Scottish accent changing with rolled ‘R’ at risk

The distinctive rolled 'R' in the Scottish accent could be on its way out, with younger Scots altering the pronunciation. Picture: Neil Hanna
The distinctive rolled 'R' in the Scottish accent could be on its way out, with younger Scots altering the pronunciation. Picture: Neil Hanna
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THE recognisable rolling ‘R’ in the Scottish accent could die out, with younger Scots altering the way the letter is pronounced, according to experts.

Language researchers have found that younger generations are softening words such as car, bar and fur, with experts at Glasgow University and Edinburgh’s Queen Margaret University believing a natural change is occurring.

It’s not media or TV, it’s just a natural sound change. It seems to happen in languages all over the world over time

Dr Eleanor Lawson

The research, led by Professor Jim Scobbie, along with Professor Jane Stewart-Smith and Dr Eleanor Lawson, found that although the distinctive rolled ‘R’ wasn’t vanishing entirely, it was becoming harder to hear.

Softer accents in the media have been suggested as a possible cause for the changing accent, but sociolinguist Dr Lawson believes it’s a ‘natural sound change’.

Dr Lawson told the BBC: “What we found is that some Scottish speakers are delaying the ‘R’ gesture, so it’s happening in silence afterwards. They’re not losing it completely - they’re still producing it. You just can’t hear it the same.

“We found that one group of Scottish speakers are doing one thing with their tongue, and another group are doing something completely different.

“Speakers with a more vernacular Scottish accent seem to delay their ‘R’ gesture making it hard to hear.”

Researchers at the two universities used ultrasound techniques on a group of younger Scots, to investigate how the tongue moved to form words inside the mouth.

Dr Lawson added: “It’s not media or TV, it’s just a natural sound change. It seems to happen in languages all over the world over time, particularly at the end of words.”

The research also revealed that people outwith Scotland might struggle to understand natives speaking with the softer ‘R’ sound, but people within the country would have no problem understanding each other.