Losing a language

Scots dialect tablematsI read a story on the BBC website recently about people who had lost fluency in their own language. At first the idea seemed ridiculous, particularly as I work with words. Surely I could never forget what they mean, no matter how embedded in another culture I become?

But even although I have spoken English all my life – a few years at night school practising tortured Spanish aside – it did make me wonder if my travels had had an impact on the way I speak.

I grew up in Scotland, but never considered myself to have a particularly strong accent; not did I use a lot of Scots dialect. So the people in my home town might have had accents broad enough to warrant English subtitles on a film set there, but with the naivety of anyone who had never travelled far, I assumed that I’d always be understood. With a mother from the west of Scotland and a father from the east, I’d never developed the intensely localised vocabulary of either community. I was also a bit of a snob, associating true Scots dialect with the working class of which I was most definitely part, but which I was keen to escape. I remember finding a dialect dictionary in the university library and gleefully searching for the words I’d heard my mum use a million times, but which sounded strange on my own, aspiring middle class lips. Continue reading

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What’s in a name?

As a British migrant raised on Neighbours, I didn’t anticipate many language issues in Australia. Sure, there would be Aussie slang to deal with and I would have to learn to drop the final two letters from programme, but I reckoned there would be no struggles with pronunciation. Everyone speaks English, right?

Right – except an increasing number of those English speakers have come from somewhere else, and brought with them a fantastic array of names. Prior to my move here, my only real experience of Asian names was the branch of my extended family with the surname Ng. The trouble was, no-one ever said it out loud, so I grew up having no idea how it was pronounced. In the end I learned from US alternative band They Might Be Giants. Continue reading