Saturday, March 14, 2009

Scottish Pronunciation

The main clan-name of the werewolves in Lonely Werewolf Girl is MacRinnalch. I recently tried to explain, via email, how to pronounce MacRinnalch. That was difficult.

The main stress would be on Rinn, like mac-RINN-alch, but the ch at the end is difficult to describe. This isn't pronounced like ch at the end of much, or hatch. It's meant to be the same sound as the ch in loch. That's a Scottish sound, not really used in England. Many people would pronounce loch as lok - Lok Lomond, Lok Ness. (I'm not complaining. My own Scottish accent mangles plenty of words. I'm completely indecipherable at times.)

I can't even think of any other common word to give as an example. I look on the internet for pronunciation help. For loch, Wikitionary says: International Phonetic alphabet - lɒx

That doesn't seem to be much help. Who could understand that?

I search further, and find a message board, giving language help to non-English speakers. On the topic of loch, it says, among a lot of other things -

'Ch in loch is an unvoiced uvular fricative, pronounced near the back of the throat.'

and later -

'It's a voiceless velar fricative. If the student knows the English lock, start with that as a basis; the closure between tongue and hard palate (velum) is right. But don't release the air in a single burst; rather, release the air in a continuous stream - through a 'leaky' closure.'

Things are getting worse. At this point I give up, and resolve never to think about it again. Stupid Scottish pronunciation. I'm starting to hate the entire country. Just ending the word with a k would be fine, as in MacRinnalk.

Hmm. It now strikes me that the ch sounds quite like the sound at the end of the composer Bach. Not exactly the same, but close. (Unless Bach is pronounced differently elsewhere from the way I'd say it.)

I'm planning to spend the day watching football and later, eating apple crumble. In a great socio-economic-nutritional shift, I have moved over to this, after slightly tiring of rhubarb. It's a big lifestyle change. Who knows what unforeseen consequences it may bring?


  1. I hope that the fiber content doesn't fluctuate so wildly from rhubarb to apple crumble that it proves prohibitive to your football viewing.

  2. Sounds as if the Scot CH would sound like a Dutch G... Something from the back of the throat.
    (bit like J in Spanish)

  3. Martin: Use Odeo or some such to throw up a brief sound file of the pronunciation. (Also, the aspirated uvular whatchmahickey's like the open 'ch' in German, like 'doch.')

  4. Anonymous8:51 pm

    Yeah, it's like how the "ch" at the end of Bach is supposed to be pronounced. And the "ch" at the beginning of Chanukah. It's ironic that English speakers have such a hard time understanding this sound, let alone producing it, given that English is a Germanic language.

    Tell people to imagine a little speck of dirt or something got lodged at the back of their palate and they're trying to dislodge it. It's kind of like the sound they'd end up making when doing that, but softer and dryer.

  5. It's not so much stupid Scottish pronounciation, it's just that it's a sound that doesn't occur in English.

    This is why our only knowledge of it comes from foreign words, such as the example you give of Bach or Jeeperstseepers' Chanukah.

    It seems to exist in most languages I've heard, stretching from Wales across Europe and western Asia.

    Just as most languages have a few words that don't translate well into English, so there are sounds.

    My favourite is the hard click in some African languages, often spelt as an exclamation mark, such as the Kalahari tribe called !Kung. Makes loch seem easy to explain.

  6. Thinking about it, the Scottish 'ch' sound does creep into an English accent. Make a Scouser say 'I'm fucking checking the chicken' and you'll see what I mean.

    I'd guess that they get it from being adjacent to Wales and 'ch' being a common Welsh sound.

  7. Anonymous10:41 pm

    You think you've got it bad, try being Jewish! We have a "ch" noise that nobody can make properly and a... how do I describe it... a hard "ah" noise that not even we can make. If there's any proof that aliens influenced human cultures, it's in the pronunciation of the "ayin." :-)

  8. Anonymous11:17 pm

    Haha, Mark. The ayin is killer. I don't know *anyone* who knows how to do it--not even my sephardic friends. When I try to do it, I just sound like I'm gagging.

    And luckily I don't have a "ch" in my name, but I do have a tzadee as the first sound of my first name. "Ah, so the t is silent," is the common response I get when explaining now to pronounce my name. I try to explain that no, the t and the s go together, but people just aren't used to starting a word with that sound. It exists in English, but only when turning a word that ends in "t" into plural, I think. Hats...bats...rats...etc. Oh, heh, "etcetera" kind of has the sound too.

  9. As I'm part Scottish m'self I never had a problem with MacRinnalch but I'm finding I have a problem with Kalix. I've never heard the name before. I was pronouncing it much like "Calise" but with an X at the end: kah-LEEKS, but then when I got to reading about Thrix, I couldn't get any other sound out besides that which rhymed with tricks. Could you clarify that maybe? Thank you!

    Loving each and every one of your novels, by the way.

  10. Eee! Being a linguistics student I actually understood things! Whee!

    Is someone pronouncing a voiceless uvular fricative, but it doesn't really sound exactly like it would do MacRinnalch... Gives you a good idea, though! :)

  11. The ts sound isn't so uncommon in English - 'gutsy', 'patsy', 'itsy bitsy', 'catsup' in US English... but it *never* appears at the beginning of words, and where it would if we stuck with original pronunciations, as in 'tsar', we're used to substituting z - 'zar'. Spanish speakers have problems with the reverse of this sound combination, so words 'steal' and 'stare' tend to throw them when they're learning. It's interesting how different languages allow different consonant clusters at the beginning of words. If you're into that kind of thing.

    But yeah, I think most English speakers sort of know that the ch of 'loch' and 'MacRinnalch' isn't really an English k sound (and likewise the closely related one in 'Bach') but not having it in the language unless you're Scouse, it can be hard to convey. As noted elsewhere, j in (most dialects of) Spanish, g in (most dialects of) Dutch, and the harder of German's ch sounds are all in the same phoneme family, so if someone's familiar with any of those, that helps. The h sound in Arabic is somewhere close by, too, hence 'Ahmed' is sometimes written 'Achmed'. I don't know if it appears in any fully Asian languages, though? Merrick, you've got me curious now.

  12. Flat hat9:22 am

    should the 'R' be rolled ?