Category Archives: family

One Child’s Language: at 32 months (and abroad)

Social notes: Rachel is experimenting with social graces now. She plays with using please and thank you sometimes, and is working up to saying xiexie (‘thank you’) and zaijian (‘goodbye’) aloud in Chinese. Her strategy seems to be to listen and repeat to herself for a long time while she is mastering something new, then finally perform out loud.

She often gets very upset if we let a guest into the house without her help, or see someone off before she gets to wave goodbye. One day, Daddy came home from school in the afternoon, let himself in, and went in to find Rachel and Mama in the kitchen. Rachel immediately cried that she wanted to meet Daddy at the door. So Daddy went back outside in the stairwell, Rachel sent him down to the landing, then she walked down the steps to greet him on the landing with “Hello, how are you?” She nodded her head in response to “Fine, thank you. And you?” and then turned around and said “Well, let’s go up.” She repeated this ritual about ten times before our downstairs neighbors, Uncle Xu and Auntie Ni, came out to invite Rachel to play with them.

For quite a long time now, she has not gotten tearful when we drop her off at school, and she has a “best friend” there now. When she hears classmates’ names she can point them out, but she won’t say their names out loud to us.

Intellectual notes: In Freudian jargon, she still shows a lot of typically “anal retentive” behavior. She is compulsive about arranging and matching things. If you slip out of your shoes, she is liable to run off with them to arrange them carefully among other shoes. When she gets dressed, she is always concerned that everything should match. After eating, she will often get down and rearrange the magnetic letters and numbers on the refrigerator door. She is more concerned about matching shapes than about sequential order, so she groups 694, 25, 17, 38, VY, KX, MN, IL, CG, FR, BD, OU, and so forth.

Language notes: Rachel is speaking more and more Chinese. Her teachers say she is becoming more verbal at school. She must be saying a lot more Chinese to herself than to anyone else. She is quite aware of the tones in Chinese and experiments with them sometimes. Everyone at school tries to get her to say simple greetings to them, but they are content for now if she simply shows she heard and understood them.

Her pronunciation keeps improving. She has /s/ and /z/, /ch/ and /j/ pretty much under control. When she demonstrated that she could produce a clear /s/ one day on the way home from school, Daddy praised her and asked her when she would be able to say /k/ as well. She said “Soon.”

She still sings school songs at home and also sings a lot of English songs. She sings This Old Man up through number five or six. (On one of our excursions she got to see a beehive up close, so she no longer needs prompting for “hive”.) Her going-to-sleep ritual every night includes the same series of songs: Sleep Baby Sleep, Teddy Bear (“Dayto” Bear), Mockingbird (Hush Little Baby), and then Angels Watching Over Me (“That Guy Is Watching Over Me”). She sings along on all of them and recently recorded them on tape, singing by herself.

She knows the lowercase as well as uppercase printed letters now. (After trying to think of easy terms other than “big/little” to distinguish the two styles, we just settled on “uppercase/lowercase”—and so has Rachel.) She often utterly loses her chain of thought when her eye catches any letter or Chinese character she can read. She reads off numbers on license plates or hotel-room doors as she walks by. Sometimes she spells words from right to left.

UPDATE: This child is now a 24-year-old teacher in Boston’s Chinatown.

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One Child’s Language: at 30 months (and abroad)

Social notes: Rachel is a full member of the family now. She has her own independent moods, desires, habits, hobbies, and insights. Her many observations intrigue and delight us and her usually buoyant mood lifts us when we are feeling cold and discouraged. She is more and more articulate about the specialness of our family relationship. She likes to repeat “Mama, Daddy, Rachel” as she points to each of us, sometimes misnaming us for our collective amusement. She often calls Daddy “Mama” and vice versa. When she does, she just smiles and repeats her error to reaffirm it. She has also discovered our given names and sometimes uses them to amuse us. She likes to sit us all next to each other and often calls for three-person hugs. She gives nice strong hugs now. She likes to refer to us as “this baby’s Mama” and the like. When we were travelling, she once said, “If Rachel goes to Guangzhou by Rachel’s self, Rachel will cry.”

She continues to feel more comfortable with familiar people. She warms up to students and people we visit much quicker than she used to, and is willing to show off a bit for them when she’s in the mood. She readily waves goodbye to everyone and anyone—even the most obnoxious of the “hello, hello” types. She really likes her teachers at school and knows them all by name. They really like her too, and spend a lot of time teaching her Chinese and eliciting English words from her. Rachel recognizes her classmates when we run into them around town, and knows many of their names. She has also become much more attached to and affectionate toward her stuffed animals, and likes to arrange them around her when she’s sitting on her potty chair or lying down to sleep.

