In early February 2019, a number of outlets began reporting on the “Peppa effect,” a purported trend causing American preschoolers who watched the show to speak in British accents.
The claims were virtually guaranteed to achieve viral traction, probably owing to the number of parents across the United States whose young children watched the often on-demand Peppa Pig seemingly all day. So when the story began spreading, it spread fast — despite the fact many news organizations ran headlines that ended with a question mark. Fox News was one of the larger outlets carrying the claim, in an article titled “Is ‘Peppa Pig’ causing American children to speak with British accent?”
In an attendant article, Fox News explained that one blogger wrote one article describing that her child called her “mummy” during one airline flight — apparently sufficient evidence to declare an epidemic of British-accented American children:
American parents are noticing their little ones adopting British accents after watching “Peppa Pig,” a popular children’s TV show about a female pig and her animal friends.
Janet Manley, a mother of two, coined the sudden mimicking of the British accent the “Peppa Effect” after her daughter began calling her “mummy” during an hours-long flight to Australia.
“Up until the age of 20 months, my daughter was a pristine developmental specimen, untouched by screen-time. Then we flew to Australia,” Manley wrote for Romper, a website for millennial mothers. “After 21 hours of flight time spent binge-watching Peppa Pig episodes on the iPad, my kid had adopted Peppa Pig’s plum British accent, calling me ‘Mummy” and finishing her sentences with Peppa’s trademark snort … call it the Peppa effect.”
The cartoon, which follows the adventures of Peppa’s life with her family and pals in a fictional town in the United Kingdom, has grown in popularity. It has more than 7 million YouTube subscribers.
Four tweets were embedded in the story, in which parents described their children mimicking the accents demonstrated on Peppa Pig. The article cited a February 2019 blog post on the site Romper, which mostly involved informally collected claims from parents about purported changes to their toddlers’ accents after viewing the show. The story’s second anecdote didn’t even involve inflection or an accent, but a toddler’s use of the word “daddy” instead of “dad”:
Up until the age of 20 months, my daughter was a pristine developmental specimen, untouched by screen-time. Then we flew to Australia. After 21 hours of flight time spent binge-watching Peppa Pig episodes on the iPad, my kid had adopted Peppa Pig’s plum British accent, calling me “Mummy” and finishing her sentences with Peppa’s trademark snort. Two years later, she still oinks in conversation. Call it the Peppa effect.
Danielle Cooper, of Virginia, noticed a rapid-onset Peppa inflection in her 2-year-old about a month ago. “I went to pick her up from her dad’s, and she kept calling him “Daddy,” she recalls over the phone to Romper. “And now just any time she refers to her dad, it’s ‘Daddy,’ no matter what.”
ThisIsInsider.com also reported on the purported uptick in British accents among American children, citing “dozens” of tweets claiming such. That site also embedded tweets as examples of Peppa Pig-related accents, and many were the same tweets in Fox News’ article. Once again, a quoted parent mentioned the use of the word “daddy,” not accented speech specifically:
Dozens of parents have taken to Twitter over the phenomenon, which has been dubbed the “Peppa effect.” Dad Sylvester Kabajani said: “My four year baby girl loves watching Peppa Pig and I have noticed her accent and grammar is extraordinary.
“Last night I tucked her to sleep and she looks at me and says ‘daddy, can you snuggle me’ I was like what did you just say baby girl? I don’t remember the last time I used that word.”
ITV and the New York Post also referenced the initial flight anecdote in their coverage of the Peppa Pig effect, going on to repeat the same handful of anecdotes cited in or stemming from the original blog post. The Evening Standard (“Peppa Pig changing accents in US: American parents claim children are talking like Brits because of show”) and Mental Floss (“The Peppa Effect: U.S. Kids Who Watch Peppa Pig Are Developing Slight British Accents”) similarly included the very same tweets seen in most other iterations of the Peppa Effect claim. While the mention of “dozens” of anecdotes was present in nearly every article, one piece added infrequently-referenced contextual material.
The Daily Mail‘s article on the topic twice stated that the show began airing in 2004, creating a fifteen-year-long lag for this “Peppa effect” to suddenly begin sweeping “dozens” of American toddlers’ homes:
Parents in the U.S. are claiming Peppa Pig has caused their children to develop British accents
Peppa Pig, an animated TV show based in the U.K., follows the life of a pig and her family as they go about their day-to-day lives
Now parents are tweeting about the show, which first aired in 2004, saying that it has caused their kids to develop different accents and vocabulary
One parent wrote: ‘I’d like to thank Peppa Pig for the slight yet adorable British accent my toddler is acquiring’
Another parent dubbed the idea of kids adopting the accent as the ‘Peppa effect’
The same claim spread in 2017, when a television personality made a similar assertion about her American child’s intermittent British accent, and in 2016 when a writer said the same. The entire brouhaha was not entirely dissimilar to a viral and phony claim in 2016 that Peppa Pig “caused autism“:
There is no Harvard study that says a British children’s television cartoon causes autism, despite what a social media post claims. In fact, there’s at least one peer-reviewed study that hints that a children’s television show may help autistic kids.
The post on the newsely site, and others that have circulated in recent months, claims that a group of Harvard experts did a study that revealed Peppa Pig “is one of the main causes of autism among children. The piece describes other complaints about the British animated series and does not name the authors of the so-called study or where it was published.
That’s because it doesn’t exist, autism experts said. The study could not be found on any database of scientific studies. Three leading autism researchers called it false. The chairman of the Harvard psychology department said he knows of no such study.
“This is fake,” said autism researcher Dr. Matthew State, chairman of the psychiatry department at the University of California San Francisco and chairman of the scientific advisory board at the Autism Science Foundation. State says it goes back to an old study by three economists — none from Harvard — that uses the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey to find a vague link between autism, cable television watching and rates of rain and snow in the 1970s and 1980s.
Peppa Pig has been airing since 2004, but an avalanche of headlines would have you believe that the show spontaneously began causing American children to speak with British accents in 2019. In addition to the show’s decade-and-a-half airing on preschool networks without causing high schools full of hybrid accents, anecdotes about fleeting use of inflections seen on the show have circulated for years. The entire viral trend started with one mommy blogger’s observation after one long Peppa Pig-filled flight, not any sort of academic finding or rash of toddlers presenting with Cockney lilts.
Due to Peppa Pig‘s monolithic presence in the homes of preschoolers and their social media-using parents, the claim was destined to spread like wildfire. And while it’s true children can and do adopt accents they see on television, it was false to say that a “Peppa Effect” existed in any meaningful way. Headlines claiming the contrary were likely designed to be social media share bait, not compelling linguistic cases for the effects of Peppa Pig and its accents on American toddlers.