05 March 2024

Scottish Voices project challenges the public to pinpoint Scotland’s most recognisable dialects

‘Citizen Science’ psychology research project from Abertay hosted at V&A Dundee and Dundee Science Centre

Think you know your Dundonian from your Doric? Or perhaps your Oxter from your Bahookie?  

Scientists from Abertay University in Dundee are to test the great Scottish public’s ability to recognise the country’s different accents.  

Throughout a series of open participation sessions at V&A Dundee and Dundee Science Centre, visitors are being asked to listen to audio clips of people from different regions of Scotland, in a bid to discover how accurately they can tell the difference between different regional brogues.  

Led by a team from Abertay’s Division of Psychology and Forensic Sciences, the Scottish Voices research project is the first of its kind in the country and is designed to capture a significant dataset for analysis, while also raising public awareness of the cultural diversity in Scottish language.  

International language research has, to date, mainly focussed on how individuals learn different languages, with the ability to differentiate varieties within a language and a country largely ignored.

Now, following on from recent studies in the US looking at accent variance from state to state, the Abertay research team will seek to compare how the ability to distinguish regional dialects differs across nations.   

After listening to recordings of the Scottish dialects via a laptop and headphones, participants will be asked to group the files according to how they sound, followed by completing a short questionnaire covering where they have lived and for how long.  

The project will be led by Abertay Psychology students Marta Brzoska and Hajar Benharraf under the supervision of Dr Neil Kirk and Professor Vera Kempe.  

Professor Kempe, a lecturer on Abertay’s BSc (Hons) Psychology and MSc Applied Artificial Intelligence and User Experience programmes said:

With this study we take the first step of expanding this international research theme to Scotland, capitalising on Scotland’s extraordinary richness of linguistic varieties. We hope that engaging the public into the Scottish Voices project will raise awareness of the importance of studying how people acquire and use different linguistic varieties, but it’s also a really different and enjoyable way for us to engage in citizen science with the local community and visitors. Gaining a better understanding of regional dialects and how we process them can be hugely useful, both in a personal experience and business context – imagine the benefits, for example, if your translation app could not just provide a gateway to English, but to any regional accent across the UK or globally. In the first instance we are very much looking forward to finding out how our Scottish audience performs on this task, but we are also keen to see if the approach can be rolled out into non-English speaking countries as the research theme develops.

For more information on Psychology at Abertay University visit the Division of Psychology and Forensic Sciences website pages. 

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