Intellectual notes: Rachel’s compulsion about arranging things has reached the stage where she will take every loose object in the house and make long lines across the floor. When she finishes a line she calls us to come look, and then spends some time sucking her thumb, rubbing her belly button, and surveying her work with an artist’s eye.

She also likes her routines to be just so. When Daddy doesn’t do exactly what Mama did the day before, she will object. One day, Daddy sang Old King Cole as he stirred Rachel’s milk into her oatmeal, inadvertently establishing a ritual. Only the living room will serve for the nighttime milk-drinking and teeth-brushing routine.

Right before we took our winter trip, Rachel started to ask WHY everything. “Oh, that boy has no shoes on! Why?” “Oh, that’s a steam locomotive! Why?” Now, about three weeks later, she is trying out “that’s why” constructions: “Rachel’s cold, that’s why Rachel has no pants on.” (She still gets it backwards sometimes.)

She has begun to exercise her imagination and sense of humor a lot. She will turn herself into a roaring lion, an old lady with a walking stick, a vendor and shopper at the market, or a train passenger with bags and ticket. One night, she said “Rachel is sleeping with Rachel’s eyes open because Rachel doesn’t have eyelids.” She laughs “Rachel made a moo-take!” when she slips up, and likes to deliberately set out to make us laugh with funny faces, words, or movements.

Language notes: Rachel makes a clear distinction between occasions to use Chinese and English. Sometimes when we use Chinese, she will protest, “But Daddy’s an English speaker!” She is still not very talkative at school, but gets chatty in English as soon as we show up. She frequently asks “How Rachel say X in Chinese?” Sometimes she gets confused: “How Rachel say China in English?” She has learned to read a few more characters: 中国 (Zhongguo, China), 美国 (Meiguo, the US), 中山大学 (Zhongshan Daxue, Zhongshan Univ.), and 园林管理处 (Yuanlin Guanlichu, Forest Park Management). [Well, the last only in the context of the sign in the photo that we passed on the way to her school and back everyday.] She sat up in bed one night and said “Apple is pingguo” and then lay back down to sleep.

Reading park rules, Shiqi, Zhongshan City, Guangdong, China

Her teachers were astounded to find that she knew all the letters of the English alphabet. (They seem rather easily astounded.) She knows how to spell her own name, and can say the 7 syllables of her full name pretty fluently. Her grammar is coming along nicely: “Rachel thought this walrus had a blue shirt on.” “If Rachel runs down this ramp slowly, Rachel won’t fall down.”

CHILD’S SCHOOL RECORD
OFFICIAL NO. 2 KINDERGARTEN – SMALL CLASS
NAME BO LIQIU, WEIGHT 29 lbs. HEIGHT 89 cm. (35 inches)
CHILD’S SCHOOL PERFORMANCE
Able to adapt very quickly to kindergarten life. Comes to school on time everyday. Asks for leave when needed. Able to play together with her little playmates. Likes to listen to stories. Can chant simple nursery songs. Can do morning exercise and play games. With teacher’s guidance, can do drawing exercises. Ability to get along independently has improved. Regularly washes her hands before eating and wipes her mouth afterwards. Can eat by herself. Noon nap normal. But usually drinks little water. Hope next semester to strive for even greater improvement.
TEACHER: ZHOU
HEAD OF HOUSEHOLD’S OPINION
SIGNATURE: BO DEXIAO

UPDATE: This child is now a 24-year-old teacher in Boston’s Chinatown.

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One Child’s Language: at 27 months (and abroad)

Rachel’s command of Chinese is growing. She still doesn’t volunteer to speak any, but she understands simple Mandarin and Cantonese at school. Her teachers teach her Chinese and she teaches them English, correcting them if they make mistakes. In Chinese, she can count quickly to ten, and knows basic body parts, items of clothing, and animals. At home she rehearses songs from school. In fact, she is now able to carry a tune (as well as her parents at least) and is sensitive to rhythm and rhyme. She frequently wanders around singing songs and rhymes to herself.

