Friday, November 06, 2009

"I Wanna Dumb Fuck"

Got your attention with that one, I'm guessing.

"Dumb Fuck" is exactly what it sounds like my little nephew says when he says "dump truck." The first time I heard it, he was asking me to zoom one of his toy dump trucks around: "You dumb fuck!"

I could have died. And then I figured it out. It's a terribly unfortunate mispronunciation. Why couldn't he just say "dunk tuck" instead????

Later told us he wanted to go "see the dyke. " Ahhhrrrruh??? We figured out that he wanted to go see whether he could see in the dark after we bribed him to eat his carrots.


And so began our introduction to toddler-speak. My pregnant sister's water broke 2 months early and she has had to stay put in the hospital on strict bed rest, IV fluids and antibiotics and steroids for the developing baby's lungs, and since her son had never been in daycare, we went to her house to take care of him for the week. Now it's my dad's turn. He's really good with kids and I am sure he won't have any trouble understanding the little guy.

It sure brought back memories of taking care of my little sisters. I had forgotten some of my favorite toddler speak:

Irtday Ardy! (Birthday party)
Chet Boyardee (those horrid raviolis in a can)
Fo Fo Fire (pacifier)

That last one stuck so much in my mind, that I still call pacifiers "fo fo fires" in jest. Around our house, being young adults of the 90s, we have warped it into a "Foo Fighter" because really, the magical plastic nipple does fight "foo," a catchall term that can encompass so many baby complaints.

I am really looking forward to some adult conversation. Seriously. I now understand why moms sometimes slip inadvertently into toddlereez. Once you've been immersed in a second language like that, it's hard not to slip back into it. I really do not want to be one of those people.

The other thing I observed about toddler 'language' is that he readily recognized symbols that are part of language, even if they aren't English letters. Baby Field Notes has a quilt to play on that has Japanese hirigana on it and as soon as he saw it, he pointed to them excitedly and exclaimed, "Letters!" I thought that was really cool.

It was also really neat how he repeated immediately, and in the same tone, something I said without thinking — and fortunately — it was G-rated! ((Phew!!))

Round and round the mulberry bush......

POP! Goes the weasel.

He had a toy that played the tune and I naturally sang along without realizing. Pop! Goes the weasel, he instantly repeated. Yep, we heard that an awful lot after that. I had assumed someone already had taught him the words to it, but when his dad came home from work, he asked if we taught him the song.

It's impressive, that the ability to repeat something heard or seen just once, and it is easy to take it for granted. It's one of those hallmark human abilities. Apes imitate, but not with nearly the same facility.


Science Bear said...

What do you think about toddler-eeze, versus normal conversation with a change in tone/pitch/cadence (higher pitched, maybe more dramatic)?

It seems as though some believe this causes problems with language development, and others say it promotes bonding... I'm not sure on the qualifications on either individual who gave me the advice above and would love to hear your take on the matter, since I have a very young nephew :)

Field Notes said...

Well, the short answer is that there is a virtual sh*tload of research on motherese (tone, pitch, cadence changes accompanied by simplified sentences, pauses between clauses and repetition) that suggests not only is it cross-culturally universal, it also helps (theoretically) language acquisition.

I have not heard of a single study that suggests it is detrimental for very young children's language development, but that doesn't mean it isn't out there. I'm just not familiar with it.

I would think it would be incredibly challenging to experimentally investigate it though because it's use is so ubiquitous.

I've got some books on language hanging around that I haven't cracked open in a while; I'll have to take a peek and see if this is something they've addressed.

Science Bear said...

The two friends who were arguing (with my childless self in the middle?) had issues with made up words instead of actual words. So the tone, pitch, etc was the same, but one friend makes up words (itcs-bickey bee bee doodls ch-ee, or there abouts) when she talks and the other doesn't.

Very interesting stuff!