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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

An iCan or an iCanna?

2nd February 2012

Are you one of those Scots who feels frustrated with the voice-activated iPhone 4S?  Recently the media has picked up on the disparity between the technology and the reality in Scotland. In particular, the Los Angeles Times headlined with the iPhone’s Siri not seeming so ‘smart’ in Scotland. Since the iPhone 4S was launched, back in October 2011, it has been a popular seller, but the voice activation component is causing problems for Scots customers who find they can’t be understood. This has left commentators scratching their heads because it is pointed out that phones are set for ‘English (United Kingdom)’. Commentators have cited the ‘Scottish accent’ as the source of confusion and the Lose Angeles Times gives as examples words such as ‘cannae’ and ‘daftie’. But here lies the real problem. Cannae and daftie are not simply accent, but words from another, related language. It is the inability on the part of commentators and producers of technology to distinguish between accent, on the one hand, and language on the other, which leads to this problem in a Scottish context. The technology, whether iPhones, or voice-activated lifts, is programmed with the presumption that everyone in Scotland always speaks in English. The reality is that in Scotland many people speak the Scots language which is distinct from English, and no allowance is being made for this situation. It’s a bit like producing a voice-activated phone for sale in the Netherlands which only recognises German, or, closer to home, an iPhone marketed at Scottish Gaelic speakers which has been programmed only for Irish. Perhaps some day common sense will get ahead of the technology.