Kiwi kids are developing noticeable American accents through watching too much television, an expert says.

As TV goes through its biggest change since the arrival of colour sets in the 1970s, concerns are being raised about the pervasive influence of accents on children.

New Zealand begins converting to digital transmissions in five months, partly to keep up with technology as overseas programmes are recorded in a digital format.

It means more youngsters will be tuning into - and copying - actors from American-made programmes like those on Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel, according to Dr Viv Aitken, senior lecturer at Waikato University's department of Arts and Language Education.


"A growing number of children in New Zealand definitely mimic what they see on TV," she says. "It is part of their socio-dramatic play that they take on roles from the world around them."

Teens are also likely to adopt attitudes and catchphrases from TV characters, Aitken says.

"A new breed of American programmes promote hip-hop culture and language as being cool, and that is the sort of thing you would expect to see creeping into everyday speech."

But parents shouldn't worry too much about their offspring developing permanent twangs from watching hit shows such as Glee and Hannah Montana, says Dr Martin Paviour-Smith of Massey University's School of Linguistics and International Languages.

"It is not really considered possible for younger children to acquire an accent from the media because television is not interactive," he says.

"Kids are more likely to want to sound like their peers."