The Zebra Conundrum Part 2: Notes on a Third Culture Kid’s Accent

language, Little Aussie

Notes on a Third Culture Kid's Accent“She’s been telling us all the names for this,” the daycare worker told me this morning, holding up a garden toy. “She said it’s a spade, and can also be called a shovel.” That’s my cunning little AusMerican, showing off a skill she’s worked out all on her own.

Last year, I wrote “The Zebra Conundrum,” a post where I talked about choosing whether to pronounce words my way (American) or the Australian way when talking to and reading with my 2 year old burgeoning talker. At that point, it still wasn’t clear what words she would pick up, with what pronunciation, or if she’d find it all terribly confusing. I was certainly finding it confusing.

When I’m speaking to Australians, I’m pretty good about changing my language from Yank to Aussie, but it feels odd to do so when speaking to my nearest and dearest. Like a fraud. Or, a even a betrayal.

Maybe that was a smidge dramatic.

Today, I have a 3 year old chatterbox, and the funniest thing has happened. Australians tell me that she has an American accent. Americans, on the other hand, hear an Australian accent. And, I can see where they’re both coming from.

At the gym creche, the Australian workers like to ask her to say “soccer” because they think it’s cute how she says “sock-ER,” not “SOCK-a.” Yet, I’m continually taken aback when she asks to eat a “to-mah-toe.” Yet, somehow, she requests a “buh-NAN-uh,” not “BAN-nan-uh.”

The other day, she ran up to this thing at the playground, and told me – Notes on a Third Culture Kid's Accent

…”I want to go on the roundabout…” It took me a moment to even remember which country calls it that.

It became clear to me that she’d picked up on the social nuances one day when we were out with a British friend of mine. Hushpuppy had chosen a doll, and she marched up to my friend and told her that the baby was wearing a (*insert nearly indiscernible pause*) “nappie,” despite the fact that I have only ever called them “diapers” at home. Somehow she knew that my friend, who speaks with a different accent than her mother, would know them as “nappies.”

When I wrote about the Zebra Conundrum, I was mostly concerned with how my word and pronunciation choices were going to impact her future language. What I didn’t give nearly enough credit to was TV. We like our ABC Kids in this home, and they show programs from Australia, England, and the U.S. I believe that, more than anything I’ve done or not done, that the mix of accents from The Wiggles, Peppa Pig, Curious George, and so forth, has impacted her fluidity in moving between accents. I don’t know how else you can explain the way she occasionally whips out the most British sounding “mummy!” just like our hero, Peppa Pig.

She also recently began childcare, and looking around her center, she’s surrounded by a lot of other Third Culture Kids, who will surely be leaving little linguistic stamps on each other, as their language develops together.

From before she was even born, everyone we know wondered how her accent would turn out. Meryl Streep or Nicole Kidman? Or, Guy Ritchie era Madonna?

While it’s still a work in progress, it would seem that she’s sounding exactly as she ought to – one part her parents, one part her culture, and a big sprinkling of her own wits, desires, and charm.Notes on the accent of a Third Culture Kid

6 thoughts on “The Zebra Conundrum Part 2: Notes on a Third Culture Kid’s Accent

  1. Yvette

    Kids are so smart and adaptable. Why do we EVER worry about these things when they just take everything in stride and figure out their own way? It’s amazeballs.

  2. Katy

    My kids just sound British. Proper little Peppa Pigs. At least they know toast comes with Vegemite. It kind of makes me sad they don’t sound Australian though which is quite irrational as they have lived most of their lives in the UK. My sister in law is half Tanzanian, half Dutch and grew up in France and has a neutral American accent (from international school) so you never can tell how they will sound as adults!

    1. Cristin Post author

      Completely, and it seems like some adults are more susceptible to having their accents change than others, so you never know if your accent might even change one day!

  3. Emily

    I’m a linguist and absolutely adore this post. Kids are so clever. And adaptable. Their ability to code switch is fabulous. I’ve only really considered it in terms of separate languages – now you’ve got me thinking in accents and dialects! Thanks for the read.

    1. Cristin Post author

      Thanks so much! I don’t know why I was even worried – she’s worked it all out herself. 🙂

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