Home > Gwendolyn, philosophy > On the Development of Language

On the Development of Language

About a year ago, I wandered into the baby’s room because I heard a slight noise over the monitor. It wasn’t crying or any of the other myriad noises that babies will make. It sounded like a mew but it was slighter than that. Slowly, with carefulness and patience that I imagine bomb defusers operate with, I opened the door and took a glance over the sleeping little monkey. She had a delicate smile on her face and gently quivered in her crib. She repeated the noise which I then knew was a laugh, the odd thing to me at the time was that she was sleeping. Apparently she was having a dream and something in the dream made little Gwen laugh.

This puzzled me. I wondered what in the world could make someone with little to no experiences and the basic formulations of memory laugh while she was sleeping. Even more odd was the follow up question of what she could possibly be dreaming about. How can such a new thing dream?

The question resurfaces to me, because Gwen has gotten to the point where she now talks and talks and talks. Some of it, most of it, is some sort of basic understanding of English. She points at various things: her body parts, her toys, the television, the remote, and then calls out its name. Sometimes she makes the most basic constructions of what can be called sentences, most of these are commands to Laura or me about something that she wants to do that she needs us to do for her (“Watch Gabba,” “Watch Simpsons,” “More Chocolate Milk”).

According to a book I have on Linguistic Anthropology, she’s surpassed an actual monkey in language development. Her world is now more than just “food” there is specific food, her knowledge categories are larger and more precise. She’s not quite there yet, psychology has determined that it should be awhile before her language development is to the point where she can hold proper communication but sometimes psychology is less a science and more of a skill.

She’s holding conversations with the magic faeries that she always sees, much in the way that she used to stare at a white piece of paper with black shapes printed on it. When I put her down for a nap or for sleep, I can hear her talking, waiting, and then talking again sometimes it’s obviously to the stuffed animals in her crib or the large pictures of animals that adorn her room. Other times, I am utterly clueless as to what it is that she is saying or to whom she is addressing.

I think most of the time she is trying to reproduce what she hears us doing but is unable to either formulate the words or understand that each sound has its own intrinsic meaning. With very rare exception she can repeat almost any word that is spoken to her. Trying to trip her up, I am told, is a good game to play with her which also leads to some amusement as she butchers longer tri-syllabic phrases (Her “potato” sounds like “po-tow,” she misses the “t”s in “hippopotamus,” and don’t even ask me to explain what it is she does with “metaphysics”).

The odd conversations are bereft of any meaning that I can discern. Yet they hold her attention for so long that it must mean something to her. It sounds exactly like the language that Milla Jovovich spoke in the beginning of the 5th Element, so much so that I believe the film makers must have used baby talk as inspiration for it. I’ve also taken to calling her Lelu when she’s off on one of her monologues.

I’ve taken courses that attempted to explain the development of languages, read books on the history of language, have sat through logic courses…but all of that taught me nothing compared to watching it develop in a single person on their own. The worst thing about it is that when she will finally have the ability to explain what it was she was talking about she won’t have any idea what it means anymore.

Categories: Gwendolyn, philosophy
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