Thursday, May 15, 2008

I come from a land Dow Nunda

My identity crisis continues. This afternoon, as a small scale social experiment, I decided to speak in my native dialect. I wanted to see how the kids would react and it didn't go all that well. The girls got pretty upset actually (although admittedly Little Miss the Younger had been nigh inconsolable since being prematurely roused from her nap).

They kept saying stop it, mama, stop it, don't talk like that. I told them that was how I used to talk all the time, that's how people sound where I come from. Like The Wiggles. I mean, seriously, they don't have a problem with the way Greg, Murray, Anthony and Jeff talk!

Their distress at me messing what's familiar to them was totally understandable but what made me wistful was that I had to really concentrate on the accent. I had to "put it on"; it didn't come naturally to me at all. I honestly don't know what I sound like any more. I know I'm not the only one who scoffs at Madonna's British accent but maybe she's like me and doesn't really hear it.

My slippery slope started after I changed my name. My married name has an "R" in it, and every time I would spell it out, the spellee would hear and write it as an "I".  To avoid confusion I started heavily emphasizing and Americanizing the R. Now I do it without thinking, probably in most words. When our oldest was little I taught him the alphabet song with the ending "X, Y, Zed". Now all of them say "Zee", myself included (you have no idea how hard that is for me to admit). 

The one thing I hold onto, the one place I put my foot down, is the way my kids address me. I refuse to be "Mommy". I will not be "Mom". This I have drilled into them and I won't answer if one of them slips up, which, happily, rarely happens. In fact, they frequently correct their grandmother, my mother-in-law, on my behalf, which I love. I had a tender, bittersweet Mothers Day moment with my son several years ago when he was in Kindergarten. Before he gave me the "mommy" inscribed treasures he had made in class, he pulled me aside and apologised in advance that they didn't say "Mumma", that he had been too embarrassed to do something different to all the other kids. It was a like a gentle slap in the face, reminding me there were forces greater than my influence that would be exerted on my children as they grew.

Not many people pick up on my foreignness any more. I no longer speak the dialect* of my native country. When I first moved to the US I planned to celebrate the days of national importance of my native land. Eleven years later that doesn't happen so much. I've been eligible for naturalisation here for a couple of years but the paperwork sits on my desk, filled out, yet unsent. I belong more here than there now; I am unfamiliar with life "back home", I have no current cultural references. Our last visit was almost six years ago and given the size of our family, and and rising fuel and fare costs, it's unlikely we'll get back any time soon.

So I drift along, rootless. I do, however, say tom-AH-to. Some things will never change.

*Dialect and accent are frequently confused. Dictionary.com defines dialect as "a variety of a language that is distinguished from other varieties of the same language by features of phonology, grammar, and vocabulary, and by its use by a group of speakers who are set off from others geographically or socially". Accent usually describes the way people pronounce words of a language that is different from their mother tongue.

3 comments:

Stickthulhu said...

I still hear the Aussie under your "international" accent.

And you also say "hah-ff" as in "one hah-ff cup of milk."

aussie,aussie,aussie,oi,oi,oi said...

I haven't been here as long as you and I feel exactly the same way. In fact I thought I was having a mid-life crisis too until I read this. I don't know myself here and I can't go home. Like you I refuse to be called Mom, I only answer to Mum! In my house it is a rubbish bin and not trash. Tomahto and not tomaeto! I have to find the balance some how of helping my kids be comfortable with being American but not losing my identity at the same time. I was hoping this would last maybe another year but you have dashed those hopes;( Glad I'm not alone tho!!!!

Dr. Momentum said...

Still trying to shake my Fuh Rivuh accent...