“Hey, Bay-taz!!! Keek me da boll, dis way!”

My head snaps up from the book I am reading, and my eyebrows head sky-high once I realize that the voice saying those words belongs to my eleven-year-old son. I watch in resignation as my son and his friends kick and head the ball for the next forty-five minutes, calling out to each other in broken English, heavily accented with extra “curry” and a smattering of Hindi words and expressions.

A DiploKid picks up a lot of things, including the ability to be a chameleon. Sometimes, apparently, that includes adapting modes of speech, language, and even accents. Still, it is bizarre to see my white, freckled, obviously Western child speaking like the local press-wallah.

I should have seen this coming. In Africa, I can recall shouts of “Bra Bismark!” ( Brother Bismark) and “Hey! Wa Didi!?” (Where is Daddy?) I remember coming upon DiploBoy 1 speaking to our helper, G, in the kitchen in Ashanti while she was getting him a snack. When I showed up, however, they stopped. I still do not know the complete extent of DB1’s fluency. It was their secret language, I guess.

G also sang an African lullaby to DB2 starting when he was a baby:

Baby, ka fo ingba mo mir te

Eh tey lie

mi ni shin ha bo

Eh shi a bakba

Ha me ey ko ma ye

E ha bo fie

Ka ma mi ba ma kaylei

Ka o papa ba ma kaylei

Ya-ya – Usheeo!

Baby don’t cry,

Where is your mother?

Your mother went to the farm; she left you a papaya to eat – give me some

No, I won’t give you

OK, if your mother comes, I will tell her

If you father comes, I will tell him

Come, jump to me!

Luckily, I heard them and had her tell me the words so that I could write it down.

I know G spoke to them in Ashanti and Twi. I have heard L say things to DB2 in Hindi. But that’s real language, not the stuff that is a mishmash of Siva only knows that I hear pouring from his mouth on the playground or the pitch.

In class, my kids speak German. At home and with other Americans, they speak perfect English. Maybe a few additions or changes from typical standard American English – a trash can is a “bin” and they stand in a “queue” not a line – but overall, they sound a lot like normal American kids. Occasionally, they will use German sentence structure or grammar (e.g., “by us” instead of “at our house”), but that’s to be expected of kids being raised bilingual.

Still, it is so strange to me that among peers my kids are shouting at each other in pidgin, Hinglish, or some other local, typically regarded as uneducated, accent. Where did they pick this up? And how did this establish itself as the lingua franca of the playground?

The game ends; practice is over, and DB1 walks over to me. “Hey Beti – we go now?”

“Yes, Bay-ta. We go. But I am your mother, NOT your daughter.”

He grins and we leave to find our driver, and I know that DB1 will have yet another conversation in this strange new language that he has managed to pick up just inside of three months. Sliding into the car, I find myself wishing that he were just as quick in his French class. A DiploMom can only hope.

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