‘Dundee dialect stored as foreign tongue by brain’

The distinctive Dundonian brogue is at the centre of new international research into how our minds process dialects and languages.

Academics from Abertay University partnered with RWTH Aachen University, Germany, to study how quickly the brain reacts when asked to switch between standard speech and regional dialects.

During the study, participants were given a list of both English and Dundonian words which then appeared on a colour-coded screen in randomised order.

Depending on the colour, they were asked to say the word in either English or Dundonian — for example, responding “house” if the image was green or “hoose” if the image was blue.

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Other words included were girl/lassie, armpit/oxter, heart/hert, sausages/sassages, ears/lugs, and children/bairns.

Researchers at RWTH carried out the experiment with people using standard German and the regional Öcher Platt dialect.

The results suggest different dialects — or closely related language varieties — are stored in the brain in similar ways to different languages.

Project leader Dr Neil Kirk, of Abertay’s division of psychology, said: “In most other studies our bi-dialectal participants would simply be considered ‘monolingual’, as language background questionnaires typically do not inquire about dialect usage.

“Yet the results of our study show that some monolinguals and bilinguals are cognitively not that different.”

Both sets of researchers found a “switch cost”, where it took participants longer to name pictures when they were asked to move from speaking one variety to another.

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