Sunday, November 23, 2008

Language Love!

I was editing a friend's personal statement for her grad school admissions, and I laughed as I read this part of her statement: " life-long lust for language..." Laughed, not because I thought it was silly for someone to describe herself as lusting after language, but because not so very long ago I wrote a cover letter for a job that included the phrase, "I have always been in love with language." (Lust, I daresay, has more of a place in a MFA program than in a middle school teaching position!)

It's true, though...lust, love, passion, obsession...language is a huge part of my life. And possibly one of the most amazing parts of having children has been watching the language acquisition process firsthand.

Way back as an undergrad writing research papers for my linguistics classes, I was already fascinated enough to almost make linguistics my fifth major, if having five majors were allowed. (this would have been in addition to English, Spanish, philosophy, and women's studies, just to be clear...and I really only majored in English, teaching English at that, but with unlimited time and money, I would have gone for all five! Ooh, and Creative Writing, of course, though I don't think my university had that as a major....)

*wanders back to the topic at hand*

Yeah, so kids and language--fascinating! I remember that when Jabberwock was first learning to speak, which he did quite early, I kept very precise notes about his language development in this amazing, practically-daily journal I kept about his every dimple, every sigh, every sneeze or burp or bowel movement--the journal I can't ever show to him because then Monkey will ask where is *his* childhood recorded instant-by-instant, and then I will have to tell him that he just wasn't as interesting.

So I remember writing things like, "Today Jabber used coordinating conjunctions for the first time!!!!!" Yes, I was really that geeky. But really, how amazing is it when the little one who yesterday would point at a picture of a bowl of fruit and say, "Ap-Ap, Nana, Gapes!" suddenly comes out with, "Ap-Ap AND Nana AND Gapes!"

Or participles, oh for joy! The day I marched into Jabber's room and said, "What are you doing?" and he replied, "JumpING!" How exciting! Definite articles! Correct subject pronouns! Trust me, it's all in the journal.

Monkey has, in general, been much slower to speak than his older brother. Some have suggested it's because Jabber speaks for him/never shuts up. This may be partially true, although Monkey's personality is such that I've always been pretty sure that when he has something to say, he'll say it, regardless of who may be bigger or more articulate. I think the real reason he has been generally less verbal is that he has been expending an extraordinary amount of energy on keeping up with his brother (and surpassing him, on some fronts) physically. Already he climbs higher, runs faster, and fights with more passion than Jabber, the docile older child who didn't go to daycare until he was two years old, ever did.

Monkey also has some other, more intellectual, skills that Jabber didn't quite grasp as quickly, such as figuring out puzzles, even when he has to rotate a piece to make it fit properly. While Jabber would give up quickly and get frustrated when a piece didn't slide right in, Monkey seems to have a very strong sense spatially of how the piece needs to be turned before getting it close. He also seems to have a lot more enthusiasm for coloring and artwork than his older brother did at this age.

Suddenly, though, in the space of two weeks, both boys have made amazing language leaps. For Jabber, it's all about pronunciation. I have long been assuring people that his /w/ sound for the letters 'r' and 'l' is normal for a four-year-old and that he would learn how to say those sounds without intervention. Sure enough, in the last week or so, he has suddenly nailed both sounds in the middle of words and about half the time at the beginning of words, too. He'll be talking away, and then he'll say a word with an 'r' in it, and he'll take a little extra time to move his mouth and tongue just rrrrrrright. It's great!

And Monkey. He went from only using a few isolated words and a lot of pointing, grunting and physically pushing us toward what he wants to using three or four words together in a string, repeating everything we say, and singing his own adorable versions of his favorite songs. Just this morning, I watched him playing with two little action figures ("bad guys," he calls them), moving them around and making them talk to each other.

Badguy 1: looove you!
BG 2: no! fall down! (BG2 kicks BG1)
BG1: no fall down! kiss kiss! niiiiice baybee! (BG1 smooches BG2)

So I may not be keeping track of every grammatical advance of baybee number two, but I'm still just as fascinated by this process of language acquisition--maybe even moreso now that I'm seeing how it goes differently for different children!


amy said...

hee! you know, originally that passage read "love for language", but I decided lust was more accurate...

And it sounds like we need to get Monkey started on tetris! :)

liss n kids said...

monkey + tetris = WIN!