She loves to recite the Mother Goose rhymes we read her. She knows Pease Porridge Hot and Eeny Meeny Miny Moe by heart, and objects if we don’t stop to let her fill in the rhyming words in many others that we read her. The Grand Old Duke of York is one of those she loves to help recite. One time her Daddy said “Eeny Meeny Miny Yes” and she responded by trying to make all the lines rhyme with yes. She goes crazy saying Goosey Goosey Gander. When Daddy recited a nursery rhyme destroying the rhyme and using Rachel’s worst pronunciation, she said, “No, that not right.” Then she recited the rhyme and declared, “That’s right.”

We have worried that her English pronunciation won’t improve quickly, since we are the only native speakers of English that she talks to, and we already understand her idiosyncracies. But lately she has begun to mind her /p/ and /b/ and /m/ sounds. One day she managed to put /b/ in bubble bath. Since then, she has been changing a few of her all-purpose /d/ and /t/ to /b/ and /p/ when they should be. The /g/ and /k/ sounds may not be far behind. Any sounds that Chinese and English share should get double reinforcement. But old pronunciation habits die hard. She still has to stop and think before saying her name with an initial /r/ rather than /d/.

She is still eager to read. She pretends to read things sometimes, moving her head as if she’s scanning the lines. She has also started to read Chinese, starting with the characters for Zhongshan City (中山市). She spots them on signs or city vehicles all over the place. We’re helping her with some basic ones like Fire (火), Woods (林), Person (人), Water (水), and the like. But right now she is more eager to sing and recite rhymes than to read letters. She recites rather than reads many of her favorite passages in books.

She knows clearly now that she is dealing with two separate languages, and she doesn’t object any more if we English speakers use Chinese with her. She elicits the names of the languages by counting in one language and then the other, asking “What Rachel saying?” after each series of numbers. She also knows how to ask “What that mean?” if she doesn’t know the English equivalent of a Chinese word. Her nose, which is often runny these days, she calls bizi as often as she calls it her nose.

UPDATE: This child is now a 24-year-old teacher in Boston’s Chinatown.

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One Child’s Language: at 24 months (and abroad)

Rachel celebrated her birthday in China this year. We used the occasion to invite all of our sophomore class students over to our apartment for tea and snacks. Rachel was overwhelmed. But two people brought cakes (most of which we prevented ourselves and Rachel from eating) and she got to blow out two candles. Shortly after her birthday, she started going to the Number 2 Kindergarten in Shiqi town, Zhongshan City, Guangdong Province. It is about a 10-minutes walk from home, but Rachel can stretch it into 30 or more minutes when she walks home. She examines puddles, ramps, steps, curbs, passing vehicles (especially walking tractors), the chickens in one front yard, and the regulars who wave at her or come out to touch her.

Culture shock: For a long time Rachel would just stick her thumb in her mouth and and ask us to pick her up when anyone else wanted to talk to her or pick her up. She has been subjected to a lot of physical and vocal attention here; we had expected as much. But she has gradually begun to deal with the attention a bit more confidently. After our students assault her, she will ask us “They just want to be Rachel’s friends?” She dodges or brushes aside most passing maulers now, and lets one or two of the more familiar people pick her up. But for the first two months or so, she was in deep culture shock and very fussy and clingy. She still won’t say “thank you” or “good-bye” to anyone in either Chinese or English.

It was as hard for us as it was for her the first day we dropped her off at kindergarten. It was really sink or swim. She had had some setbacks in her toilet-training because of all the travel and stress she went through just before her second birthday. The first week of kindergarten, she wet her pants at least once a day, she wasn’t napping the required three hours [!] each day, and she was clinging pretty close to the principal all day. But now, she talks happily about “Rachel’s new aunties” and “Rachel’s school” (it helps that Mama and Daddy also have a school), rarely comes home with wet clothes, and is almost always in a pleasant, curious, and talkative mood all the way home and into the evening. She enjoys us a lot more when she isn’t with us all day long. She’s had a rough time but she’s grown up a lot in the last two months. She won’t even suck her thumb (considered a vile habit in this dirty environment) while she’s at school anymore. It may get worse, but the terrible twos don’t seem so terrible now that she’s actually two.

Physical development: She is increasingly confident—even reckless—on her feet: running, climbing, jumping, sliding down long slides. She almost has a swagger when she walks by herself. She loves to swim. We’ve been several times to hotel pools and she’s enjoyed leaping or falling off the side into our arms. She has very good control in her hands now. She can put up one finger or two fingers easily, and just recently managed to put up three fingers (the last 3) on the first try. We were all quite proud.

