Sorry, but I don't speak Glaswegian

It's a language thing. If I lived in France, I'd retire from amateur dramatics. As an Englishman, I could never play a convincing gendarme in a Feydeau farce. One must know one's limits.

It's the same - or I thought it was - here in Glasgow. For 20 years I assumed that acting was out because I don't speak the local language. But to my amazement, when I joined The Players, I found they mainly presented English and American plays.

Our next play, however, "Men Should Weep," is a Glasgow east-end 1930s Depression drama and might as well be in a foreign tongue.

So I didn't audition, even for Second Removal Man. My rule is that I will never attempt to act a Scottish, and especially not a Glasgow, role - at least no nearer than 400 or 500 miles away.

Even then, given the Scottish diaspora, a member of the audience would probably accost me at the stage door and observe: "Aye, so, ye aul tumphie, ye didna think tae fool us, did ye? Come oan! Gie us some credit! I ken you're a Sassenach right enough. If tha' were Glasgow I'm a wally dug.' " (Or words to that effect).

The odd thing is that after a quarter of a century here, even though my English speech patterns survive unaffected, I can easily tell when an Englishman tries to imitate Glasgow-speak - and it is not honey to the ears. If I tried it, I'd be even nearer the embarrassment.

So this time I am doing the props.

Jack is playing John - in his native language. He corners me in the clubhouse kitchen to discuss his personal props. He says: "Let me see. In Act III I have this hat for Maggie [John's wife] in a bag behind me. It's a Christmas present. She has to guess which hand it's in ... yes, here it is ... 'Nievy-nievy-nick-knack, which haun will ye tak?' "

He looks at me quizzically. "I'd better translate it for you, had I?" (He likes to tease the English, though his own forebears were, in fact, Russian).

"No need. I get it," I say.

Jack has lived here all his life. He learned the nuances of raw Glasgow slang when, as a young man, he was thrown into a workplace where his middle-class expressions made him stand out like a rose in a snowstorm. So he learned to blend in.

But Jack's everyday speech (he is, after all, a teacher) is not the thickest form of Glasgow-speak. Indeed, as he points out, there are as many different kinds of vocal expression in the city as there are districts. In Govan (inhabited originally by Highlanders), they use some words that are different from those in Partick or Castlemilk. The separate villages gradually melted into the metropolis, but local identity is not so easily obliterated. Waves of different nationalities have added their flavor: the Irish, the Italians, the Polish, and the Pakistanis among them.

Jack (who thinks it's funny I can't do a Glasgow accent, when he can do a perfect English one) told me that the right way to say some Glasgow words is simply to take out all the vowels. My own ear tells me it's the other way round, that consonants are often considered something of an obstruction in words and ignored. Whole sentences seem to me like a strangely nonsensical rippling sound, a kind of spoken tidal wave with a smattering of recognizable words dancing sporadically on the surface like marker buoys.

Comedians make effective use of this tongue tripping melee - and some of them make great fun of it. One called Russ Abbot does silly Glasgow-speak brilliantly (while dressed in a kilt and a brilliant orange wig). But he was born into it. His mother is a Glasgow girl.

Stanley Baxter, one of Scotland's most brilliant comedian-actors, capitalized splendidly on the incomprehensibility of Glasgow speech. He did a TV series of hilarious sketches called "Parliamo Glasgow" - and he was concerned it wouldn't be understood in Edinburgh, 50 miles away!

In this series (also made into books), he was a presenter with a superbly honed English voice teaching uninitiated foreigners the intricate rudiments of Glasgow speech. I have space for only one example, but it conveys the difficulties of what is arguably an actual language and not just a vernacular dialect. One of his characters says she has just been buying a pound of butter for her mother - "or, as she puts it, apunnaburrafurramurra."

Make of this what you will! There are even some Glaswegians who couldn't translate it. They do not, of course, include Jack. And even I can have a go at it. Privately.

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