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Pulmonic ingressive speech in Orkney dialect.


Pulmonic ingressive speech refers to speaking while breathing in. This phenomenon is reported for several Scottish dialects, where it may be used in particular on short words for 'yes' and 'no', such as yeah and aye (e.g. Thom 2005; Eklund 2008). The cross-linguistic distribution of pulmonic ingressive speech is a matter of current debate (cf. Clarke and Melchers 2005; Eklund 2007, 2008). According to one viewpoint, it is restricted to a North Atlantic/Baltic zone, stretching from Northern Europe to North America. Others suggest that it is to be found in wide range of languages, covering all continents. Its occurrence within the North Atlantic/Baltic zone has further been argued to reflect migratory patterns, involving Vikings and subsequently British and Irish emigrants. One problem which has militated against more detailed study of ingressive speech is the paucity of evidence and documentation for many parts in such forms as audio recordings. Thus far it is only in Scandinavia, Newfoundland and Shetland that corpus studies have been performed (e.g. Steinbergs 1993; Kobayashi 2001; Clarke and Melchers 2005; Sundkvist 2012); for other localities we rely largely on informal observations. This paper examines the existence of pulmonic ingressive speech in Orkney based on audio recordings available at Orkney Library and Archives.


The production of an audible speech sound consists of three basic or functional components: initiation, articulation and phonation. For initiation --or airstream mechanism--the aim is to achieve a flow of air in the vocal tract. Those sounds that utilize the lungs as the initiator are called 'pulmonic' sounds (those that utilize some other organ are called 'non-pulmonic'). Most commonly, the direction of the airstream is outwards, from the lungs towards the mouth. This is referred to as a 'pulmonic egressive' airstream. However, it is also possible to generate a flow of air by drawing air into the lungs, which is thus a 'pulmonic ingressive' airstream. The second component, articulation, concerns the subsequent modification of the airstream, which is required to generate a wide range of sound types. This involves such dimensions as place and manner of articulation for consonants, and tongue height and advancement, and lip rounding for vowels. Finally, the definition of phonation varies slightly among authors. To some extent it depends on whether it is seen as an optional component or not. One definition, provided by Catford (1988: 56), is: "any of those phonetic activities of the larynx which have neither initiatory nor articulatory function". Under this definition principal phonation types are voiceless (glottis open), voice (vocal folds vibrating), whisper (glottis narrowed), and creak (glottis closed along much of its length but with a small part vibrating). Various combinations of these types are also possible.

For our purposes, two benefits may be gained by spelling out and keeping in mind these basics of speech production. Firstly, it is possible to clarify that the crucial aspect of the speech sounds under investigation is their initiation, namely that they involve an airstream directed inwards towards the lungs. Previously, the phenomenon has on occasion been referred to as "ingressive articulation" (Clarke and Melchers 2005: 51) and "ingressive phonation" (Eklund 2008:235), neither of which is technically accurate. Secondly, it leaves the phonation of ingressives unspecified. The topic of phonation in ingressive speech is a highly complex one, where more research is clearly needed for a fuller understanding (cf. Orlikoff, Baken and Kraus 1997). However, applying a basic distinction between voiced and voiceless ingressives in the analysis allows us to assess additional, potential variation within the speech community. As an example, in Shetland this approach revealed substantial gender differences (Sundkvist 2012).


An overview of available documentations and attestations points to a number of languages and regions where pulmonic ingressive speech may be found, albeit with varying degree of frequency and certainty. Pulmonic ingressive speech is well-documented for Northern Europe. It is a common feature in the Nordic languages, such as Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Finnish, Faroese and Icelandic (Hakulinen 1993; Stolen 1994; Kobayashi 2001; Clarke and Melchers 2005; Eklund 2007, 2008). Well supported is also its occurrence in several other languages, such as German, Austrian, Dutch, Estonian, and Latvian (Pitschmann 1987; Clarke and Melchers 2005). It is also documented for various parts of the British Isles, including Scotland (Thom 2005; Sundkvist 2012), Ireland (Peters 1981; Thom 2005), and Wales (Peters 1981). Single instances have been recorded in Northern England (Peters 1981; Clarke and Melchers 2005; Shorrocks 2003). Ingressive speech also occurs in parts of North America. It is well documented in Newfoundland (Steinbergs 1993; Shorrocks 2003; Clarke and Melchers 2005) and Vinalhaven, Maine (Peters 1981), and has also been encountered in Cape Breton and parts of Ontario (Clarke and Melchers 2005). The Linguistic Atlas of New England identifies several instances within Massachusetts (Kurath et al. 1943). Ingressive speech has also been shown to exist in Tohono O'odham, a Native American language spoken in Southwestern USA and Northwestern Mexico (Hill and Zepeda 1999). A recent survey suggests that ingressive speech is found in a wide range of additional localities, beyond Northern Europe and North America (Eklund 2008). These include Southern Europe (Turkey, Cyprus, Malta), South and Central America (Colombia, Argentina, Chile), Asia (India, China, Mongolia, Japan, The Philippines), Africa (Malawi, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Togo, Tanzania, South Africa), New Zealand, Australia, and Papua New Guinea.

