Thursday, April 17, 2008

Interpreting babble

In our quest to understand Owen’s babble, we can’t help but think that he’s saying words with deliberate discrimination. Just this week he has become a proficient and impassioned pointer, and as he points at various objects in the room and says, “guh” part of me wants to jump to the assumption that he’s saying “get” – just because get happens to start with g and I know he’d like to “get” everything. Of course, I know he doesn’t “get” the word “get.” “Guh,” accompanied by a pointing finger probably means something more like: “Wow, look at that. I’d like to call that something but I don’t how to talk so I’ll just say ‘ga.’”

But I do feel pretty certain that when Owen says “mamamamama” from his crib he’s asking for me. And every time we see a cat, especially our own cat Frances, we say “cat” several times to Owen while doing the ASL sign for cat, and he generally produces a “ca” for us. So “ca=cat” made it into the baby book list of first word accomplishments. Somehow, though, Owen’s skipped the “da” sound until this week. So when he woke up cheerfully from a nap yesterday, looked up at me and said, “dada,” I got excited and ran him over to the wedding picture in our bedroom, where I pointed to Rob and said “dada” several times over. Owen kicked his legs and grinned in excitement, but failed to repeat the elusive “dada.”

Today, though, when Owen said “dada” while Rob was in the kitchen we both decided it was official: Owen’s new word is “dada” and it means “dad.” Even if he doesn’t say it for another month, and then only while looking at me or the cat or some other non-paternal object, we’ll certify dad as a 9-month word. We aren’t doing objective science here; we’re just a couple parents happy to pretend we’re having two-way conversations with a babbling baby.

(In case you're interpreting babble in your own house, here's a article overviewing what to expect at different ages. And an old 1999 review of an article in "Psychological Science" that pegs the origin of language at 6 months.)

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