The Glaswegian dialect is now the subject of serious academic study.
While it shares words and speech patterns with other varieties of Scots accents, it remains instantly recognisable and has proved remarkably resilient in an age of mass communication.
Why the accent is so distinct has a lot to do with the social structures of the city Professor Jane Stuart-Smith
Jane Stuart-Smith, professor of phonetics and sociolinguistics at the University of Glasgow, has been studying the dialect since moving to the city from Oxford in 1997.
“The interesting thing about the Glaswegian accent is it’s a bit like a treasure trove,” she said. “It has a lot quite exotic things going on within it. It has some very interesting sound changes, and as an accent it is quite conservative. Accents, generally, are changing - but Glaswegian is changing in its own way. It clearly has a lot to do with the city and its identity.
“There is evidence of Glaswegian changing through watching of TV, for example, but those changes don’t make it any less distinctive. There’s something about Glasgow - and not just in terms of accents - that it takes in aspects that work for it, and then rejects others. It develops into this eclectic mix of things.”
While the accent has changed over time there is evidence of its consistency - including the use of the glottal stop where a ‘t’ is dropped. A visitor to Glasgow in 1892 observed: “Strangers hurl at us a sort of shibboleth such sentences as “pass the wa’er bo’le, Mr Pa’erson”.
Prof Stuart-Smith has led several major studies of Glaswegian, including the Sounds of the City project from 2011-2015, which studied recordings of more than 140 Glaswegians speaking from the 1970s to the 2000s.
It found Glaswegian had adopted a few UK changes but firmly retained local features.
The academic is now working on a Carnegie Trust-funded project - How stable is the standard? A real-time study of Scottish Standard English - which is due to report shortly.
But what makes the dialect so distinctive?
“Glasgow is - or was - a major port,” Stuart-Smith said. “There were several major periods of immigration to the city. The Irish one is well known, but there were also large numbers arriving from Eastern Europe and Italy. It’s Scotland’s melting pot, really.
“But why the accent is particularly distinctive, I think, has a lot to do with the social structures of the city. People are happy to live here - they might move away but they often come back. That might not be unique to Glasgow but it is noticeable.”
A rare example of how Glaswegians used to speak can be found in a British Library archive of recordings made by Commonwealth soldiers in the First World War. In a clip that can be heard online, Private William Bryce reads the Parable of the Prodigal Son from the Gospels. Bryce told researchers in 1916 he considered his mother tongue to be Scottish and viewed the learning of English as “an additional language”.
Would Glaswegians of a century ago recognise the accent spoken in the city today?
You should watch the link for the "parliamo Glasgow" series by Stanley Baxter. This is the first one and is quite a classic. It's presented as a language learning program, so perfect for people who like Duolingo. Absolutely hilarious.
The Glasgow patter, or Glaswegian, is a Scots dialect spoken in and around Glasgow, Scotland. In addition to local West Mid Scots, the dialect has Highland English and Hiberno-English influences, owing to the speech of Highlanders and Irish people, who migrated in large numbers to the Glasgow area in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Patter is used widely in everyday speech in Glasgow, and even occasionally in broadcasting and print. It is constantly evolving and being updated with new euphemisms as well as nicknames for well-known local figures and buildings.