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April 07, 2011

How My Children Are Using Language to Torment Me

My twin girls are fast approaching age two.  Language is coming at them from everywhere, and sticking like crazy. 

There are people who believe that you can't really think without the facility of language.  I'm pretty sure I'm one of those people.  I heard a guy on the NPR science-y show, Radio Lab, theorize that language acquisition actually creates neural pathways in the learner that would otherwise not be blazed.  I don't know about all that--I guess it seems feasible--but regardless, I can't see how you could really ponder over any matter without words, or some kinds of symbols, to identify all the players, relationships, actions, and contexts in whatever drama you were contemplating.  It seems like you could know things from having experienced them; but you couldn't really work out any problems in your head.  Memory would also be tricky without language.

So as the kids are learning to talk, their thoughts are becoming more organized.  They're applying the knowledge gained from past experiences to their current situations.  They're using some primitive logic and argumentation.

Also, they're revealing what's on their minds.  And let me tell you, almost-two-year-olds think about some deep shit.


Mostly, shit that they want Daddy to get or do for them, like, Chop Chop! 

Other than bossing me around, their langauge skills are devoted primarily to commenting about the state of the world around them.

Here are a few transcripts of our recent conversations:


At the table

Me: Do you want bananas?

Twin A: [shakes head vigorously] Nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh

Me: Orange?

Twin A: Nuh nuh nuh nuh

Me: Mango?

Both Twins: Mahn-oh! Mahn-o! Mahn-o!

Me: Okay!  Let me just...

Twin A: Cud et!

Me: All right.  I'll just cut it up...

Twin A: Dada cuuud et...

Me: Okay.  Yeah.  Daddy cut it.  Just give me a sec...

Twin A: CUD ET!!!



Either Twin: [points to own ear] Ear!

Me: Yeah--that's your ear!

Twin: [points to my ear] Dada ear!

Me: Yeah--Daddy's ear.

Twin: [lifts own shirt, pats belly] Belly!

Me: Yeah--that's your belly!

Twin: [pokes me in the gut] Dada belly!

Me:  Mm-hmm.  Daddy's belly.

Twin: ...

Me: Go ahead.  I know you're gonna say it...

Twin: Big!

Me: Thanks, kid.

Twin: [pokes me in chest] Daddy booby!

Me: Daddy pecs..

Twin: Pecs...

Me: That's better!  Daddy pecs ripped!

Twin: Daddy booby!  [laughs hysterically]


Crib, 4:00 A.M.

Twin A: [sobs, wails] Yo-tee [gasps] yo-tee [gasps] yo-tee...

Me: [rubs eyes] You want yogurt?

Twin A: Sữa sữa sữa*...

Me: You want sữa?

Twin A: Wah-ta wah-ta wah-ta

Me: You want me to get some water for you?

Twin A: Plahn plahn plahn

Me: Plants?

Twin A: Wah-ta plahn...

Me: You want to water the plants?** 

Twin A: WAH-TA PLAAAAHNN!!! [sobs]

Me: No...we can't water the plants now.  It's dark out.  See?  Everybody night-night.

Twin A: Yo-tee yo-tee yo-tee...


As magical as this time of rapid language acquisition is, it's a double-edged sword.  Every parent knows this.  But I'm sure that as soon as they develop a little more reason to go with their language--maybe within the next couple years--these moments of imperiousness, insensitivity, and frustration will become few and far between.  Right? 



*"Milk milk milk" in Vietnamese

**We planted a vegetable garden that the kids "help" water every day.






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