Edinburgh Morningside accent: Sir Malcolm recalls his schooldays



This recording is an example of a Edinburgh Morningside accent.

Pronunciation features

Malcolm speaks a very recognisable form of Standard English that as a written text would give few clues to his Scottish heritage. Nonetheless, all native speakers of English in the UK would probably identify a number of pronunciation features that are distinctively Scottish. Scottish English pronunciation differs in a number of ways from other forms of English in the UK, but primarily in terms of distinctions in vowel length. Listen, for instance to the way Malcolm pronounces the vowel sound in the following two sets:

  1. good, would, football and hooker
  2. school, two, choose, used to, too, moved, doing, improve andJewish

In most accents of English in England, the words in the first set would be pronounced with a different vowel than the one used for words in the second set. In addition, the vowel sound used for the second set would be noticeably longer. Many speakers with a Scottish accent use the same or a very similar vowel for words in these two sets. This means that in Scottish English, pairs such as pull and pool are often homophones, boot frequently rhymes with foot, and phrases such as good food are pronounced with vowels of equal length.

Scottish <r>

Above all, though, Malcolm is a rhotic speaker – he pronounces the <r> sound after a vowel, at one time a feature of speech throughout the UK. Today, however, it is increasingly restricted to the West Country and the far South West of England, a small area of Lancashire and most of Scotland and Ireland. Listen carefully here to the way he pronounces words such as started, Marchmont Road, older brother, performer, apart from, near, pressure, third or fourth, your, teacher, embittered, Tiger Jameson, our behaviour, informal, formal, hooker, sport, volunteer, Saturday morning, mother, therefore and observant.

Standard Scottish English

This form is associated with the highly educated or the suburban middle classes in Scotland. In terms of vocabulary and grammar it is virtually identical to Standard English in England, although individual speakers speak Standard Scottish English with their own particular accent. Popular terms, such as ‘Glasgow Kelvinside accent’ or ‘Edinburgh Morningside accent’ are frequently used to describe the type of accent associated with speakers such as Malcolm here.

Attitudes to accent

Such accents are considered prestigious within some social groups, although others occasionally regard them with suspicion or consider them to be somewhat affected. In fact they are as natural as any other type of speech – they differ from other accents, however, in that they are not regionally specific, rather they are a reflection of a particular type of social or educational background. If, as some commentators suggest, this type of accent is no longer heard as widely among younger middle class Scottish speakers, then this is a reflection of the current social landscape.

There is a great deal of anecdotal evidence to suggest that in England too, RP – the regionally non-specific accent of the educated middle classes – is no longer considered a desirable model by many young middle class speakers in its former heartland, South East England.

About the speaker

Rt. Hon Sir Malcolm Rifkind (b.1946/06/21; male, politician)



Sir Malcolm: Uh, I started off at James Gillespie's Boys' School in Marchmont Road, uh, f, two years there. Uh, I f, I emphasise 'boys' school', cause it was a separate school in those days to the, the girls' school which is the, the, the Miss Jean Brodie[1] establishment. Uh, so I was two years at, at Gillespie's. I then got into Heriot's[2] and Watson's[3] and this was a great, uh, to, problem to choose. Well, actually it wasn't, because my bro, older brother had already gone to Watson's, so that was what made me, I was given the choice, my parents said, “Which would you prefer to go to?" But as my brother was at Watson's I thought that was the sensible thing to do.

Interviewer: Did you enjoy school?

Sir Malcolm: Uh, I enjoyed it in the sense that I, you know, some people say, you know, they hated their schooldays, I never hated my schooldays, but I wasn't a particularly impressive performer. It, uh, I was a very, very, uhm, n, uh, uhm, average sort of guy who, uh, both in terms of uhm, uh, educ, academic and, and non-academic activities apart from school debating.

Interviewer: Hmm.

Sir Malcolm: That was when I suddenly discovered I had a, a, something which I not only enjoyed doing, but was pretty good at, but in, in, in every other respect, uh, I, I remember, uh, I used to slightly irritate my, uh, teachers and, and, and parents I suppose, that, uh, I liked being at the top of the second level, you know; just near the top of the second level, but not too, if you were at the very top of the second grade, you were moved to the first grade, and that was too much like pressure. Uh, whereas if you were, sort of, third or fourth in the second grade you kept your self-respect; your parents couldn't complain, cause you were doing reasonably well, but the pressure didn't, uh, im, impose itself. And for some interesting reason, I mean, that seemed to be a very sensible thing to do at the, at that time.

Interviewer: Were you ever beaten at school?

Sir Malcolm: Yes, uh, uh, with, with the strap on the hand: I remember once getting six, uh, not of the best, but six, huh, uh, on, uh, uh, for some trivial offence from a, from a maths teacher, a maths master, and, uhm, uh, I mean, in retrospect it was intolerable that I was strapped six for some, because of the, the, the insignificance of my offence. At the time I didn't resent it particularly; I can't confess I, it, uh, uh, made any great impact on me either to improve my behaviour or to make me embittered; it just was a fact of life that it happened occasionally.

Interviewer: And it happened to m, many of your colleagues?

Sir Malcolm: Of course

Interviewer: Yes, yes.

Sir Malcolm: it happened to all of us. And it, it, it, uh, you know, this particular master, he was quite a good, he was a maths master called 'Tiger' Jameson, perfectly nice most of the time, but occasionally he lost his temper – normally because of our behaviour – and overreacted as I now remember it. At the time it seemed like a perfectly normal reaction.

Interviewer: Did you play, uh, games?

Sir Malcolm: Uh, yes, but, uhm, not in any, huh, memorable way. Uhm, I mean, I w, every lunchtime we would kick around a football and, uh, there was a bunch of us used to go into one of the quadrangles and, and, and just, you know, kick around in a very informal way. Uh, in a more formal sense I occasionally played rugby or, rugby mainly, but I w, I, and I was hooker I remember, uh, but in no, uh, of c, for sport was, school s, formal sport was not compulsory. Uh, and, and I didn't volunteer [laughter] I have to confess.

Interviewer: Were your parents very religious? Were you an observant household?

Sir Malcolm: Uhm, again it depends how you define these things: we were an observant family in the sense that my father would go to synagogue, uh, every Saturday morning and we would be expected to go as well, though my mother didn't interes, interes, interestingly. Uhm, we kept k, uh, my parents kept a kosher home. Uhm, a, and therefore certainly by the standards of today they were quite, uh, observant. But, uh, they were never rigid, I mean, for example I mentioned earlier my interest in school debating: now, by chance, the s, debating society met on a Friday evening and for a very religious Jewish family that would have ruled it out. Uh, in the, in my case my father made no objection to me spending my Friday evenings at school, debating, rather than more, uhm, uh, a religious observance, uh, rôle.


[1] This refers to the novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark. First published in 1962 it tells the story of Jean Brodie, a teacher at the fictional Marcia Blaine School for Girls in Edinburgh during the 1930s. The novel is the subject of the well-known 1969 film of the same title starring Maggie Smith.

[2] George Heriot's School is an independent school for boys and girls in Edinburgh founded in 1628.

[3] George Watson's College is an independent school for boys and girls in Edinburgh founded in 1870.

Edinburgh Morningside accent: Sir Malcolm recalls his schooldays
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