow and work here, my Ayrshire accent lurks in the background. Predominantly, I speak in a sort of generic west-coast accent, with minimal “slang”, I guess. But, I still experience that automatic, mindless flip in a lot of situations.

When my parents come and visit, for example. Even when I call them. That old Ayrshire magic comes back to the surface. Then I turn to speak to my partner, and I sound completely different. It feels a lot less disingenuous now, though. Both ways of speaking feel natural.

Regardless, it’s a shame the way we feel the need to neglect our rural Scots and accents. I love daft words like “howfed”. I wish I used them more on a day to day basis, and that I could get to know words from other parts of Scotland, instead of this homogeneous “Glasgow Uni” accent. While I do make fun of it, I know it comes from classism, right? We all feel embarrassed and ashamed of where we’re from a wee bit when we get to those fairy-lit cloisters, so we all adopt this ingenuous, “nicer” way of speaking. Note the quotation marks there.

I get it – Scots can be tricky to understand. Instead of making people feel ashamed of their dialect, though, we need to encourage dialogue about it. Talk about the way we talk. What things mean. Ye really canny be penalisin folk, grown folk, in employment or uni fur how they talk. If they’re able tae dae their joab, a don’t see wiy it’s an issue. 


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