It is, however, necessary to reflect upon the nature and quality of the various reports. Especially reports from outside Europe and North America in many cases appear to describe very marginal uses of ingressive speech, in contrast to for instance the Nordic languages. In many cases the existence of ingressive speech is supported solely by brief comments in the literature, which are sometimes open to alternative interpretations; or by statements or attestations offered by professional colleagues (cf. e.g. Eklund 2008; Clarke and Melchers 2005; Shorrocks 2003). The lack of more objective evidence for many localities must therefore be acknowledged as being one of the obstacles to establishing the cross-linguistic distribution of ingressive speech. The fact remains that, to date, the only parts of the world where researchers have managed to record (audio or video) a sufficient amount of tokens to conduct corpus studies are Peninsular Scandinavia (Kobayashi 2001; Eklund 2007; Clarke and Melchers 2005), Newfoundland (Steinbergs 1993; Clarke and Melchers 2005) and the Shetland Isles (Sundkvist 2012).


The typological status of pulmonic ingressive speech depends crucially on which view of its cross-linguistic distribution is accepted. According to one suggestion, it is 'highly marked from a typological perspective' (Clarke and Melchers 2005: 51). This follows from the idea that it is restricted to what has been referred to as the 'North Atlantic/Baltic zone' (Clarke and Melchers 2005). This stretches from the Baltic countries and the Scandinavian Peninsula, and westwards across Northwest Europe, the British Isles, the Faroe Islands and Iceland, and finally into parts of eastern North America. Proponents of this view further argue that its geographical distribution reflects contact-based diffusion. Ingressive speech, it is hypothesized, was first transmitted from Scandinavia to other parts of Europe, including Britain and Ireland, via the Vikings; at a later stage it was further transported to North America by British and Irish migrants. Additional support for this idea is adduced on the basis of suggested parallels across the region regarding ingressive speech; (a) it occurs mostly on brief discourse particles for 'yes' and 'no'; (b) it signals a level of affiliation or intimacy between interlocutors; and (c) it is (supposedly) used most frequently by women (Clarke and Melchers 2005).

An alternative view is that ingressive speech constitutes a 'neglected universal'. This suggestion, put forward by Eklund (2007, 2008), is based on a survey of reported occurrences of ingressive speech across the world. Eklund does not deny that it seems to be especially common within the North Atlantic/Baltic zone. His survey, however, suggests that ingressive speech is much more wide-spread geographically than previously thought, having gone undetected in many cases; it is also found across languages for which there is no reasonable contact-based explanation. Furthermore, the survey hints to parallels between non-related languages concerning the discourse function of ingressives, and also casts some doubts on the suggestion that ingressive speech, where it occurs, is typically more common among females.


The use of pulmonic ingressive speech in Scotland has been the subject of previous research. An extensive postal and email survey was conducted by Thom (2005). A questionnaire was used, containing a verbal description of ingressive speech together with a number of associated questions. Among these was whether respondents thought they had heard it in their area of residence or elsewhere, what categories of people they thought used it, and on what words and phrases they could recall hearing it. As many as sixty-three out of 121 respondents (52%) reported to have heard it in their region, and another 11% in a region other than their own (Thom 2005: 31). Overall these results indicated that ingressives may be most common in Aberdeenshire, Morayshire, the Highlands, the Western Isles, Orkney, and Shetland (Thom 2005: 41). Respondents further strongly associated it with older speakers; 69% thought it was used most commonly by older speakers, and 27% by speakers of all ages (Thom 2005: 32). Although several sources suggest that ingressive speech, at least within the North Atlantic/Baltic zone, is more common among women, this was not reflected in Thom's results. 35% thought it was more common in men, 9% more common in women, and 56% equally common. Thom also briefly touched upon entire sentences being spoken on a pulmonic ingressive airstream, as documented for Nordic languages such as Faroese (Eklund 2008). While it seems difficult to find living speakers in Scotland to illustrate the phenomenon, she suggests that it may have been more common in the past than today (2005: 32). Based on her findings, Thom furthermore speculates that ingressive speech may be disappearing altogether in Scotland (2005: 65).

