The simple question “where are you from?” has always been a difficult one for me to answer.  I was born in Scotland, but when I was only a toddler my family moved to Belgium, where we spent the next 15 years. It wasn’t until I finished school that I returned to the UK, making a new home for myself in Glasgow.

The dreaded aforementioned question surfaced a lot during my first year of university, unsurprisingly, as I met more new people in a few short months than I had in my entire life. Until then it had not occurred to me how tricky I would find answering it; between the ages of 3 and 18 I went to the British School of Brussels, which was filled with other expats, so during that time my situation had seemed ordinary. After moving here I soon discovered that my explanation – “I was born in Scotland but I grew up abroad. I’m Scottish, honestly!” – didn’t seem to suffice. Many people refused to believe that I was Scottish, claiming that 15 years abroad was more than enough to classify me as ‘the Belgian’. I was constantly asked whereabouts in England or America I was from, but rarely Scotland. (It was Jennifer that finally told me I had a Standard Scottish Accent – music to my ears!) While I do believe that your national identity isn’t solely defined by the way you speak, a speaker’s dialect is definitely the auditory flag with which people can ‘locate’ you, something that I can’t help feel I’m lacking.

It is because of my background that One Speaker, Two Dialects is a project that is of particular interest to me. I am envious enough of speakers with one strong dialect, but the idea of a speaker with two dialects at their disposal – which they can switch between with ease – is fascinating to me, and I’m thrilled to be a part of the project.

During our transcription training session we were thrown into the deep end as Jennifer and Sophie played us a recording of what they classified as ‘Buckie Level 10’ – the thickest example they could find – which, to me, seemed to be not only an obscure dialect, but a different language altogether! I think the only word I recognised in the clip was the word ‘strawberries’, although even then I was probably grasping at straws. I couldn’t help thinking that the code they’d given us for the words and phrases that we couldn’t decipher – (inc) for incomprehensible – was definitely going to come in handy in those first few days!

We’re just coming to the end of our third week of transcribing now, and it’s surprising how quickly we have all acclimated to the dialect. Going back over my first transcript, I could fill in several of the (inc)s that had previously baffled me – result!

As well as dialect, a person’s idiolect – the linguistic features used habitually by an individual – is another layer of our linguistic identities which becomes very apparent when listening to the same speaker for an extended period of time. I transcribed the interview of a twelve-year-old girl in which she repeatedly used the intensifier ‘mega’, which I thought was ‘mega’ cute!

The other day when my sister asked me how the project was going, I joked that I was becoming dangerously close to accidentally adopting the Buckie dialect as my own, as it seems to completely overtake my thoughts when I’m transcribing. Maybe that can be my new claim to a regional dialect – I can now think ‘in Buckie’!

Beth Ralston