I just rewatched one of my favorite Disney movies from my childhood: Lady and the Tramp. This was actually the first time I watched this film in English, having previously only watched it in German. The German version only features a couple nonstandard accents so I was quite surprised to see so many characters with nonstandard accents in the English original!
Living in Scotland, I obviously had especially strong opinions about Jock’s Scottish accent so I thought I’d share a few of my thoughts. The sounds and placement of Scottish accents are very different from North-American accents and it’s difficult to nail them without any help. Working with accent coaches wasn’t really on the radar when this movie came out in the 50s so considering that Jock’s voice actor, Bill Thompson, did it all by himself, it’s actually a pretty okay result. Thompson clearly picked up on some distinct Scottish features like the FACE and GOAT vowels and he knew that he needed to change his R sounds. Nevertheless, there were a few things that he could have improved to sound more like an actual Scottish speaker.
First, I want to talk about the feature that sticks out the most: Jock’s trilled Rs! Thompson rolled every single R with the tip of this tongue for Jock’s speech, and as a result the Rs are elongated and stick out from all the other sounds. While I have to say it is impressive how perfectly Thompson trilled every single R (it’s not an easy sound to make for many English speakers), trilling Rs like that is actually quite rare for Scottish English speakers. In all my years here I’ve actually never heard such trilled Rs and even in the early 20th century, not many Scottish speakers would’ve trilled their Rs as consistently as Jock did in Lady and the Tramp. This cute wee granny in the video below only truly trills her R a couple of times, for example in the word rules and here.
Trilling Rs like Thompson does in Lady and the Tramp takes a lot of effort and slows down your speech quite a bit. So to make things easier, what many Scottish speakers like this granny often use instead of trilled Rs is the so-called tapped R. It’s quite similar to the trill, but instead of a continuous up and down, your tongue only flicks up to the alveolar ridge (i.e. right behind your teeth where the gums start) once and very briefly. A really good example for the difference between the trill and the tap can be observed in Spanish for the words pero (tapped R) and perro (trilled R). So in conclusion: while Thompson clearly knew that he needed to change his R sounds for Jock’s speech, he was missing the nuance of just how often and how strongly to roll his Rs to really sound like a native Scottish speaker.
Secondly, the feature that really gave away that Bill Thompson is a native North-American English speaker was the way he pronounced his LOT vowels. In many North-American English accents, the vowel in words like not, hop, or sock has lost its rounding so it sounds more like the vowel used in words like palm or father. You can hear this in the little video below when Jock says “a bonnie new collar” (around 1:29 mins) with a very open, unrounded ‘aah’ sound in that first syllable of the word collar.
In Scottish accents, on the other hand, that vowel is pronounced with rounded lips so that lot and collar will sound like this
instead of being very open with relaxed lips in a General American accent:
Thompson consistently used his own unrounded LOT vowel which makes me think he really wasn’t aware of how much this vowel differs between the two accents. Having the help of an accent coach can really make a difference for things like this.
Finally, one thing I was really pleasantly surprised by was how often Jock used Scots words and grammatical features like bairn (=child) and dinnae (=don’t). There’s not enough Scots speakers on screen as it is so – even though most of the Scots words in Jock’s speech were quite typical and well-known – anytime a character speaks even just a little bit of Scots, I count that as a win.