Posted by: christinelaennec | February 4, 2011

Glottal stops rule OK

Only the cool people get in the gate!

What is she on about now?  I hear you say.  This is actually a post about the rigours of high school, which I am re-experiencing through the Dafter.  Because our son was at a specialist residential school at her age this is a first for all of us. (High school in Scotland is for six years, beginning at age 11 or 12 and ending at age 17 or 18.  The Dafter began back in August.)

But to begin at the beginning.  A glottal stop, as you may never have needed to know, is the linguistic term for when we stop our vocal cords in the middle of saying a word.  When you say “Uh-oh!” the glottal stop is where the hyphen is.

American speech doesn’t, as far as I know, tend to use a lot of glottal stops.  This might be why some people here say that I have a “soft” accent.  In American, butter is actually “budder” and so everything gets a bit smoothed over.  Aberdonian speech, like a lot of British regional accents, tends towards the choppier use of the glottal stop.  I recall a friend telling her 5-year-old son off for using the local dialect:  “It’s parTy, not par-ee!  Pronounce the T!”

In Aberdeen, that T disappears a lot.  You write a “le-er” [letter] on a “compu-er”.  The Dafter, having grown up here and gone to school with a variety of people including many Aberdonians, often uses the glottal (or is that glo-al) stop in her speech and I don’t bother to correct her because I understand why.  We all develop slightly different ways of speaking depending on who we’re speaking to.  There are many children born here whose parents are from elsewhere; some of them master the local dialect perfectly, and why shouldn’t they?

However, evidently she has not adequately camouflaged herself, because she has been severely scolded by the Pronunciation Police at her high school.  “It’s Ka-ee, not KaTie!!!”  But the Dafter said to me, “I’m not going to change how I say KaTie just to suit them!”

It really does bring it all back – being teased for using “long words” and so forth.  Who would ever want to be in high school again?  I remember being told at the time that high school would be the best years of my life, and I sincerely hoped they were wrong.  And thankfully, how very, very wrong they were!

S’la-er, as we say in Aberdeen [= see you later]!



  1. Here in Netherlands we also have many “stop” words . I found my highschool period very nice.

  2. People can get quite hung up over accents and dialect, can’t they? Personally, I love to hear the variations that add a richness to our identities. When we lived in Cornwall, it was surprising to hear some youngsters decrying their regional accents, because of the yokel associations.

  3. I love dialects, especially Scottish ones. There’s so much difference between Aberdonian and Glaswegian and I love it…And like Carin already told I thind the Dutch are “the”glottal stop users….

  4. Please do not get me started on this topic! Funnily enough, my son does a great line in “Inverurie-speak” but didn’t pick up the glottal stop. Maybe because he went to primary school in London and was the only native English-speaker in his class? So at 11 he could curse in Sylheti, and “Aberdonian” was just another foreign language to his ears. But The Girl came here for part of Primary school and definitely drops those t’s, even though she sounds “English” most of the time – and nobody can be bothered with all the syllables in her name!

  5. Well, I am reading John Holt’s book, How Children Fail, and remembering my own time at school. Currently considering home education for J, but torn because of the very good small local school and Gaelic medium.
    Loa-s of glo-al stops where i grew up too. xx

  6. At one point in my mother’s primary teaching career in rural Moray, the footballer of the moment was Peter Bonetti. The football discussions of the boys in her class used to cause her great pain…
    I am amused to notice that my daughter has an occasional glottal stop, despite the expensive Edinburgh education that is my main reason for working.

  7. Dear All,
    What a pleasure it is to receive all these comments, thanks very much! Carin, I’m glad you had a good time at high school, it gives me hope. Martin, I do find it terribly sad that younger people are so keen to disown their home speech. When I first came to Aberdeen, I thought there were a lot of American teenagers who took my bus – after a while of careful eavesdropping I realised they were all Scottish, but imitating ‘Friends’. Erna, I have a Scottish friend (Gaelic-speaking) who learned Dutch because the sounds of the languages are so similar. Roobeedoo, I wish you would post on this yourself! Fascinating. Jacqui, do e-mail me if ever you want to talk about Gaelic-medium. Yes, I have often wished I felt up to home-schooling, but Gaelic-medium has been really great for my children. Linda, would that be Bon-e-ee? From I-aly?

  8. I found this post to be fascinating. It’s incredible how languages develop and change. Plus, I’m delighted that “I’m not going to change how I say KaTie just to suit them!” You go, girl. Be yourself!

  9. I live just outside of Liverpool and love our local accent…….as long as it is used properly. Unfortunately it tends to get overemphasised a lot on the tv and this emphasis is then further exaggerated by the youngsters making it sound quite coarse. Hearing a native mature scouser (like my husband and his childhood friends) speak is a wonderful thing and the accent is far more beautiful than many would believe. And then we have Manchester just down the road with a completely different accent, and very much with it’s own appeal. Unfortunately it doesn’t appeal to most scousers…….but then that may be the old football rivalries kicking in 😉 Lot’s of missed consonants in Manchester….
    Fascinating subject though.

  10. Even Pe-er Bon-e-ee. It does have a certain poetry tho.
    Hope your daughter does enjoy secondary school. I didn’t particularly, but mine has absolutely loved it, and now with just a year and a half to go is already savouring every last minute.

  11. Dear Relyn and Rebecca, thanks for the comments. Relyn, yes I am very proud of my Dafter being true to herself! Rebecca, what you say about the influence of t.v. is very interesting. As I said in reply to Martin above, I’ve certainly heard a lot of Americanisation here in Aberdeen amongst the younger generation. I always try to identify various British regional accents – it never ceases to fascinate me!
    Linda you made me laugh imagining the talk about “Pe-er Bon-e-ee”! It’s good to hear that high school can be enjoyable. It’s early days for us yet I think, and it’s certainly easier now than it was last August. The Dafter is in the first year of S1s to undergo the implementation (or should that be imposition?) of the Curriculum for Excellence. There is so much uncertainty about how this is to be delivered, that I think an underlying anxiety amongst the teachers probably communicates itself to the kids. Topic of another post?!

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