A survey of ingressive speech in Shetland was presented in Sundkvist (2012). This was based on a corpus of 40+ hours of sound recordings, collected during a regional survey in 1980-1985. The results showed that ingressive speech occurred throughout Shetland, and was attested for 27% of 49 males and 32% of 47 females. Given the similarity between the present study and Sundkvist (2012), a comparison of the results is presented below.


The following examination of pulmonic ingressive speech in Orkney is based on a corpus of recorded interviews, available at the Orkney Library and Archive. Efforts were made to achieve as comprehensive a geographic coverage as permitted by the archival resources. A list of recordings available at the Archives was first obtained, and recordings were then selected to cover all parishes represented in the material. If available, at least one male and one female speaker were obtained from each parish. In the resulting set of files twelve parishes are represented, albeit to varying extents (See Table 1).

The recordings contain informal conversations between an interviewer and at least one interviewee. In a few recordings several people are present apart from the interviewer. The topics concern traditional life and customs in Orkney, in particular focusing on memories of the locality in question. No questions were asked regarding linguistic matters. In all cases the interviewer is a fellow Orcadian. All interviews but one were conducted by a youngish female from the Mainland parish of Harray, appointed as the first Orkney Sound Archivist (1980-1990). In one interview (with a male speaker in South Ronaldsay), the interviewer is another youngish female, originally from South Ronaldsay, who served as Sound Archivist from 1990 until about 1993. The resulting speech corpus consists of 48 separate interviews, with a total length of 30 hours and 17 minutes. The mean length of the interviews is 37 minutes and 52 seconds (ranging from 10 minutes, 13 seconds to 53 minutes, 54 seconds). The recordings display relaxed conversations in a warm personable atmosphere, with good interaction between interviewer and interviewee(s). This is judged to be the type of setting which some previous scholars have deemed necessary to elicit ingressives (e.g. Shorrocks 2003: 382).


The recordings were compiled into a digital speech corpus. Files were listened to using high-quality headphones. Potential occurrences of digressive speech were segmented and labelled in Praat (Boersma and Weenink 2010). The design of the corpus allowed for repeated listening, with the support of visual information from the waveform and spectrogram. Two trained phoneticians (the authors) listened jointly to all potential tokens. Both phoneticians had to agree that a potential token constituted a pulmonic ingressive. Initial parts of speech turns, often containing indrawn breath, were not counted. The resulting set of ingressive tokens, on which the following analysis is based, constitutes a conservative estimate of the actual number of occurring ingressives.

Ingressives were categorized as 'voiced', 'voiceless' or 'indeterminate'. Voiced tokens were defined as those displaying voicing during (at least) some part of the duration of the word in question; frequently this portion was very short. Voiceless tokens were defined as those displaying no voicing through their duration. The presence of voicing was assessed on the basis of auditory analysis and inspection of the waveform and spectrogram. Tokens for which voicing could not reliably be determined were labelled as 'indeterminate'.


The results are presented below so as to illustrate the distribution of pulmonic ingressive speech with regard to (a) locality, (b) gender, (c) word/discourse particle, and (d) voicing. Table 1 illustrates the total set of Orkney informants with regard to locality and gender. As may be seen, ingressive speech is attested for two out of 21 males (9.5%); it is attested for 13 to 14 out of the 31 female speakers (43.5%), or 14 to 15 if the two fieldworkers are included (43.9%). In terms of region ingressives were attested in eight out of twelve parishes represented in the Orkney Archives.

Although the low numbers of informants available per locality mean that firm conclusions regarding regional variation cannot be drawn, attestation by region is illustrated in the map in Figure 1. As seen, ingressive speech was found in three out of four Mainland parishes. It was further attested in northern isles such as Papa Westray, North Ronaldsay, Sanday and Stronsay, as well as the most southerly isle included, South Ronaldsay. No ingressives occurred for the isles of Westray, Egilsay or Shapinsay, or the Mainland parish of Firth. Among localities not represented in the corpus are the southerly isle of Hoy, and the north-central isles of Eday and Rousay.

