Doric-speaking MRI scanner eases patient worries

Never underestimate the incredible — and sometimes unexpected — benefits helping customers in their own language can bring. The BBC reports that after research by Dr. Thomas McKean, of the Elphinstone Institute, showed how people with dementia often struggle with second-language attrition, the University of Aberdeen in Scotland decided to run a £1.2 million upgrade to their MRI scanner. Supporting 17 languages including Spanish, Arabic, Mandarin, Russian, and French, the language offerings now also includes Doric, or Northeast Scots.

Dr. Gordon Waiter, a senior lecturer and brain-imaging expert at the University, said he hopes the change will make patients feel more comfortable in what can be a daunting environment.

“The option to hear instructions in different languages is only a small part of this major overhaul which will bring massive benefits to both our imaging research capability and patients across the North of Scotland,” he said. “But we’re aware that coming for an MRI scan can be unnerving, so anything that makes the experience more relaxing is welcome.”

“As someone from the Northeast myself I am proud of our distinct dialect of Scots, and it’s great that advances in technology allow us to offer this degree of flexibility, whether it is for people who speak Doric, or indeed any of the other 17 languages available,” he added.

The scanner’s phrases were recorded onsite by Simon Gall, public engagement officer with the Institute, who has seen this phenomenon first-hand.

“My grandmother, a Doric speaker who has dementia, struggles now with communication in English, but when … medical professionals use Scots, she is much more responsive.”

Doric has it roots in the Germanic branch of languages and has little to do with Greek. Old English was brought over to the British Isles when Britain ceased to be part of the Roman Empire. The earliest accounts of the Anglo-Saxon migration were written by two Christian clerics, Gildas and Bede. Bede gave a precise date, 449 AD, for the arrival of three Anglo-Saxon tribes: the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, who themselves came from different parts of Germany and Denmark. The Angles were from Angeln, which is a small district in northern Germany; the Saxons were from what is now Lower Saxony, also in northern Germany; and the Jutes were from Jutland, now part of Denmark. Doric replaced the Brittonic languages and was spoken from the south coast of England up to the Central Belt of Scotland, competing in Scotland with Gaelic from the Irish colonizers as the replacement of the native Pictish.

Over the centuries, English and Scots evolved into different languages. The different dialects of Scots now exist mostly as vocabulary in the local dialects of English.

Although there are fewer fluent Scot’s speakers than Gaelic, going forward the MRI scanner at the University of Aberdeen will happily address you with “In a’tween the neist puckle o’ scans the table will move aboot.”


Stefan Huyghe
Stefan Huyghe is Vice President of Localization at Communicaid Inc. where he focuses on running high-level operations, workflow optimization, database development, social selling and community building. He has over 20 years of experience working in the language industry is fluent in Dutch, French, German, and English.

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