Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Third World Green Daddy 58: A reflection on baby language

My youngest boy is starting to say a lot of words now, some in English and some in Spanish.  Like most kids just learning to talk, he doesn't speak very clearly, but you get a clear understanding of what he's saying.

I guess I'd always assumed that when kids are first learning how to talk, they still don't know how to formulate phrases very well, which is why they don't talk clearly.  I never thought much about it; I just took it for granted.  But the other possible explanation, which I hadn't consciously considered, is that babies do know how to say things correctly in theory, but the mechanics of moving their mouth doesn't allow them to articulate the phrase exactly.

My experience with Paulo is making me think that this second explanation is more accurate.  Because dig this:  Paulo conjugates things correctly in Spanish.  When he can't do something, he says, "No puedo".  Not very clearly, not with thespian diction, but there's no confusing it for "no puede", "no podemos", etc.  When a thing falls, he says, "se cayó", again conjugated perfectly.  One could assume this is because these are set phrases he hears a lot, so he's just repeating the most common conjugation he knows.  But no, because he sometimes uses these and other verbs with other pronouns and in other tenses, and still conjugates them correctly.

To anyone who's studied another language, you'll know that it's really difficult to learn all the right conjugations and nail them every time.  It's a mix of conscious and unconscious effort, but if you're doing it correctly, there's no doubt that there is a complex, abstract mental process involved.  So hearing my little boy gurgle out correct conjugations really blows me away, because it means that in his mind he is speaking complete, perfect phrases, and it's just the physical speech apparatus that needs to catch up.  The mental part, which we'd normally assume is the more difficult and the later to bloom, is way ahead of the physical part in this case.

Anyway, I just thought that was a cool discovery.  Thanks Paulo.

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