One Child’s Language: at 16 months

Her passive language ability still far exceeds her active speaking ability, but she has added a few words to her repertoire. During our Christmas trip, she attached the meaning ‘all gone, all done, finished’ to a high-pitched [datii], with a high-pitch first vowel and a mid-pitch, long second vowel, accompanied by appropriate upturned empty hands. This contrasts with her lower-pitched (mid + low) and shorter [dati], meaning ‘thank you.’ (She doesn’t seem to distinguish [t] and [d].) Finally, there is a low-plus-high-pitched [dati] that she uses to call whichever one of us she can’t find. There is also a [daa], with long rising-falling tone, which seems to mean something like ‘wow, look at that’; and a steady high-tone [daa], meaning ‘stop’ or ‘stoplight’. The former contrasts somehow with [iyati], meaning roughly ‘voici, voilà, here it is, there it is’. She has recently added another word: [daau(b)], meaning ‘(fallen or dropped) down’ (or ‘dirty, no longer edible’ in the case of food). She also seems to be in the process of extending the meaning of [dudu] to cover any fundamental contribution to the ecology of her diaper. She must be about ready to start toilet-training.

At this point, her total inventory of significant sounds doesn’t amount to much: one consonant /d/ (or /t/), and three vowels /a/, /i/, and /u/. The consonant sounds like both a [b] (or [p]) and a [d] (or [t]) except when it precedes the open vowel /a/. She seems to leave her lips closed before a closed vowel like /i/ or /u/ and to let the air through them only after she releases the /d/ to let the vowel sound come out. Besides [dudu], the other case where this is very noticeable is in her word for counting: [du]-[di] (‘two-three’?).

She elicits words as labels all the time, and wants us to supply running commentary on her actions, but most of her use of spoken language is exclamatory rather than descriptive. When she wants to refer to actual events and objects, she points—relentlessly. Here is a very common languageless dialog, with translation:

Action: Taps on mommy’s wrist until mommy acknowledges.
Meaning: ‘Excuse me, I notice you’re wearing a wristwatch.’
[Establishing topic to be ‘wristwatches’]

Mommy says, “Mommy’s watch,” meaning “Yes, I am.”

Action: She immediately taps her own wrist
Meaning: “I seem to be missing mine.”
[Making her observation about the topic]

Mommy says, “Where’s your watch?”

Action: She either points in the direction of her watch or goes off to find it.

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

1 Comment

Filed under family, Hawai'i, language, U.S.

One response to “One Child’s Language: at 16 months

  1. Pingback: One Child’s Language: Compilation « Far Outliers

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