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I have two questions.

In the UK, to do (or is it read?) a roll call is commonly referred to as "calling out the register". It's been so long since I was a child that I'm not absolutely sure how students responded. I think it was "Present, miss/sir"

I also seem to remember students just raising their hands. Are there different responses in the rest of the English speaking world?

Secondly, I am experiencing difficulty in pronouncing roll call. I can say each word separately without any trouble but when I join the two together it sounds as if I'm saying "rolkol"; "rolekol" or "rol kol" I've looked in wiktionary and TFD but neither have the pronunciation. Should I pronounce roll in "roll call" as /rəʊl/ or /roʊl/?

EDIT

It seems responding to the roll call with "present" has become dated both in the UK and the US whether it holds true for Canada and Australia is unknown. Apparently, British students responded with "Yes, miss/sir" until the 70s but now the simple, "Here" is heard on both sides of the Atlantic. The Longman Contemporary English Dictionary, claims that call/take the register is old fashioned in the UK, but I wonder if that really is the case, and whether in the US "calling the roll" is becoming dated as suggested by the Google Ngram chart in @bib's answer.

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    40 years ago in the UK it was definitely "Yes, miss". – Andrew Leach Jan 24 '14 at 11:42
  • Ahh, @AndrewLeach was it?! So when did "present" become more accepted? – Mari-Lou A Jan 24 '14 at 11:44
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    /rəʊl/ and /roʊl/ are IPA for the British and American versions of the vowel in bowl, hole, soul, toll (which is pronounced slightly differently on either side of the Atlantic). – Peter Shor Jan 24 '14 at 11:54
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    In suburban LA, the standard response was "huh?" – emsoff Jan 24 '14 at 19:34
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    In my experience, contemporary Canadian usage varies; yes, yup, yeah, here, present, uh-huh are all quite common, and sometimes a student will say something entirely different. It is usually called taking attendance. – Anonym Jan 24 '14 at 20:12
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In the US, the most common answer is Here. While Present was also heard in the 1950s and earlier, this has largely disappeared except in smug exaggeration.

There are slight variances in regions across the US with a more significant oh (as in bowl) heard in the Northeast, and less so in the Midwest.

SUPPLEMENT: Calling the roll was used in schools through the late 20th century, and roll call is still used in the military and uniformed services, such as fire and police, and in legislative bodies (as in a roll call vote). Since the 1980s, the phrase taking attendance has become more common, as reflected in this ngram.

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    This was exactly my experience (30 years ago when last I was in that position). I understand in some parts of the country (Philadelphia?) "Yo" can be used. – T.E.D. Jan 24 '14 at 13:22
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As there are a few anecdotal answers here, here's mine (which is more recent - I left Sixth Form a few months ago) - for a state school in the UK:

"Yes/Here Miss/Sir" is the usual reply (obviously the "yes/here" isn't linked to whether it's "Sir" or "Miss").

I've never actually heard anyone speak of calling the register - it was usually referred to (by students and staff alike) as either "taking" or "doing" the register. I never encountered another way of referring to it, so I certainly wouldn't call "taking" dated at all.

If anyone did ever answer with a "here" (as occasionally happened lower down the school) they'd get a raised eyebrow and a long silence until they added a "Sir" or "Miss" to the end.

I've never heard "roll call" used (irl).

  • Nice to know that things haven't changed much in 35 years (especially the pregnant pause and the raised eyebrow!) – Andrew Leach Aug 29 '16 at 10:56
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    Broadly reflects my experience c.35 or more years ago as well. However, we rarely said "yes". Just "Sir". I'd be surprised if that wasn't the case in some UK schools still. I remember in one registration a fellow pupil answering "present" but as a wind up (it could get very boring) which shows that the term was known but considered obsolete then. – Francis Davey Sep 28 '17 at 6:58
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Well, I don't know about English schools but in Scotland, more specifically Aberdeen/Aberdeenshire, we say "here." In our school registration is a time to chat and get ready for the day, and because our teacher is quite forgiving, pupils tend to joke about and say "here/here miss," in a funny accent. Registration lasts seven minutes where we read the bulletin (school news). In posher schools in Aberdeen, pupils are required to say "present." All in all, it simply depends on the type of school/ area you are thinking about. Hope this helped!

