What this Grandma, Meghan Markle and Peppa Pig Have In Common Seems to Be the Big News Currently and It is not Sexiness

When I immigrated to colangthe United States with my parents, I was six months old.  Although my mother (GG Frieda) insisted that I was toilet trained at that age, I know I did not yet speak.  My parents felt it was important for me to be multilingual.  After all, they came from Poland, which, because of its location between Eastern and Western Europe, is in the running for country that has been invaded the most throughout its history, vying for that honor with Israel.  Poland has been invaded by the Mongol Army, the Teutonic Knights, Russia and Germany, among many others.  My parents spoke many languages as a result, Russian and German (the countries who fought over Poland when their families lived there), in addition to Polish and Yiddish, and a bit of French, which I cannot explain.  Because of this, my parents decided that they would speak those languages to me, and not English.  They felt I could learn English when I started school.

Children did not regularly go to preschool when I was a child, and I did not.  Therefore, when I started kindergarten, I did not speak or read English.  I was lucky to be in a school district that provided language tutoring, and my parents started only speaking English at home.  They took English lessons as soon as we arrived in America.  I became fluent in English in a matter of months.  My parents then began only speaking other languages when they did not want me to understand what they were saying.  I could understand more than I could eventually say in the other languages, so that did not work. . . .some of the time.

As an aside, I grew up in the Cold War era, and, in 1960, I can remember my Father (GG Morton) hearing Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev on the television in Russian and being distraught that the translation was not accurate, in his opinion.   See this video.   My Father believed in America and this challenged his belief that the American public would be always given accurate information in the news.  He was ahead of his time in many ways.

When people found out that I was born in Stuttgart, Germany, and did not speak English until I was five, they always inquired why I did not have a foreign accent.  I always consider myself American through and through, and this was perplexing even to me.  Most everyone I knew who came from Europe had a foreign accent.

I really wanted to know the answer and did some exploration. For my grandchildren, who I hope someday read this blog of our family history and culture, accent is the way you sound when you speak and a foreign accent is one which is different than the accent those where you live speak. For more information on accents and which languages are hardest to learn, see “Why Do Some People Have an Accent?” by Betty Birner, Linguistic Society of America.

I learned that, from the time I was six months old, I was developing language and words, as “pattern of speaking begins to form in the brain well before actual production of speech. And by the time the baby’s first words do come, those distinctive characteristics are solidly in place.” See, “Accents Are Forever: By their first birthday, babies are getting locked into the sounds of the language they hear spoken,” by Edwin Kiester, Jr., Smithsonian Magazine, January 2001.

The Smithsonian article helped me to understand why, when I was nineteen, traveling in Europe, and attempting to only speak French, which was the international language of choice at the time, I began to think in French after three weeks of speaking primarily in French.  I learned that preschool is the best time to learn other languages, and it becomes more difficult at puberty.  I know my parents did me a great service in being multilingual as a young child.

Aha!  Puberty!  The language we speak when we reach puberty is the accent we seem to maintain for our lives, not that we cannot learn other languages, but is our primary accent that remains.  I consider myself American through and through, but now know that my American accent solidified when I was an American teenager.

I also found that my American accent adapted to where I lived and I lived in many areas of the United States.  Accents differ so much in different parts of the county. I grew up in New York, went to school in Boston, with a roommate from Philadelphia.  I picked up tidbits of both accents. I taught school in Michigan, New York, South Carolina and Florida.  I picked up tidbits of all, but New York, where I grew up and lived until age sixteen was the strongest accent.  That is where the issue of sexy accents come in, as 1.5 million people were surveyed and the result is that there is ostensibly “the official ranking of the sexiest – and least sexy – accents in the USA.” for 2019.

Florida’s accent is rated 44, but Charleston (where I lived in South Carolina) is 27th, Philadelphia is 8th, New York is third, and Boston is second.  Yes, I am as surprised as you, especially because even when I lived in Boston, the natives made fun of their own accent.  You will have to read the article to find out which accent is number one.  Should I average my accents to see where I fall in accent sexiness?

 

When I moved to South Carolina, my New York accent was impossible for the third graders I taught to understand.  Within a short time, I developed a true Charlestonian accent.  Yes, I worked on it.  After all, how could I impart knowledge to my young students if they did not understand most of what I said.  I find it easy to vary my accent, depending on where I am and who I am with, especially for any lengthy period of time.  Again, I thank my parents for this gift.

 

I know I am not alone.  As a matter of fact, I paid close attention to the articles about Meghan Markle garnering a British accent, and the debate about this and undeserved criticism of her.  There are even international linguistic professors weighing in. See, for example, BBC news coverage, “Has Meghan’s accent changed since marrying Prince Harry?” by Francesca Gillett, February 27, 2019.  https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-47148541  Meghan Markle is an actress, and I am sure had linguistic training.  As it is easier for me to pick up accents from those around me without my realizing it, I bet she can also do so easily, even without her realizing it.  The British should be honored that she does so!

 

Finally, here is the tie in with Peppa Pig, or should I say, “The Peppa Pig Effect.”  I love the British children’s television series with Peppa Pig.  The family is adorable and the story lines are wonderful.  I love watching with my young grandchildren, needing them to give me a reason to watch children’s television shows, as well as children’s movies.  Apparently, as all over the news, there is a tweet going around “#PeppaEffect.”  Young children, who usually pick up accents easily according to the Smithsonian Magazine above, have started calling their mommies “Mum,” and want to go “on holiday.”  The American media is kinder as we Americans like the British accent, it seems.  However, the Daily Mail, a British media outlet, has a different take.

Lastly, now the American media is compulsing on baby Archie and the accent he will eventually have, American or British. See, “Will Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s Baby Have an Accent? An (actually pretty scientific) investigation.” by Chloe Foussianes, May 7, 2019, Town and Country Magazine.

The scientific investigation is where I began, and it brings us to the fact that 100 years ago the British and American accents were similar, but now they are not.  We all want to fit in where and with whom we live.*

 

Joy coming from a proud American,

 

Mema

 

* “Kids prefer friends who talk like they do: Growing up in diversity doesn’t make children more accepting of different accents, study says,” American Psychological Association, January 24, 2019.

 

 

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