Thursday, May 19, 2011

Your Family Speaks WHAT Language at Home?!

German pride last June 2010 during the World Cup Soccer  (The night Germany won, the USA tied England and I believe Australia won as well! )
I remember this time in Frankfurt, when my parents were visiting us from the U.S.A. 

After taking our orders the waitress finally worked up the courage to ask what was on her mind.

"Where ARE you people from?"  she asked.  (Or would have if she spoke English.)

My Dad is a native German speaker, originally from East Germany, who has spent the last thirty odd years in the USA picking up an American flavour to his German.  My Mom studied German at school, to the point where she sounds native European anyway,  possibly Swedish.  Because no AMERICANS can speak German that well!  Damon has picked up enough of the southern dialect to have politer folks ask him if he is Dutch.  Because, once again, no AMERICAN would speak German that well.  I speak German fluently, and with enough native touch - it WAS my first language, after all - to confuse the heck out of people.  Another region perhaps?  Ryan's German was pretty good.  The twins were only two but speaking a mix of English and Schwabisch, the southern German dialect Germans down there like to consider German but Germans anywhere else - like in Frankfurt - refuse to understand. 

Andrew tries ou the bucking bronco at the Dayboro Rodeo on May 1, 2011

And Andrew had that really thick southern dialect down pat.

So that we're pretty used to sounding like a hodge-podge of foreigners thrown haphazardly together for a convention.

Not that our nuclear family is going to sound any LESS like a multi-national corporation when we speak English than when we speak German.

Cowgirls, Aussie-style.  With a salute to that OTHER cowgirl country.

I think it's been pretty well-established that Damon and I come from North America anyway.  Canada perhaps.  Because Americans don't tend to wander this far away from their military bases.   The kids are losing their German accents - which noone here ever picked up on since they assumed it was American.  Andrew finally sounds American now.  Ryan too.

And although the speech therapist has told us she thought Aidan and Matthew had a German accent rather than a speech impediment, we NOW have problems differentiating their 5-year old errors from their AUSSIE accents.  Was that an R or a W?  Or just an accent? The twins can count to thirty.  Except they pronounce it thewty.  Very carefully.  A result of the speech therapist and lots of work to come up with an accent that sounds like a speech impediment to a North American.

Meaning that the kids pronounce Justine Bieber, Justin Biebah.  And Usher, Ushah.  And we all have to pronounce the neighbouring town of Kallangur as Kallangah in order for anyone else to know what the heck we are talking about.

Aidan and Matthew are yelling at me because their girlfriend's name in Saphyre.  Pronounced Saphiah unless I want to be accused of mocking them.

And I still have one friend - who sounds like she comes out of a Dickens novel herself, or at the very least the Broadway version of Les Miserables (hmmm...why all those British accents for a French novel?!) - who still laughs out loud everytime she hears me say 'tomato.'  Or coffee for that matter.  Which I apparently pronounce KAFFEE.

So that I have taken to speaking in my American accent MOST of the time, but changing little bits and pieces here and there just so that people will understand me.  And so I don't get mocked.

(Do you call this a mobil phone, I asked at the phone store when we first got here.  Uh yeah, we call a mobil phone a mobil phone, I got as a reply.  Smart -ass.  Because it's called a cell phone in the USA and a Handy in Germany.  So pardon ME for asking.)

Ms.  Dance was taking roll call before the Prep Class field trip a while back.  Heah.  Heah.  Heah.  All down the line.  Until they got to me.  Would I sound funny if I said 'Heah.' too?  And so I decided to go with "here" in my native American.  All of which prompted a round of HERRRRRE'S when I was done.

The kids at school have a running joke where they get me to pronounce words they know I can't say - words like 'How are you?'   Who knew I sounded like such a cowboy?!

Hmm.  The working cowboys we saw in Arizona DID manage to stay ON the bucking broncos.  However, the weekend cowboys in Dayboro sure looked a heck of a lot better OFF of them!

I remember the first accent I ever noticed.  It was a beautiful woman speaking German when I was a child in Germany.  Turns out she was Spanish.  And I thought of how romantic it would be to have an accent too.

Over thirty years later I heard myself on my answering machine in Germany.  And realised I LIKED my accent.  And that it WAS romantic.  (My friends in France supposedly liked my accent there too.  And I remember Sarah telling me, in Haiti, that I was the first American she'd ever met who spoke Creole with a German accent!)

It's hard for me to believe that this flat, North-American twang is actually exotic down here.  Young girls at the mall telling me how much they love it.

My OWN cowboy, American AND Aussie!

Do I even HAVE a native language?

And what will the kids sound like in another year or two?

And does it matter?

All that matters is that we are HEAH now.  And loving it in any language.  Or accent.


  1. I love it!!
    We were just in France and everyone was trying to decide what kind of accent Chloé has in French. Alsacien? Probably some combination of anglais and allemand, I say, although I don't hear any accent :-) Then they want to know if she has an accent in English. I don't know. I don't hear many other kids speaking English at the moment...
    You're right, we don't have our own language, we have all the language that surrounds us. We can choose what works best!
    But this leads me to wonder...who are we, and who are our kids? German? American? French? Australian? I'll say it doesn't matter which, we're a mish-mash and all the better for it. But sometimes that feeling of not belonging creeps up on us because of it.

  2. I love it! When I travel to the West Indies I suddenly start talking like one of them West Indians....I was 8 when I stepped off the plane in Dominica and became a 'bush girl' growing up in the rain forest.Everyone else was speaking dis way, why should I speak u-nuda way?
    No matter how hard I try I can't help but start talking like one of them, even after being away from it for 20 years.The poor ticket agents that I encountered between Miami and Dominica....not to mention the customs and immigration people... I was naughty once though and controled myself while the guy tried to show his importance and hasseleld us a bit about why we were traveling and where we were staying etc. After he was satisfied and let us pass I smiled real big at him and said in my most West Indian voice, "Have a good night, eh." I really was satisfied by his reaction!!

    One man told me "de way you talkin not matchin' the color of your skin" I took it as a compliment!

  3. De way you talkin not matchin' the color of your skin. Wow - there's an essay in THAT ONE!

    I remember when I came back from Haiti I had that little cluck the women do there - like when they disagree with something or something rolls of the table - down pat. I was so bummed when I lost it!

    I LOVE my Caribbean friends switching from one English to their particular Creole!

    All of which is pretty funny when your kids are trilingual - like yours Claire - but I just never imagined it would be so funny in ONE language! esp since you get surrounded by Aussie accents and forget that YOU sound different!

    Ryan and Andrew sound American for now but Aidan and Matthew are DEFINITELY getting the AUssie accent - thanks to lots of work at school!

    And hey - I know you don;t worry - but I can't imagine anyone is less than totally impressed that your kids speak all three languages with ANY accent whatever.

    Guess we can make up our own. And define ourselves that way?!

    Ah who am I kidding. I'm just hoping our generation is aware enough to teach our kids where they came from without it defining who they are. Our folks just didn't thinkg about it.

    BLah blah - I need to lighten up again. Darn Dateline on TV tonight!

    Take care! Christine