Intellectual notes: She is delightfully curious about all the new things around us, and wants to “see” every noise she hears. She loves to stop and inspect the snails, dragonflies, grasshoppers, and butterflies we encounter in our walks. She has an amazing memory. She can remember exactly where she put something hours ago, can remember what she saw where on a previous walk, and can remember who gave her things. We’ll say “Do you want to walk on the sand?” And she’ll say “Rachel want to walk on sand with Rachel’s new pink shoes from Rachel’s Grandma Grandpa.” She often asks “What’s that from?”—even about the toothpaste.

One of her games is to tell you one thing (“That Winnie Pooh”), then tell you something contradictory (“That not Winnie Pooh”). If you react with appropriate surprise, she will exclaim delightedly, “Rachel tricking Mama!” She can keep it up until you have trouble feigning surprise. Daddy said to her one day, “Rachel’s a talking trickster and a walking tractor.” She adapted that to “Rachel trickster, Rachel tractor, Rachel walking tractor.”

Language notes: Over the past two months, Rachel has been filling in a lot of the unstressed words she hears between the major words: prepositions, pronouns, adverbs, and conjunctions. One week it would be from, the next week with, the next w’out. She hasn’t got the and a figured out, and still uses Rachel instead of I, me, my but her English is more and more grammatical. She has now got the /s/ sound under control, so she distinguishes Rachel and Rachel’s, but she still has trouble with /p, b/ and /k, g/. She also just recently managed to make her Dayto sound a little more like Rayto, but the old habit of saying Dayto will take a while to break. Recently she has been playing with doubling words: “This Rachel Rachel; that Daddy Daddy.” [In retrospect, I think this may have been prompted by Chinese usage in her kindergarten, where she was called Qiuqiu, from her Chinese name Liqiu ‘beautiful autumn’. She was greeted every day like a visiting celebrity, with shouts of Qiuqiu lai le ‘Qiuqiu has come!’—J.] Not much progress in Chinese yet, but she can count from 1 to 5 (sometimes 10) in Chinese, and can follow simple directions at school.

We are amazed by her eagerness to read. She knows all the letters of the alphabet by name. We bought her a little magnetic board with all 26 letters and she plays with it each time she sits on the potty. It makes for some long potty sessions. She’ll keep playing with the letters long after she has done her business. Her demand as soon as she sits down is, “Rachel want to play with these letters,” followed shortly now with “Spell something, spell something.”

UPDATE: This child is now a 24-year-old teacher in Boston’s Chinatown.

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One Child’s Language: at 22 months

For several weeks, durai (dry) was Rachel’s antonym for we’, diti, ‘ow (wet, dirty, ouch). She would talk about dirty and dry hands, or ouch (sore) and dry knees. Lately, she has started to use deen (clean) sometimes. Di and dido (big, little) sometimes occur instead of her old favorites wow, wee. She is beginning to use location words hia, dea, roro dea (here, there, over there), and when she bruises herself, she lets us know where to kiss by pointing and saying rai dea (right there), usually several times. Just today she started tagging otay?, dat rait? onto sentences to make them questions.

She does constant pattern drills, making the same sentence using Rachel one time, Mama the next, and Daddy the next—a standard substitution drill. She does endless repetition drills. We don’t drill her, she drills herself. She also does expansion drills: we say “Let’s brush our teeth” and she says Daydo dah Daydo dee’, Daddy dah Daddy dee’, Mama dah Mama dee’. If we tell her we’re going home, she’ll expand it to dodi Daydo ‘ous, Mama ‘ous, Daddy ‘ous (going to Rachel’s house, Mama’s house, Daddy’s house). And then, of course, she also does negation drills: we say “Not that!” and she says yes, dat; we say “Rachel drink water?” and she says Not Daydo dwin’ wawa; we say “Don’t throw your noodles” and she says yes, dwow noonoh. She never uses yes to answer simple questions, only to contradict a no. She’s definitely showing signs of nearing the Twos.

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

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One Child’s Language: at 20 months

Reading is now the rage with Rachel. In one short week, she has nearly memorized Theodore LeSieg’s The Eye Book, one of the “Bright and Early Books for Beginning Beginners,” with a Cat-in-the-Hat trademark. Not that she can actually say all the words, but she knows what to expect from each page and can fill in at least the last word for every line. Of course, a person has to be familiar with her language and the situation in which she is using it to appreciate it because her articulation of consonants still has a long way to go. However, the vowels and the intonation are there. For example “airplanes in the sky” comes out as dayday die. Her other favorite books include Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever, with its zillion little pictures to name, and Hand, Hand, Finger, Thumb, which features rhythmical text and monkeys drumming on drums. So she drums on an empty oatmeal box, not quite keeping beat with the text. She especially likes the line “Dum ditty, dum ditty, whack, whack, whack.”

