Don't worry if your kids start talking like Peppa Pig – at least it means they're not sociopaths

When I was in America as a child, I sounded completely American. Now I sound like Felicity Kendal

Peppa Pig- trailer

Earlier this month there was a minor internet flap about how watching Peppa Pig is turning American kids British. Bewildered parents, whose children had never left the USA, found themselves flummoxed when they were suddenly addressed as “Mummy”, issued requests for “toe-mah-toes”, followed by that distinctive Peppa Pig snort.

Experts have been quick to rush in and reassure everyone that this is all likely to be simple childhood mimicry rather than a full and lasting accent change, but even back in 2015, Anne Wood – creator of the Teletubbies – was lamenting the import of “cheap” American shows to Britain, because children here were picking up the accent.

So should you worry if your own child starts talking differently?

I have a four-year-old son and, a couple of long, dark winters ago, we found ourselves barricaded indoors by inclement weather and constant colds, and that’s when we discovered the endless techno migraine that is the kids’ YouTube channel ChuChuTV, which pumps out all the favourites – Johnny Johnny Yes Papa, The Finger Family Song – in a pronounced Indian accent.

Obviously, my son picked up the accent. Obviously, he went around bobbing his blond curls at everyone, speaking in a lilting cadence and swapping his Vs for Ws, while I hurried behind him explaining that We’re part Indian! So It’s definitely not offensive! No one really seemed to mind.

From the time I was a child, the accent I spoke with on any given day depended on whether I’d been spending more time with my father (who was American) or my mother (who sounded like Felicity Kendal). This was an entirely normal part of my childhood, and it meant that – when we spent time in America, and when I lived there for a period in my teens – I was completely American. I didn’t even think about it. Then, when I returned to the UK for university, the American accent slowly ebbed away over a period of months, and I became fully English again.

This, I have learned, is a phenomenon called bidialectism; the actor Gillian Anderson has it and, like me, she has no control over how it works. “I was in Los Angeles recently with a couple of Brits and I thought, I’m going to see what it’s like to talk among Americans with a British accent, and I felt so uncomfortable. It felt so disingenuous, and I kept thinking they must think I’m a complete twat. But when I’m here, it’s nearly impossible for me to maintain an American accent,” she said.

Thankfully, research suggests that picking up accents is a common, and useful, human trait. According to an American study, the subconscious need to copy an accent comes from an inbuilt brain function to try and “empathise and affiliate”. Which fits my personal experience. All my nicest friends are the ones who will be speaking in a thick brogue after chatting to a Glaswegian, despite being themselves from Surrey.

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It can only be good news, surely, if our children are actively learning to empathise, even if they’re doing it by stomping around in the uppity-bossy-boots style of Peppa Pig? Empathy is key to kindness, and is, famously, not a particularly strong trait in sociopaths. So there’s that.

So, if your child has picked up an accent from the television, don’t worry. My son has grown out of his Indian accent (although he’s now taken to doing finger guns and shouting “HEY MAN COOL MAN”). And these days I sound just like Felicity Kendal. Except when I am drunk. When I’m drunk, I sound like Beavis and Butthead. But it is a small price to pay for definitely not being a sociopath.

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