One of the first blogs I came across when I started blogging just over a year ago was Actually Mummy – cleverly written as if from the perspective of a 7-year old loquacious school girl, and most posts are guaranteed to make me ‘LOL’ (not sure I’m cool enough to pull that one off?!) I spotted a while ago that she writes a weekly post featuring some of the funny things that she or her younger brother have written or said, and she invites other bloggers to link up with a post about their children’s linguistic accomplishments that week. I always said to myself that one day I would link up, once I had some data to share. And that’s just it – “data” – that gives away my background in linguistics. I have a fascination with speech development, all the more so now that I’m experiencing it first hand rather than out of a textbook.
Andrew has come out with a few funny-sounding things, but until recently these have mainly been just his not-yet-fully-developed way of saying certain sounds in single words. Now that he’s stringing several words together and saying whole sentences, there is a lot more scope for coming out with some howlers. Here are a few of the best from the past few weeks…..
For his dedication, Joel was given a Noah’s Ark book. Now of course Andrew thinks it’s his, and has been fascinated with reading it, particularly as it has pop out foam shapes – very exciting. I told him it was the story of Noah’s Ark, and a few days later, when I asked him which book he wanted to read, he replied with “Noah shark”. There was a definite gap between Noah and shark, so he’d certainly interpreted my speech with a different position for the word boundary. And that’s an example of an interesting point of language acquisition – when I say Noah’s Ark quickly there is no gap between the ‘z’ sound of Noah’s and the ‘ar’ sound of Ark, so how should he know where one word ends and the next begins (or whether it is indeed two words or one big one)? The brain of a toddler acquiring that language has to guess, and I presume that he went for Noah and shark because he knows the word shark already, but not ark.
But ‘shark’ doesn’t sound exactly like ‘zark’ ([Noah]’s Ark) I here you say? No, not in my speech, but in Andrew’s they sound quite similar. If you try saying ‘sssss’ (like a snake hiss) and ‘shhhhh’ (like you’re telling someone to be quiet), notice that your tongue is further back for sh than s, and your lips are a different shape, but otherwise they are very similar sounds; now try saying ‘sssss’ and ‘zzzzzz’ – notice that you don’t move your mouth at all, it’s just that your throat vibrates for z but not s (in techie language, z is ‘voiced and s is ‘unvoiced’ or ‘voiceless’). So it’s not surprising that Andrew hasn’t quite mastered these different sounds and that his sh sounds about half way between my s and sh. Here’s a video of him saying ‘shhhh’ – listen for yourself how it doesn’t sound exactly like my ‘shhhhh’.
I wrote a bit about this in the craft post explaining how we made mini eggs for Easter. I have visions of little chocolate eggs walking round with aprons on now! He still insists on calling them pinny eggs, even though I’ve called them mini eggs throughout the continued chocolate eating since Easter. I’m not quite sure why, given that he can say ‘m’ (as in mummy) and I’ve only ever called them mini eggs, but he’s obviously just got it into his head that they are pinny eggs. The ‘p’ sound is made with the same part of the mouth as the ‘m’ sound – the lips coming together and then opening again – but the ‘m’ also involves air being let out through the nose (it’s a nasal consonant).
This made me giggle, as I didn’t know what he was talking about at first. One evening he came out with ‘Andrew foot bum’, to which I replied ‘yes Andrew, you have a foot and a bum’, trying not to giggle too much. He said it again and again, and looked like he was looking for something in the living room where I was sat feeding Joel. I did think it was a bit odd that he should say ‘bum’ as I usually say bottom when talking to him about nappy changes etc., but couldn’t think what else he could mean…..until he emerged from around the corner with a yellow object – of course, our foot pump! I had been using it to blow up the ring thing that Joel sits in underneath his play gym. ‘Foot bum, foot bum’, he said enthusiastically. ‘Ah yes Andrew, the foot PUMP’, I replied.
Like the mini/pinny eggs sound confusion, ‘b’ is also made with the lips coming together and then opening again, and at the start of a word, the difference between ‘p’ and ‘b’ is the number of milliseconds it takes for the vowel to begin after the lips release – more for ‘p’ than ‘b’. So again it’s easy to see how he can confuse these sounds. At the end of a word, sounds like ‘p’ (and ‘t’ and ‘k’) don’t always get released very audibly, especially in faster speech and when the word is at the end of an utterance, so it’s not surprising that Andrew didn’t pick this up when I briefly talked about the foot pump earlier in the day.
Well that’s enough on linguistics for this week. I’m sure I’ll be back with more posts to link up with ‘wot so funee?’ as Andrew’s brain and mouth try to work their way through the minefield of mastering the English language. In the meantime, if you fancy a giggle over language from the mouths of babes, head over to the link up by clicking on the badge below.