WHEN YOUR CHILD'S ACCENT IS DIFFERENT TO YOURS
It doesn't matter. Or does it? Saffron Shearer gives her view...
This is how it feels when your child has a different accent to you, according to Saffron Shearer
‘Mummy, you're saying it wrong!’
I remember clearly the first time it happened. Christmas at nursery and my three year-old was singing me a song she had learnt - ‘When Santa Got Stuck up the Chimney’. Delighted that I knew this one, I joined in with gusto. She stopped and looked at me, perplexed. ‘That's not how you say “soot”'. You're making it the same as “suit”!’ My turn to look perplexed. ‘They sound exactly the same, honey, but they ARE spelled differently...’ (said I, eager to explain what a homophone is).
‘NO THEY DON'T! You are saying soot WRONG!’
That's when I realised what she was talking about. I am Glaswegian. She has been raised in Birmingham. I say sute. She says something like sowoot.
My heart sank. I knew the day would come, raising my child here. In Birmingham. Where we live. But I was not prepared for the disdain she was showing me. I'm ashamed to say I snapped at her. ‘I am NOT saying it wrong. I am just saying it differently from you! Mummy is SCOTTISH!’
Up until this point I had sort of assumed the Brummie accent wouldn’t fully materialise, as she spent nearly all her time with me. She used Scottish vocabulary - in our house woodlice are 'slaters', small things are 'wee' and you do a 'jobby' in your potty (it's a much better word and stops the inevitable hilarity the first time Winnie-the-Pooh appears). And anyway, with such a teeny-tiny baby voice, I didn't really notice she had any accent (although weirdly my in-laws always took pains to tell me she sounded SO Scottish and my own parental visits back to Glasgow had everyone giggling at my 'wee English daughter'). But, there it was. She herself had noticed we sounded different.
Thankfully her nursery school was a very mixed bunch accent-wise and, although she became more 'English' in her pronunciation (and learnt not to 'correct' me. Ever), there was still no real sign of Brummie coming through.
Now don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with a Brummie accent. Well, actually, there is. It has completely unfair connotations (i.e. ‘I am thick’). But so does a Glasgow accent (i.e. ‘I am about to stab you’). It's not that I especially want her to sound Glaswegian. I just want her to sound... well, a bit less different to me. Something a bit more neutral and soft. Pleasant on the ear. Edinburgh would be nice. Or perhaps some sort of soft southern Irish?
It was something I had thought about long ago when first courting my (Brummie/Rugby-born) husband. Chatting to Mary, a university classmate who was raised in London (with a classic RP accent), I expressed concern that I would want my children to know they were half Scottish.
‘Don't worry,’ she laughed. ‘I may not sound like it, but my mum is Scottish. I am absolutely half Scottish and my mum made sure I always knew that. And so will you.’
So I wasn't too worried. I fooled myself that we would go back to Scotland soon, and she would pick up the local brogue in no time. But life got in the way. And then she went to school.
I got her into a school in a 'good' neighbourhood (we scraped into the catchment area). The children seemed well-spoken. And she would still be hearing me all the time. It would be fine.
But as each year goes by, the Brummie-ness creeps in and the ability to roll her Rs lessens. Which breaks my heart. She doesn't quite say 'loit' for light yet but it's there…
'I have fleeting fantasies that if I can just get her into a Scottish secondary we could claw it back.'
Last year we were on the train in Glasgow and, as we chatted, I noticed a couple of brief second glances from fellow passengers as her enthusiasm in the story she was telling me raised her voice (and Brumminess) and I did wonder for a second if it was her accent or her volume that was catching attention. I'm sure nobody on the train cared. It is hardly unheard of for a parent to have a different accent from their offspring.
But still, even now, I have fleeting fantasies that if I can just get her into a Scottish secondary we could claw it back. A schoolfriend of mine grew up in Coventry but had lost all trace of Midlands by the time she spent her first year in Glasgow at the age of 10. But then I also have a friend who moved to Glasgow from New York at the same age. He is still staunchly American.
And Mary was right. At age nine, my monkey is in absolutely no doubt she is half Scottish. She adores visiting my parents and chose Scotland on the school 'Eat and Dress from a Foreign Country' day. She can say ‘Loch’ properly. She likes to play at 'being Scottish' where she shouts (in an unexplainable high pitch) ‘Let's eat TOST! And wear TITES! While we watch a FILUM!’
I laugh. Her impersonation of me is pretty close. And she understands me. Even when I forget and speed up too much. So as long as she does, we will call insects 'beasties' and drink Irn Bru. And, 'I love you, Mama' still makes me tear up, no matter how she says it.