Language for One

My boy is 20 months old now, and we’re becoming expert linguists. Or maybe he’s the expert. At any rate, we seem to be learning his language instead of the other way around. For months, now, The Boy has been interspersing his few clearly pronounced words–Dada, Mama, bye-bye, etc.–with a whole lot of sounds that have meaning only to us. Many of these words relate to balls. Duh-dah is football. Buh-bah is soccer ball. An egg is Ssssssss. (Sssss can also mean a skillet and cooking spray. The dog is a panting sound.

At our first meeting with his preschool teacher, she asked if he was saying a certain list of words.  Some he was, and some he wasn’t. And some he didn’t need. Like he isn’t saying “mine,” but instead he says “Ya-ya.” That’s what he calls himself, and in many contexts it translates as “That’s my (fill in the blank).”

Fine, said the teacher, no problem. Do you correct his pronunciations when he says, for instance, “da” instead of ball? Um, no. We do not. Instead we have started calling balls “da”s.

I mean, really, his words are more fun than ours.

What’s fun lately, though, is that he is combining his pseudo-words to make more complex thoughts. He has a favorite book called Egbert, The Slightly Cracked Egg , about an egg who paints(All his favorite books are either about balls, eggs, or ducks. Sometimes two out of the three.) And, lately, he has been doing excellent fake burps, hiccups, and yawns. So one day he started pointing to his finger paints and saying “Ahh-sssss.” That’s hard to type–I mean to convey Burp sound-Egg. And we realized he’d been hearing Egg-Burp, so he was explaining that Egg Burp paints things.

Oh, I should mention that his sign for painting is a sniffing sound. That’s because we painted pumpkins with our noses last Halloween.

Other sentences include Dada Duh-dah Sniffing Sound. Which means “I painted Daddy a paper football.”

Another popular one is Papa Gur-gurs Ya-ya. That means “My granddad makes burgers and I eat them.”

Latest words are putt-putt, Gouda, and Dork Dog. (A somewhat-fond insult I have for our dog when he’s being an idiot.)

Now, because I can’t resist and also because maybe people actually expect me to talk about books instead of babies, let me say how much I have fallen in love with Karen Russell’s St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised By Wolves. I haven’t read her novel Swamplandia, but this is maybe the best–and certainly the weirdest and funniest–short story collection I’ve ever read.

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