Daily Archives: 29 October 2009

One Child’s Language: at 15 months

Her biggest accomplishments are social. She walks up to the babysitter’s door and knocks on it herself. She waves bye-bye to one or the other of us leaving or staying without her and doesn’t get upset. She knows not only our daily cycle, but also has a good feel for our weekly cycle of routines. She warms up to friends and strangers much more quickly than before and plays with other kids, not just near them. She gets very jealous, though, when another kid plays with her toys or her parents. She loves to get rowdy and runs back and forth shrieking and carrying on when the babysitter’s kids are being rambunctious. She’s at the perfect age to pay a visit to her little cousins.

She is at a wonderfully cooperative age now. She enjoys helping us clear the table and take things to the kitchen or pick up things and put them away. It’s too good to last. If she senses it’s time to go out, she always grabs her lunch basket. If we buy a package of something at the store, she insists on carrying it, or at least trying to.

She is also very communicative, but still not very verbal. When she wants something out of the refrigerator, she runs over and yanks the towel off the door handle, then tugs at the door looking over her shoulder and calling our attention. When she wants her vitamins, she points to the bottle on top of the refrigerator and calls our attention. She will stand up on the bed after a diaper change and grab Daddy’s hands to play round after round of London Bridge Is Falling Down. If she wants music, she will go up to the table the tape player sits on and rock back and forth several times, then point to the tape recorder and call our attention. When she wants to nurse, she goes up to Mommy and lifts her shirt.

UPDATE: This child is now a 24-year-old teacher in Boston Public Schools.

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One Child’s Language: at 14 months

Linguists sometimes differentiate between active and passive bilinguals, the active ones speaking as well as understanding more than one language, the passive ones understanding a second language well enough but speaking in their own language. On that scale, our child could be classified as a passive monolingual. She understands a lot of words and expressions and social rituals but doesn’t try to use the appropriate words very actively. She recognizes so many words that we are tempted to switch languages or spell things out sometimes so that we don’t get her all keyed up to do something we’re not ready to do immediately—like eat or go out for a walk. She gets confused by some near-rhymes, like hedge and head, tongue and thumb, knees and sneeze. She is most fond of d, t, j, and associated consonants, together with i, a, and u for vowels. So far, she hasn’t pointed and labelled things for herself, only elicited labels from us or pointed at things we label. Her first “parroted” word was the sound of an owl she picked up from reading an animal book with the babysitter’s daughter. Now when the mood strikes her, she runs to a picture-map of the zoo and points to the owl, saying “Hu! Hu!” But of course she’s never attempted owl. The only real words she has tried to imitate are Jeep, juice, zoo, and one attempt at boo that came out pretty close to zoo.

Of course, adults don’t usually sit around naming things at each other. There are other more appropriate social rituals that involve language. She is starting to master some of them. After months of observing us waving bye-bye to each other every morning for her benefit, she has finally figured out what it means and now waves bye-bye to parting friends and vehicles, to bushes whose flowers she has stopped and patted, and to the automatic money machine whose buttons she often stops to play with on the way to the babysitter. She has just begun to say “Hi” appropriately every once in a while, but never on demand. She recognizes yes/no questions addressed to her and often responds with a vigorous shake of the head. At other times, she responds to every question, statement, or command with “huh?”

UPDATE: This child is now a 24-year-old teacher in Boston Public Schools.

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Sultanate of Ternate as a Colony

From The Spice Islands Voyage: The Quest for Alfred Wallace, the Man Who Shared Darwin’s Discovery of Evolution, by Tim Severin (Carroll & Graf, 1997), pp. 183-185:

The volcanic island of Ternate, where Wallace first stepped ashore in January 1858, was at that time nominally ruled by an eccentric one-eyed Sultan. An octogenarian, he liked to be addressed by his full title of Tadjoel Moelki Amiroedin Iskandar Kaulaini Sjah Peotra Mohamad Djin. He was the twenty-third Sultan, and traced his authority back to the ruler of Ternate who had been on the throne when the English adventurer Francis Drake came there in 1579 looking for the fabled Spice Islands. Drake had found what he was seeking, because Ternate and the small islands to the south were then the main source of cloves, a spice which cost more than its weight in gold when brought to Europe. The Sultan of Ternate – with his equally autocratic neighbour the Sultan of Tidore, who ruled another little volcano island a mile away – controlled virtually the entire world’s supply of the spice, and a good proportion of the nutmeg and mace as well, because these spices happened to grow in domains which paid them tribute. In fact the suzerainty of Ternate and Tidore extended, in theory at least, as far as Waigeo, where nearly three centuries later Wallace found the natives still obliged to send a tribute of feathers from Birds of Paradise to decorate the turbans of the Sultans and their clusters of courtiers.

In Drake’s day the Sultan of Ternate had been a splendidly barbaric figure, wearing a cloth-of-gold skirt, thick gold rings braided into his hair, a heavy gold chain around his neck, and his fingers adorned with a glittering array of diamonds, rubies and emeralds. By the time Wallace arrived, the effective power of the Sultan had been eroded by more than two centuries of bullying by larger nations who coveted the spice trade. In the mid-nineteenth century Sultan Mohamad Djin was frail and very forgetful, living on a Dutch pension as a doddering semi-recluse who spent his days in his shabby and dusty palace surrounded by his wives, a brood of 125 children and grandchildren, the princes of the blood and their families, courtiers, servants and slaves. Most of them were poverty-stricken. A memory of the glamour remained, however. The Sultan himself would emerge from his palace, the kedaton, for state occasions or to call on the Dutch authorities in the town. These appearances were like mannequins come to life from a museum, and greatly enjoyed by the Sultan’s citizens who continued to ascribe semi-divine powers to their overlord. The Sultan and his court would sally forth dressed in a magpie collection of costumes which had been acquired piecemeal from earlier colonial contacts, or had been copied and recopied over the intervening centuries by local tailors. They donned Portuguese doublets of velvet, Spanish silk jackets, embroidered waistcoats and blouses, parti-coloured leggings and Dutch broadcloth coats. Their exotic headgear and weapons ranged from Spanish morions and halberds to swashbuckling velvet hats with drooping plumes and antique rapiers set with jewels. The pièce de résistance was the state carriage, which had been given to an earlier Sultan by the Dutch and was a period piece. It was so badly in need of repair that, to climb aboard it, the elderly Sultan had to mount a portable ladder. Safely ensconced, he was then pulled forward in his rickety conveyance by 16 palace servants harnessed instead of horses, who towed him slowly along to the Dutch Residency a few hundred metres distant.

The real power in Ternate when Wallace arrived was not even the Dutch Resident but the chief merchant, Mr Duivenboden. He was of Dutch family but born in Ternate, and had been educated in England. Locally known as the ‘King of Ternate’, he was extremely rich, owned half the town as well as more than 100 slaves, and operated a large fleet of trading ships. His authority with the Sultan and the local rajahs was considerable, and he was very good to Wallace who, with his help, was able to rent a run-down house on the outskirts of the town and fix it up well enough to serve as his base of operations. He kept this house for three years, returning there regularly from his excursions to the outer islands. Back in his Ternate house, he would prepare and pack his specimens for shipment to Europe, write letters to his family and to friends like Bates, and begin preparations for the next sortie into the lesser-known fringes of the Moluccas.

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