My family and I have recently moved from Brooklyn, New York, to Bradford-on-Avon, England, for a year. Our mission: try out life at a slower pace. In my new series Brooklyn to England, I’ll write about the weekly adventures of living in the English countryside with my British husband, our three-year-old daughter, and my baby-bump (I’m due in September!). Come with me as I go from strollers to prams, diapers to nappies, and whatever else it takes to raise a family abroad.
One of the more superficial reasons I decided it would be cool to move to England was so that my daughter could adopt an English accent. I mean, what’s cuter than a little girl in bunches (pigtails) and plimsolls (sneakers), whinging (whining) about which of her mates at school has got the lurgy (cooties). I figured I’d be well chuffed (pleased) with the results.
So, here we are, three months in, and Trixie is definitely starting to pick up something … though I’m not quite sure I’d call it an “accent”. Over the weeks and months she’s embraced several English words (she builds dens instead of forts, dinner is scrummy not yummy, and when she’s got a scrape, we reach for the box of plasters). She’s even learned some British pronunciations (“Mummy, I want to go fahster,” or “I cahn’t pull up my wellies!”) but, the real issue has to do with intonation. Suddenly, her words and sentences have begun to yo-yo — they dip and swell and last twice as long as they did in her American accent.
To be honest, it’s kind of weird.
When we first got to Bradford-on-Avon, one of my biggest concerns was whether or not the other kids at nursery school would be able to understand Trixie (and vice versa). Early on it was tricky, but I think being American gave her a bit of mystery, a marketable edge. In any case, she has been quick to adapt. I’m no longer worried about her sticking out like a sore thumb. Which is great. Really. But, now that she’s settling in, my question has become a bit less, shall we say, altruistic. Lately, I’m beginning to wonder: Can I stand this bizarre Amer-lish (Engl-ican?) hybrid twang my daughter is developing?!
Suddenly, every sentence begins with a volcanically bobbing, “Mumm-eh-ii-yy?” And if I don’t answer, again she booms, “MUMM-EH-II-YY?” … Is it cute? Completely. But imagine being called “Mumm-eh-ii-yy” 47 times a day, followed by questions delivered in an oddly high pitch that end on down-notes, rather than the American tendency to end a question on the up-note. It’s like my daughter has become the vocal equivalent of a struggling helium balloon.
Still, I can’t point too many fingers. I’ve always felt a bit Jekyll-and-Hyde-ish when I come to visit my in-laws, trying extra-hard to use English words and inflections in order to blend in. It’s not much easier for my husband, who no longer sounds English in England nor American in America. Maybe we’re both guilty of Vacillating Voice Syndrome (yes, I made that up). And, yeah, maybe there is something a little strange about hearing roller-coaster-voice from my daughter’s small mouth, but she still sounds cute and, actually, I think I’m excited to see where her new Franken-ccent winds up.