Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Linguistic Anomalies

My husband is a linguist and so I knew I he would be dorky about our first child's language acquisition. I knew that when our son stopped squawking and started babbling, my husband would take a great deal more interest in him. I expected that.

So when Scott started talking about the unusual phonemes our son was acquiring, I figured it was just lingo-babble and fatherly pride. I didn't really understand what was peculiar about Soren's aggregate of sounds and so I guess I thought Scott was just exaggerating. Kind of the scholarly equivalent of me propping Soren up against a table and then snapping pictures of him "standing" at 6 or 7 months. That Soren would be standing then seemed as unlikely to me as him aquiring difficult and non-native sounds before typical baby babble. I mean, it was just a bizarre hubris to think our baby would defy the bell curve, right? And average was more than good enough for me.

Then another linguist friend came to visit our family on Sunday. She and Scott huddled together around Soren and began talking in a language of linguistic scholarship, unintelligible to me. What I gathered out of the conversation was that they were talking about Soren and that it was generally agreed that he was making some unusual sounds. Scott was beaming.

Yesterday I had a thought. I thought that maybe Soren's unusual babble was a gift from our Father, a tender mercy. It's such a small, seemingly unimportant thing. But I believe God is involved in the minutia of our lives. If there was going to be a baby like Soren (and face it, statistics do say there should be at least one), then why would he not send the little tike to a father that would thoroughly appreciate it? Yes, his phonetic inventory is going to realign to normal before he starts talking. No, it's not an earth-shaking miracle or life-altering blessing. But it's a beautiful detail that brings more joy to our home right now. And I believe it's a tender mercy from a loving and involved Father in heaven.


Heather of the EO said...

Before I forget, I have to say that I love the picture of the three of you on the sidebar. I love how that beautiful boy is checking out the photographer and you and your husband are the back-drop in such a lovely way.

And about your post. I love it. I too fully believe that God is so involved and so in love with us that these seemingly "little" things that bring us moments of joy are His plan.

Such a sweet post. I'm so glad to have "met" you here in the blog world,

Scott said...

So here's the scientific version of this story:

Babies usually start by producing open syllables (a consonant and a vowel). The first consonants they make are typically voiced stops (b, d, g) and the bilabial nasal stop (m) paired with a low center vowel (ah). The velar stop (g), because of its position in the mouth often ends up with a high back rounded vowel, yielding 'goo'. This is way the standard baby babble is 'ba ba da da ga ga ma ma' and why parents often mistakenly jump to the conclusion that baby's first word is dada or mama. It's not a word until it has a stable referent (dada is used to indicate a father, or range of people similiar to the father-figure, or some narrow group of things associated with the father, not uttered at random when looking at a movie, eating, playing with toys, whether 'dada' is present or not). This is the usual pattern.

Soren's first really articulate sounds (sounds he produces in a similar manner over and over without anything else in his mouth) were syllabic fricatives and affricates (zzz, dzzz, and the th in teething held for a whole syllable length). These are difficult sounds that children don't ordinarily produce until they are a few years old. Instead of producing the three cardinal stops without preference, his favorite is d. He uses this stop with vowels to produce open syllables like normal, but uses a range of front and center vowels (including schwa) uncommon in a 10 month-old. He also produces a heavy syllable (one that ends in a consonant as far as English is concerned). He loves to say dees, and drag the s sound out. I haven't heard him produce a g sound yet, but he will occasionally produce bilabial stops (p and b). These he produces without a voiced vowel, again not something common to infants. Today he was really excited about something and said staix, where x represents a uvular trill. He also commonly says ta with the vowel in either breathy or creaky voice (breathy voice is how you talk when you lean close to someone to tell them something you don't want overheard without actually whispering, and creaky voice is what you do when you say 'I'm soooo tired').

If he were in South Africa, he'd be right at home, too. He's started making click consonants. His favorites are bilabial and alveolar.

So Soren has acquired some very difficult sounds very early on, some very non-English sounds that he may have heard me make once or twice, and has yet to make a lot of the sounds babies usually make.

Marivic_Little GrumpyAngel said...

This is a thought provoking post. I have never really looked at my family's individual "quirks"/gifts that seem to fit so well or compliment other family members' strength as a divinely intended detail. But now that you have me thinking about it, it makes perfect sense. That is so great that your boy has a gift that your husband can identify and understand. It would have been so wasted on another family who would not even recognize it.

By the way, thanks for visiting my blog. It's nice to "meet" you.

Jenna said...

Wow, what an observation! Maybe we'll have a similar experience, since Steve was a linguisitics major as well!