Today he said water like a Kenyan. The letters of the word sliding and colliding into each other, the hard t leading the onslaught.
‘Mummy, I’d like to have some woh-tah’
I looked at him and asked him to repeat…
He thought perhaps I was asking him to ask politely and he repeated: ‘May I please have some woh-tah’
He is three years and seven months old. He has lived in America since he was two years and six months old and we just got back three weeks before he hit the three year-six month mark. Facebook sent me a reminder pic from when he was 7 months old. The one featured in this post is from before he knew how to say Mama or Worrah or anything close to it. He was 9 months old and was a faceful of smiles and no language.
He had that flat Californian accent when we arrived back in Nairobi from our time in Los Angeles. Worrah is my marker for his accent. When we were in the City of Angels, he was Worrah-ing all over the place, buoyed by his Monday to Friday stay at Ms. Banner’s daycare and surrounded by other Americanos. Yesterday, he was saying worrah even as I put him to sleep at bedtime and today, a holy day, his tongue has suddenly unrolled and folded around and about the words and letters and decided to showcase his Kenyan side. Woh-tah.
He says other things too. He says ‘Chafu’ and ‘Taka-taka’ and, my personal favorites, ‘Chapa’ and ‘Chuna’. He throws in ‘Moshi’, ‘Vumbi’ and ‘Pikipiki’ for good measure. He still can’t say Ugali; he used to call it ‘Ugaya’ and now it has become ‘Mu-gali’ (perhaps he is linking this to Uncle Bob in Zim, who knows?). He seems to like adding this ‘M’ to things; he calls his nanny Auntie M-Aisha. Perhaps the American way of dealing with the presence of N before any other consonant like Y or G…check how an American pronounces Lupita’s last name. Austin maybe is just being his American self.
I knew it would fade. I don’t mind. It is the same way I felt when his baby lisp (starring in such notables like ‘Pleeth’ or ‘Kenk-yew’) began to fade and his speech began to become clearer. And now he tells me he is not a baby and his ‘Th’ is now strong so I hear him say THank you to people and I smile. Sometimes he still says Kenk-yew to me. Only to me.
His American accent was so endearing though and had his new nannies (I have had two so far) often turning to me in confusion, asking me what he said. I was Mummy. I was a translator.
You should hear him say Los Angeles…