Friday, July 8, 2011

Consequences of Multilingual Parenting that Nobody Tells You About

In our family, we have a Mama and an Apo. In fact, in our family we refer to all mothers as Mamas and all fathers as Apos, no matter how other families refer to themselves. Our Apo occasionally refers to me as "Mamka" or "Mami", and I occasionally refer to him as "your father" (usually in the sense of "WHEN IS YOUR FATHER GOING TO __?"). K goes back and forth between "Mama" and "Mommy" (sounds very like Mami) for me, and sticks to Apo for the Slovak.

Incidentally, "Apo" is a Slovakified version of the Hungarian word for daddy, which is what the Slovak calls HIS father (his parents are Apo and Aňu). It is pretty much only used in eastern Slovakia where he is from, so people in Prague and western Slovakia are as baffled upon hearing it as anyone else. The only time it gets instant recognition is from someone from eastern Slovakia who also uses/used it at home... Czechs call their fathers "táta", "tatínek" and variations thereof, and Slovaks typically call their fathers "ocko" and variations thereof.

"Mama", on the other hand, is pretty adaptable. It's "máma" (slight pronunciation difference) in Czech, or more often "maminka", or "mamka" or "mamička" in Slovak. "Mami" fits in either language. Thus K never raises any eyebrows calling me Mama or Mommy wherever we are.

So it took our daughter a while to pick up on the existence of other words to refer to parents. For example, for a long time she didn't know what people meant when they talked about her "daddy", because we never use the word. Eventually, she figured out that "daddy" and "tatínek" are different words for Apo that other people sometimes use, but she never said them herself, or at least not to refer to her father.

Recently that has started to change...

For one thing, K is referring to us sometimes as "moje maminka" and "můj tatínek" or "můj táta" (instead of "můj Apo"), especially when talking to her Slovak grandparents this week. I can't remember if she has called Apo táta to his face or not, but he definitely tries to discourage it, because he is called Apo.

Our last day in the US this year was Father's Day, and I'm pretty sure people were asking K about her "dad" and talking about dads and moms, because later that day or very soon after she said something about "mom and dad". This caught our attention, because of all the possible parental names, K has NEVER said "mom" or "dad". She clearly got it from Outside Influences!

Soon after that, once we were home, she mentioned her "mom and dad" to me again, and I asked,

"Do you mean Mama and Apo?"
"No, MOM and DAD."
"But we're your Mom and Dad."
"No, you're Mommy and Apo!"
"Um, well, who are your Mom and Dad then? Where are they now?"
"Mom is at work and Dad is at home." (points back to her bedroom)
"Can you ask him to come out here?"

K then went back to her bedroom, Dad first refused to come out, then came after all and K pointed to the floor, explaining that Dad is very small. And apparently invisible.

Are you getting this?


And it doesn't end there, oh no. An imaginary "tatínek" has also recently made an appearance, clearly differentiated from the real Apo.

That makes five of us so far.

I keep waiting for K to claim her OTHER parents are much nicer, less demanding, or in some other way entirely better than her REGULAR parents. I could handle that. Especially if the other parents would go to work and clean the house for us so we could spend more time goofing off with our kids.

EDIT TO ADD: I totally forgot about "MApo"! When K was learning to talk, for a long time she referred to me as "Mama" and Apo as "MApo". Which made him kind of mad. Like he's just a substandard version of me. Eventually she learned to say Apo and use it for the correct person, but she continued - and continues - to say MApo sometimes for either or both of us. At least occasionally it seems like she's just forgetting or changing her mind mid-word as to what she wants to say.

But recently - on the plane back from US, so the same day that "Mom and Dad" were first mentioned, she showed us a picture she drew. We are her favorite drawing subjects, especially Apo as he is artistically interesting with his short hair, glasses and beard. This one, however, had glasses, a beard and long hair. (Long hair is my only distinguishing characteristic.)

We asked about it, and she confirmed that we were seeing long hair, glasses and a beard. We looked at each other and said "...that must be MApo!"

So I guess that's six parents at last count...


  1. Like this post! The outside influences bit reminds me of how my daughter decided to call me Mummy instead of Mama (which is what the rest of the family still uses) in deference to Peppa Pig. And while we don't have the imaginary parents, the same daughter has regularly been talking about her little brother for months now (she has a little sister and a big brother) prompting their Papa to poke me in the ribs, grin and say "Look, she wants us to have another baby!" Four?! FOUR!! He's mad I say.

  2. This is hilarious. I was so lost at first between all the languages and mom and dad names, but your story is simply funny! An dit makes sense, children have a limited schema of life, the world through their eyes and when they get new words they have to make them fit in that schema. Imaginary parents? Makes perfect sense. All these languages and cultures that are so different and yet have so many similarities must be so confusing and she's just struggling to make sense! Smart kid!
    Look forward to seeing you on the bilingualism carnival!



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