Posted by: emjb | November 21, 2007

Come in, come in, can you read me? Over.

Baby babble is kind of like static–you hear nothing but noise, nothing but “bababababa, lalalala loo loo loo, eeeeeAAAAAA!” several hours a day, and you think, it might mean something. And you transmit back, “Roger that: see? Book! Apple! Daddy! Chair! Look, kitty! Kitty goes Meow! Cow goes moo!”

And you may get completely ignored, get radio silence, accompanied by an enigmatic smile, or you might get more babble. Did it sink in? You have no idea.

Even worse, sometimes something does come through. “Aaaahpul.” “Neow!” “Yay!” but then isn’t repeated for months, or ever again.

The baby guides all act as though this is a linear process. “A child begins babblilng at 8 or 9 months. Soon they are saying individual words. By age two, he or she is creating simple sentences, such as ‘daddy go bye-bye.'”

I’m starting to suspect that, as in so many other cases, a simple linear process may not in fact describe child development very well.

My enigmatic, nonsense-babbling child said suddenly this week “I eat now.” He pointed emphatically to the table, and when we brought him food, he wolfed it down. He’s said it several other times on the way to school, mostly because we let them serve him breakfast and he doesn’t like having to wait till we get there to eat.

What the hey? He’s never said “I” “eat” or “now” in my presence or his father’s. I guess he’s taking the phrasebook approach to learning English, maybe. Tomorrow he may ask “Where is bathroom please? I wish to order a sandwich. Can you tell me when this train arrives?”

Anyway, he still babbles his static, but more frequently now, you can hear faint traces of speech coming through, broadcast from the other side of the moon. Hi, Daddy! Sock sock sock! Shoooe! Skuuuh (school). He tries to imitate us, but his accent is thick and clumsy still. We don’t speak his native tongue, and he’s reluctantly decided he has to try ours. For toddlers, I suppose whatever life they get is like a foreign-language immersion program.

He’s still taking his time. There are still 18-month olds who say a lot more than he does. But then, neither his father nor I are what you’d call early adopters. We were slow to get CD players, cell phones, non-ancient computers, or to take up IM. We were doing fine, without, after all. Let the other eager types get all hyper. We’d wait and see. And it’s quite possible that this explains far more about our child than the development charts. He just wasn’t sure about this new-fangled practice of using language to communicate. He’s only two, but already he may be a grumpy old man.

And that’s fine. We’re keeping an eye on him to make sure there isn’t a real problem. In the meantime, we’ve got our ears on, good buddy. That’s a 10-4, c’mon back.



  1. Congratulations. My toddler is around 17 months. He’s trying out new words and sounds. No sentences though.

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