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The main railway station in Edinburgh is named after the first of Walter Scott’s novels, which he published anonymously. The pronunciation known to everyone and contradicted nowhere is /ˈweɪvərli/, but is this really what Scott intended?

There are certain characters whose dialogue is rendered in a – fairly inconsistent – attempt at Scots. Most of them are portrayed as saying Waverley without any indication of what vowel sound they are using in the stressed syllable. Two, however – Bailie Macwheeble and Janet Gellatley – regularly pronounce the name “Wauverley”.

Is this an attempt to imitate a broad Scots version of a different pronunciation from the one we all know? Did Scott think of his hero as being pronounced /ˈwævərli/, or /ˈwɑːvərli/ (which in many Scots accents are neutralized)? Or alternatively /ˈwɒvərli/, which could then be rendered as ‘Wauverley’, /ɒ/ and /ɔː/ being also neutralized for many Scots.

Just a thought.

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  1. This problem of how to capture regional pronunciations via an unwieldy orthographic system crops up often, of course. I always wonder what “luv” is supposed to represent when used in fiction. For me, it’s [lʌv], but that’s how the standard varieties pronounce “love” anyway. So, maybe it’s meant to be [lʊv], but it’s often put in the mouths of Londoners (or at least southerners), so that makes no sense. I suspect it’s just to suggest the speaker can’t spell very well!!

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