Baby Talk

Along with observing our daughter D–‘s developing language skills, I’ve also tried to keep an open ear to how my wife E– and I were talking to her. I’m happy to say we’ve largely avoided the trap of the cutesy infantile babbling, though — who knows? — that may largely be a myth. We’ve tried to make it a point to speak to D– in as straightforward a manner as possible.

Still, I can’t help but notice the little alterations that make their way into our speech when speaking with D–. When she was younger, we’ve tended to drop articles “the” and “a/an” when referring to objects. Similarly, we tended to avoid pronouns, sticking instead to just names. Example: “Mama will give D– ball, okay?”

It’s not something we consciously contrived to do, it was just something that came naturally; in fact, it may have been harder to do otherwise. Internally, we must have taken into account the inadequate comprehension of a child, and so adjusted our manner of speaking accordingly. Short words, spoken slowly, somewhat drawn out.

That was from a year ago, though. Now that D– is older and more facile with language, E– and I have also made subtle changes, again unconsciously. Pronouns and articles have come into use and our conversations with D– are more natural. I think the adjustment comes from the responses we’re getting from D–, indicating to us, again unconsciously, that there is greater comprehension.

Strangely, though, our preferred language with D– is English, and again, this is something that just comes out. Between E– and myself, we speak a mish-mash of English, Bisaya, and Hokkien, technically called “code-switching”; so why do we revert to just English when speaking with D–?

My theory is that we have an ingrained aversion to code-switching because — again, unconsciosuly — we don’t want to confuse the child with too many language options. Then there’s also the efficiency of English words, which tend to have fewer syllables than their Filipino counterparts.

Bolstered by her regular diet of YouTube music videos, D– expresses herself mostly in English and with a twang. That had E– and I worried early on, because that can be a disadvantage when she starts school. Then again, mayeb we shouldn’t be. D– continues to surprise us, recently she has already started to switch seamlessly between Bisaya and Hokkien as well.

Ah, to have the plasticity of the brain of a child!