Language, a Culture All Its Own

An East Indian student reflects on his British-Danish-American influences.

By Babin Dinda 

Just as the food we consume and the clothes we choose to wear can hint at our cultural practices and ethnicity, so can the way we use language — but not always. Case in point:

Really, you are from India? But you don’t have an Indian accent!

This is a statement that’s revisited me on different occasions in different settings. As people, we’ve developed a psychological preset to categorize individuals based on linguistic pronunciation. We can easily determine a person’s origin by the way they speak a common language. But what happens when we have the mingling of multiple cultures over a period of time? As time advances, we see the embodiment of the exposed culture, which may be different from the origin of the individual.

I’ve had the opportunity to grow up with multiple cultures and interact with different identities, and from a very young age, I was exposed to a specific language style. However, I was unaware of this until my eighth grade parent-teachers meeting, where my mother was approached by my English teacher with an interesting complaint against me. I was accused of regular usage of “slangs.”

When asked to elaborate on this matter, my teacher stated that I had an American accent, and I should resort to British English, as it is the correct form of the language. Studying in a British school and living in a country dominated by the British education system, this was a serious allegation.

Fast forward to my orientation for international students at an American university, and I was introduced to a group of graduate students with a similar origin to mine. As conversations began, I was once again defending another interesting but a similar accusation as the previous one. My accuser joked, with a mocking tone, “It hasn’t even been over a day, and you already have an American accent.”

These events have led me to question my links to where I came from. Does growing up in a Third Culture lifestyle distance us from our origins? When do we pick up a specific accent, and is this conscious or by accident? I now believe the latter.

Linguistically, we Third Culture Kids are a unique cluster.  The accents we acquire are not only a contribution of the cultural setting of our childhood years, but also a blend of multiple other influences.

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