Investigating Linguistic Prestige in Scotland: An Acoustic Study of Accommodation between Speakers of Two Varieties of Scottish Standard English

  • Abigail Salvesen The University of Edinburgh
Keywords: accommodation, alignment, style shifting, intraspeaker variation, sociophonetics, Scotland


This paper investigates the attachment of overt and covert prestige to different varieties of Scottish Standard English (SSE), namely, Scots-SSE and Anglo-SSE. SSE itself encompasses wide linguistic variation and is often described as an accent continuum: at one pole are the typically “Scottish-sounding” speakers, who use a high proportion of traditional Scottish phonological features (and who are referred to as speakers of “Scots-SSE” for the purposes of this study), and at the other end of the spectrum are those who more closely emulate Southern Standard British English, using more anglicised features than Scottish (referred to here as speakers of “Anglo-SSE”). Although both varieties are broadly viewed as high prestige in Scotland, there has been little research to investigate the subtler social nuances attached to Anglo-SSE and Scots-SSE. In order to explore this, the study observes interactions between female lower-middle class speakers — a group for whom linguistic variation due to social pressure should be particularly pronounced — of Anglo-SSE and Scots-SSE. The systematic linguistic changes made by the speakers during interaction with one another are analysed with reference to the principles of Communication Accommodation Theory (Giles et al. 1991) to reveal the possible social implications of their behaviour. The study analyses realisations of the vowels /e/ and /o/, which are typically monophthongal in quality for Scots-SSE speakers and diphthongal for Anglo-SSE speakers. To determine the extent to which speech accommodation occurs, the variants produced by speakers in interaction with others using the same speech variety are compared to those that are produced when they talk to speakers who use the contrasting variety. There are salient patterns to the distribution of /e/ and /o/ variants in the speech of the Anglo-SSE and Scots-SSE speakers, suggesting that these are socially stratified within the given context. The Anglo-SSE group showed more evidence of convergence to the contrasting variety than the Scots-SSE group, who generally maintained their own speech style throughout the interactions. The patterns of variation appear to reflect the association of overt and covert prestige with the different varieties. The general avoidance of anglicised variants across the experiment might suggest that the speakers assigned a higher level of overt prestige to Anglo-SSE, which might have been viewed as an inappropriately formal speech style given the informality of the context. In turn, the adoption of Scots-SSE features by Anglo-SSE speakers seems to indicate that these are assigned covert prestige, perhaps as a result of their strong connotations with Scottish national identity. In general, the accommodative strategies used by the speakers during interaction with each other seem to reflect an effort to decrease the sense of an “in-group/out-group” distinction, likely perceived as a result of their different speech styles.


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How to Cite
Salvesen, A. “Investigating Linguistic Prestige in Scotland: An Acoustic Study of Accommodation Between Speakers of Two Varieties of Scottish Standard English”. Lifespans and Styles, Vol. 2, no. 1, Mar. 2016, pp. 35-47, doi:10.2218/ls.v2i1.2016.1429.