She devised another game for herself involving books this week. From a big chair in our living room, she found out she could reach a stack of pocket books on a high shelf. Her routine is to pull one book off the stack, name the colors on its cover, open it up and “read” the numbers 1-5, lose it and put it down beside her, and then reach for the next one. Sometimes, she will try to put the books back on the shelf, too.

Her vocabulary and the speech sounds she uses change daily. We never know what words she considers manageable enough to try out. Once she tries something, she looks for ways to practice it over and over. She often talks quietly to herself saying things like: Daddy wey, Mama dey (Daddy’s away, Mama’s staying); Daydo ow, Daddy rey, Mama bdu (Rachel’s [toothbrush is] yellow, Daddy’s is red, Mama’s is blue). Her favorite topics of conversation are the color and size of objects and comments on who (mostly her) is doing what.

She loves to be asked silly questions like “Does Rachel have a tail?” and sometimes starts the silly game herself. For example, she will point to her rabbit’s tail asking us to name it, then point to herself and ask uh?, so we get the hint and ask the question. Language seems to be on her mind all the time; she even talks in her sleep. Her dad caught a glimpse of her attempt to communicate recently. As we left our apartment one evening, we met the family next door. They have a two-year old daughter. Rachel was standing face-to-face with the little girl and knew she was in a situation that called for some kind of linguistic interaction. She thought quickly, pointed to her shirt, and said bdu (blue)!

Of course, we are glad that books and language are important to Rachel now, but we are also glad to see her working on physical strength and dexterity. Her climbing has become more routine and confident. She will climb onto a box or chair and proclaim doe-day, which seems to mean something like “look at me.” She has been observing older children who can jump and hop for some time; now she is beginning to see what she must do to make a jump happen, though she can’t quite execute one yet. She likes to stretch and hang from the rings at the park.

We see signs of the stubbornness that accompanies the “twos.” Rachel uses no fairly frequently and often repeats Mama, no! Daddy, no! for no apparent reason. She repeats that latter often enough and reflexively enough that she sometimes gets tongue-tied. When she catches herself saying Mama no! to Daddy, she might try again with Dama no! or Madi mo! We think that we often find positive ways of encouraging her to do or not to do things, but of course, we don’t always succeed, and she gets input from other sources, too. She deliberately tests her limits: Yesterday, I let her throw paper wads and balls and clothes but drew the line at books. She tried it a couple of times but didn’t protest when I put the books out of reach. This morning she tried again, but when I put the books up again, she seemed to say, “Just checking.”

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

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One Child’s Language: at 19 months

Rachel has turned into a real neatnik these days. She not only informs us immediately when she has a “dudu” diaper, she also stops whatever else she is doing to close an open door, to push in a protruding drawer, to put down the toilet lid, or to clear the sidewalk of little twigs and gravel. She also shows a lot more initiative in trying to bring other aspects of her environment under control. She likes to choose one outfit over another when it’s time to dress. She starts fetching shoes and saying waw’ when she’s ready to go out. She heads for Uncle Barry’s car and says rye when she spots the car in our slot as she comes out the elevator. She’d rather push her stroller than ride in it when she’s feeling energetic.

One evening, she pushed the stroller almost all the way home (about 10 blocks) from the Italian ice cream shop we walked to. She tested every metal cover embedded in the sidewalk to see if it made any noise. If it didn’t, she would say no-o-o and move on. If it did, she would try stomping on it again several times. She also labelled every down-and-up driveway slope we passed over, with a down and an uh. (She also uses down and uh for upside down and rightside up, respectively.)

You may have guessed that language has begun to come thick and fast. We had thought that this might be the last complete listing of the words Rachel can produce, but she has already gotten ahead of us. She surprises us with at least one new word every day. She has even begun to talk in her sleep a bit. We’ll have to be content to list some of her favorites.

She can count to five, but tends to start with two unless you remind her. She likes the symmetry of tu, ti, tow, tai. She has the primary colors pretty well under control. Her favorite is doo (blue), followed by rey (red), oh (yellow), and dee (green). She has all of our names down pat: mama, dadi, and daydo. Her nasals, m and n, actually started when she named the nama (llama) that she petted at the zoo one day. Within a day or two, she started to rave about her mama, about checking the mayno (mail), about her nano (Anno’s Journey) book, and about things that aren’t true or don’t exist (no-o-o). So far, her use of no-o-o (it doesn’t exist) far outweighs her use of no-no-no (this is off-limits). That pleases us.

