Toddler Speak

It’s fun watching B.T. learn language.  He’s a very talkative little tyke.

When last we saw B.T. on the virtual pages of this blog, we had found ourselves astounded at his language development and  his love of books.  Well, his language skills have improved dramatically since then.  He speaks in complete sentences.  He has nearly all his pronouns down pat (barring the gender differential on third person pronouns: he doesn’t always understand gender differences, and frequently resorts to using names in place of pronouns when making third person references) – and that includes more complex things like possessive pronouns.  There are amusing errors, though, that make sense when you think about it.  Instead of “mine” it’s “mines”.  I figured “Well, it’s yours and his and hers.  Why not mines for first person?”  Or the plural: a large quantity of something isn’t “a lot of them” but “lots an’ lots of dems”.  When there are a lot of people he loves to point out the “peoples“.  Some of those little oddities of English that he’ll learn in time.  For now, we laugh and gently correct him by repeating him with the correct pronounciation.

Pronouns are just one thing.  But he’s got tons of verbs, some (but not all) of of his prepositions, names for all kinds of things.  Not only does he speak in complete sentences, but his sentences are increasing in complexity and thought.  He can count, and he can already do basic math with very small numbers (less than 5). 

Some other gems worth sharing: B.T. often likes to apply his own “ointment” – and he can say the word almost perfectly.  We’ve been trying to teach B.T. about things like sharing and empathy: when he hits or bites or pinches (as I understand all toddlers inevitably do) we tell him that it’s not very “nice” and frequently feign greater injury than we recieved.  So now whenever we’ve hurt his feelings or done something he disapproves of he sternly says “No Mommy!  No Daddy!  That’s not not nice!”  Double-negatives are an odd thing.  Some words he seems to savor the sound of: like “bluuuueeee“.  When he hears a plane but can’t see it he delights in pointing out “It’s hiding in the clouds!”  He has a toy cellphone that says the names of colors in English and Spanish (as well as greetings from “Grandma” and “voicemail” notifications in both languages).  So he’ll sometimes spout “Roja.  That’s means Red!”   For the longest time he loved his “Nama and Papa”, but his pronounciation improved in sudden leaps in the past few weeks, through “Gama and Gampa” and just as quickly to “Gramma and Grampa” – although he’s inconsistent in using these.  There’s just so many, and Dear Wife and I have to savor it all, because we know this phase won’t last long. 

His pronounciation is still mostly age-appropriate, but since it’s been a while that means that he’s so much clearer and easier to understand than mere months ago.  Taken as a whole, though, his language skills are roughly on par with kids two or three months older than him – which at his age is still a big difference, developmentally.

It’s good he’s learning this all so fast.  It won’t be long, now, and he’s going to have to learn another very big lesson.  Very big lessons come with the territory when you become a very big brother.  As he often points out to us, there’s a baby in mommy’s belly…

Le Mot Juste

To that writer who’s searching for just the right word, the proverbial “mot juste“, searching in vain for a word that conveys just the right sense, emotion, thought, or whatever: maybe the problem isn’t you.  Maybe the problem is the language you speak. 

This article on Mental Floss was amusing to me: it contains a short list of useful words from other languages for which there is no direct English equivalent.  My favorites:

  • “Shemomedjamo”, from the Georgian language (i.e. the former Russian satelite, not the U.S. State, which also has it’s own language, y’all*), which refers to when you’re so into whatever you’re eating that you forget to stop when you’re full.  This has happened to me.  On more than one occassion.
  • “Pelinti”, from Buli, Ghana, which is when you put some over-hot food in your mouth and juggle it around with your tongue trying to cool it by blowing through your cheeks.  This has happened to me.  On more than one occassion.  My Dear Wife teases me mercilessly for it.
  • “Tartle”, from Scots, which is what happens when you’re about to introduce someone, but have forgotten their name.  This has happened to me.  I’m a chronic name-forgetter.

And others, just as fun.

It does have one swing-and-a-miss, though.  It defines “Pålegg” from Swedish as sandwich toppings (or “anything… you might consider putting into a sandwich”)… but we do have a word for that in English, it’s called: “condiments”.  It’s not even that rare a word in English.  Traditionally it’s ketchup and mustard and pickles and whatnot.  But in theory it could be… well… anything you might consider putting into a sandwich, isn’t it?

Anyway… for lovers of language, you might want to check it out.  Have fun.

 

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*Note: Georgia, the U.S. State, does not actually have its own language.  Depending on who you’re speaking to, it’s a regional accent, or possibly a dialect.  There are a few non-standard words, phrases, and uses though.  At least in my experience as a non-native Georgian.

Language Wordsplosion

Language acquisition.  It is truly beautiful and inspiring to watch it unfold.

Dear Son, B.T., has now entered this stage of his life when his acquisition of language is accelerating into a literal wordsplosion.  (Yes, wordsplosion is a word.  You know it’s a word because I just used it, and you knew what it meant.  But you probably won’t find it in a dictionary.)

