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

Why you shouldn’t always listen to your teacher

I grew up in a small town in the west of Scotland. It had its charms, but with hindsight I sometimes think the best thing about it was the view away from it. The people were (mostly) honest, hard-working types but it was a tough place to grow up. If you reached 50 without having had a heart attack, you were doing well. And let’s just say you could tell by the smiles of the locals that one of the town’s major exports was sugar.

So when I told Mrs Weston, my guidance teacher at school – the one supposed to, er, guide you away from a career in dealing heroin towards something that might actually be useful to society – that I wanted to be a journalist she gave me a disappointed look that indicated she didn’t have the leaflet for that one. Continue reading