About a month back I noticed that my 4.5 year old, Isobel, had suddenly taken to answering questions with ‘Jaaa’. I was a bit taken aback with the almost lazy, drawn-out pronunciation of the word which wasn’t even followed by ‘mum/dad’. I just didn’t like my daughter using slang.
Thinking back to my childhood, I recalled how my mum, dad and teachers raised us to speak ‘proper’ English where no slang was allowed and all remarks to elders were followed with a ‘mam/mum/dad/aunty/uncle’ depending on who was being addressed. I believe it was a culture of respect being instilled in children of my generation which then overflowed into other aspects of our lives.
I wasn’t angry at Isobel’s use of ‘Ja’ but I was worried that my child would start picking up all kinds of other slang and instead of being a prim and proper little child and then young adult her misuse of language would result in her being a lay-about and disrespectful. I know, a bit of an overreaction but I tend to do that where my children are concerned and I think that there are many other parents who do too.
My overactive imagination envisioned a 16-year-old Isobel going through teen angst and answering every question asked with a blasé ‘Jaaa’ or ‘Naah’. I was really concerned and knew I had to do something about it.
I just couldn’t figure out where she had picked up this slang from and despite my best efforts to gently get her to rather say, ‘Yes, mum/dad/teacher’, she persisted. Do we know the kind of people who would say ‘Ja’ in response to a question? Would I need to start vetting her playmates or giving them mini-speech quizzes before they were allowed to associate with my precious child??
Then, during a phone conversation with her teacher at her new school, I mentioned the issue in passing.
Me: “By the way, have you noticed that Isobel responds to questions with ‘ja’? Please could you help me reinforce that she must not use slang and rather say ‘Yes teacher/mum’?”
Teacher: “I haven’t really noticed but she does have a lot of Afrikaans speaking friends at school so she might have learned it from them…?”
Me: “Oh, jaaaa. That could be it!” Oops! BIG note to self: mind your language mum!