Listening to the Tadpole chattering away this morning it occurred to me that she has developed a Yorkshire accent. Short ‘a’ sounds (bath, glasses), nice Yorkshire ‘u’ sounds (mummy) and little phrases (‘come ‘ere!’) that wouldn’t be out of place in The Last of the Summer Wine. I hadn’t realised I was unconsciously teaching my daughter Northern English.
As far as accents go, I’ve always been a bit of a linguistic chameleon. It’s not an affectation. I don’t deliberately adopt a plummy ‘Received Pronunciation’ (BBC English) voice to speak to VIP clients on the phone, or a very broad Leeds accent when I see my ‘bioparents’. I just can’t seem to help myself. Whether I intend to or not, I mimic the accent of the person I’m having a conversation with.
I have a very clear memory of answering the phone as a child to a caller from my father’s company head office in Dundee. In the space of a two minute conversation I became Scottish. I felt rather awkward and embarassed at the thought the lady might think I was mocking her accent. However, if you asked me to ‘do a Scottish accent’ right now, it would be abysmal.
Apparently this is a well-documented phenomenon called ‘unconscious mimicry’. Most people do this to some extent, and it has implications far beyond accent alone: one person will often adopt the same sentence structure, intonation and vocabulary as another. A form of linguistic empathy or solidarity. While all children are natural mimics, as this is how they learn, most adults lose this ability as they grow older, which is one of the reasons why it makes sense for children to learn foreign languages from an early age. Evidently some adults do retain a greater faculty for mimicry than others. Whether they like it or not.
The upside of this unconscious habit of mine is that my French accent is near perfect. It is probably a Parisian accent, if such a thing exists in this cosmopolitan city, although I’m generally poor at recognising regional French accents apart from the very obvious North/South vowel differences. I do frequently get mistaken for a native, which is something I never cease to feel childishly gleeful about.
The downside is that when speaking English with Mr Frog, I adopt a faint, but tragic French accent. It makes me cringe, but it is beyond my control. Not only do I mimic the Frog’s (very charming) English accent, but I also reproduce his grammatical errors. Now that’s what I call solidarity.
So I suppose I should be thankful that this is not how I’m naturally inclined to speak to the Tadpole, given that she is as near to a linguistic clean slate as you can get, and at a very impressionable age.
I can definitely live with her being bilingual in French and Yorkshire. And I have a sneaking feeling my family back home will be delighted.
Tomorrow I shall be hurtling towards the Jura in a TGV, away from computers, broadband internet connections and civilisation in general. I’ll be back in Gay Paree briefly on Monday to let off some steam about the EVIL’s and will continue blogging from the UK for the rest of that week.
Merry Christmas to each and every one of you!
And thank you to Versac for his oh so charming link to me yesterday.