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In an episode of Endeavor (set in Oxford in the sixties?) there is a boy's school where students would call out adsum in response to a roll-call. Oxford Living Dictionaries lists it as follows:

rare ‘I am here’ (used to indicate the speaker is present). Hence as noun: this statement as an answer in a roll-call, etc.

Origin Late 16th century; earliest use found in Taming of a Shrew. From classical Latin adsum, 1st singular present indicative of adesse to be present.

Pronunciation adsum/ˈadsʊm//ˈadsʌm/

By the way, I recommend watching the episode to get the full atmosphere. The scene is quite captivating.

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I can't remember if we said 'present' or 'yes'.

'Roll' is pronounced as in 'bread roll', or 'roll out the barrel'. 'Call' is just as you would say 'call out when you are ready'.

  • Yes but bread roll is it; 'rol' or 'role'? Is the o short or open? – Mari-Lou A Jan 24 '14 at 11:48
  • @Mari-LouA Open. Pronounced ROWL. I am thinking that Americans may give it a short O, which is unusual because they are obsessed with the open-type of O. You know, how they say YOO-GURT. – WS2 Jan 24 '14 at 12:10
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    @WS2 As an American, I've never heard anyone say "yoogurt'. At least in the Northeastern US (PA, NY, NJ, New England), roll is pronounced with o as in owe. – asfallows Jan 24 '14 at 14:02
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    @WS2 I'm reading "yoo gurt" with yoo pronounced like yew, do, or through. The most common pronunciation (at least in regions I've live in) pronounces 'yo' as in owe, know, or throw. If that's what you meant, then you've got it. We do not pronounce it the British way, in either case. – asfallows Jan 24 '14 at 16:32
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    WS2, I got the impression that you meant that Americans pronounce the first part of the word yogurt in a way that rhymes with the first part of the word yo-yo. That is different from how British people pronounce it because, Americans (and Canadians) don't have the same, shorter O sound that is in British pronunciation and, many other languages. – Tristan r Jan 24 '14 at 17:15
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In 1968 in the UK we said, "here, sir" when the schoolmaster called the roll.

  • That sounds very familiar too. Are there any references or sources which you could quote from? Thank you. And your headmaster didn't "call the register" he called the roll? – Mari-Lou A Jan 24 '14 at 12:43
  • Ollie Jones, was that in a private school? In my experience of state schools, there was no such thing as masters or rolls. – Tristan r Jan 24 '14 at 12:55
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    Well, yes, they called it a "public school," but in fact it was private. This particular one catered to expatriate yanks like me. – O. Jones Jan 24 '14 at 16:11
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    We yanks used to answer "yo" sometimes. But it was dangerous to tease those schoolmasters. – O. Jones Jan 24 '14 at 16:17
  • I thought so, Ollie. – Tristan r Jan 24 '14 at 17:16
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In my time in secondary schools in England, in the last decade, it was common for students to respond with a simple sir or miss, depending on the teacher, during registration.

This was not called calling or taking the register. It was just called registration. It meant everyone in a class going to their form room and the form teacher filled in the register. It was done in the morning, before lessons and in the afternoon, before going home.

  • Could you add where and when? – Mari-Lou A Jan 25 '14 at 13:39
  • In England, in the last decade. – Tristan r Jan 25 '14 at 13:44
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An excerpt from the play Babies by Jonathan Harvey, a young Liverpudlian playwright, who had previously worked as a teacher in London. The Royal Court Theatre of London first staged the play in 1994.

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In India, the simple n routine routine way to respond a roll call is "yes/present, sir/mam". In our school we use the word 'presenty' for a roll call or taking attendance. As a teacher , today, I 2 use d same words. Suggest me something better n a new way for that. Dhanyawaad..!

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    'Suggest me' is non-standard in the UK and USA, Sachin. And textspeak is not considered acceptable (unless the focal point) on ELU. – Edwin Ashworth May 6 '18 at 10:39

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