Tuesday, 25 September 2012

The Dialect Dilemma

Please note: this post includes words that are spelt phonetically.  They are not spelling mistakes!

I love hearing my children talk.  Their grasp of language is improving each day.  Dexter’s vocabulary is increasing all the time and he'll also happily chatter away to you in his own special little language, looking at you like he’s holding the most important conversation in the world.

Speaking of conversations, I love holding them with Sophia and listening to her telling me about her day.  Her use of language is coming along in leaps and bounds and her accent is now starting to develop.

I should have been prepared for this; we live near London; my husband was born and raised in the South East; all of his family hail from the area and have fairly regular contact with Sophia and Dexter; the children were born here for goodness sake.  And yet, it has still taken me by surprise.

Let me explain.  I spent my childhood in a small market town in the countryside, up North (well, the Midlands actually but if you’re talking about the North/South divide, I reckon I’m more North than South).  My friends and I learnt to say words exactly like they are spelt (as in, not putting an “r” into words like “bath”, “path”, “last” etc.).  Growing up, if I heard someone talking about having a “larf” or walking down a “parth”, I automatically assumed they were posh.  It just sounded so alien to the regional dialect I was - and still am - used to.

I’m not making a judgement on people who have grown up to speak in such a manner; it is the Queen’s English after all.  And, as I grew up and moved away to university, I became surrounded by people who all spoke differently, with a variety of dialects and individual linguistic traits.  I went on to meet my husband and adored his cheeky accent (still do!) and we have lived in and near to London for the best part of ten years’ now.

I have absolutely no issue with the way that anyone speaks.  I’m a big fan of the English language and its rich history.  I love listening to all the various regional accents that have developed through the ages.  But I am fiercely protective of the way I speak; of my dialect.  It's part of my identity, of who I am.  Although I never really thought that my children would speak like me, I didn’t really consider the possibility that they wouldn’t.

The first time that Sophia said “larg”, I had to do a double take.  It took me a few guesses until I finally understood that what she meant was “laugh” (pronounced "larf").

“Oh!”  I said in surprise.  “Do you mean laff?”

“Yes,” said Sophia.  “Laff.”

I have to admit, that her original pronunciation of the word grated with me just a little.  It sounded so strange coming out of the mouth of my little girl who, up until that point, had been saying words exactly the same as me.

"You say to-mar-to, I say to-may-to"

Language is a funny thing.  Children copy words and phrases from their parents, relatives, other children and carers and will naturally pick up the most common pronunciations of words.  On one hand I’m really glad that Sophia is developing her linguistic skills but on the other, there’s a part of me that mourns the fact she isn’t speaking like me and probably never will.  It almost feels like she's one step removed from my heritage, my history.

Of course, this is something that I need to come to terms with.  She is after all my little girl no matter how she speaks.  The same will be true of Dexter too of course; there is no doubt in my mind that he will become a cheeky chappy who’ll most probably use a Cockney twang to get the girls.  I know it doesn’t really matter how they pronounce their words, the most important thing will always be that they feel able to talk openly and honestly to me about anything at all.

Do you live in another county or perhaps even a different country to the one where you grew up?  How do you feel when your children speak with a different accent, pronouncing words differently to you?  Is it something I will ever get used to?


  1. I am an Estonian with an American accent, my hubs is an Aussie and our kids speak like Brits :) it's all fun and games!

  2. Wow, that's a lot of accents going on in your house! :-)


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