Tuesday, August 2, 2011

My Little Lingual Chameleon

When my daughter first began speaking, we had the typical concerns of every parent who was ever raised in a rural area and transplanted to the Metroplex. Since my husband grew up in Arkansas and I in Oklahoma, we knew she would definitely have a little twang, but hoped she didn’t have the struggles with the English language that we had to overcome ourselves.

Over my childhood, with a lot of concentration, I learned to meticulously nix words and phrases from my vocabulary such as “fixin’ to” and “aint”. I battled through my elementary English classes learning the dos and don’ts of our crazy language:  Exclude double negatives; Don’t end sentences with those pesky prepositions; “He and I” went to the store, not “Him and me”; “We were here” not “We was here”; “This is she” not “This is her”. The list goes on and on. The one thing I can proudly profess is that my child will never have those battles because we made it a point not to expose her to them early on (except for the occasional hometown visit).

So when my daughter began to talk, we began to take notice. I expected to hear in that little voice a slow, southern twang that sounds like home, proper English, yet twangy all the same. Instead, what we got was a child who sounds, well, Midwestern. Yes, believe it or not, she doesn’t sound like she is from Texas at all or Oklahoma or Arkansas. I attribute this to our babysitters, to whom she lovingly refers as Grandma Paula and Grandpa George. These awesome natives of Chicago have been a large part of my daughter’s life since she was a mere 12 weeks old. They have loved her and raised her every moment I have worked and treated her as if she was their own grandchild. When I hear her say certain phrases, I realize the magnitude of their influence on her. She says, “Come on guys [gahees], get in the car [cah]”, “Look it”, and “Let’s play crayons [crey’uns]”. Never did I expect it, but I find it amusing and sweet. Many times my husband and I have looked at one another and said, “Whose child is this?”

I wondered if she would always sound that way or if she would slowly just mesh with the accents in her surroundings. Last week I got my answer.

My daughter went on her very first “Big Girl” trip to Arkansas for a whole week all by herself. She spent a lot of time with various in-laws and grandparents who don’t get to see her very often. I was excited for her, but missed her terribly. After about 3 days, she called home to check in with us. “Hi Momma” I heard on the other end of the phone. I didn’t recognize her. In a sweet high pitch, she spoke with a slow, Southern twang. All it took was 3 days of intense immersion. My husband and I looked at each other, “Whose child is this?” Our little Midwesterner was now a true Southern girl.

I am fascinated with how quickly she picks these things up. Who knows how she would sound if we let her travel abroad.  I think she must be a lingual chameleon, gelling wherever she goes with whomever she spends her time.

Dustee Morris is a 35-year-old who manages a full time career, being Mom to five-year-old Rian and wife of almost 12 years to husband Brian. 

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