Some words are far enough beyond the frontiers of her pronunciation that she relies on sign language. Her word turn is signed by rotating her wrist and fingers. She uses that sign for revolve, twist, roll, turn over, turn around, turn a corner. When she’s feeling talkative, she signs turn and says wheel whenever any wheeled vehicle strikes her fancy. Open is signed with an open hand, close with a clenched fist. She will signal close before she closes doors, pushes in drawers, and restores seatbacks and tray tables to their upright position. She signs flash and squeak by repeatedly opening and closing her hand.

Rachel has also mastered several pairs of antonyms. One of her most charming pairs is wow (big) vs. wee (small). (Wee she picked up from her Three Bears book, wow probably from our comments about large spoonfuls on their way to her mouth.) She delights in comparing things wow and wee. Another pair, we’ and dwy, get pretty regular use at diaper-changing time. One pair consists of a spoken awake (wey’) and a signed asleep (the sh sign, but with forefinger across her forehead instead of her lips).

One time when she was playing in her crib, she composed a small compare-and-contrast sentence about two little stuffed gingerbread men. It is herewith quoted in full, with accompanying interpretation and commentary provided by a member of the rapt audience of one: rey wey’, oh sh [the last word was signed, not spoken]. The red gingerbread man was face up, the yellow one face down. (She puts her things to sleep by laying them face down.) Not quite “Give me liberty or give me death,” but a memorable utterance in its own time and place, nevertheless.

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

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One Child’s Language: at 18 months

Her attention span is getting longer and longer. She can concentrate for 10 or 15 minutes on taking things apart and putting them back together, on putting all 10 or 20 shapes through the matching holes in one of her puzzle toys, on reading books with one or the other of us. She can spend even longer listening to her tapes of children’s songs, although sometimes she spends more time pushing the play and stop buttons than listening to her songs. She is especially fond of the Finger Band song, during which she imitates the clarinet, piano, and trombone motions; the Buzzing Bees song, during which she imitates the buzzing sound by blowing a ‘raspberry’ (or ‘Bronx cheer’); the Teddy Bear song, during which she holds her big teddy bear up by the ears and dances back and forth; and, of course, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, during which she ‘twinkles’ her hands.

She has finally started to take a real interest in language. Her earliest words several months ago were mostly imitations of sounds. (The first sound she ever imitated was—incredibly—the hooting of an owl, something she has never seen nor heard in real life.) For persons, places, and things, she has followed the Universal Language strategy recommended by the scientifically minded inhabitants of Lagardo that Gulliver met in his travels: just make sure you have available (by carrying them around if you have to) a sample of every object you care to refer to. That way, you can just point to what you want to say, without having to translate from one language to another. For actions, rather than objects, she usually performs the motions herself. This reduces a lot of our own conversation with her to one-word utterances. But now she is starting to produce some of her own.

The first consonants she tackled were [t] and [d]. She has them under relatively good control now and has definitely mastered [dadi] (the word as well as the person). Next, she began to work on words starting with [p] and [b]. Sometime last month, she suddenly realized that her counting word [tuti] had two components and started saying just [tu]. It wasn’t long before she was counting [tu] for one step and [ti] for the next. Then one day she counted out [pai] as well. Now she can repeat [tu], [ti], [po], [pai], but she hasn’t mastered the meaning of any except [tu]. Another [p]/[b] word she has added recently is [bow] ‘go’ (versus [taa] or [paa] ‘stop’). The [oh] vowel is also new, and she stretches it—and her lips—to great lengths pronouncing it. Another lip sound she has added is [w]. Her first [w] word was a strangely produced [weyl]. Her tongue tip shot all the way out of her mouth during the [l] (ell) part of it. It used to be one of her babbling sounds, but we attached it to the picture of a ‘whale’ in one of her books, and she has since used it to label ‘wheels’, ‘nails’, and ‘mail’. The other new vowel is [eh], which appears in [wey] ‘away’, another favorite word. It also appears in [tu-tu tey] ‘choo-choo train’. She seems to make no attempt to repeat a word unless it contains sounds close to those she is working on at any particular moment.

When she mastered [w], she promptly added [wow] to her verbal expressions. But she has never attempted [m], [n], or [ng].

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

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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.

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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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