Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The beauty and perils of “Baby Language”

A study carried in 1997 among American, Russian and Swedish mothers showed that the way parents tend to speak to children (that is with acute tones, accentuating vowels, exaggerating the tones) is actually beneficial for the kids' language apprehension, and this is equally true in every language.

This is referred to as Baby Language (or Parentese) in English, Bambinese in Italian and Parler Bebé in French. But in French and in Italian this concept stretches as far as developing a whole new set of made up words, used exclusively with and by kids, which can multiply unnecessarily the vocabulary the kid needs to learn.

  • To take a nap in French baby language is « faire dodó » while in Italian is « fare la nanna »
  • To eat in Italian is « mangiare » but for kids becomes « fare la pappa »
  • In France almost every kid has a « dou dou » which refers to his favorite stuffed animal.
  • In our family we have taken the habit of referring to the bowels as « poo-poo », in Italian that would be « cacca » and in French "caca".
  • « Pipi », luckily, is the same in French, English and Italian. But while in English kid language it also refers to the genitals of the boy, the French kids call that « zizi », and in Italy that would be « pisellino » (literally little pea)
  • When the kid is hurt, in Italian « si é fatto la bibi », but in French it’s « bobo »
  • A kid’s nanny in Italian is often referred to as his « tata », while in France she’s the « nou nou »

Modern pedagogists suggest avoiding this artificial language after the age of 1, even in monolingual households, to facilitate the correct learning of proper vocabulary.

I was going to embrace this theory wholeheartedly, when I realized that the reflex to use these words was just too strong to modify my behavior: I did not realize how embedded certain terms are in our linguistic experiences! I grew up myself eating « pappa » and making « nanna » at night and getting « bibi » from time to time; I still use that expression to let my mum know I’m sick!

Milo for the moment seems to get it all, his favorite word being « Pappa !».
Luckily my little boy is blessed with a vigorous appetite, not only for food, but also for words!


elizalou said...

What a great topic to write about! Your son is so lucky to be surrounded by so many different cultures and to have such a supportive mum!

I speak English and quite a bit of French and I'm definitley interested in having my children learn another language at a very young age.

Good luck!

Clo said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Clo said...

Thank you Elizalou! On espère que leur génération va faire la vrai Europe...ils auront les moyens culturels qui nous manquent aujourd'hui! Merci pour ton soutien!

Juliet said...

What a beautiful child you have!
Our son has a speech delay, but, through pointing, he has shown that he knows all of his letters and the numbers 1 through 10, as well as his body parts, familiar people, and many every day things. His speech therapist says he is very adcanced for his age. Once he starts speaking in English, we are going to start teaching him Mandarin Chinese.
Is it okay if I link you to my blog?

Clo said...

I'd be pleased to be linked to your blog. And don't worry for your son, he will bloom soon, linguistically!

Juliet said...

I linked you. :-) And I just wanted to update you on my son, William. Turns out he has apraxia, but the speech therapist is pleased with his progress, and is certain he will speak in his own time. And he's doing really well with the sign language. :-)

Hope all is well with you!

Juliet Lin aka Dalian Moon

Eddie Lin said...

hey clo,

you are behind schedule. don't you believe in deadlines??? where's the next article? i'm going to force feed you balut if you don't get your act together.

sydney said...

Hello Claudia !
I am happy to read your blog.We are French living in Scotland raising our one year old twin girls Marion and Morgane. We speak French at home and they hear 8 hours of English per day 5days a week with the nursery and their childminder and French on evenings and week ends.Amazingly one prefers speaking English and the other French without using any accent. We were a bit lost at the beginning as we thought we needed to speak English at home but now by reading your blog,we realised it is possible for them to learn several languages and we will still use our native language and encourage them to speak several languages. Many thanks

Clo said...

Sydney, thanks for volunteering your case! I think Marion and Morgane (beautiful names!) are in the best of conditions to become perfectly bilingual! It is going to be very interesting also to be able to compare the language development in twins. I'd like to stay in contact and hear about it from time to time.

Best of luck!