Walter talks about a changing community in the Borders.
Walter Elliot (male)
C900/21112 © BBC

Transcript for Selkirk

Interviewer: Did the war have any impact? Uh, in small village life in the countryside perhaps you were spared some of the, the problems of rationing?

Walter: We, the rationing didnae bother us very much, because there, we basically grew, it was a very subsistence, you know, the, much, much as it had been for the last two hundred years. We, we grew our own food more or less; everybody had a big garden; there were plenty of rabbits; there was, uh, the occasional sheep was defunct so it was eaten. Uh, rationing didnae bother us very much.

Interviewer: Ahem.

Walter: We’d a fairly healthy existence I should think.

Interviewer: Did you, uh, go on from the local school to secondary school?

Walter: I went to the secondary school in Selkirk.

Interviewer: Ahem.

Walter: Now that, that was a great step forward, because Selkirk is a huge place: must be five thousand folk in it now. Uh, and, and it was really a metropolis, because I was used to being away in the country, playing with a few friends, but coming to High School was something great.

Interviewer: Ahem. Did you enjoy that?

Walter: Uh, seriously enough I did, aye. Uhm, there, there were lots of other things, because you could take, there were some, a lot more sports, you could play sport and, uh, there were a lot of other folk that had different ideas other than farming; you, you got different outlooks, different views.

Interviewer: Hmm, did it ever pass through your mind that perhaps you would do something, uh, with your life other than farming, other than the farm life?

Walter: No really, because my father was a fencer. Uh, I enjoyed being in the hills; I still do enjoy being in the hills. But, uh, when I, I had to serve National Service which I did in Northern Ireland mainly. And when I came back I just automatically helped my father. My father was actually, he managed two world wars and he was fairly badly beaten up in the Second World War when his arms hardly worked. So I just helped him out.

Interviewer: Ahem. There was still work for fencers, then?

Walter: Oh yes, st, still was up tae, in fact still is even yet, but no so much now.

Interviewer: Hmm. But if your, uh, cottage didn’t have electricity until the fifties, uhm, were the farms around about you by the, by the time the war was over beginning to get mechanised or were they still also perhaps even u, using horses?

Walter: Well, when I was, can first remember the farm at Oakwood there were, uh, even during the war there was mebbe six men on it and three land girls and as many Irish labourers as you could get. There was only one wee tractor and the rest was horses. Nowadays that same farm, for instance, is run by two men: a man and his son; they have huge tractors; they actually came frae Yorkshire. So, uh, the population of that farm which was the, the ethnic Scots-speaking population has changed completely.

Interviewer: Ahem.

Walter: I think, uh, the man and his son plus a few holiday cottages and that’s what it is now. Agriculture has changed a tremendous lot within my lifetime.

Interviewer: But presumably the communities have changed as well? If you reduce the number of people working on a farm, uhm, I would suspect that maybe you’ve lost the local school or the local shop as well?

Walter: The local school is still going; the, uh, the village actually had a kirk, a pub, a shop and four halls, you know, when I can remember it first. But everybody was employed on the land so everybody had a, sort of, common interest. However, uh, nowadays there are very few folk employed on the land now, with a, it’s a change of agriculture: big tractors come in and, uh, manpower goes out.

Interviewer: Ahem. Can you remember that happening? I mean, you will’ve been maybe ten, twelve, fourteen and somebody would bring in the very first combine or something like that?

Walter: Oh I can remember it very well. It just, it was a, a gradual process of assimilation, really. Because, uh, yin farmer would get a tractor and then the next yin would get a wee bit bigger tractor and then a wee bit bigger tractor and then two tractors and then three tractors. And, uh, because it, it was mainly, it was part arable, part grazing, part cropping that, uh, the farm was, so there were still quite a lot of the, the stockmen there. But even nowadays the, even the stockmen are, are vanishing.

Interviewer: Ahem. Has the character of the area changed? Uh, I think really in the sense that, uh, the very distinct community as, you know, you regarded it as an amazing experience to go to Selkirk, this metropolis. Has that changed — has The Borders become more, kind of, homogeneous, uh, uh, t, less, uh, localised in its interests and its, uh, social life?

Walter: Most certainly. The, uh, because there are so many folk coming in and frae different parts of the world. It, one way it destroys some of the local community feeling that has been there for so long, but in another way it brings fresh ideas in. You know, it’s no a totally bad thing that you get fresh folk with fresh ideas coming in starting up different things. But, uh, it does destroy what we originally considered was agricultural communities.

Commentary for Selkirk

Although not a broad dialect speaker, Walter uses a number of features that are characteristic of speech in the Scottish Borders. He uses a number of localised items of vocabulary, such as aye for ‘yes’, yet for ‘still, now as formerly’, mebbe for ‘perhaps’, wee for ‘small’, frae for ‘from’, kirk for ‘church’, folk for ‘people’ and yin for ‘one’. He also uses the non-standard negative particles, nae and no, in the statements the rationing didnae bother us very much; no really, because my father was a fencer; no so much now and it’s no a totally bad thing.

The Borders accent

Walter clearly speaks with an instantly recognisable Borders accent. The vowel system of Scottish English is significantly different to that of most other English accents. Listen, for instance, to the vowel sound Walter uses in the words Selkirk, serve, National Service, world war, first, land girls and kirk. Linguists refer to this as the NURSE vowel as in most English accents the vowel in all seven of these words would rhyme with that in the word nurse. Walter, however, uses one vowel sound for the words Selkirk, girls and kirk, a different one in first and world and a third alternative for the vowel in serve and service. For many speakers in Scotland, then, pairs such as berth and birth or curb and kerb are not necessarily homophones as they are elsewhere in the English-speaking world.

Borders r

Unlike most consonants in English the pronunciation of <r> can vary quite dramatically and many speakers in Scotland have a very distinctive <r> sound. The most common pronunciation involves producing a continuous sound with the tip of the tongue raised to the roof of the mouth and the sides of the tongue curled upwards and inwards. Here, however, Walter varies between a tapped ‘r’ — a sound produced by flicking (i.e. tapping) the tip of his tongue very quickly against the roof of his mouth — and a trilled ‘r’ — a sound commonly associated with a stereotypical Scottish accent and often described in popular terms as ‘rolling’ one’s r’s. Both types of articulation can sound quite similar, but on closer listening you might be able to discern a difference between the tapped ‘r’ Walter uses here on words such as very, great, friends, sports, horses, run, agriculture, manpower, remember, grazing, cropping, brings and fresh and the rolled ‘r’ he uses in the following instances: rationing, fairly, forward, really, farming, service, world, arms, farm, during, girls, kirk and however.