Tuesday, February 10, 2009


So, Noah has a word. One distinct word among the myriad sounds and vocalizations he makes. This word, this small word, gives him, and all who hear it, great pleasure. The word is "Bop."

He says it often, but with purpose, not randomly. And this got me thinking a bit about the nature of language and when it is that our minds and mouths learn to create these sounds. English was not my children's first language. In the baby-houses they heard mostly Russian and a bit of Kazakh and Kyrgyz, depending on who was caring for them. In swoop Zach and I chattering in a language that may as well have been Chimpanzee, and well, I think in retrospect I understand the confused looks on Grace's face in most of her early pictures a bit better.

See, no one knows exactly when the moment occurs that babies start understanding. It's a hell of a lot earlier than most people give them credit for. Noah is already signing a couple of words ("more" and "all done") at the appropriate times and it is much sooner than I would have expected had I not already been through this twice. So a change in language can actually confuse an infant, but of course, they are already so over stimulated by life on the outside that they quickly recover and assimilate the new sounds into their very busy brains. Kai loved sign language. Used it all the time and knew dozens and dozens of signs. Grace didn't have much use for it. She half-heartedly learned the signs for more and cookie (which eventually came to mean the same thing for her) and called it good. I think she figured, "That's good, I'm covered. What else could I possibly want?"

I was lying in bed last night, it was the dead of night and Noah was busy trying to rid me of all that pesky hair I have growing on my head, when suddenly he started speaking Bushman. (You know, the language that tribesman spoke in The Gods Must Be Crazy. Which, incidentally, is a movie that almost killed me when it first came out because of an unfortunate choking incident involving Jelly Belly's and uncontrollable laughter. I digress.) I kid you not, the kid was making those clicking sounds while he was babbling , and I thought, "Quick! Book the next flight to Botswana, this guy could be fluent in Bushman in a week." Like I said, it was very late at night.

But my point is, maybe we should expose him, and the other two as well, to languages that our adult tongues will NEVER be able to master. Languages like Mandarin, Russian, hell even English seems to stump a few of it's native speakers. I know this is nothing new. All the "experts" say that early exposure to language is the best, it's just that I only ever thought of that advice in terms of the western European languages I grew up around. But perhaps, in this changing world, I should be getting the kids into languages like Farsi and Arabic while their tongues are still nimble. Do you think there is a Muzzy DVD for Bushman?

For now, I leave you with this thought: Bop!


Maria said...

I am ABSOLUTELY convinced Ellie is not speaking English OR Russian but Mandarin Chinese. The sounds that come out of her whilst babbling sound just like Mandarin. Go figure!! :-) BOP to you too.

Jeanne said...

Hooray for Noah! My son is very speech delayed, and his struggle has proven to me how amazing normal speech is. Recently he has started calling water "eau". As far as I know, no one around him has ever spoken French. Past life??