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 23, 2011

It wasn’t my best writing week ever, not by far.  But all things considered, I’m pretty proud of what I accomplished.  Here’s how I did:

Story of G:

  • New Draft Wordcount: 368 words
  • Background Notes Wordcount: 0

Book of M:

  • Background Notes Wordcount: 1,548 words

Idea Journal:

  • New Story Idea Notes: 433 words

Grand Total: 2,349 words

Of course, my big accomplishment was finishing the first draft of “Story of G”.  I’m positive I’ll have this story ready to submit to the WotF contest by the close of the current quarter (at the end of September).  My goal from here on out is to continue submitting at least twice a year to that contest until such a day as either I have won it outright or am no longer eligible to enter.  Yeah, I’m aiming for the whole enchilada.  I don’t know that I actually expect to get the whole enchilada, but, well… I like enchiladas. 

In the mean time, I’ve entered my “personal quiet time” for “Story of G”.  I’ve already gotten some feedback, which I’ll look at soon.  But I need a little distance to gain objectivity, so I can edit it with the appropriate level of ruthlessness.  Thanks, everyone, who’s volunteered so far to give it a read!

Finishing the short story, however, was a given this week.  I was just so close that I barely needed any time at all to do it.  Considering everything else, though, I’m surprised I got as much other writing done. Continue reading

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

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.