How to Do a Scottish Accent

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Photo Source: “T2 Trainspotting” Courtesy Sony Pictures Releasing International

A good Scottish accent brings images of bagpipes, kilts, and dramatically weathered cliffs to mind—but a bad one can make you look like a bogging bampot. The difference lies in the pronunciation, inflection, and grammatical nuances that make for a believable Scottish accent.

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How did the Scottish accent come to be?

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Although many people associate ancient Celtic Gaelic with the Scottish language, Scottish brogue is actually a mix of Lowlands Scots and Standard English. Language contact between Scots and Standard English speakers caused the languages to amalgamate into modern Scottish English, a language rich with its own norms, customs, and features.

Scottish English is further broken down into the physical and linguistic categories of Highland and Lowlands. Highland English is more influenced by Gaelic, while Lowlands is more influenced by Standard English. Home to many of Scotland’s  major cities—including Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Galloway—Lowlands English is most often used in portrayals of Scottish accents.

Scottish accent pronunciation, inflection, and lexicon

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As fans of Ewan McGregor, Sylvester McCoy, and Karen Gillan can attest, Scottish English employs lilting sounds and an array of unique words. 

Vocal coach Gareth Jameson explains the intricacies of Scottish accent vocalizations here: 

To emulate these and other speakers of the Scottish Burr:

Pronounce “u” and “oo” sounds the same: Form a narrow gap in your mouth and pronounce both “u” and “oo” sounds as “ooh”: “good” and “gut” both become “goohd.” 

Replace “o” and “u” with “ae”: Use the near-open front unrounded vowel—or the “ae” sound—instead of “o” and “u.” People with a Scottish accent often say “nae” instead of “no” and “tae” instead of “to.”

Drop the “g”: G-dropping words ending in “ing” is a common phonological change used in Scotland. Keep in mind that the term G-dropping doesn’t exactly describe the phenomenon. Rather, the “ng” is replaced with an alveolar nasal, or the “n” sound: “morning” becomes “mornin’,” and “walking” becomes “walkin’.” 

Spill the “t”: The glottal stop or “t” sound in the middle of words is often skipped over in Scottish English. Instead of emphasizing the “t” sound in “button” or “kitten,” try “buh’un” and “kih’en.” 

Roll and tap the “r”: Roll the “r” sound, particularly when it comes after “d,” “g,” or “t” (“drookit,” “greet,” “Strachan,” to use some Scottish slang). Just be sure not to do it too often, lest you end up with the nickname Macbeth due to all the Scottish drama. Scottish English speakers also “tap” the “r” by adding a “d” sound to the end of words ending in “r” (“near” becomes “nearde”). 

Consider the Scottish vowel length rule: Scottish linguist A. J. Aitken founded Aitken’s law, which indicates that some vowels are usually pronounced phonetically long when they appear:

  • Before “r” 
  • Before a voiced fricative (/v, z, ð, ʒ/)
  • Before a morpheme boundary
  • In some word-final open syllables

Or, put more simply, vowels should be shortened and pronounced with an open mouth to hit that convincing Scottish sound. 

Include popular Scottish phrases: Without going overboard, consider peppering your language with words and phrases used by those hailing from Scotland, such as:

  • “Gonnae no’ dae that!”: Don’t do that
  • “Am pure done in”: I’m exhausted
  • “Ah umnae”: Nah—I’m not
  • “Yer oot yer face!”: You’re drunk
  • “T’ Auld Yin”: the old one

Here’s Gerard Butler going over Scottish slang for inspiration:

How to prepare your Scottish accent for an audition

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1. Study Scottish accents: Immerse yourself in Scottish films, TV shows, YouTube videos, radio stations, and podcasts to really get a hang of the accent. It also helps to listen to Scottish accents on the International Dialects of English Archive and, if possible, visit the land of the Scots itself. And of course, study good Scottish accent examples such as Emma Thompson in “Brave,” Jonny Lee Miller in “Trainspotting,” and Jamie Bell in “Filth.”

Don’t forget that Scottish and Irish accents have several key differences. The Scottish accent shortens vowels instead of softening them. It also enunciates less than the Irish accent and has less of a musical lilt. 

2. Practice: The more time you spend practicing and refining your Scottish accent, the better. “It’s got to be habitual and instinctive by the point at which you commit to a performance,” advises dialect coach Paul Meier. “It’s a daily practice.” Working with a vocal coach who specializes in Scottish English can help make your practice work for you.

3. Prep on audition day: If you’ve been asked to summon your best Scottish accent for an audition, try using the accent all day leading up to the big moment. Focus on your lip, mouth, and tongue movements and retain that physicality during your audition. 

4. Keep on keepin’ on: Don’t let a Scots slip-up during your audition trip you up. Instead, keep it going: Your ability to persevere in your pronunciation will outweigh any minor errors. “Lang may yer lum reek”!

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