I was interested by Derrick McClure’s reply on the subject of Glasgow speak versus Scots (Letters, 3 July). He mentions the unlikelihood of context not making clear which of two words was intended.
Though I cannot think of one for “cot” and “caught”, one actually happened to me for “ship” and “sheep”, which was also the title of a rather dry textbook for teaching foreign speakers to distinguish between contextless minimal pairs of phonemes.
I had taken a group of foreign students to see Culross in February. After a visit round the historic buildings we had climbed some way up the hill behind the town. When I caught up with a French student she was leaning on a gate and uttered: “Ah, a sheep/ship!”, using the French vowel that is midway between the two English ones.
In the field in front of her there was a solitary sheep. In the Forth beyond was a single ship. She was wearing a hood, so I could not even see which direction she was looking in.
When Derrick McClure and company are writing (Letters, 3 July), they always avoid the word “Scotch” like the plague. My own custom is to use Scots for the people, as in Mary, Queen of Scots; Scottish for the general adjective, as in Scottish Highlands; and Scotch for the language. This seems to me to be rational, unlike the use of Scots for everything. A course in Scottish literature might do them the world of good.
Perhaps they could start with Galloway Gossip – Kirkcudbrightshire, by De Bruce Trotter, which has a very good introduction to Scotch.