Words in pairs

Dot writes: Frank says
– “Dat way.” (Pointing in the opposite direction to the one I wanted him to go in.)
– “Big bird!” (Big is his universal adjective. He knows “heavy” and “hot” and “cold” as well, and possibly some others, but I haven’t particularly noticed him combining them with nouns.)
– “Dog! Two dog!” (On seeing two dogs, today at the beach.)
– “Issa duck.” (= It’s a duck.)
And more, which I’ll remember afterwards; Ken might find them easier to list as he spends more time with Frank. Frank often puts “a” before nouns; and he says “look, x!” (e.g. “look, a bus!”). My point being that word-combination is well underway.

I was vaguely reading David Crystal’s autobiography the other night. Apart from being struck by how astonishingly energetic and productive he has been as a scholar from an extremely early age (twenty-two, I think, when he was first appointed in Bangor), and also what awful misfortunes he has suffered (his third child died after a failed heart operation and his first wife killed herself a few years later), I noted how seriously he takes targets in early language development: after all, he developed the charts himself, using his own older children as data. Having remarried and had a son with his second wife, they were worried by that son’s failure to stick to the schedule:

Poor Ben! We spent so much time giving him helpful linguistic stimuli that we ended up delaying his sentence development. We noticed when he was approaching his second-birthday: he wasn’t using the full range of two-word sentences that the LARSP chart insisted was normal for that age.
Hilary and I held a case conference. What could possibly be the problem? Then it dawned on us. We were doing all the hard work for him….Once we realized, we back-pedalled. Stopped reinforcing quite so much. He caught up within a month.
(Just a Phrase I’m Going Through, p. 183)

Poor Ben indeed. I may have mentioned I’m a bit of a liberal lefty, and also that I’ve been doing work on shame; I can’t help feeling that such a relentless focus on hitting a closely defined target isn’t entirely healthy. Yes, one wants to detect language delay because language is so fundamental to human functioning, but insisting that a two-year-old should be able to say the full range of sentences on a given list? That just seems far too prescriptive – and Crystal of all people is all about descriptive. Can’t children vary? Doesn’t development go in bursts? As Ben’s did – and the other aspect that strikes me about this anecdote is the conviction that parental behaviour was the controlling factor. What about the child? Maybe he was focusing on learning to build sandcastles that month.

I don’t know if Frank is saying all the phrases on the list. He’s still less than 22 months, anyway. I’m awfully proud of him regardless; and I doubt if his achievements have very much to do with me.

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4 thoughts on “Words in pairs

  1. Murray

    I have this theory that being too single-minded about ‘optimizing’ everything (as in ‘closely defined targets’) is bad for any human, adult or child. It takes away freedom and makes you too predictable. I have a mathematical justification for this that I will spare you.

    1. Dot

      My gut agrees with you, though I don’t have the maths.

      By the way, having written about Frank’s word-combinations yesterday I noticed and remembered the following:
      – “Daddy bed”, with “Daddy” here a possessive: he was sitting on my half of the bed pointing to the other one.
      – “Nice cot”, at bedtime, giving the lie to my statement that “big” is the only adjective he combines with nouns
      – “All gone”
      – “I want x”. I didn’t particularly notice him using this yesterday, but he has been using this phrase for a while; for example, a few days ago when Ken abruptly took the recycling out, Frank stood in the porch crying and saying “I want Daddy!”

  2. Dot

    Some more Frank phrases, for the record:
    – “Oh no!” (This was very characteristic of Hugh around this age.)
    – “No way!”
    – “A are you?” (= where are you?)
    – “A Daddy gone?” (= where has Daddy gone?)
    – “Daddy stairs” (= Daddy is downstairs)
    – “Digger broken”
    – “Fix it!” (often pronounced “fick it”, but we were just remarking on this yesterday when he proved us wrong by managing the sibilant)
    – “Mummy nose” (= Mummy’s nose)
    – “Do it!”
    – “Dis truck”
    – “Go down” (i.e. go downstairs)
    – “I sad” (Hugh often talks about being sad, for purposes of emotional blackmail, and I think Frank has learned the word and the strategy from him)

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