Tea Time With Jesse

Six of One, Half Dozen the Other

I’m Not a Linguist, but I Play One On TV

Posted by middlerage on November 1, 2010

Linguistics – the development of  language in humans – has always been an interest of mine.  I am no language scholar, but as I watch my kids grow up, I have noted some interesting observations. What these observations tell me I’m not sure. They’re just interesting to me.

Observation 1: when the first born was still pre-speech, he could make a rooster crowing sound so accurate  it would make your hair stand on end. It reminds me of the theory that we are born with the ability to make all sounds, and language is the process of whittling away everything that isn’t your mother’s tongue. Whether that theory is old-fashioned or not even scientifically valid I have no idea. I don’t remember where I ran across it.

He no longer has the super mimicry ability, and happily communicates in english.

Observation 2: The second born is developing language at his appropriate, 2yr old level. He has moved beyond simply saying a word of interest and is now putting words together into phrases, or even short sentences. Currently he is expressing a fact, first, and then expanding the details. To wit, he expresses his emotional state then states the object that caused this state, “I like IT… object of interest; For example:  “I like it <pause> chocolate milk” ; “I like it <pause> car ride” ; “I like it <pause> Nanny’s house.”

Observation 3: Despite hopeful wishing on the part of parents, “momma” and “dadda” are not often kids’ first words. For the first born, the first word was “ball,” and the 2yr old was the cat’s name “Cecil.”

Observation 4: Vowels are tricky. Both kids didn’t start off with accurate, English patterns of pronunciation with vowel sounds. The “bear” in teddy bear was often “beer” but more like the German “bier.”

And “ball” was mostly pronounced like a very Europeanized version of “bowel”…sort of an “ou” as in “ouch” coupled to a sound we don’t use in English; a sound reminiscent of the Spanish pronunciation of “Paula” or “Claudia.” (see cool pronunciation guide at end of post)

Observation 5: As the kids get older and really start developing language, they cue off of grown-ups, and..well…grown-ups are lazy pronouncers. Thus the great old camp song:

Hello muddah, hello foddah/ Here I am at/ Camp Grenaddah

has an accurate basis. I hear lots of “mudder” for “mother” and “lectricity” for “electricity.” The interesting thing about “mudder” is that it reminds me of my days in high school spanish, when we were taught how to pronounce “v” (for example vaca, cow). It was supposed to be a light fricative between “B” and “V” – using lower lip against both the top lip (“b”) and the top teeth (“v”). If you got that very difficult pronunciation down, you were on your way to sounding like a native. The mother/mudder lazy sound of English speakers is similarly “somewhere in between.” Nobody is saying hard-D, “muDDer” but but we aren’t saying “TH” either (he speculates).

NEATO SOURCE: in researching pronunciations for this post I discovered the coolest website: forvo.com. Here is the link to the pronunciations for Paula and Claudia I referenced above:




I can see playing around with Forvo a lot. I will have to put it on my sidebar of links. (Now, how to pronounce woohoo!…)


One Response to “I’m Not a Linguist, but I Play One On TV”

  1. Danny V said

    I am very Jealous you have such loving beings to study

    ask the Kids if they have heard the story of the Mudder with no Fodder

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