Chatter Revisited

As though galvanized by my previous post about his language, Ryan has been adding words at a tremendous rate over the last couple of months. It started slowly, with vaguely word-like syllables bubbling up from the primordial soup of his baby-talk. But he has accelerated like a steam engine falling off a cliff, and now has far too many words to keep track of.

There are differences in some of the specifics of how Nathan and Ryan have dived into language, but the similarities seem to me to vastly outweigh these. They of course have chosen different words for specific things: “ni-ni” was “drink” for Nathan, while Ryan uses “ee” for “drink,” and reserves “ni-ni” for nursing. Nathan showed a clear tendency to reverse the end-syllable of a word (as with “ni-ni”) where Ryan really hasn’t; and where Nathan absolutely insisted on two-syllable words for a long time (“lo-lo” was “loader” while “ba-lo” was “backhoe-loader”), Ryan uses repetition much more freely, sounding a word anywhere between one and about twelve times. I have noticed that Ryan is particularly proud of his two-syllable words (“app-uh” for “apple” was his first, and he also does a very good “ung-gee” for “hungry”), but he doesn’t try to lengthen one-syllable ones out.

But these are just fun details. What is similar is that they both have worked on their language like fiends, experimenting with sounds and the limitations of their own ability. Like Nathan, Ryan’s word sounds have drifted over time. “Truck” at one time sounded almost like “car,” but then they began to move apart so that we could distinguish between them. At the same time, though, “truck” started to get closer to “bug” and “rock,” and now I’m watching Ryan struggle with making himself understood whenever he uses the “guck” sound. It’s a beautiful, sophisticated learning algorithm, trying to find an optimal arrangement of a complex search space.

(I have this suspicion that Ryan is actually using different sounds for each word, but that we can’t identify the differences because we’re so embedded in the English speech patterns. I forget what this phenomenon is called, but it’s the reason that native Japanese speakers have trouble hearing the difference between “l” and “r” in English. I highly recommend The Language Instinct to anyone who hasn’t read it.)

And what’s also similar is that Ryan is absolutely thrilled when we comprehend something he’s saying. Nathan by now takes it so much for granted that he is only peeved when he don’t understand him, but Ryan is delighted each time he makes himself understood. He is in the phase where every truck we pass on the freeway has to be commented upon. “Guck?!” he says, over and over again, and I must (must, or he’ll keep commenting until I do) respond with something like “Yes, that’s a truck!”

Nathan’s speech, and the cognition that it implies, is also very interesting, but I’ll hold off on it for now. I will point out, though, that he just today made a very passable stab at “antecubital fosse.” That’s for you, Dad.

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Posted in Kids. 1 Comment »

One Response to “Chatter Revisited”

  1. Kristy Says:

    that is SO cool!


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