Dropping her t’s
Recently, I’ve noticed that Bunny’s emerging ‘idiolect’ (her own, individual dialect) has become more in keeping with the local accent. Most notably, she has been insistently dropping the letter t when she speaks. Until now, her accent has verged on being a little bit posh, so to hear her talk of “havin’ a glass of war-err” or asking “where’s me nigh-ee?” sounds almost Dick Van Dyke comical as she forces a glottal stop on words she wouldn’t normally.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not some stuck up prude that doesn’t appreciate the nuances of regional dialect, but it’s the forced nature of this change that has struck me the most.
Of course, I realise that she is probably just copying her friends (this is something I have done in the past, desperate to fit in and not wanting to stand out with my received pronunciation, private school accent). I am also certain that my ability to adapt my way of speaking to suit the situation has been inherent in my languages ability as I’ve always felt quite comfortable conversing in the native language of the country I am visiting.
In fact, I first remember adopting someone else’s regional accent when I went on an activity holiday as a ten year old and shared a dorm with girls from Liverpool, Ireland, the Midlands and the West Country. I vividly remember my own school friends laughing at the bizarre accent I came home with.
So why is it then that I am so appalled that my daughter is doing the exact same thing? Maybe it is because she is still so little and still learning vocabulary herself that I am a little worried she may learn words incorrectly and struggle to come back from it. Or is it just my inner-snob trying to make itself heard? My parents went out of their way to enforce good speaking habits on us, wanting us to feel comfortable in all situations. And as an adult, I can now see how right they were. I am able to adapt my way of speaking to better suit the situation. This has meant that I have never had to feel intimidated in my professional life, being able to naturally be as posh as the next person should I need to be. Or I can adopt a more Estuary English way of speaking if this is how my peers are speaking.
However, if I adopt a regional accent while talking to someone from the area, I do feel slightly self-conscious in case they think I am mocking them, even though I honestly have little control over what I’m doing. As they say, imitation is the highest form of flattery!
With Bunny, all of this is in my mind each time I pull her up to correct her speech. I want her to understand the correct way to speak first and then she is free to adapt according to the situation. So while it might be fine to talk to her friends in this way, I don’t want her talking to adults like it and it should certainly not be her default way of speaking. It is not how we speak at home, so it is not her natural dialect, and while I appreciate that our accents have many external influences, I am keen that she at least appreciates this before she starts changing hers so radically.
However, as I mentioned at the start, the English language is wonderfully adaptable with tiny nuances that can demonstrate so much about who you are and where you come from. And while Bunny is from Thanet, and is therefore very likely to adopt more of the local dialect, it would be great if she could retain some of her family’s less regional accent for a bit longer too.