‘Dunny’ and ‘Brekky’: How Bluey is Changing the Way American Kids Talk
Do you know what a “dunny” is? How about “brekky, buddy?”
If you’re a North American parent, chances are at least two of these words were foreign to you a few years ago, but are now essential to the everyday family lexicon.
And it’s all due to a cartoon dog.
Australian animated show Bluey burst onto Disney platforms in 2019 and became an instant hit with adults and children across North America.
Now, amused American parents are reporting their children using Australian expressions in everyday conversation – often with an Australian inflection as well.
“Some terms were taken up by my daughter; he calls breakfast “brekky,” Jason Manganello, a Massachusetts realtor, told Australian Breakfast TV. “I’ve heard from other parents that their kids are changing their Australian accent.”
Most children around the world are used to foreign programming with so much content coming from the United States – but the phenomenon of adoption of foreign programming is newer the other way around in North America.
“In many cultures around the world, this kind of exposure to two or more languages or dialects is the norm rather than the exception, and children grow up understanding and producing both codes quite naturally,” Bhuvana said. Narasimhan, director of the Language, Development and Cognition Lab at the University of Colorado at Boulder, says The Independent.
Now it’s extending to young viewers on the other side of the globe – and Toronto speech therapist Melissa James has heard language effects on her own daughter, who is now five.
“I noticed that my daughter, who has been watching Peppa Pig a lot, has started saying different common words in British English that feature on the TV show,” Ms James said. The Independent. “For example, she would say ‘Mom’ with a ‘u’ sound…against ‘Mom’, like it would be North American or Canadian.
“And she started saying other phrases from that show in a way that sounded like a British accent – and it was really cute and adorable.
“However, as a speech therapist, I never had to worry that she would continue to have a British accent – because accents are acquired over time and the number of words a child hears daily from her mother, father, grandfather and grandmother, siblings and teachers at school and friends… the child will develop an accent that is essentially an average of what he hears , of what surrounds it.
Ms James says she has certainly heard of other parents concerned about their children’s changing speaking habits. But she reiterates that the beloved family of blue heelers won’t be enough to alter the accents of an entire generation of young viewers.
“With Bluey, your child might pick up a few words that are pronounced in a way that sounds like an Australian accent,” says Ms. James, director of Toronto Speech Therapy. “However… whoever your child talks to the most, they pick up the accent where they hear the most words.”
She tells the parents, “Don’t worry. It is only a passing stage. Again, the average length of time the child hears the word “mummy” right now may be half Peppa Pig or half Bluey – but over the course of her years this [be drowned out by] average and it will sound more like a local speaker.
For Bluey creator Joe Brumm, the phenomenon is fun – and a nice antidote to the Americanization of television in Australia and beyond.
“All I can do is apologize,” he said in an interview with The Independent.
“What’s been kind of cool is the American audience, in particular…they enjoy the little puzzle of trying to figure out what half the words mean.
“I think the public, and especially children, can find a lot of fun in these little puzzles – to understand that, oh yes, this same English-speaking country calls these things a different word. They call ‘sidewalks’ ‘trails’.
“We grew up having to translate American and British shows, and the kids are smart, and they do it.”
Ms James agrees with the children’s adaptability and fluidity – adding that language acrobatics can certainly only contribute to more balanced development.
“As a kind of parenting philosophy, I think exposure to other cultures is good, especially in this day and age when diversity, inclusion and equity are so prevalent,” Ms James says.
“We try as a culture and as a society to accept differences other than the base or majority culture.
“So I think exposing young children to different cultures, including Australian culture, is a beautiful thing.”