Re: RARA-AVIS: Scottish UK noir

From: Peedie Monk (
Date: 18 Jun 2002

----- Original Message ----- From: <>
> One gripe I had, and something that might be worth discussion was the
phoenetic spelling of dialect/heavily accented speech In Christopher Brookmyre's, otherwise excellent story. I found it really interrupted the flow. At what stage is it necessary/acceptable to render speech like this? Is it not enough to tell us that the characters have strong Scottish accents?

I don't know which story you're referring to, Colin, but I have read a lot of Brookmyre, so I know what you mean. For anyone who wants an example, the following link has the story that kick-started Brookmyre's career, "Bampot Central", in full. Every year during August the population of Edinburgh trebles as tourists arrive for the Festival. Against this festive backdrop Brookmyre relates the story of a pair of grossly incompetent armed robbers trying to rob a post office. I suspect, although I hope I'm wrong, that most of you will find the dialogue difficult. I've compiled a list of
(hopefully) helpful explanations of some of the words/phrase in the order in which they appear. bampot: lunatic dowt: cigarette butt Morningside: area of Edinburgh traditionally inhabited by posh, Tory-voting, old ladies numpties: idiots tube: idiot cawin': calling (in Glaswegian, "ll" becomes "w". Ball=baw, all=aw) Billy McNeil: Member of the Celtic football team which won the European Cup in 1967 - the only Scottish team to have done so. Subsequently became manager of Celtic, among others and is now an occasional TV football pundit. polis: police plods: policemen ken: know fae: from don't gie's it (literally, don't give us it): you're talking rubbish hen: term of endearment appended to the end of a sentence yous: the plural of you, as I believe Hammett once pointed out gaunny: going to nawrat: and all that ower: over staun: stand shoap: shop naw: no nane: none heid-the-baws (literally, head the balls): idiots baith: both (often, long O is pronounced ai: other examples most=maist, floor=flair, more=mair) wan: one n'arse: fucking arse burd : bird, used as derogatory term for woman dug: dog wur: our eejit: idiot mobile phone: cell phone

Colin's two questions. The first was: is it (phonetically transcripted speech) necessary? That's hard to answer, so I'll come back to it. The second was, is it not enough to tell us that the characters have strong Scottish accents? That's much easier to answer. No. There's no such thing as a strong Scottish accent. For me, at least, such a statement would make the story instantly unbelievable and obviously written by a non-Scot
(imagine a novel set in Liverpool where the author stated that the characters had strong English accents, or in Texas with characters speaking with strong American accents) For others, I suspect, such a statement
(strong Scottish accent) would create a "Scotty" from Star Trek or Mel Gibson from Braveheart accent that only exists in television and the movies. Even if the author were more specific, it still wouldn't work. For instance, describing the characters as having strong Glaswegian accents is unlikely to convey anything at all to most of the people on this list. During the course of "Bampot Central" Brookmyre never mentions the robbers are from Glasgow, but he doesn't have to. The phonetic spelling gives it away pretty quickly.

Joy mentioned that phonetically-wrtten speech has a "demeaning effect on the speaker." This is Broomyre's intent. Parlabane, the character who observes and relates "Bampot Central" is intelligent. His speech is written in standard English. The robbers are "clowns" and their speech is written phonetically. It's unsubtle, but so is Brookmyre. Which is one of the reasons that I like him. When I want subtlety I read Jane Austen.

Back to the first question: is it necessary? In "Sanctuary", William Faulkner spells dog, "dawg" early on. I don't think anyone would question him doing this, perhaps because more people can recognise a Southern drawl than can recognise a Glaswegian gibber (dog would be "dug"). Should Brookmyre's writing style be limited by his ethnicity? I think it's a sad day if the answer is yes. Still, it's a brave choice he makes. He must be aware that he is alienating a large chunk of his potential readership. On the other hand, his ear for accents might be the reason why his Scottish sales are colossal. Whatever, the end result is that he has written some very entertaining, very funny, very black, very Scottish books. Even if only a few of us can understand them.

Al Guthrie

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