Dear Wife and I  have actually lost count, now of the number of words B.T. knows.  He knows a good number of his body parts.  He knows tons of animal sounds.  He knows the words for things like “house” and “car” and “tree” and “apple” and many others.  He can identify those things both when he sees them in the real world and when he sees them pictographically represented in a book (i.e. drawings, of varying degrees of quality and fidelity, of houses, cars, trees, apples, and so on.)  He knows the names of some of his classmates at daycare (the ones he plays with most often, anyway).

Just this week, in fact, he demonstrated that he knows his own name.  This was a huge revelation, for me as the dad.  B.T. can be a pretty willful little guy at times – he doesn’t consistently respond to his name being used so Dear Wife and I weren’t sure if he actually knew his name.  (I had theorized that the reason he doesn’t consistently respond was that sometimes he was willfully ignoring us.  His revelation that he does, in fact, know his own name lends credence to this theory.)  But this week he started pointing to himself and announcing his own name (or a somewhat consonant-confused version of his name).

Just last week Dear Wife and I attempted to catalog all the words that B.T. has demonstrated his knowledge of.  By this week we’d already abandoned the effort because he’d added so many new words since then that we’d lost track.  It’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 words, which will probably be behind by the time you read this.  If he keeps this pace up, he’ll know hundreds of words within a few more months – enough, at last, to communicate meaningfully with his Dear Mom and Pop.

It’s been a thing to behold, and it makes me so proud.

Now, to be sure, he has a long way to go.  The aforementioned “consonant confusion” issue, for instance, being one.  And dropped consonants and truncated syllable.  The word for “book”, for instance, he renders as “mooh” (with the same “oo” vowel-sound but slightly different consonants).  Likewise, “ball” is “mah”.  A house is a “hau”.  And cats, rather than saying “meow”, appear to say “mau”.  All of these, however, I am assured (by several articles) are normal at this stage of language development.

Interestingly, all of these seem to be examples of linguistic lenition.  And I have outed myself once again as a language-nerd for even recognizing that fact.

Writing Progress: Week Ending July 2, 2011

It’s been a rough week on the wordsmithing front.  Here are the details:

Story of G:

  • New Draft Wordcount: 0
  • Background Notes Wordcount: 0

Book of M:

  • Background Notes Wordcount: 1,015 words

Grand Total: 1,015 words

After a pretty fantastic week with over six thousand words, a mere thousand is a big letdown.  But it’s not a big surprise.  I knew this week would be leaner than last week on wordcount – though I didn’t expect it to be quite so lean.  So, what happened this week? Continue reading

Beginning with a Map

I mentioned in my weekly report, yesterday, that I’d drawn a map for my current novel project, The Book of M.  I’ve written about mapmaking on my blog before, but seeing as it’s been over a year, I figure the statute of limitations are up on that one.  I said this, previously:

Maps have always been one of my favorite parts of fantasy novels.  When provided, I refer to them frequently throughout reading a novel.  Maps give the world a sense of place, a sense of being real in a way that words alone cannot.  The words and the map together make the world what it is, making the characters who interact in it all the more real.

I think what I said then is still an eloquent observation, so I share it again. 

When last I talked about maps in the context of writing a fantasy novel, I was relating the tale of how I had embarked on a new, computer-assisted mapping project for the world of my “Project SOA” books using The Gimp.  Ultimately, however, my little laptop proved insufficiently powerful to handle the map I was then creating.  (I’ll share an image of what I had done, so far, down below.)

The Map of the Book of M

My hand-drawn map of the world of the Book of M, with the few named locations conveniently removed to protect the as-yet innocent.

Now, I’m working on “Book of M”.  And last week, I realized I’d reached the point where I needed a map.  But, this time I don’t have time to waste wrangling with GIMP on a machine that was never meant to run the GIMP.  So, for now at least, it’s back to my old, tried-and-true mapmaking tools: pencil and paper.  And of course, why not make use of the gloriously blank pages of my Hot New Writer’s Journal?  So that’s just what I did.  Continue reading

Tidbits of Inspiration: Bad Writing System

I found this article over on Language Log fascinating, so I thought I’d share it with you.

The article is about whether a better orthographic writing system – the way a language is written down – hurts or hinders either (a) the economic potential or (b) the literacy of its speakers.  English, for instance, is often considered to be a notoriously difficult language to learn because of the inconsistencies of its spelling.  (In fact, I believe English is quite consistent in the way things ought to be pronounced – but there are a lot of arcane rules that one must learn in order to understand how things should be pronounced, and there is a series of precedents for which rules are more important.  I saw this demonstrated once by someone who created a program for making sound changes to conlang words using systematic formal rules, and used the same program by setting up pronunciation rules for English, running english words through it, and outputting a “pronunciation guide” for the words.  It was a powerful demonstration of how systematic English pronunciation really is, and only a few words fooled his codified approach.  Alas, I no longer have a link to that site.  But I digress… a lot.)  Continue reading

Istanbul & Athens Trip Part 4: It’s All Greek to Me

Here we come to the fourth and final of my blog posts about my MBA class trip to Istanbul and Athens. It was a great trip – and I hope an interesting series of posts.  It’s a trip I would definitely re-visit if given the chance.

