Twin Accent, but No Twin Language

A surprising proportion of people ask me whether my twin daughters ever had their own language. They didn’t.

I find myself apologizing for the girls’ lack of twinspeak, more correctly known as cryptophasia. Perhaps it was because we used Baby Sign–J and M starting signing at 7 months of age–that they didn’t need a special language with Sissy, I find myself responding. Or perhaps it was because I also spoke to them in Bengali. After all, my entire academic background is in linguistics and I write for a mother of multiples blog. I should be a fountain of cool twin language trivia.

I confess that J and M sound very alike today. I used to have no trouble distinguishing their voices, but even I get their voices confused at least once a week. I have to remind them to open their phone conversations with Daddy with a comment about who is speaking. When she gets very earnest, M tends to click her tongue before every sentence, and J takes more pauses, but hardly anyone can tell their voices apart. In fact, a friend of theirs who happens to be blind describes them as having one voice rather than distinct voices.

In recent months, I’ve been getting questions about the source of the girls’ accent.  They get comments on their accent at school too. According to M, the older girls in their afterschool program consider it “completely adorable.” We were talking about homonyms the other day, and J offered up “short” and “shirt” as an example. M nodded in agreement. I told them that those words were only homonyms the way that they pronounce them. “Board” and “bird,” too. They have no trouble spelling the “hospital,” but pronounce it “hoss-ta-pole.” They both say “posichun” and “ackchun” for “position” and “action.”

Both M and J went through speech therapy at age 3 to tackle articulation delays. To my ear, they still sound significantly younger than their classmates, but I’m not in any hurry to push them back into speech therapy, since comprehension by others is no longer a problem.

All that I know from linguistics about the acquisition of language and accents would lead me to expect my children to sound more like their peers than their parents. They should be saying things like “y’all” instead of “you guys” like me, although you might be surprised by how twang-less today’s central Texas accent is. They’re in separate classrooms, but it doesn’t seem that that’s quite enough time apart for them to mimic their other classmates’ pronunciation more than each others’. It appears that, despite their lack of a twin language, my daughters’ twin accent indicates that their sisterly relationship has more of an influence on how they speak than any other.

Despite having grown up in Scotland, England and Bangladesh, after 15 years living in the USA, Sadia has come to sound resoundingly Valley Girl. Her 6-year-old twin daughters, J and M, attend an English-Spanish dual language first grade program in the Austin, Texas area. Their Spanish has a way to go before they can duplicate their Olympian feats of  conversation in that language. Unfortunately, Sadia doesn’t speak Spanish and cannot report on whether her daughters’ twin accent extends to that language too.

3 thoughts on “Twin Accent, but No Twin Language

  1. ‘hoss-ta-pole’ made me totally laugh. How adorable!
    Our kids used to speak with a slight accent that my husband always pointed to me as the source since I spoke to them in Finnish. But lately I haven’t noticed that anymore. What I do notice is that our twin boy has what I though was a clear Boston accent but am now wondering if maybe he needs some speech therapy …

  2. Similar situation. We were always asked if our fraternal boys had a “shared language”, but it never developed. My older daughter and I used baby signs with my twins starting at 6 months which helped with temper tantrums but might have prevented a private language from developing.

  3. Interesting post, Sadia. I’ve just been thinking about how our girls are finally starting to have different tones to their voices. But, they also have their own ways of pronouncing words, which seems to be shared.

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