Divided by a Common Language

Jack’s guest blog post is all about communication –

This year I’m going back and forward more often than usual between Scotland and the US, so I’m more aware of the differences between US English and British English. When you factor in Scots and Scots English it gets even more ‘interesting’!

What I’ve discovered over the years is that it isn’t just about vocabulary, but also figures of speech and even cultural attitudes. Indeed, history and ‘imagined history’ feeds into the mix too.

Of course, I live in rural Appalachia which has a very particular form of American English and culture. Strangely enough a great many of the peculiarities that set Appalachian language apart can be traced directly back to Scots and Ulster Scots. Just today I had a group of ladies visiting the bookstore from Kingsport and I asked them what they would call a paper bag. As one, they responded – “a poke”- (exactly the same word my grandpa would have used).

Each year, around this time I begin to focus on my annual small group tour of Scotland, and part of that is to prepare the group for any difficulties of language and culture they may encounter. Some are fairly well known – sidewalk/pavement; pavement/road; dollar bill/pound note; no need for tipping etc., etc.

But despite my 12 years living here plus a previous 15 of annual visits I still get caught out. It was only recently I realized that few folks around here had any idea what a ‘fortnight’ was, and that taught me what it’s actually short for – fourteen nights.

What I have developed is an ability to recognize the expression on someone’s face when they have no idea what I’m talking about, but don’t want to seem rude or ignorant.

And I must admit that I usually get Wendy to check my guest blog posts, just in case I’ve slipped into Scots-English mode again.

Lang may yir lum reek – – –

Bless your heart – – –

2 thoughts on “Divided by a Common Language

  1. I like to watch a lot of programs on PBS such as Mystery Theater. When I recommend some shows to friends I get the response “I can’tell understand them.” Recently i’very been watching “Shetland”. I usually drink them and I find that even with the volume pretty high I replay sections multiple times and I still cannot figure out what they are saying. I still enjoy them. Doc Martin is another one. Don’t know why but I assumed fortnight was a month? Go figure. Enjoy your musings.

  2. I was taken by surprise at the “poke” bit. My grandmother always called a paper bag a poke, but we chalked it up as Pennsylvania Dutch – so far I haven’t found any Scots roots in her lines, but have in my Dad’s. When I watch PBS shows I usually set up my tv with “close captioning”, same with DVD’s and then I can “hear” what’s being said. It really does help a lot.

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