In Athens, as in Istanbul, I was interested in more than just the sights and artifacts of a foreign land.  I was interested in language and culture.  Call it a weakness.  Little did I know that plunging into Greek was going to give me a lesson in some of the particulars of linguistics that I’d read about in a theoretical sense but had yet to put into action.  (That said, I’m going to be getting into some funky-nerdy language details in this post.)

Greek, I soon realized, was going to be both easier and harder for me to pick up on than Turkish.  Easier because it is a European language that has heavily influenced English (we use all kinds of Greek prefixes and suffixes).  Harder because it uses an entirely different alphabet to the one I am used to using.  (It is perhaps worth noting, at this point, that the word alphabet itself we owe to Greek.  It’s a portmanteau of the first two letters of the Greek alphabet: alpha and beta.  But then you probably already knew that.) Continue reading

Istanbul & Athens Trip Part 2: Turkish Delight on a Moonlit Night

Actually, I wouldn’t have any idea if it was a moonlit night – the cloud cover was too thick – but I did try Turkish Delight late one evening.  There are, thankfully, varieties that don’t involve nuts or coconut – two ingredients I generally avoid as I am not terribly fond of them.  After all, as the saying goes, when in Rome… And, for that matter, Istanbul was once a capital of the Roman Empire.

One of the fun things about visiting a foreign country is learning and immersing yourself in another culture and another language.  Sadly, I learned very little about the Turkish language itself – I was surrounded most of the time by English-speakers (my fellow classmates) and many signs were easily readable or interpretable by English-speakers or included English translations.  But, I did want to learn, at least, how to pronounce Turkish. Continue reading

Tidbits of Inspiration: The Language of the Prairie Dogs

I heard this delightfully entertaining story on NPR this morning about the discovery of a “language” spoken by Prairie Dogs.  It was a funny but also a thought-provoking story.  Effectively, the researchers discovered that the prairie dogs have different warning calls for different predators entering into their prairie dog towns.  But then it went a step further.  They found that the prairie dogs changed their calls for different humans – and in fact there was a layer of their call that meant “human” and a bunch of other layers that were describing the human as short or tall, and what color shirt he was wearing. 

What I also found interesting was that the changes in the call were in the layers of tones in the call.  While I could tell the difference between the high, the medium, and the low pitch of the calls heard during the story, the Prairie Dogs hear more than that – they hear the collection of tones that make up the sound.  And different undertones could mean, for the prairie dogs, different colors and shapes and different animals. 

Which, to me, means this story has very interesting implications for artificial language development.  If you’re writing a sci-fi story with unusual aliens – maybe those aliens have a language like that of the Prairie dogs – one that’s tonal.

Now, tonal languages exist in the greater family of human languages.  But this is something different.  Human tonal language can differentiate meaning between words that are high-pitched or low-pitched, where the pitch is rising or falling, and so on.  But the prairie dog variant hears more than this top-level tone.  It hears the layers of sound that make it up, and can differentiate between an extremely high variety of tones. 

Listening to such a language might be like listening to music, from human ears.  And that’s something to be inspired by.

First Word

Well, not really.  But dear little B.T. is well into his baby-babble stage, and he’s making multisyllabic sounds.  His “first word” was something like [a’ʕɯ]¹ or possibly [a’ʢɯ]² (to my english-speaking ears, it’s hard to differentiate a voiced pharyngeal fricative and a voiced epiglottal fricative), which we transliterate as /a’gu/.  It is, so far as I know, a nonsense word.  Certainly not the “mama” or “dada” we’re looking for, not yet.

What I find interesting, from a linguistic perspective, is which sounds he is choosing to make.  Obviously, vowels are first, and easiest.  He specialises in [a], [u], and [i], primarily (that’s, “ah”, “ooh”, and “ee”), although I think the [u] is actually usually [ɯ] because he hasn’t really learned to round his lips at the same time as making a sound.  But it’s even more curious that his first consonant is a sound that doesn’t appear in English natively at all.  Again, I’m guessing it’s because of ease of pronunciation.  Making a voiced radical fricative involves little more than vibrating your vocal chords while forcing air through it. (Maybe it’s a little more complex than that.  The sound he makes is like a rolling-g sound.)

In other news, I am well aware of the fact that attempting to analyze the phonemes my baby is sounding out classifies me as a special kind of nerd.

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Notes:

¹The funny-looking stuff is from the IPA.  That’s basically a linguistic nerd alphabet.

²Clearly I learned how to do footnotes this week.