Table 2 displays the results for the words, discourse particles and sentence that were pronounced on a pulmonic ingressive airstream, with regard to gender and voicing. The majority of the particles represent 'yes' and 'no' responses, which is in line with previous results for Nordic languages and (other) dialects of English. The most frequent particle is Ah-ah. However, all three types of double-particles (Ah-ah, Uh-uh, Mm-mm) were contributed by two informants. Apart from these, the most frequent types are, in descending order, aye, ah, yeah, mm (all meaning 'yes') and no.

A total of 75 tokens were contributed by females but only two by males. Although the total amount of speech is not controlled for, and the female: male speaker ratio is approximately 3:2, a clear gender difference is visible. Both voiced and voiceless tokens are attested. In terms of the overall figures, 69% were judged to be voiced (53.5), 15% voiceless (11.5) and 16% (12) as indeterminate. Since only two tokens were found for males, voicing cannot be further assessed. For females, though, if all tokens are counted, 70% of all occurrences are voiced, 15% voiceless, and 15% deemed indeterminate. In addition to brief 'yes' and 'no' responses, one expressive ah was encountered, along with one instance of the short sentence I know. The pronunciation of entire sentences on a pulmonic ingressive airstream is attested for Nordic languages, including Faroese (Eklund 2008). To the best of the authors' knowledge, it is thus far not documented elsewhere, including Scotland.


To the best of the authors' knowledge, the only other Scottish locality for which corpus studies for this feature have been presented is Shetland (Sundkvist 2012). A comparison between Orkney and Shetland may thus bring further insight into the use of pulmonic ingressive speech in Scotland's Northern Isles. At first, however, it is necessary to assess the comparability of the two corpora.

As to the sizes of the corpora, the total durations are 30+ hours for Orkney and 40+ hours for Shetland. The Orkney corpus contains 21 men and 31 women, whereas the Shetland one has nearly twice as many: 49 men and 47 women. The interviews centre on similar topics, although the ones for Shetland also touched upon language matters. For Orkney the interviewer was always an insider (Orcadian). In the Shetland corpus there is overall less control of participants, with more varied size and make-up of the groups being recorded. The fieldworkers, who mostly act as interviewers, are a Swedish woman and a Norwegian man. Both corpora represent considerable regional coverage of the Orkney and Shetland Isles respectively, although somewhat more so for Shetland.

For the Shetland corpus the time of recordings is 1980-1985, with a mean age of 54 for males and 58 for females. These means are calculated on what are in many cases estimated ages, as noted and documented in the corpus. Nevertheless, these figures suggest that the average year of birth is about 1925-1930. For Orkney, the recording years are 1984-1992, with the vast majority made between 1985 and 1989 (only one each in 1984 and 1992). Age is available or recoverable based on information provided for 11 males and 22 females. The mean age for males is 80 and for females 77, which means that the average year of birth is approximately 1905-1910. The speakers in the Orkney corpus were thus on average bom about 20 years earlier than those in the Shetland corpus.

Turning to the results, pulmonic ingressive speech was, as we see, attested for 9.5% of male speakers and 44% of female speakers in Orkney. For Shetland, it was found for 27% of males and 32% of females. In Orkney only two tokens were encountered for males but as many as 75 tokens for females. As pointed out, however, the female figure is raised by the fact that two speakers contributed many tokens. In Shetland 25 occurrences were noted for males and 49 for females. For Orkney females 70% of all tokens were judged to be voiced, 15% to be voiceless, and 15% indeterminate. For males too few tokens were found to permit analysis. For Shetland females 65% were voiced, 29% voiceless and 6% indeterminate. Tokens for males were 28% voiced and 72% voiceless. In other words, the use of pulmonic ingressive speech is well documented for both Orkney and Shetland, and the most obvious difference between the two concerns gender. In Orkney the use of ingressive speech is significantly more common for females, whereas in Shetland gender differences are discernible with regard to voicing.


Previous research has showed pulmonic ingressive speech to be a somewhat elusive feature from a methodological standpoint (Shorrocks 2003; Thom 2005). Partly due to various difficulties in documenting it by recording interviews, researchers have applied various alternatives including observational methods and postal surveys (Peters 1981; Thom 2005). In this paper, a corpus of 30+ hours of archival recordings, provided by the Orkney Archives, was examined in the search for ingressives. These consisted of informal in-group conversations among Orcadians on topics concerning life in the isles, which, on all accounts, represents the type of setting conducive to the use of ingressive speech (Shorrocks 2003; Clarke and Melchers 2005).

