My son, almost three months old, is about to embark on an amazing linguistic journey. He is half-Turkish, one-quarter Korean, and one-quarter American Caucasian. He has an influx of words and tones being thrown at him, and for now, he’s content to listen and smile. When he starts to make sense of the words and develop language…well that is something that I am anxiously awaiting. Let me give you some context.
You see, while being half-Korean, I can’t speak the language. It was a regrettable decision made in good intention for what my parents thought was the best choice for me at the time. I’ve since been trying to study on my own, but have a long way to go. That being said, it will not be me who passes on this language to my son. Because my mother (who is Korean) lives so far away, I don’t know that he will get the language either. But I will try to get him as much exposure as possible – we’ll explore this in later posts.
He’ll get his English from me, from school and from socialization growing up in the United States. That’s a given.
For now, my husband and mother-in-law speak only Turkish to him, and will continue to do so for a while. Maybe forever.
So now, back to those first words. What will they be? Turkish? English? I don’t really mind either way, but there is one thing I feel strongly about. I want him to call me “mommy.”
I told this to my husband who was regularly referring to me as “anne” – Turkish for “mom.”
“Call me mommy, even when you are talking in Turkish. Get in the habit so you won’t forget.”
To which he replied, “Why? You’re his ‘anne.’ What’s wrong with this? He can figure it out when he is older.”
I had to think about it for a second. I didn’t mean that “anne” was somehow not as good or deserving as “mommy.” But when he looks up at me with the ability to consciously refer to me with a name, and the first time it’s “anne” instead of “mommy,” I will definitely be disappointed and hurt. It’s hard to explain why. Somehow, my mother-tongue is ingrained into who I am so much that I see it as something that defines who I am and is something for which I hold pride.
Finally, I realized that I probably wasn’t alone in this.
“OK, it’s fine,” I said to my husband. “But I am going to call you ‘daddy,’ and if he uses this instead of ‘baba’ [Turkish for ‘dad’], well, like you said, he’ll figure it out when he’s older.”
We started to play with the baby. I made funny noises and loudly kissed his hand. My husband looked at him and said, “Mommy ne yapiyorsun?” (What are you doing, mommy?)