Placing the accent on life down under

A few weeks ago, Miley Cyrus affected an Australian accent for a TV prank which was more Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins than Paul Hogan in Crocodile Dundee.

Normally, the doings of Miley and her type wouldn’t register on my radar, but I’ve developed a keen ear for accents of late, particularly since I started detecting the early signs of an Aussie accent in nine year old Mini-CBRbound.

These early mutations — France pronounced so it rhymes with ‘pants’, Canberra pronounced as ‘Kenbra’, ‘T’s being pronounced as ‘D’s — are sweet to observe and an affirmation that he is integrating into his new home by hearing and imitating what he hears from his schoolfriends.

Given my affection for the Aussie accent, it’s less alarming than I might have imagined. Even so, it still offers pause for thought.

Several years ago, a friend of my who had moved to the US when his kids were very young, commented over a beer in his clipped English accent that: “You never imagine your own kids will grow up with a different accent to you.”

What he meant was that his own children’s accent, firmly Philadelphian in its drawls and punctuation, served to distance him from them in some small way. That the difference in their experience of childhood versus his was made manifest in their voices. They had not walked the same streets as he had growing up, did not recognise certain time-worn slang phrases, and had few common points of cultural reference for him to spin tales about.

I pointed out a possible different interpretation to him, however. That their accents were an aural and immediate indicator of the experiences he had exposed them to; of the journey they had been on as a family; and of the way those experiences had imprinted themselves on who his children grew up to be.

In short, their new and exotic accent was the ultimate photo album or tattoo announcing their shared experiences. He nodded and took another sip of beer, but there was still a sadness about him that I found hard to fathom.

Hearing Mini-CBRbound’s accent evolve into something that is his, but made possible by the decisions we have made as his parents, is a slowly burning but nonetheless exciting unfolding of who he will be in later life. A young man shaped by his travels, his memories, his friends and his new home.

Maybe one day he’ll even go to France and buy some pants, with an Aussie passport in his pocket, and on his way, as a stranger, to visit the streets where I grew up. That’s a nice thought rather than a sad one, I think.


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