As revealed by the data corpus, ingressive speech was attested for 9.5% of males and 44% of females, born around 1905-10. Orkney may thus be added to the set of localities where the use of ingressives is documented and supported by sound recordings. A short sentence spoken on an ingressive airstream was also found: I know. Entire sentences spoken on a pulmonic ingressive airstream appear not to have been documented for any (other) dialect of English. The sharp gender marking uncovered for Orkney is furthermore in line with claims for the North Atlantic/Baltic zone generally (Clarke and Melchers 2005). Significantly, the results suggest that ingressive speech was used by nearly half of Orkney females of the generation bom about a hundred years ago, and thus at least was a feature of Orkney Scots.

It is hoped that further research will be undertaken into the use of pulmonic ingressive speech in Scotland. Additional speech corpora have been collected through various research projects since the nineteen eighties. While the task is clearly a time-consuming one, those with access to such corpora could make a particular contribution. Corpora collected more recently typically involve a higher level of sound quality, which means that additional issues could fruitfully be addressed, such as voicing. It would also be possible to assess to what extent pulmonic ingressive speech survives in Scottish dialects, and test claims of a drastic decline.


(1) We wish to express our gratitude to Mr David Mackie, Senior Archivist at Orkney Library and Archive, for kindly providing us with the recordings and patiently answering all our questions regarding these. We would also like to thank Professor Robert McColl Millar, editor of Scottish Language, and the anonymous reviewer for their helpful comments on this paper.


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Table 1. Informants: gender and locality

                    Informants interviewed        encountered (b)

Locality (a)        Male      Female          Male      Female

Birsay (Mainland)   1         3                         2
Egilsay                       1
Firth (Mainland)              1
Harray (Mainland)             1 (2) (c)                 (1~2) (d)
Holm (Mainland)     2 (e)     3 (f)           1 (e)     1 (f)
North Ronaldsay     5         6 (g)                     3 (g)
Papa Westray                  1                         1
Sanday              4         3                         1
Shapinsay           2 (h,i)
South Ronaldsay     1         1 (j) (2) (k)             1 (j)
Stron say           5         10              1         4
Westray             1 (l)     1

TOTAL               21        31 (33)         2         13~14 (14~15)


Figures in parentheses include the two female interviewers

(a) Although most informants were local to the particular area in
question, a few had resided in more than one locality within the
Orkney Isles. Where available, information about such individuals is
provided in the footnotes below. The informants are classified
according to the same locality as used in the Orkney Archives.

(b) At least one attested occurrence of pulmonic ingressive speech.

(c) The main interviewer is a female from Harray (Mainland).

(d) Ingressive determined for main fieldworker; possibly also from
one additional Harray female.

(e) One individual: Holm and Stronsay.

(f) One individual: Holm, South Ronaldsay and North Farray

(g) One individual: North Ronaldsay and Kirkwall

(h) One individual: Shapinsay and Stronsay

(i) One individual: Shapinsay, Orphir (Mainland) and Holm (Mainland)

(j) One individual: South Ronaldsay and London

(k) The interviewer in one interview (Orkney Sound Archive number
308) is from South Ronaldsay.

(l) One individual: Westray and Stronsay

Table 2. Discourse particles, gender and voicing


Positive/  Word/          Voiced  Voiceless  Voicing
negative   particle                          indeterminate

'yes'      Aye                               1
           Yeah           1
           Ah-ah (a)
           Uh-uh (a)
           Mm-mm (a)
           I know
'no'       No
Express    Ah
[SIGMA]                   1                  1


Positive/  Word/          Voiced  Voiceless  Voicing
negative   particle                          indeterminate  [SIGMA]

'yes'      Aye            7       2          3              13
           Ah             1       6                         7
           Yeah           3                  3              7
           A4m            4                                 4
           Ah-ah (a)      26                                26
           Uh-uh (a)      3                                 3
           Mm-mm (a)      6                                 6
           Oh-aye         (oh)    (aye)                     1
           I know         1                                 1
           Indeterminate          2          2              4
'no'       No             1       1          2              4
Express    Ah                                1              1
[SIGMA]                   52.5    11.5       11
                                             75 (b)         77


(a) All double-particles were contributed by two informants (Stronsay

(b) Includes two tokens contributed by fieldworker (Harray female)
and three tokens possibly contributed by fieldworker.
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Author:Sundkvist, Peter; Gao, Man
Publication:Scottish Language
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2015
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